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.

46 thoughts on “How I Fell In Love With the English Premier League”

  1. I would have thought one source of the appeal of soccer is its internationalism, whereas American sports are parochial, but you don’t mention that.

      1. At the risk of getting totally off-topic (since I have the feeling KT’s post was a bit of troll-baiting)…I would say Basketball has at least as much international popularity as Baseball. So that leaves only one truely parochial American sport – American Football.

          1. and this is probably one of the reasons why I am starting to really get into this sport is because like most American sports particularly American football, anyone with talent can play (and coach) anywhere in the world. Not to mention, the more I pay attention the more I have noticed people in my area (I live near DC) supporting their teams, kids to adults.

  2. I’m a newbie that’s head over heels for the sport and can’t get enough of the EPL as well. Watching an MLS game after watching games from overseas is like watching D-League NBA pre-season games versus an NBA playoff game. I’ll keep an open heart for MLS, though.

    It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the US catches on.

  3. I am an Arsenal and Barca junkie. These comments are in view of your excellent choice. Yes, last season (just concluded) was a bit frustrating, but you’re right. That’s sports. Now I’m angrily jealous of sister EPL teams that are splashing the cash while Arsenal take the conservative stance as usual. It bodes ominous for next season, you see!

    Thank you then for sharing the article. Check out these other teams: AC Milan, Bayern Munich, and Broussia Dortmund. They’re my favorites too. But the order is Arsenal and Barca followed by the last three in any order.

    1. I second Dortmund. I’ve been a fan of them since 1990 – the club has seen its best and worst days since 1990s (winning European Cup and almost went bankrupt). They play attractive football and learn from the lessons off the field too.

  4. Lovely article.
    My husband and I also live in Dallas, Mavs fan but Die hard Man Utd fans!!!!! Lots of family members are arsenal fans but no way!!!!!
    looking forward to the next season and 20th title!!!?

      1. I am also an Arsenal supporter. I just found this story to be rubbish.

        You wrote off Chelsea because your buddy uses them on PS3???
        This nonsense about the big 4 drives me nuts. There are at least 6 big teams now.
        You sound like someone who knows about soccer from video games. Any idea who manages the team????
        Lastly, f*ck you for not giving MLS a shot. I love MLS as well as the EPL.

        1. I’m sure there was a lot more that went into his decision to support Arsenal than what he wrote in the article. The fact is that he fell in love with them only after he started watching them. Now he’s hooked and can’t change who he supports even if he wanted to.

          Talk about the “big 4” drives you nuts but “big 6” is okay? So if he only chose from the “big 6” you would be fine with it?

          Like it or not, video games are a big part of sports culture. I became a big baseball fan in 1994 with a game called “Ken Griffey Jr Baseball” and the FIFA games got me wanting to learn more and more about soccer. Whatever gets a person passionate about a particular sport is completely valid.

          1. “Like it or not, video games are a big part of sports culture.”

            No they’re not, that is just what lazy people tell themselves.

            For all I know this guy could be the truest fan out there. This article just rubbed me the wrong way.

          2. “No they’re not, that is just what lazy people tell themselves.”

            This is an odd comment. The whole life of a sports fan is filled with sedentary activities. How is playing a video game more lazy than sitting on your couch watching TV? Maybe I misunderstood what you’re saying.

  5. Ben, fantastic article. Written from the heart, which is everything soccer is about. ‘Being a fan will always be a struggle’ … for someone who wasn’t brought up watching the game, you just encapsulated it perfectly. Enjoy the highs and the inevitable heartbreaks, especially as a Gooner :)

        1. Yeah you’re right, Jonas. It was an otherwise good article that was COMPLETELY RUINED by wrongly using the phrase “the MLS” rather than just “MLS”. This HORRIBLE MISTAKE rendered the whole article COMPLETELY UNREADABLE, and therefore we cannot comment on any of its merits or failures apart from that DISASTROUS grammatical error.

          p.s. In case you didn’t realize, I was being sarcastic.

  6. A self admitted glory hunting bastard, well I never! You lost any sympathy from me when you wrote off MLS so early on.

    It turned out to be no shock that you chose to follow Arsenal, the favoured choibe of the JCL. What I don’t understand is that you based this choice on wanting to follow a team with a chance of winning things. I’m sure Carl Jenkinson and the captain of Uzbekistan will aid that goal. I thought you band wagon jumpers did loads of research on Wikipedia to justify your decision?

    1. “I thought you bandwagon jumpers did loads of research on Wikipedia to justify your decision?”.

      Some do, except that would negate the “bandwagon” label’, as people who bandwagon a team do so ignorantly and follow just to follow, knowing very little to nothing at all about their “team”. The difference it makes is gigantic. Don’t always be so assuming.

  7. After Chelsea, United and Liverpool, Arsenal were the last team standing?

    There are 20 teams in the Premiership and it seems exactly par for the course for an American fan to consider only the Big Four worthy of his attention. Manchester City have put together a squad that are increasingly proficient, as evidenced by their top four finish in the table this season. Spurs — my beloved source of frustration and new compound swear words as the minutes tick away in 1-1 matches with Birmingham — put together a surprising run in the Champions League this season, though will not be repeating the feat as they had some shockingly miserable play against far lesser teams in league play. Business as usual, really. Everton consistently show well and are good for some dramatics in the Liverpool derbies.

    I reject your assessment of Arsenal as the “last team standing” when what you meant was, “Arsenal were the last team left that people in America will recognize and high five me for.” Unless, of course you meant, “I enjoy watching Van Persie’s glass body shatter on a regular basis.” And that’s fine if you do, because let’s be honest, Ledley King needs only look at a pitch to suffer another knee/thigh injury, but if that’s the case, do the rest of us a favour and own it. Show us enough respect not to give us this bollocks about Arsenal being all that was left.

  8. Your story is almost the exact same as mine how I fell in love with the EPL, exchange Playstation with xbox, and Arsenal with Man Utd and you’ve got it. But then I started picking other teams as well (Tottenham, Inter from Serie A, OL and OM from Ligue 1, and just watching Barca is so much fun). Soccer, futbol, or football which ever you call it, is THE Beautiful game! Great article!

  9. This seems to be almost an identikit article that EPL Talk runs with whenever not much else is happening, but I can’t blame the author for that.

    The article itself is a little contradictory:
    Cheering for your local team is passed down from generation to generation….doesn’t this directly contradict the following:

    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.

    So is fandom something passed down through generations, like some communal identity, or is it just a chosen affiliation? (Although arguably you could say that it’s both – you make the choice to support the same team as the rest of your immediate community).

    Personally, I’m a little torn on the idea of people becoming fans of teams based on some contrived logical audition (i.e. ticking the following boxes: they need to have a chance to win things; they need to play high-quality football; they need to play attractive football; they need to be on TV at convenient times etc) rather than an obvious personal link (hometown or other close tie).

    I think the language of describing “fandom” isn’t quite adequate to distinguish between what I consider two distinct categories:

    I think the people who “choose a team” are arguably more like “discerning fans of good football” who happen to prefer watching the game at the highest level in a way that is convenient to them. In a way, it’s kind of appreciating theater, ballet or cinema. You seek out what is the best (just like you go to the nice theater to see a good stage production, rather than going to “root for” your local amateur dramatic society in the local town hall simply because they’re your “home team”).

    On the other hand, there are what I would call (maybe somewhat snobbishly) real fans of particular teams, whether that be Rochdale Town FC or Arsenal. They support the team because it’s some part of their cultural/communal identity, because their dads support them and their friends do too. They’re born and bread in Rochdale (or north London respectively) or wherever, and would watch them regardless of whether they were in the EPL or League 2 or below. I think for them, it’s more like belonging to a church (or perhaps a racial identity) than going to the theater. They go to see the club because it is their club, not because it is the best club or even a good club.

    Ps. for what it’s worth, I don’t fall into either category, which I think absolves me of the snobbishness of calling one set of fans “real fans”.

    1. p.s. that last post should have carried a warning – it perhaps treats the subject with more seriousness than the initial article warranted, so it risks coming accross as pretentious and overly academic. Sorry!

      1. Doesn’t the existence of yourself give rise to at least a 3rd kind of fandom? I’ve never been to England and live 4000 miles away from Everton but I probably spend 10-20 hours a week searching for and contributing to Everton-based conversations. I don’t think it’s possible for me to suddenly choose to follow another team at this point. I’m not sure what that makes me.

        The idea of a communal identity through a sports team is a fascinating one to me. Growing up in Virginia, there were two things that my community supported…Washington Redskins of the NFL and NASCAR. But because I didn’t identify myself (or want to be identified) with my community, I grew to dislike the Redskins and NASCAR.

        As for other sports, I’m a complete free agent. There are no professional sports teams in Virginia. I have no personal links to other clubs or sports and so I’ve always had to develop my own criteria for fandom. I became a fan of the Seattle Mariners through the “Ken Griffey Jr Baseball” game in 1994. I didn’t know much about baseball so just chose Griffey’s team to play with. Now I watch every single game the Mariners play. I became a fan of the Atlanta Falcons in 2001 because they drafted Michael Vick, who had made my alma mater (Virginia Tech) a big success. Despite the fact that Vick is a bit of a sore subject now, I love the Falcons even more now than I used to. With Everton, I came at things with a completely blank sheet. I knew nothing about the Premier League other than a few names like Manchester United and Chelsea. I did a LOT of research and watched a lot of matches and I just grew to identify with Everton, their players, managers, and supporters. Now I’m positively obsessed with them.

        Anything that gets a person passionate about a sport or a particular team in valid in my mind. What matters is the level of devotion to that team. It’s very possible for a person from across the world to have more devotion than a person who lives in that team’s community but I’m not sure if it’s quite the same kind of devotion. A person outside the community will always be missing that certain element because it can’t be duplicated anywhere else.

        1. “A person outside the community will always be missing that certain element because it can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”

          And that’s what we over here just don’t get when you forego the MLS and USL teams you have on your own doorstep. We’re not saying don’t follow the Premier League or one of it’s teams but make the effort to embrace the game in your own community too, take pride in helping it to grow. It will not be easy but it’s the only way that you’ll come to experience the game as I do following the team from the city that I live in.

          I’ve followed them from the depths of League One, through the Championship and into the Premier League. I’ve seen that piss poor football you’re all so afraid of and paid week in week out to watch it, following my team all over the country to do so. But then you get the good times. And I guarantee that will happen in your domestic leagues. I’ll also guarantee that the times I had slumming it in the lower leagues, watching youngsters, nearly men and has beens were far better than watching a stream, DVR recording or cable TV subscription. The reason why? Because it was real life and I took part, developing memories that aren’t just generated by 2d images on a screen.

          Genuine football fans in the UK embrace football right the way down the pyramid and don’t resitrict themselves to the boredom of the top four. Their are some fantatstic stories and teams out their at every level, it’s why the game continues to grow and its popularity shows no sign of it abating.

          I love Dave C’s description of following ‘your club’ in England being like being part of a church or your race. It’s spot on. It’s a purely tribal thing and you can only truly experience it if you take part in person. You’ve got the opportunity, don’t turn your noses up at it, give it a go! It’s such a buzz I can’t describe to you the fantastic times I’ve had following my team in the flesh. they can be few and far between but when they happen they make the shit fade away into the ether. Like I say the Premier League will still be here but get out there and experience the real thing in your own communities instead of experiencing it a second hand on the box.

          If I win the Euromillions tonight I’ll get the Gaffer to set up a competition to drag ten of you over here next season and really show you what it’s all about. Keep your fingers crossed!

          1. I wish I could experience what that’s like but there is no local team for me to support where I live. The closest is DC United (4.5 hours away) so it’s not like I go to many live matches anyway. Even in cities where there’s an MLS club, it’s generally not quite the same as in England. If you lived in Dallas, hardly anyone you met would know anything about FC Dallas. If you didn’t have a friend who was already a fan, it would be a struggle to get someone to come with you to games. It’s not something that gets passed down through generations. Older generations in the US are more likely to laugh at you for liking soccer, especially in an american “football town”.

            That being said, when I was in Seattle last year to watch some Mariners games, I caught a Sounders game and the stadium got pretty loud and rowdy so it seems to be slowly gaining a foothold in American culture.

          2. If you do, count me in. I am not sure what club you support but I’ll be interested to watch the games in the lower divisions. Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s watching live broadcasts of the old First Division, I can still remember the clubs who are now not in the Premier Leagu and still remember these stadiums that don’t exist anymore: highfield road, the Dell, etc.

  10. I saw that Chicago and KC were on ESPN3, so I decided to hop on my computer and watch that for a while. Looking at the standings just now, I realize that these are two of the three worst teams in the league, but I found myself completely baffled by how poor the level of play was. I watched 40 minutes, and I can’t recall a single time when 30+ yard pass that wasn’t intercepted (even close for that matter, as if they were being passed to the opposing team) or one ball that was brought down at the feet of the player under control. Not one. I also don’t remember three passes being strung together by either team that didn’t result in a loss of possession.

    I realize I should watch Philly, LA, NY, or Dallas to really get a better understanding of the quality in the MLS, but I found this match to be very discouraging. After joining the soccer fray at the same time as the author, I can already see a massive gap between the two levels of play. To tell the author to f*ck off for more or less disregarding “the MLS” strikes me as a child defending their water pistol that is being compared to a Super Soaker.

    I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here, and I imagine that over the next 5-7 years we will start to see more youth growing into higher caliber players than we currently have to offer, I’m just trying to say I understand the author’s decision to look overseas in this situation.

    1. Last night’s match was admittedly not a great advertisement for MLS. I can go on and on about why I think you should watch more of it, but read IanCransonsKnees’ post from above.

  11. Great read! It’s always interesting to see how Americans pick their teams. Picking an EPL team was the first time I couldnt base my choice directly on a geographic location. Here was my experience:

    I’m actually relatively new to the sport itself still but have been soaking up all the knowledge I can over the past few years. As with a lot of Americans, I never really gave it a chance until I had the opportunity to intern with the Columbus Crew. At first I thought of it as just a way to finish my degree (sport marketing) but soon I feel in love with the game, becoming as much of a fan as I was an employee. As my internship ended, my love for the game did not. I continued to follow MLS very closely, watching every match I could and of course attending Crew matches locally. This peaked my curiosity toward the higher levels of football. Despite not having any geographical connections, I still wanted to find a Premier League team to call my own. The quality of play, atmosphere and tradition fascinated me. It’s really unlike anything in American sports. Picking Chelsea and Man U was too easy for me though and felt kind of dirty (like picking the Yankees). I watched tons of EPL matches every Saturday morning and scoured the internet trying to find connections to clubs.

    Ultimately, I found Fulham. I can’t explain what specifically hooked me but something just felt right about the club. I loved watching the games on TV and Craven Cottage seemed like a place straight out of a movie. I knew Brian McBride (who was a legend in Columbus sports) had quite a career at Fulham as well. I will admit having Clint Dempsey also peaked my interest. I’m not going to pretend to know what it was like before they were an EPL side, but I can respect what it took to get them to where they are today. I like that they aren’t the most glamorous club and are often overshadowed by the larger ones. They remind me a lot of the American teams I support. I’ve been cheering on Fulham for about 3 seasons now and have always been extremely loyal to my teams and Fulham is no different, even if it means early Saturday mornings or crappy internet streams.

    I’m actually planning my first trip to England with my wife for this fall. Of course the first stop on my list is Craven Cottage!

  12. So you’re lucky enough to live in a major American city that actually has a professional soccer club but you refuse to support them because the level of play isn’t as good as MLS? What a shame. I guess then you don’t follow the US Men’s National Team, as they aren’t as good as Spain, Germany, Brazil, etc.

  13. Just because you have a team you follow in the Premier league doesn’t mean you need to tell your local team to “*uck off”, which you did in this article. I find the Premier league entertaining as long as the match involves one of the better teams in the league, but I also find the play of FC Dallas entertaining. Since I live in Austin, I can only travel up to Dallas to watch matches a few times in a season. But the experience of watching a live game is sooooo much better then watching from my living room. Maybe if you went to a game and sat in the supporters section you find some of the experiences that IansCransonsKnees tries to describe above.

    1. I agree with you flacotex. I follow the Gunners as well but that doesn’t mean I cannot go down to some Philadelphia Union matches and support my local. I started following Arsenal before the Union were established but that doesn’t mean I am “betraying” Arsenal if I support an MLS team.

      The two sides are not even on the same continent. Plus, the MLS runs through the summer so (instead of searching the net all day for bogus transfer rumours) enjoy some competitive football this summer.

  14. not to sound like a prick, but im starting to find the “im following a big four (or six) team because i can watch more of their games” line of reasoning to be wearing thin. I was able to watch every second of newcastle united this season. The ability to watch a non big 4/6 team is easier now more than ever. i know its a tough expense for a first year soccer fan, but the option plus espn3 on survival sunday means you can watch all the games of any premier league team you want, not just the popular ones.

    aside from that, welcome to the addiction. as a newcastle supporter, i am obligated to say 4-4 now. 😉

    1. I don’t know of anyone that has chosen a ‘big 4’ team (that label is tiring as hell now..) because of the availability of matches.. I think that’s more an excuse not to support a Championship side. Every Premier League team is easily followable, so to speak.

      1. I agree, but it’s only been a recent phenomenon that all Premier League teams have been viewable on TV (and/or the Internet). Prior to two years ago, we had to hope that our team’s matches would be on. Now we know that all of them will be.

        The Gaffer

  15. Unlike almost everyone else here, I am going to fully support your dismissal of the MLS. I have tried to like it time and time again over the course of the last six summers. I went into World Cup withdrawal last year and watched match after match. I’ve even gone so far as to drive 3 hours to Chicago to attend some league matches.

    Despite my best efforts, I just cannot handle it. As someone who has exclusively lived in America, I wish I wasn’t so embarrassed about my domestic league and I wish I could support it more, but I just can’t handle it. Everybody seems to model their style after Gary Megson’s Bolton…eesh

  16. Firstly, I think the fact that so many Americans (including myself) have gravitated to a world-class professional sports league that isn’t based in the US, is a win-win for the league and for the growing legions of American fans. To me it shows a sporting maturation and growing curiosity of global sports which seems an overall positive thing. We’re only scratching the surface of how much impact there is to be had from American fans of EPL teams.

    Secondly, I would lump myself in with the newbies albeit my introduction came 6 years ago and decision to select an EPL team at the time of the 2006 World Cup. I am relatively new to the legions of fans who’ve been following English League Football for decades and generations but went through a thoughtful process developing some sort of criteria to make an honest selection. Already with friends who had favorite teams (all among the Big 4 at that time), I could not jump on those wagons in good conscience.

    Before even considering clubs, I knew my selection needed to be more personal in an attempt to replicate what would be most similar to a hometown club. To represent me at the time, I filtered to clubs; newer to the Premiership, from one of the smaller ‘blue-collar’ home cities, preferably all-English ownership, optimistic, yet a serious underdog (what sports fan doesn’t love an underdog story), and also with a kit that I could envision buying and wearing.

    My criteria narrowed the list and I finally have arrived at selecting Wigan Athletic. People laugh at my selection as they quite obviously won’t be winning any hardware or contending for Europe anytime soon. I don’t care. Their dramas at the foot of the league most every season are no less serious than of those at the top and possibly more as the consequences are more dire for failure.

    Ultimately, the joy that came from making such a personal selection seems well-founded enough and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    PS I would however appreciate the next season to be more established and less frantic most of what I’ve endured so far, but that’s not very likely…

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