How I Fell In Love With the English Premier League
Sports fandom is a peculiar portion of our existence. Being a sports fan is going to leave you heartbroken more often than not. No matter what league you follow or team you root for, odds are you may go your entire life without seeing your team win a championship. The vast majority of fans leave every season with a feeling of disappointment. It’s a self-serving masochism that is unavoidable with sports. Deep down, we like that pain. The feeling of heartbreak is why so many of us come back each year. You think next year will be different; this year is our year. When it finally is, the feeling of joy is so pure and so visceral that it makes up for all those other years.
Some people live and die with their teams. Some people only cheer when their team is winning. Some people go to games to see and be seen. And some people couldn’t care less about sports. I am one of those “live and die” fans. For many of us, being a sports fan is something of a birthright. Cheering for your local team is passed down from generation to generation.
Being an American, we are given a multitude of sports to pick and choose from. If you live in a big city (like Dallas, Texas, where I live) you have at least ten different professional sports teams that you can choose to root for. Most fans gravitate towards the major sports teams. I am a Dallas Cowboys fan, a Dallas Mavericks fan, a Texas Rangers fan and a Dallas Stars fan. I’m also a soccer fan. Note I did not say I was a fan of FC Dallas, our MLS team. Despite their wonderful suburban stadium, the team never appealed to me, even as they made their run to the MLS Cup Final last season.
I think being an American has spoiled me when it comes to being a sports fan. We are afforded the ability to watch the best in any sport whenever we want. I am accustomed to watching sports at the highest level. I have been a soccer fan for much of my life. I played soccer as a youngster so soccer has always held a place in my heart. The MLS never appealed to me as I so often heard that the best soccer was played overseas.
My interest in soccer would manifest every few years in the run-up to the World Cup. I cheered on the US national team in every match. I still remember the excitement as I watched the US team beat Mexico in the 2002 World Cup at 2AM on a Monday morning. This past year, I became far more invested than in any past World Cup. Perhaps I was simply at a place in life where I could truly appreciate the appeal of “futbol”. I watched every friendly, even traveling to Philadelphia to watch the US team play against Turkey in their final friendly on US soil before leaving for South Africa. One of my fondest sports memories will always be watching the frantic finish of US-Algeria from the break room at my office. The true fans were packed around the TV and all shrieked in unison when Landon Donovan scored. The power of sports fandom had brought ten random souls together. I hugged people whose names I did not know. That’s what being a sports fan is truly all about…moments like that.
From that day on, I knew that soccer had me hooked. There was no going back for me. I wanted more. I needed more. I couldn’t wait four years to experience that kind of feeling again. A good friend of mine had fallen in love with Chelsea FC, partly by playing as them in FIFA on the PS3. He encouraged me to pick an EPL team and root them on as well. He told me that the EPL was the best soccer league in the world and there were plenty of great teams to pick from. The process would be an interesting one for sure. How do you pick a new team to root for? Every other team I follow was a local team that I had cheered all my life.
I dove in headfirst. I read everything I could on the web, stumbling upon EPL Talk amongst others. I read transfer rumors and watched EPL highlight shows. I learned more about players who I’d seen only on the world stage. I decided that I would choose a big club, probably one of the big four. It would simply be easier to follow a big four team from the States. Also, given the economic disparity from the top of the table to the bottom, I wanted to choose a team that had a chance of actually winning. That may be unfair, but it’s also pragmatic. My friend had chosen Chelsea, so they were out. I could not bring myself to root on the Red Devils either. As both a Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars fan, I know what it is like to have your team destroyed by Tom Hicks pocketbook, so Liverpool were ruled out too.
Arsenal was the last team left standing. I watched as many Arsenal highlights as I could and I fell in love with their intricate passing and stylish football. I learned the stories of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and the rest. Once the season began, I watched as many games as I could. I found myself living and dying with each Gooner game. It was a delightfully new sports experience. I haven’t had a new team to root for in a long time. It was glorious. I cursed Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. I lauded the skills of Jack Wilshire and Robin van Persie (in those games when he was actually healthy). I mourned the FA Cup collapse and the Champions League dismissal by the mighty Barca just as I would have with any of my local teams. I’ve jumped in with both feet and couldn’t be happier about it. The EPL is a whole new world that I can’t wait to explore and learn more about with each passing day. The quality of play and artistry of the players in the EPL is remarkable. I was hooked and there’s really no going back. I can’t wait to see what Arsenal does this offseason and I will be glued to the TV for every game next season.
Being a sports fan is a wonderfully unique experience. It’s hard to explain it to anyone who isn’t a sports fan. They can’t understand why you care so much about millionaires playing a kid’s game. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about sharing the experience with your friends or total strangers. It’s about cheering on a new bunch of players every year or wondering when your manager is going to spend money on reinforcements. There are highs and there are certainly lows. We live through all the lows to enjoy the highs. Those highs keep us coming back. They make us choose new teams to root for, just so we might be able to experience that pure joy that only sports can bring us. Being a fan will always be a struggle. There will be more good times than bad. For most of us, those good times will always bring us back and leave us wanting more.