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Switching On To English Football: An American Supporter Awakes… Part 2

 Switching On To English Football: An American Supporter Awakes... Part 2

In Part 1, I described how the 2006 World Cup drew me into football.  With the World Cup finished, I was hungry for more. I turned to the English Premier League to slake my thirst…

Part 2: Inhaling the Premier League…

When the World Cup ended I went into withdrawel. I bought a Playstation2 and a used copy of FIFA 2006. I ordered the Review of the Season DVD 2005/06. I scoured Netflix for any and all football related films (not much to choose from… I think Bend It Like Beckham, the original Fever Pitch and Green Street Hooligans made up their entire football library at the time). And I read Fever Pitch (Nick Hornby’s fine book)… twice. I knew none of this was close to a substitute for the real thing. But it’s what I had.

I was eager to find a Premier League side to follow, but unsure how to choose one as an American. How I wished I had geography or genealogy on my side—was it too late in life to adopt an English grandfather?

Two problems arose in my search for a side…

1)Limited access to the matches:

I didn’t have cable and could only watch the FSC matches at the nearby British soccer pub (see Part 1). And while the Coat of Arms opened early for World Cup matches, by the fall they were back on their normal schedule. I couldn’t catch many of the matches live. I watched some replays there, but lining up my schedule with the pub’s schedule with FSC’s schedule was hit or miss to say the least. And Setanta USA was nowhere to be found. (The Coat got it right after I moved to Boston.)

I felt confident one or two SFMs (Spectacular Footballing Moments) could direct me toward the right club. A call for me to answer. Initially, I felt drawn to Liverpool. Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard stood out for me in the World Cup (see Part 1). And I’d been a childhoon Beatles fanatic, watching my father’s videos of Help and A Hard Day’s Night until the reels were worn down. Reading everything I could. So I was enthralled with the Scouse accents and the city of Liverpool from a young age.  But in 2006, I wanted some kind of footballing sign to assure me. An awe-inspiring goal. A come-from-behind win. Some moment to capture me on an instinctual level like the countless SFMs that seduced me during the World Cup.

If I’d been in Boston then, I would have had plenty of Irish pubs with all the right channels and been surrounded by loads of supporters. The live feed and the lively atmosphere I craved.

With that kind of access I would have seen Crouch’s 80th min header in the Community Sheild. Daniel Agger’s 25-yard blast against West Ham. Xabi Alonso’s goal-from-his-own-half(!!) against Newcastle. John Arne Riise’s long scorcher against Tottenham. Seeing these shots from distance in match context could have pushed my Liverpool curiosity into a full-blown seduction. (Any shot from outside the box that went in seemed completely earthshattering to this newbie. I still long for a 25-yard+ blast when Gerrard or Alonso run onto the ball in promising spots.)

But then there was my other problem:

2) I overthought the decision too much:

Given little access to the matches, I compromised my desire for spontaneous matchday inspiration by working too much logic into my search. I should follow a London side, I thought. I had friends in London. There’d be places to stay when I travelled over to watch matches. I knew the city. I loved the city. I’d find a London side. The fact the Simmon’s article agreed with this thinking reinforced my attempt at process.

That season London had six clubs in the Premier League. Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham, Fulham, Charlton and Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea was out. I’d read up on Roman Abramovich sinking his own money into the club to buy up the best talent, essentially dropping all business pragmatism for instant success. No thank you.

Arsenal was tempting after reading the brilliant Fever Pitch. But I was seeking a club in the English Premier League after watching England play in the World Cup from an English pub in New Hampshire surrounded by raucaus English folks. While I enjoyed their style of football, Arsenal didn’t appear to have any English starters. Thus, I couldn’t get excited about supporting the Gunners.

West Ham had an allure, but Green Street Hooligans put me off them, as it did for Simmons. I blame Elijah Wood.

Fulham didn’t do anything for me at that point. They didn’t have Clint Dempsey yet. Dempsey was the only American to score during the World Cup and he was a standout player for the New England Revolution, my local side. He would debut for Fulham in late January, but by then I was already falling for Liverpool. Dempsey would thank me by scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool. If he’d gone to Fulham in the previous summer, it might have been a different story.

Charlton. Ah, Charlton. A solid mid-table side for years, but in 06/07 they were known to me as the side who are slightly better than Watford. Charlton were relegated in May.

And so, plagued by logic and overthinking the matter, I briefly flirted with Tottenham Hotspur. I didn’t witness any magical moments to draw me to the club. I liked Robbie Keane and they played in London. That was about it. I hadn’t found that SFM. I think I was getting tired of looking. I just wanted a club.

Thankfully, around this time, I got access to just about all the matches on Setanta and Fox. My Irish co-worker Noel (a Manchester United supporter) took pity on me and my co-worker Tim (another American seeking Premier League action) and started taping the Fox matches. An Mancunian regular named George (City supporter) started taping the Setanta fixtures for us. I cleared my head. I could finally watch every match aired in the States.

The tapes weren’t as good as watching live, but it was easy enough to avoid the scorelines in New Hampshire. So on the 2nd of January, I sat down to watch Liverpool v. Bolton Wanderers from the day before. It was scoreless until the 61st minute when Jermaine Pennant ran onto Dirk Kuyt’s pass and lauched in a screaming intercontinental ballistic missile into the box. There was Crouchie. Waiting and hungry—he’d been goalless in 11 league matches.

I’d seen YouTube clips of bicycle kicks. But I didn’t imagine Peter Crouch in all his 6-foot-7-inches of awkward-looking glory could pull one off. (He’d already scored one against Galatasary in September, but I didn’t know about it yet.) Now, he launched himself at Pennant’s ball, which was about to streak behind him. His body twisted in the air like a convulsing stork and he met the ball in mid-air, launching it past Juusi Jääskelainen. One-nil.

In no time at all, Liverpool were on the attack again. Kuyt launched his own cross into the area. As two defenders converged on the ball, Steven Gerrard steamed in, jumped, parted the white sea, and volleyed it home with the side of his foot. I was in heaven. Two SFMs in 60 seconds!

Later, Dirk Kuyt would run onto Luis García’s through-ball and, under pressure, finish from the tightest of angles. Across the face of goal and in. Brilliant.

I said goodbye to the practical reasoning of following a London club and returned to the call of my initial instincts. I watched the next few Liverpool matches with greedy abandon. Sadly, Arsenal knocked Liverpool out of the FA and Carling Cups in succesive matches, but then there were wins against Watford, Chelsea and West Ham with Crouch scoring three more times. My first ninety minutes of Derby Day action was a let-down, with neither Liverpool nor Everton finding the net.

And then I watched the 2-1 loss to Newcastle away…

Strangely enough, it was the Newcastle loss that sealed it for me. That bitter result in the rain. So much Liverpool dominance but not enough finishing. Bellamy’s early goal made me sure Liverpool would have the day, but the Magpies pulled it out with a goal from Martins and a converted penalty from Solano. But I was with Liverpool all the way. I was as mesmerized by their loss as any of the recent wins. It was feeling the true sting of the dissapointing result that made me realize Liverpool were the side for me. I was invested. Watching them grit it out in the rain in the Northeast, squandering chances somehow pushed me over the edge. Right reasons or not. I’d be for Liverpool from then on.

(That was meant to be a 500-700 word piece. Inevitably, it got away from me there. If you’re still with me at the end… thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments how you came to follow your own club. Next week: What Makes A Classic Match?)

28 Responses to Switching On To English Football: An American Supporter Awakes… Part 2

  1. Azzmaniac says:

    Great article mate you clearly have alot of passion for the game.

  2. Orlando says:

    Hi am leaving in chicago, originally from Belize although my country is no where near to being good on the football map i love football. I played the game when little and love to watch it now. I recently started watching the Epl and i felt in love with Chelsea, i knew they had my heart after they lost the champions league against manchester, i remember i left work to watch at home running the risk of getting fired and at the end i had that feeling in my that i knew that was the team i loved. I recently found your website and i think is great. Hopefully you let us know as soon as you can who get the epl rights for 2010-2013 in usa. Hope Espn does since i think it would be more avaible for the fans. Once again keep the good work and love your story and passion for the beautiful game.

  3. Chris from Texas says:

    Ethan,

    My story is almost identical to yours, which has been great to read. I also fell in love with the game after the World Cup and started watching and playing immediately after.

    I became a Liverpool fan for many different reasons. The history was a big draw, but the story of Steven Gerrard was what captured my heart. He was not only an amazing player, he was Liverpool born. Something about a player growing up and then captaining his local team is amazing in this age of sell outs. Gerrard was my favorite player and while he faces competition from the Xabi Alonso, his inspirational play during key comebacks last season showed that he was a higher quality player than most footballers in the EPL.

    After picking Liverpool as my team, an Arsenal fan tried to sway me over to the dark side. I looked at the team and their games and felt the same way that you did. Arsenal is a french team in an english league.

    I’m glad you found your pub, that always makes it easier to have a great pub with some friendly (and at times unfriendly) competition. I am about to go through withdrawal due to a move to Pittsburgh. Does anyone know of any EPL pubs in Pittsburgh?

    • Ethan Armstrong says:

      Chris,

      LiveSoccerTv.com has a pubs page (and I see one in Pittsburgh at first glance: Piper’s Pub).

      I also like Setanta USA’s Venue Finder. Type in your zip code and it will show places that have Setanta. Unless they are a rugby bar, they will probably show FSC too. Irish pubs are often a good bet. At least where I am.

      I was fortunate enough to find the Boston Liverpool Supporters Club who meet at the Phoenix Landing for games. I hope you find something similar (or at least a few more LFC supporters to watch with).

  4. Eduardo says:

    Chris,

    Liverpool is mostly a team made up of foreign players like Arsenal. Gerrard and Carragher are the only two English players that play regularly. In fact many
    of them are Spanish. And with a Spanish manager. The same goes for
    United and Chelsea. If you want to support a
    predominately English side you wont find that in the top 4. That is the beauty
    Of the EPL.

  5. cooper says:

    being an american who latched on to the prem as well I think one thing often overlooked by newbie prem supporters is the history of the club. Orlando, who commented above about becoming a chelsea fan, probably doesnt know that during world war II chelsea fans were supporters of the nazi’s and would sing their praises at matches, and sing extremely demeaning songs against jewish clubs such as Totenham. While im sure Orlando is not a jew, since hes from belize, i still think its important to know about the club you support and their supporters. I found that info in a book called “how soccer explains the world”. extremely good read for any avid soccer fan.

  6. THFC4LIFE says:

    Just wanted to say that I am not American, I am English, born & raised in North London & supporter of the mighty cockerel since I could just about walk. I find it very interesting reading about people discovering English football & the processes they then go thru in picking a team to support. A team is like a tattoo, its with you for life, so you better make sure you make the right choice. Whether the decision is made by following some logical steps or by picking a name out of a hat or by something altogether more instinctive and primal, it doesn’t really matter as long as it is right for you. It is something that never really occurred to me before, having to ‘pick’ a team to follow. In England footie is part of our lives from such an early age we all know who our teams are long before we actually understand the notion of choice. There are various things that we grow up with also that would be completely incomprehensible to an American. The intense rivalry of derby days does get diluted in translation & whilst, I am sure, Americans have strong rivalries in your own sports, I would imagine that very few are separated by less than a few miles. Growing up in North London it is something that I was immediately aware of, having one school full of Spurs & another virtually across the road full of Gooners makes your allegiance much more important than just 90 min on a Saturday afternoon. Anyway, I’m glad to hear so many positive tales coming from across the pond, even if so many of them are about the Bindippers & Steven bloody Gerrard (at least they aren’t about L’Arse). I have to say that I don’t really get the article writer’s obsession with Crouch, he does my nut in, but each to their own I suppose. It’s a shame how you became so close to making the correct choice & then just flushed your soul down the toilet & went with Liverpool in the end. Anyway, we got you at the Lane for the big kick-off & there’s sure to be plenty of SFM’s as you put it! COYS.

  7. Chris from Texas says:

    Thanks for the pub finding solutions everyone!

  8. Colin says:

    Well written…sounds pretty similar to my story.
    I know the coat of arms well (I played soccer at UNH)
    I too was looking for a team around that same time, I was raised a ManU fan my whole life mostly due to the fact my father is a ManU fanatic, but I never felt connected with anyone besides giggs. I decided to find my own team and Liverpool had the same effect on me. I chose not to make my decision based on particular players, because I know players come and go year to year…and then I found my lineage went back to Liverpool, easy choice.
    cheers

  9. Tyson says:

    That was pretty deep.

    I’m a Manchester United support and well I was born and grew up here.

    The reason I support United is twofold.

    1: Its my home team.

    2: Liverpool is known as the cultural center of Europe and London is a worldwide city. Few people outside of England have heard of Manchester though but Manchester United have changed that.

    We are a small city nobody on the world stage has heard about. You have to understand when Manchester United were first formed we had a field in the middle of nowhere while teams like Liverpool were dominating world football.

    Manchester United was set up by a rail road company and given a patch of land and had to contend with titans.

    We didn’t have much going for us but look where we are now with the biggest home football stadium in England and on our way to being the most successful team in England.

    This is a team from a city nobody has heard of and we owe a large part of our success to a manager that treats Manchester United not like a large sports entity but like his life. I’d like to see another manager who spends his managing career at one club.

    Manchester United for us Manchunians is a sign of triumph. We built a worldwide entity from a little team that played in a field in the middle of nowhere.

    • Harrington says:

      Excuse me Mr. “Tyson” but what exactly are you on about?

      Manchester is a small city? It’s population is actually 25,000 greater than that of Liverpool’s, and it’s metro area is twice the size of Liverpool’s, at 2.2 million. Man United moved out of their “field in the middle of nowhere” (aka North Road, capacity ~15000) and into their 50000 capacity ground at Bank Street in 1893 when there was no such thing as “world football.” Indeed, Liverpool FC had just been founded a year earlier.

      I don’t know what people you talk to but I certainly have heard of Manchester outside of football and I live in the USA. I learned a regrettable amount of history about Man United in researching my response to your statement, but I felt it was necessary because I had a feeling that you were being ridiculous. Every football club can claim to be built up from “a little team that played in a field.” It certainly sounds impressive until you mention that they played in a field in the 1880′s at a time when most other clubs were playing in small fields, if they were even playing at all. It’s fine that you have passion and commitment to you club but don’t make us all nauseous by drawing up an absurd Cinderella story that is as disgustingly overwrought as it is entirely misleading.

  10. Mark Flint says:

    I too just recently became a big fan, and find that Spurs and Fulham are the teams I’ve been supporting. I’m just afraid I’m going to go to London and find out I’ve been cheering the wrong side. Hard to tell without knowledge of the culture. Great picture of Crouch!

    • The Gaffer says:

      Depends what kind of culture you like because the neighborhoods surrounding Fulham and Tottenham’s grounds are quite the opposite. Cultures are quite different too.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Mark Flint says:

        Gaffer,

        How are they different?

        Thanks,

        Mark

        • The Gaffer says:

          The area around Fulham’s Craven Cottage is filled with leafy neighborhoods and some of the most expensive real-estate in London. Lots of Edwardian architecture, and the ground is next to a park alongside the River Thames. Idyllic, yes. The area is filled with very affluent Londoners.

          Tottenham’s White Hart Lane, from the outside, looks like a prison. But the area around the ground in North London is congested and a totally different experience entirely. Lots of different ethnic groups.

          If you haven’t done so already, check out my photos from both grounds (and areas) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/epltalk/sets/

          And be sure to read my free eBook entitled ‘In Pursuit Of Real Football,’ which offers tips and a travelogue of my journey a few years ago to London, which included trips to Craven Cottage and White Hart Lane: http://epltalk.com/epl-travel-guide/

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

  11. Mark says:

    5/25/05 Istanbul. YNWA

  12. Bill says:

    To THFC4LIFE:

    If you would like to learn some things about long-standing rivalries, check out college sports in the U.S. Many of these go back to the late nineteenth century, and are as bitter as any sports rivalry you’ll find. I happen to live in “Big 10″ country (probably won’t make sense if you’re not a Yank), so the first one that comes to mind is Michigan/Ohio State. A lot of college towns don’t have professional sports teams either, so dedication to one’s college team starts early and lasts a lifetime, whether you actually attend the school or not.

    That said, I’ve found myself becoming a Chelsea fan this summer, I think because they were the team I had the most exposure to. Yes, I know it doesn’t make any rational sense, but I’ve never felt sports fandom was anything to be rational about!

    Hopefully I can upgrade my cable package to include FSC soon and have the chance to get elbows-deep in the EPL this season.

  13. junk says:

    I started watching in 2001 or so. Took one season to get my bearings and found that I didn’t really like any one team above the others, but I knew that I loathed Arsenal. Next season, I was a Spurs supporter.

  14. Clark Meyer says:

    Great story, Ethan.

    Way back in ’78/’79, my family lived in England for a year, and on my first day as the new kid in 5th grade, all my new mates immediately wanted to know “Who do you support?” I had no idea what they were asking, but it was clear that my answer was of great import. I thank my lucky stars that Andrew Billingham was standing next to me and that we had already developed the faintest of bonds. “Liverpool,” he told the others, and that was that. I still think about the near miss; had I been closer to Gareth Bevan, I might have become a Manc supporter. I’d probably be a horrible asshole today.

    I took in everything football for ten months, but when we moved back to the States, I spent the next 20 years wondering about my team. I heard about Hillsborough and Heysel (the only type of soccer news that ever appeared in American media at the time) and that was about it. My “League Champions 1979″ scarf went into storage.

    But then along came the internet and then FSC and then I found that Fado opened early on weekends for live matches, and those seeds that had lain fallow in the ground for decades were able to sprout with a vengeance. Now, “League Champions 1979″ hangs on the wall in my classroom, and–wonder of wonders–I get students dropping by my room in the afternoons to talk about last weekend’s match.

  15. Sean from St. Louis says:

    Great story Ethan.
    I’ve been a footballer since I was five, played until I was 19, then a follower since.
    Initially, I was a bundesliga fan (Soccer Made in Germany, anyone?) since cable wasn’t around yet. I remember seeing a pick of John Barnes in the late 80′s that really piqued my interest and slowly over the years as TV coverage increased my love affair with the Scouse Army was fed. As an American, the Manc Scum and Chelsea these days remind me of the Yankees. They spend and spend and win all, and I hate them (I’m a lifelong Cardinals fan). Liverpool are always the underdog in my book, and I see this incredible bias towards anything LFC related from the British Media (probably the provincial attitude of the Londoners). Plus, I am of Irish ancestry and Liverpool is a very Irish city. Anyway, you made a great choice and it certainly was a fun article. Cheers.

  16. Stanfield says:

    Sadly, my family decided to emigrate from England to Canada when I was all of four – slightly too young to have been branded by any particular club. Regionally, I would have been stuck with the Woking Cardinals or, in the First Division, either FFC or (shudder) Chelsea. But it was the 70′s, I’m English and I live in the colonies. Sod the hometown (and Dad’s Bluebirds for that matter), Paisley’s Reds are the biggest, best, most exciting club to ever take a pitch in the British Empire. Maybe it was jumping on the bandwagon, but, hell – I was 7 and like THFC4LIFE said, picking you club is like getting a tattoo (or herpes if you’re unfortunate enough to be a Chelsea or ManUre supporter).

    There were two other factors that proved I had picked the perfect club for me, one: Kenny Daglish has the same birthday as me (I was 8 when he came south to replace Keegan) and two, my last name is St. Anfield – a match made in heaven!

    Great article Ethan! YNWA!

  17. gary woodard says:

    Good article. You show alot of passion for the game, which is a common trait of all Liverpool FC’s fans. if you ever get the chance to visit Anfield, do so, you will not regret it.
    YNWA

  18. Matilda says:

    I’m a Bolton Wanderers supporter (you spelled Jussi wrong by the way). My dad grew up in London and moved to Texas when he was about 25, so he never lived in Bolton, but my grandparents did and we are all through and through Wanderers. I feel your pain being a football supporter over here (especially since I support a non-Big 4 club, which almost no one else around here does), but live feeds are beautiful things since FSC only shows about 3/4′s of the games.

    You should make a pilgrimage to Anfield, I went last Christmas to see Liverpool v. Bolton (we lost 3-0) and it’s a lovely place, the atmosphere is electrifying.

    Also as a Liverpool supporter you should be sure to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kcy3gwwxat4
    It’s a rap recorded by the 1988 FA Cup winning squad. Priceless

  19. Jay says:

    My father is from Serbia originally. When I was a child he used to tell me about the Busby Babes and the classy way they played. He told me about the game they had with Red Star in Belgrade and the Munich tragedy on their way home from the match. I have no actual British ties, so in the EPL I support Man U since they earned my father’s lifelong respect, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind.

  20. jay says:

    good article thanks for the write-ups. Always interesting to hear other’s stories.

    Commenter Eduardo,
    You say that no top-4 team has many English players, yet Man Utd has a ton of them: Rooney, now Owen, Ferdinand, Neville, Brown, Hargreaves, Carrick. I’m probably missing a few too.

  21. Gedo says:

    WC 2006 was it for me as well. I was 36 and never watched Euro Football – my only exposure was American soccer which didn’t spark any interest. In 2006, the WC blew me away and I didn’t want it to end. One player who caught my eye was T.Henry which started an internet research project on my part. Who was his club team?…were they any good? All I knew is I wanted to see more of TH14. I became on Arsenal fan right then and there before I had ever seen an Arsenal match. Unfortunately, I caught him on the downside and was gutted when he went to Barcelona. I won’t forget the winning header vs. ManU in Jan 07 in the 90th minute, though. Thanks to FSC and Setanta US, I’ve only missed two matches in the last three years (including all FA Cup and CC matches). If only I had seen the Invincibles…..

  22. Sam says:

    You support Liverpool.

    Fa**ot.

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