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The Beginner’s Guide to the English Premier League

If you’re new to the Premier League this season or new to EPL Talk, we’re glad you found us and even more excited you’ve been drawn into the Premier League, easily the most entertaining and exciting domestic football league in the world.

Maybe you caught some recent matches during the 2010 World Cup and were intrigued by a certain player or maybe you’ve got some friends or family interested in soccer. Regardless of the root of your new found hobby, passing interest or new found passion, it’s possible you’ve got a few questions concerning the basic rules, various competitions involved or resources needed to further your knowledge of the game. If so, you’ve come to the right place as I’ll outline all the pertinent information you need to enjoy the 2010-2011 Barclays Premier League season.

So you’re ready to enjoy your first Premier League season? First off, you need to know a little history about the Premier League. Originally founded as the FA Premier League in 1992 when clubs in the Football League First Division decided to break away from the The Football League, the Premier League (now officially the Barclays Premier League) soon became the world’s richest football league when they cashed in on a huge television deal to broadcast matches the world over.

Twenty teams make up England’s top flight domestic league while every year the teams who finish in the bottom three (18th, 19th and 20th) are relegated, or sent down to the league below now called the Npower Championship. Oppositely, the teams that finish first and second in the Championship (and a third team who wins the Championship playoffs) gain promotion to the Premier League and have their chance to play against some of the best footballers in the world.

Promotion and relegation is unlike anything currently in American sports where bottom finishing teams get rewarded for their poor performance with a high pick in an amateur draft. Relegation adds excitment to every game played as it ensures games throughout the entire season leading up to its culmination are just as important as a match featuring the top two teams battling for the title. Just think of how exciting it can be watching two teams literally fight for their survival.

Each team plays 38 games over the course of a long and arduous season that runs from August through May. League play is comprised of playing each team twice, once home and once away, while a Champion is decided based on point accumulation over the course of the season. A win is worth 3, draw worth 1 and a loss is worth 0.

All 20 teams in the Premier League also compete in various Cup competitions throughout the season. The oldest and most popular is the FA Cup which is a single elimination tournament with a famous piece of silverware awaiting the last team standing. Teams in the Premier League also compete in the Carling Cup, or the Football League Cup, yet this Cup competition is deemed slightly less important (but has displayed some pretty great games over the last few years) than matches in the Premier League or the FA Cup.

The Premier League teams who finish in spots 1-4 also have the distinguished opportunity to compete in the UEFA Champions League (formerly the European Cup), Europe’s historic knockout competition which attempts and succeeds at crowning a club Champion of Europe each year. Champions League spots are highly sought after, desired and cherished by the clubs who currently hold them. A large sum of television money is involved in competing in the Champions League where players from all over the world dream to compete against each other. Last year’s final saw Inter Milan of Italy defeat Bayern Munich of Germany, but English teams have been incredibly successful in the Champions League especially in the last decade.

Running second fiddle to the Champions League is the UEFA Europa League. Often over looked as a secondary competition but producing quality football in its own right, Premier League teams that finish 5-7 qualify for this European competition and compete against other clubs across Europe similar to the structure of the Champions League.

Now that you know a little about the structure of football in England, at least the top flight, you’ll want to stay constantly connected to your team either through the Internet, television, podcasts and more. If you’re reading this in America, you may not know that the Premier League is readily available on multiple platforms that usually broadcast all ten games each weekend. Check with your local cable or satellite provider, but matches can be found on ESPN2, Fox Soccer Channel, and FSC+ on satellite television. On the internet, and are legal and impressive online sites where Premier League matches are streamed live and on replay each weekend.

Podcasts are a must for new or old Premier League fans. Since there are a myriad of free shows at a soccer fan’s disposal, here are a few trusted shows and old favorites.

  • EPL Talk podcast – found in iTunes or here at EPL Multiple shows each week featuring Richard Farley, Laurence McKenna and Kartik Krishnaiyer.
  • Chappers’ Premier League podcast – free in iTunes and released each Sunday. Features Mark Chapman and former Premier League ref Graham Poll among others.
  • Guardian’s Football Weekly – free in iTunes and released each Monday and Thursday. Hosted by James Richardson and various Guardian journalists such as Rob Smyth and Barry Glendenning.
  • BBC’s 606 Football Phone In and World Football Phone In – Available for free in iTunes and released over the weekend. The World Football Phone In is definitely a must listen each week.
  • The Football Ramble – released once a week, usually on Wednesday’s, this show is often times quite fast paced, funny and highly entertaining.

Some of the best news and analysis of the Premier League can be found here on EPL Talk where bloggers and writers chronicle the Premier League through the eyes of Americans watching the game at the aid of modern technology and through English bloggers who see the game first hand.

While the big papers in England all have online sites, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Mail Online and more boast some of the best English football journalists in the world. For the newer supporter however there are a number of good fan run blogs for you to discover across the Internet. Since there are too many to name, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section below.

Now that you have an idea on where and how to view the Premier League and stay up to date with all the analysis, you may find it daunting in actually picking a team to follow. Don’t worry. My first and really only tip for you is to watch a few weeks worth of matches and simply go with your first true instinct regardless of who it is. Don’t avoid a top 4 team for avoidance sake.

So many times I hear new football fans bash the idea of supporting a traditionally successful team such as Manchester United, Liverpool or a team such as Chelsea who’ve recently enjoyed success. Why is this? If a certain player, style of play, manager or goal scored appeals to you, go for it. Don’t not pick a team you like because you’re afraid you’d be labeled a band wagon fan. It’s your right to follow who you want and you’ll simply regret not picking them later on in the season when they win a trophy. The top teams aren’t at the top because they’re cute. These teams consistently play some of the best football in Europe, so if you’re drawn to United or Arsenal, enjoy your football. If you find a smaller club like Fulham, Blackburn, West Ham or Birmingham City, enjoy them as well.

Also, get involved in some form of online or local football community. Message boards, comments sections and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are a great way to learn and discuss the game. You can follow EPL Talk on Twitter and there is always good discussion and debate happening in the comments section of most EPL Talk articles.

Lastly, show a little respect for the game. If you’re new to English soccer and the Premier League, take some time after you’ve chosen who you’ll be supporting and conduct some research on the history of that club. Go to your teams official website where you should be able to find a history page and read it. Buy a book, watch a documentary, or subscribe to a fanzine. The history of English football is a grand one in which some of the best footballers, managers, supporters and stories have all been a part of. You’ll appreciate the now a little more once you know where and how your new found club got to where they are today.

Feel free to use this forum as your personal message board if you’re new to the Premier League. Ask questions, leave comments or suggestions and also utilize the tabs at the top of this site to check the TV Schedule, find Podcasts, order a shirt or find out about great football books. Good luck with your new found love. Supporting a football club can have its ups and downs, but the ups easily out weight the downs as you’ll soon find out.

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