This article first appeared on the site a year ago. Re-posting. Some of the team stuff might be a hair dated. COYS.
If you want to become a soccer fan, or even just sample what the sport has to offer, then I suggest you start with the English Premier League, which opens its season on Saturday.
I jumped in two years ago and haven’t looked back.
Soccer can be an extraordinarily confusing sport to follow. Forgetting for a second about learning the game, there are countless teams in countless leagues in countless countries with countless titles and cups and championships. It’s like the first time you played Mario Kart and tried to figure out the difference between the Star and Gold cups, and then you had to select for 50, 100 or 150 cc. The fack?! For a new fan of the sport, it can be an extremely daunting task to jump right in. That’s why the English Premier League – also referred to as the EPL (by lifers), Barclays Premier League (by people who want to acknowledge a large multinational bank every time they talk about their favorite league), Premier League (by everyone else) - is for you. It’s the most watched and probably the best sports league in the world. All the teams are in England or Britain or Great Britain (the differences have been explained to me three times and I still don’t get it, nor do I care) and there’s one winner at the end of the season, with no playoffs, no tournaments, no divisions, no conferences, no bullshit. Just soccer. Three points for a win. One point for a tie. None for a loss.
Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the more popular teams: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle.
This isn’t a column on what team you should choose to root for (Bill Simmons already wrote that)– it’s a post on why you should choose the league.
High-level European soccer teams play in a variety of leagues, tournaments and cups. Each team has its national league (English Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy), often a secondary regional league (Champions League, Europa League), friendly matches, and random national and international cup tournaments. It’s a dizzying array of matches that can be difficult to keep track of, especially from across the Atlantic. That’s why you should start with one league, the Premier League. Or the Barclays Premier League, if you’re an asshole.
The season is long (August-May). Games are played almost every week (soccer has breaks for international competition and local cups, and it will piss you off when you turn on the TV one Saturday morning only to find archival footage of things with weird names like the London Derby). It’s easy to keep track of. And many of the world’s best and most recognizable players are in the league (the two best, however – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – play in Spain).
There are 20 teams in the league. No playoffs. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. It sounds anti-climactic, and it can be, but take, for example, the 2011-2012 season, when Manchester City beat out Manchester United (bitter rivals) on the last day – no, the last minute – of the season.
Manchester City needed a win over lowly Queens Park Rangers to win the league. A tie would give it to Man U, who, while the City game was drawing to an end, had just beaten Sunderland, 1-0.
City was down 2-1 in extra time. They needed two goals in four minutes, which is unheard of in soccer.
They got it, much to the shock of Sir Alex Ferguson and Man U, who learned of their misfortune while still on the pitch.
That was how the season ended. Two games, in two different places, drawing to an end at the same time. It may be the greatest finish to a sports season ever.
Now, not every season will conclude that way. 2012-2013 didn’t. Man U ran away with it, because they’re the Yankees and you should hate them accordingly. If you’re finding any of the information in this post to be new information (as in, you’re not already a soccer fan) and you decide to root for Man U, I hate you, and so does every other soccer fan. You’re the guy who likes the Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers. You’re a sick fuck. And a frontrunner.
But there are other things to consider besides first place: