I don’t miss watching American sports.
Sometime during my three years in Ghana, I discovered that I actually like football. Football (or “soccer”) has several admiral qualities including:
Simple game rules: each team tries to put the ball into the net. Except for the goalie, no one can use their arms and hands. Both baseball and football involve intricate strategies that either make the sports more interesting or too complicated.
No team spending cap: as far as I can tell, no team in Europe is restricted from spending any amount on a player or its whole roster. Unlike American sports that try to “level the playing field,” football resembles the inequities of life. Namely, those with money tend to have the most consistently winning teams. Furthermore, you’re welcome to spend whatever you can afford on (disappointing) players, e.g. Gareth Bale at Real Madrid
I was surprised to learn that many of the owners of English Premier League teams are actually American:
- Arsenal – Stan Kroenke (majority owner), also owns the Denver Nuggets
- Aston Villa – Randy Lerner
- Fulham – Shahid Khan (also holds Pakistani citizenship)
- Liverpool – John Henry (also owns the Boston Red Sox)/LeBron James
- Manchester United – Malcolm Glazer (also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Sunderland – Ellis Short
Relegation and promotion: There’s a reason why they call it the “Premier” league. Apparently, every year the three worst teams get “relegated” or demoted to a lower league, aka the Championship League, and the two best teams from the Championship League get promoted to the Premier League. The third spot is filled via match play. Given the television rights associated with being in the Premier League, there is both a financial cost and reputation loss for being relegated.
This merit-based concept seems very “American” so it’s hard to figure out why the NFL and NBA don’t have similar systems. Though their is the chance for upsets, I find that watching an American football team that is 6-0 play a year-on-year loser, e.g. Detroit Lions, not particularly entertaining. Why doesn’t the NFL and baseball relegate its worst teams to a separate league? They can put these teams out of their misery by demoting them to a JV league. There, they can duke it out and redeem themselves.
It’s less than 2 hours: During the game, there are no commercial breaks for time outs or pauses for commercials. Each half is 45 minutes with an additional 2-5 minutes for time wasted. There’s a 15 minute “half time” in the middle. Unlike American football, the game doesn’t take up your whole afternoon or evening. You can do something with the rest of your day, e.g. drink beer and wait for the next game.
Unpredictable: It took some time for me to warm up to this fact. At least to me, it’s not obvious when someone is about to score. The ball seems to get tossed around the midfield for a while, each side pushing closer to the goal, then is thwarted. Suddenly, usually when I go to the toilet, someone scores! In comparison, basketball seems like a game of attrition or mistakes. Your team gains the lead because the other team doesn’t score on their “turn.”
Long season: They start in mid-August and end in early May. So it’s American football season + basketball season + half of baseball season combined. Many of the players also play for their national teams. I’m always surprised by how long the season is. Sometimes the seasons seem to run into each other.
Truly global: The players are from all over the world. Ok, not too many Americans…
Normal-sized players: one friend in the UK pointed out that it’s kind of hard to relate to a 6’10” black guy in the NBA or a 400 lb defensive end in the NFL. Football (soccer) players all seem to be of “average” height and build.
My EPL team is…
For the last few years, I’ve been trying to figure out a team to root for. I didn’t want to pick any of the usual “Big 4” names — Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. (Many Ghanaians support Chelsea because it has the “most African” team.) USA Today put together a good summary of how a person would decide on a team to support. I took a football personality test and kept getting Swansea. Sorry, I’m not going to support Swansea.
For a while, I tried to support Tottenham Hotspur, but I never got too into their games. The only guy I liked on their team was Emmanuel Adebayor from Togo. Everyone else seemed faceless and nameless.
I decided on Manchester City. I watched a few of their games including this year’s Man U vs Man City game and like how they played. In 2008, the team was purchased by some rich fellows in Abu Dhabi. They have a reputation for buying the best, young players and “cheating” their way to the top. In three short years, they earned the top spot for the 2011-2012 season.
Plus, Man City’s baby blue uniforms matches my UCLA Bruins and San Diego Chargers colors.