Soccer for dummies

I hear it all the time.

“What? You like soccer? That’s a stupid sport.”

No, actually it isn’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint where my love for the game began. We didn’t play it at my high school in Marion, S.C., and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until I left college. Sure, I watched a few World Cups. But I treated that event kind of like I do the Olympics – love it while it’s here, then ignore for four years until its return.

But somewhere along the line, I got hooked. I think the Barclays Premier League is the primary reason. My passion for the game has since grown to Serie A, La Liga and, of course, international competitions. But it all started in the Prem.

And it can for you as well.

So here it is, a simple set of reasons to give the beautiful game a try…

1. The history – While the current version of the top flight level of English football dates back only to 1992, there has been a top level in place since 1888. Preston North End won the first of its two titles in 1889, and that club still exists today, playing in the Championship. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.

2. The rivalries – Think of the Prem as a league with haves and have-nots. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea make up “The Big Four.” They are the richest, most powerful, most successful clubs in England. And they all hate each other.

There are five clubs in London playing in the Prem. They are Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham. They don’t like each other either.

Manchester City plays in Manchester with Man U, Everton shares Liverpool with the Reds and Newcastle and Sunderland are about 10 miles apart. And, you guessed it, none of them care for each other. The point is that, every week for 10 months, chances are a game is being played that is either very important in the standings or very important as a rivalry. Usually, it’s both.

The passion runs deep. Man City chants “Munich” at games against City in reference to the Munich Air Disaster, a plane crash in 1958 that killed eight Man U players and 15 others.

3. The athletes – A subject of much debate in England is the fact that only 35 percent of the players in the Prem are, in fact, English. While that might not bode well for the fortunes of the English national team, it makes for some entertaining soccer. 

Some of the world’s best players – Cristiano Ronadlo (Man U), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Fernando Torres (Liverpool) and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) – play in the Prem. That’s just a handful, which is why you end up with club teams with better lineups than most national sides. If you dropped the U.S. national team in England and put them in the Prem, they’d be lucky to crack the top 10.

4. Working for a living – The players are paid huge sums of money to kick a ball around, but they end up earning it. The average soccer field is 20 yards longer and usually about 30 yards wider than a football field. Players run for 90 minutes, stopping only for a 15-minute halftime break. You don’t have to worry about commercials, either, unless NBC is showing a match…

Unlike your average NBA or baseball game, there’s no dogging it, either. Every game is life and death. Why?

Glad you asked…

5. The relegation system – If you want to stay in the Premier League, cashing huge checks from TV distribution deals and such, you have to win. Because, if you don’t, you’re gone.

Every year, the bottom three teams fall out of the Prem and into the Championship – the next level down on the English Football Pyramid. This method is used pretty much everywhere in the world. Except, of course, for MLS here in the states…

With three teams going down, you get three more that come up. So, it’s possible for teams like Hull City to rise all the way up through the system and play in the Prem. This is the first time in their 104-year history that the Tigers have kicked a ball in anger in England’s top league.

To me, this is soccer’s greatest appeal. Can you imagine where the Knicks would be if this scenario played out in the NBA? It makes players care all the way through a 38-game schedule – not including the various cup competitions.

The games are on Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports every weekend. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.


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2 Responses to “Soccer for dummies”

  1. The Offside Trap » Blog Archive » News from the archives Says:

    […] Soccer for Dummies […]

  2. News from the archives « The Sports Page Says:

    […] Soccer for Dummies […]

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