Last June, I wrote about my coming to grips with the fact that I was just never going to have a team in the Premier League. Not like many of you do. No team ever reached out and grabbed me. No team’s fate made me nervous, joyous or miserable. So neutrality, of a sort, became my motto. Root for the underdog. If there was no true underdog, then I always went for the home team. I figured they might as well be happy and chant and sing the afternoon away. This was a great year as a neutral fan.
The race for the title was fantastic. First, Manchester City had it wrapped up and then they didn’t. Then Manchester United had total control and lost it. City finally won it in the most dramatic of fashions. You couldn’t script that if you tried. It was glorious. And as a neutral, I was thrilled with the outcome. Not that you could actually think of City as underdogs, but they hadn’t won the League in its modern configuration. So, a new name goes on the trophy. Great.
Then we had the race for the Champions League qualification. Again, who could write up this stuff? Arsenal looked dead and buried. Newcastle and Tottenham both had great shots at the spots, but failed to cash in (literally). It went down to the last couple of matches and in the end, with the Champions League results, it will be the same old, same old next year. Blah. My underdog mentality was looking for fresh faces. Too bad, but a great season for Newcastle, nonetheless, and sadly, heartbreak for a 4th place Spurs side.
The relegation avoidance battle wasn’t nearly as nail biting as last year, but certainly had its tension on the last day. I kept flicking back and forth, wishing I had the picture-in-picture feature on my TV. In the end I was pleased that QPR stayed up. That made it all three newly promoted teams returning to the Prem for another season. Underdogs win! That brings me to the wee chink in my neutrality.
I have to confess that from day one I was intensely interested in Swansea City. They were almost unanimously chosen by bookies and pundits as the one new team that could not possibly survive. I had to root for them! Besides, I didn’t want The Gaffer to have a breakdown at the end of the season. And finally, we are a Welsh-proud household. My wife has direct connections to Swansea as her grandmother was the first of her family not born in that city, but in the U.S.
So, I did follow the Swans closely… and they drove me crazy for a while. Five hundred passes and not a single decent shot on goal! Arrgh!! But Brendan Rodgers knew what he was doing and just had his boys keep at it. Vorm was absolutely amazing, Britton fantastic and Gylfi a gem of a pick-up. However, I sweated with them throughout the season until they had about 36 points, which I thought might be enough to stay up this year. Fortunately they went on to play some great matches and were safe long before the season was over. Eleventh place! Take that bookies and pundits! So much for my neutrality.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that above picture of me wearing a jersey.
What can I say? I guess I just got tired of the incessant drumbeat of “Stoke this and Stoke that.” It seems to me that the commentary about Stoke is often intellectually lazy and doesn’t match reality. Just rehashing the old lines. Yes, they are last in the Fair Play Table, but only eighth in the reds/yellows scoring. The other categories seem wildly subjective to me and no doubt Stoke suffers because they do play a deliberate brand of football and have rather exuberant fans. However, I don’t see the problem.
The object of the game is to play within the rules and gain as many points as you can. Not everyone is going to be Barca, Arsenal or Swansea. Tony Pulis has his system and it seems to work pretty well for a small club like Stoke. They came up and they’re staying up. They’ve been to the final of the FA Cup and they have played in Europe. So, why the constant beatdown? On the other hand, look what we heard about Chelsea’s less than beautiful win in the Champions League (which I enjoyed, by the way).
On The Guardian, articles appeared talking about “Chelsea’s crucial double barrier” and “Di Matteo’s tactical boldness.” Now, replace Chelsea with Stoke and Di Matteo with Pulis. Those stories would never be written, right? It would all be about parked buses and anti-football. Eric Wynalda might give them some credit, but many others do not.
At this point many of you may be certain I’ve lost my mind, to say nothing of my neutrality, but it’s just the way my “root for the underdog” mentality has taken me. I doubt I’ll ever lose any sleep over Stoke’s weekly ups and downs, or Swansea’s for that matter. You’ll never see any “Potter/Swan till I die” notations on my posts, but I will be pulling for them both to win every match next year. I’ve found neutrality has its limits.
A special shout out to EPL Talk reader IanCransonsKnees for letting me know about a close-out on this year’s Stoke jerseys, purchasing one for me and then shipping it across the pond. See how nice Stoke fans are? Forgive me Delilah…