Now, with most major cable and satellite providers offering Fox Soccer Channel, most of the world's top leagues are available with the click of the remote. That said, there's nothing that compares to rising at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to watch the English Premier League. Consider it the perfect alternative to sports on ESPN.
Yes, actually living in Engerland, I'm sure the coverage is just as overbearing and obnoxious and by God, is there a law all pundits must be 98 percent metrosexual?.
But consider this -- a game runs two hours, has no commercials or stops in play, no sideline reporters, no idiots in the crowd with a sign spelling out ESPN or CBS, no promos for "The Closer" or "King of Queens," and most importantly, no Stuart Scott in sight.
That said, as we did for the World Cup, we present our 2006/07 EPL team capsules. This is the first of four (five teams each). Bear in mind the "transfer window" stays open until September, so players can change clubs. Play begins August 19 when Sheffield United takes on Liverpool.
Are you ready for some football?
I originally started writing these around July 10th. Then ESPN's Bill Simmons, devoted an entire post to choosing an EPL team, which almost made me decide not to go forward. Disappointing. (For the record, I've been working on these American comparisons for a long time.)
Since a preview of the 2006/07 Bundesliga season (Eintracht Frankfurt anyone) just has less than zero appeal, I'm trudging forward. Huzzah. (Yes, I also realie, true English don't want a bunch of pale-faced Yanks honing in on their turf. Also, it's worth nothing the EPL might not be the best league on Earth, but it is the most accessible to a Yank like me.)
Boil a pot of tea, put on The Streets and if you're lucky, track down a tasty and calorie-rific meat pie. (Remember as true English Geezer told me, "We don't like vitamins, we prefer lards and fats." ...
Remember, this is a guide for beginers, enough of my yakking. Let's boogie.
Note: All transfers as of August 3, 2006. Also, keep in mind the top four teams each year qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Fifth and sixth gain entry to the UEFA Cup. The bottom three are relagated into the Football League Championship, aka the second division.
HOMETOWN: North London
MANAGER: Arsene Wenger (Frenchman hired in 1996 after starring in a Pink Panther movie)
2005/6 RECORD: 20-11-7, 67 points, fourth place (note: American style, W-L-D)/Champions League runners-up.
SILVERWARE: First Division/EPL winners: 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2004; FA Cup winners: 1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1979, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005; League Cup: 1987, 1993
NICKNAME: The Gunners/Gooners
GROUND: Emirates Stadium aka Ashburton Grove (new for this 2006/07) (cap.: 60,000)
RIVALS: Tottenham Hotspur (North London Derby); Manchester United
IN: Tomas Rosicky (Borussia Dortmund, Ger.)
OUT: Sol Campbell (????), Dennis Bergkamp (retired), Robert Pires (Villareal); Ashley Cole (Chelski/Real...somewhere?)
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Jens Lehman; Def.: Kolo Toure, Emmaneul Eboue, Phillippe Senderos (injured); Mid: Cesc Fabregas, Fredrik Ljungberg (click at your own risk); Gilberto Silva; For: Thierry Henry (capt.); Jose Antonio Reyes, Robin Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor
STARMAN: Henry. Once he dons the red/white strip he becomes an unstoppable force -- TH14. The Frenchman can score in just about any fashion and almost makes you forgot he's a pitchman for Chanel.
ONE TO WATCH: Emmanuel Eboue -- This kid was simply immense at the end of last season. The young Ivorian should easily replace Ashley Cole, wherever he decides to go. Also keep an eye on Fabregas (duh), the 19-year-old Catalan is well on his way to becoming the world's best two-way midfielder.
FAST FACT: The original Fever Pitch, the one by Nick Hornby was about his love of the Gunners. (Yeah, not all that exciting. Find one for yourself, there are plenty.)
REASON TO LIKE: Under Wenger, the Gunners play fast, exciting football, capable of scoring 4-5 goals in any match. (It will be interesting to see if this trend holds at the new stadium, since their former groud Highbury was the narrowest pitch in the league, leading to a lot of movement and short passes. Gooners better hope its not like a Tiger Stadium/Comerica Park deal.) ... In simplest terms, it's pretty cool to root for a team named "Arsenal." or better yet, "The Arsenal"... It's weird Arsenal, as a club doesn't make too much noise. The management seems pretty sane, or at least knows how to make money quietly.
REASON TO HATE: Arsenal reportedly has 27 million people worldwide that call themselves fans. Do you really want to be that guy? ... Or root for a team who's best player (Henry) and manager (Wenger) are so French that they eat frog legs at halftime? ... (It's a wonder Wenger hasn't inked Daft Punk.)
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Currently no American plies his trade in the the red/white strip.
AMERICAN EQUIVALENT: Sort of a mix of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Red Sox, if that makes sense. Certainly not as cosmopolitan as Chelsea, Arsenal still carries a lot of cache. After reading 'Fever Pitch' you sense longtime, dyed in the wool Gooners were like Red Sox Nation for a long time, albeit much more successful.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: The youngsters that did so well in the Champions League last season, carry that over to the league as they challenge Chelski.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Arsenal stumbles away from home, like it did last season, and they end out of the Champions League, which almost happened last year had the Spurs not gotten food poisoning.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.arsenal.com/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.arsenal-world.co.uk/
LAST WORD: Which will be get this year? -- The Arsenal that reached the Champions League final or the team that looked often very mediocre in the February/March doldrums?
Still, Wenger's eye for talent is unmatched, and off the World Cup, Rosicky might be the signing of the season. Is 17-year-old Theo Walcott the real deal?
Of the other 19 teams, Arsenal looks like the best bet to knock the crown off Chelski, sorry ManU.
Lastly, will this team lose its powers away from historic Highbury and its iconic O2 sponsor shirt?
NAME: Aston Villa
FOUNDED: 1874, one of the original English "League" teams
2005/6 RECORD: 10-16-12, 42 points -- 16th place
SILVERWARE: First Division winners: 1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1909-10, 1980-81; European champs: 1982; FA Cup: 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920, 1957; League Cup: 1961, 1975, 1977, 1994, 1996
NICKNAME: The Villains
GROUND: Villa Park, (cap. 42,500)
RIVALS: Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, (However both Midlands rivals were relegated at the end of last season.)
IN: Anyone???? Bueller, Bueller?
OUT: James Milner (Newcastle United, loan return).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Thomas Sørensen; Def: Olof Mellberg (Capt.), Wilfred Bouma, JLloyd Samuel; Mid: Gareth Barry, Lee Hendrie, Eric Djemba-Djemba; For: Milan Baros, Kevin Phillips, Juan Pablo Angel.
STARMAN: Milan Baros could be a star, or at least he was going on two years ago at Euro 2004. But since coming to England he's done next to nothing in two seasons with Liverpool and now Villa. ... Although he's not really "star" Gareth Barry is a fairly talented player and seemingly a good all-around bloke, although I read this morning he wants out. Smart move young squire.
ONE TO WATCH: Luke Moore, at least this 22-year-old has some upside.
FAST FACT: Villa is both a founding member of the Football League and Premier League.
REASON TO LIKE: Their sky-blue and claret uniforms are easy on the eyes. ... With names like Olof, JLloyd and Djemba-Djemba Villa has sometastyy names. And frankly who wouldn't enjoy beating a friend in FIFA 07 with a goal from Djemba-Djemba.
REASON TO HATE: Nothing that really inspires hate, more apathy than anything else. Unless you're a Baggie or a Brummie.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: None. Possibly Randy Lerner, the Cleveland Browns owner wants to buy the team. Apparently he's withdraw his bid, but actually took the time to meet with theshareholderss of the club to gauge their interest, something that didn't quite happen in Manchester.
AMERICAN EQUIVALENT: The Pittsburgh Pirates. The glory days seem as distant memory as this proud side falls further and further from its prior glory. Or better yet, the Cleveland Browns, especially if their owner -- Lerner -- buys the team.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Somehow scraps its way toward mid-table respectability, using the pre-season rubbish as a rallying cry. Meanwhile, the board sells to a 'sugardaddy' that throws a few pound sterlings at the squad.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The bottom falls out and the Villains are in the Championship, which seems like a very likely possibility unless morale improves and some needed cash is injected toward a player or two.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.avfc.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.heroesandvillains.net/
LAST WORD: This team has some talent and should be better than it is. However, the chairman, "Deadly" Doug Ellis has put a lock on the transfer kitty, nearly sparking a revolt amongst the players. Villa is a mess and simply needs to clean house, starting with Ellis. Rumor has it season tickets are down 8,000 from last year and the head of O'Leary (who was always more concerned with his tie'sWindsorr knot) won't appease an angry bunch of Midlandders. Remember, Black Sabbath hailed from Birmingham. It could get ugly.
NAME: Blackburn Rovers
HOMETOWN: (10,00 holes in) Blackburn, Lancashire
MANAGER: Mark Hughes (hired 2004)
2005/6 RECORD: 19-13-6, 6th place -- UEFA Cup qualifiers
SILVERWARE: EPL winner: 1993-94; First Division winners: 1911-12, 1913-14; FA Cup Winners: 1884,1885,1886,1890,1891,1928; League Cup winners: 2002
NICKNAME: Rovers/Blackeye Rovers
GROUND: Ewood Park, (cap: 31,367)
RIVALS: Burnley (THE EAST LANCASHIRE DERBY, teams haven't been in the same division since 1982, but apparently it gets pretty rough when they play, as you would imagine it would with angry fans living in dreary Northwest England.)
IN: Jason Brown (Gillingham, free); Francis Jeffers (Charlton Athletic, free); Jason Roberts (Wigan Athletic, undisclosed); Benni "Breath Right" McCarthy (FC Porto).
OUT: Paul Dickov (Manchester City, free); Craig Bellamy (Liverpool, undisclosed); Florent Sinama-Pongolle (Liverpool, end of loan); Lorenzo Amoruso (released)
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Brad Freidel; Def: Andy Todd (capt.); Lucas Neil, Ryan Nelsen; Mid: Morten Gamst Pedersen, Robbie Savage, Brett Emerton, Steven Reid, Tugay For: ???????
STARMAN: Pederson. Simply put, I have a yoooooog man-crush on this goofy looking Norweigian. He may just be the league's best kept secret, and I can't expect him to spend another season of relative obscurity.
ONE TO WATCH: Robbie Savage. Ok, he's not a youngster, but something always seems to happen around this Welshman. Riviled and hated by most, even the refs. He's got sort of a Ric Flair personality and one of these days is going to get a pair of spikes right in the family jewels. ... Also keep an eye on former Arsenal youngster David Bentley, even with his sorry excuse for a moustache.
FAST FACT: Rovers are the only squad other than Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea to win an EPL title. Look it up. They did it in 1995 thanks to a young Alan Shearer and Jack Walker's checkbook.
REASON TO LIKE: If you're into hard tackles, spirited play and a touch of thuggery, these are your boys. (Although I say this reputationn is a little overblown and Rovers were a fun team to get behind last season.)
REASON TO HATE: See above.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: American No. 1 at South Korea/Japan, Big Brad Freidel plies his trade in the Northwest. Youngster Jemel Johnson is on the reserve team. (Born in New Jersey, but moved to Engerland as a 5-year-old.)
AMERICAN EQUIVALENT: Oakland Athletics. Remember they began with Connie Mack's Philly A's, therefore they have the age thing going. And this team is surprisingly scrappy and will employ any kind of player, like the A's. And no one shows up at Ewood Park, like the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, too.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Repeat of last year's sixth in the league and a deep run into the UEFA Cup.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Crash out of UEFA early and finish up mid-table or lower.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.rovers.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: www.blackburnrovers-mad.co.uk/
LAST WORD: No matter how you slice it, Rovers are thin. It bears watching which direction Hughes goes, glory in League or UEFA? If even a couple injuries spring up, it could turn bad fast. Replacing the goal scoring of the temperamentall Bellamy is an absolute must. (Mido anyone? beacuse McCarthy et al aren't going to cut it.) This collection of players just might have peaked last April when they defeated Chelski 1-0 to clinch their UEFA spot. And sadly, its only a matter of time before a big club snatches away Pederson.
NAME: Bolton Wanderers
MANAGER: "Big" Sam Allardyce (Hired 1999) Gets credit for an absurd column-mug in FourFourTwo magazine and for his persistent use of a Bluetooth headset during games. (Is he buying stocks on the London Exchange with that thing?)
2005/6 RECORD: 15-12-11, 56 points, 8th place
SILVERWARE: FA Cup -- 1923, 1926, 1929, 1958
NICKNAME: The Trotters/International House of Football
GROUND: The Reebok Stadium, 28,723
RIVALS: ??? Fill me in. That dang, white shirt is just so dang neutral.
IN: Idan Tal (Maccabi Haifa, undisclosed); Abdoulaye Meite (Marseille, undisclosed); Quinton Fortune (Manchester United, free).
OUT: Matt Jansen (released); Khalilou Fadiga (released); Oscar Perez (released); Jay-Jay Okocha (Qatar Sports Club, free); Bruno N'Gotty (Birmingham City, free); Hidetoshi Nakata (retired); Radhi Jaidi (Birmingham City, Â£2million)
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Jussi Jääskeläinen; Def: Radhi Jaidi; Mid: Kevin Nolan (c), Stelios Giannakopoulos, Ricardo Gardner; For: El-Hadji Diouf, Ricardo Vaz Te
STARMAN: Stelios. From the one-word name on the shirt, to his funny Greek accent, to his craggly smile, this guy brings a lot of flair to the table. And a lot of inconsistency too.
ONE TO WATCH: Vaz Te, the young Portugeezer looks like a possible star.
FAST FACT: Bolton has players from 14 different countries in its first team -- Oman, England, Cote D'Ivoire, Wales, Greece, Spain, Denmark, Jamaica, Tunisia, Mexico, Portugal, Senegal, Finland and Israel. ... Welsh midfielder Gary Speed has made the most EPL appearances of all-time.
REASON TO LIKE: The Trotters 2004/05 all-white shirt was super stylish. ... These guys always seem to give an effort. ...
REASON TO HATE: They employ Jared Borgetti and El-Hadji Diouf, nuff said.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Bolton has Hartford, Conn. born Johan Smith in its youth system.
AMERICAN EQUIVALENT: Milwaukee Bucks, basically a team you really can't get too excited about when you see them on the upcoming home schedule.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Sneak into Europe.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Another season like last year, which essentially accomplished nothing.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.bwfc.premiumtv.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.walkingdownthemannyroad.cjb.net/
LAST WORD: Big Sam's Bolton boys might have peaked two seasons ago. Nothing really excites you about this team. Yes, they're better than average but although Big Sam has been succesful hauling in older players on free transfers, they might need a collective breath of fresh air. That said, they'll probably finish sixth and make the FA Cup semifinals. Be wary of enduring a noon Bolton/Man City FSC game.
NAME: Charlton Athletic
HOMETOWN: Southeast London
MANAGER: Iain Dowie (Hired 2006, coined the phrase, "bouncebackability")
2005/6 RECORD: 13-17-8, 47 points -- 13th place
NICKNAME: The Addicks
GROUND: The Valley, cap.: 27,111
RIVALS: Not sure. Everyone seems to be indifferent toward Charlton, though I'm prolly wrong.
IN: Cory Gibbs (Feyenoord, free); Gonzalo Sorondo (Inter Milan, free); Simon Walton (Leeds United, undisclosed); Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Middlesbrough, free). [Must say, a pretty good haul on the cheap, even if JFH is starting to show his sell-by date.]
OUT: Jonathan Spector (Manchester United, end of loan); Shaun Bartlett (Kaizer Chiefs); Jonatan Johansson (Malmo, free); Francis Jeffers (Blackburn Rovers, free); Chris Perry (West Bromwich Albion, free); Jay Bothroyd (released); Chris Powell (Watford, free).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Thomas Myhre; Def: Gonzalo Sorondo, Talal El Karkouri, Luke Young; Mid: Dennis Rommedahl, Darren Ambrose; For: Darren Bent, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
STARMAN: Bent, Darren. This kid singlehandily made an otherwise unremarkable seasons worthwhile with 18 goals in 36 matches. (Don't confus him with his brother, Marcus, another former Ipswich Town player.)
ONE TO WATCH: Bent again. This kid should have been on England's roster for the Cup.
FAST FACT: Charlton are the first club to open an academy in America.
REASON TO LIKE: Well, the nickname Addicks is cool. And how can you not like a team that plays at The Valley. ... Charlton has a permanent spot on its board for a fan representative.
REASON TO HATE: Meh.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Gibbs, is a defender on the USMNT, but has yet to secure a work permit.
AMEMERICAN EQUIVALENT: Seattle Seahawks. Basically two teams you really don't have an opinion on. Milder than milk they are. It's almost as if Big Sam has a policy that he simply can't sign a play with any inkling of flair, Stelios notwithstanding.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Maybe, just maybe sneak into a spot in Europe. Do I say sneak?
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Sucked into the relagation battle.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.cafc.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.addicksonline.co.uk/
LAST WORD: Alan Curbisley had managed the Addicks since 1995, before stepping down after last season. Will the injection of new blood, Dowie, snap Charlton's string of mediocrity? Here are their finishes the last six seasons -- 9, 14, 12, 7, 11, and 13. So in other words, not really. And lastly, at this point, can only get excited about Jimmy Floyd suiting up at striker for your team? What's the Surinamese word for no?
Check back next week, part two including Chelsea and Manchester City. Good golly miss molly! We'll have a full-feldged TOP EPL fantasy game too, just waiting to see if Yahoo! UK does it again this season. Stay tuned.