It all started with the Sports Guy, as all good sports stories should. Bill Simmons, writer for ESPN's Page 2 website and all around funnyman, decided after the World Cup that he needed to get in on the English Premier League, a division of soccer play that ranks up there as one of the best leagues in the world. And when the sports are good, so are the fans.
Think of the EPL as 20-team league where everyone hates each other as much as the Red Sox hate the Yankees. Teams stand for their cities (or parts of cities; a few teams divvy up London) like the knights of times past, representing hundreds of thousands of people still pissed over 1,000-year-old territory disputes and who did or didn't side with the Roman Empire. And the teams are all a day's drive away from each other, so legions of supporters can inundate a rival town with different-colored jerseys on a whim.
It's a British civil war, and it's awesome.
Simmons put together quick mini-reviews of all 20 teams, focusing ultimately on six. I started talking to Shannon, our Industry Relations dude, and we both decided we'd read up a bit more on each of the teams and come up with favorite EPL teams of our own.
Ultimately, we both were able to narrow it down to two teams:
Shannon was tossed up between Chelsea, because he liked the idea of a Russian mobster who kills his business rivals playing the Russian national anthem before every game, and New Castle, because he really likes New Castle beer and behaving worse than Raiders fans.
I narrowed it down to Manchester United; being a Yankee fan, I'm used to catching hell for "money ball," and it's good to be the king. Also in the running was Liverpool, because Simmons described them as the Red Sox of the EPL, while Manchester United was the Yankees. I've always wanted to know how the other half lived.
But liking two teams didn't really make us fans, did it? No, you can't truly be a fanatic until you look upon all teams but yours as the scum of the universe; players you wouldn't brake in the street for, at least until they're wearing the right color jersey. So, we appealed for help.
We contacted one of the few British guys on our wavelength, our very own contributing writer, Spanner.
In an email, I described where Shannon and I were coming from, and asked him to evaluate our choices. In a couple hours, he returned with more help than we rightfully deserved.
Turns out, Spanner isn't much of a soccer fan, but he's been to New Castle, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester. So, instead of filling us in on the teams, he told us about each of the towns. And really, the team itself is less important than the people you're going to be in the stands cheering with.
As it turns out, New Castle is a pretty nice place to be, and if you order New Castle beer while in a bar (provide you pronounce it "Nuke 'Assle"), you're leaving that pub with friends for life.
Chelsea, however, sounds a lot like Orange County, CA, where your "butler has to drive a Range Rover" in order for you to fit in.
Shannon drives a Toyota, so he went with New Castle.
Spanner went on to describe Manchester as "cosmopolitan," with a thriving gay scene (not that there's anything wrong with that) and an awesome Chinatown. It's also in the northern part of the country. Sounds a bit like San Francisco, no? I like San Francisco a lot, but Liverpool spawned the Beatles (also, they're sponsored by Carlsberg, one of our first sponsors).
Well, that's about the only good thing Liverpool has ever spawned, and Spanner hears tell that John Lennon beat his first wife. He went on to mention that people from Liverpool barely speak English (this coming from an Englishman, so you know it's bad) and he mentioned something about "Scousers" only liking their own kind.
So, Manchester it is!
And with the help from a friend across the pond, Shannon and I were able to take our first step toward being right, proper Englishmen. We've already found scarves and jerseys on eBay, and we drink like fish. Now, I only have to get used to calling it "football."
So, I pose it to you, socc- football fans: Are our choices sound? And how does one "bend it like Beckham"?