NAME: Manchester United FC
HOMETOWN: Manchester, England
FOUNDED: 1878, as Newton Heath LYR F.C. (FC, in that case meaning "Fig Cookie" natch.)
MANAGER: Sir Alex Ferguson. (Hired 1986) A living legend in every sense of the word, with eight EPL titles under his belt.
2005/6 RECORD: 25-5-8, 83 points, 2nd place (eight points adrift of Chelski.)
SILVERWARE: First Division/EPL Champs: 1908, 1911, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1965, 1967, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003; FA Cup: 1909, 1948, 1963, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004; League Cup: 1992, 2006; European Champs: 1967-68, 1998-99
NICKNAME: The Red Devils/ManU/ManYoo/Manchester Bucaneers
GROUND: Old Trafford, aka the Theater of Dreams; capcity 78,000 (the largest in British league football.)
RIVALS: Manchester City (Manchester Derby), Leeds United, Liverpool, Arsenal, all the small clubs throughout Merry Old.
IN: Michael Carrick (Tottenham Hotspur, £18.6million), Tomasz Kuszczak (West Bromwich Albion, undisclosed).
OUT: Tim Howard (Everton, season loan); Quinton Fortune (Bolton Wanderers, free); Jonathan Spector (West Ham United, £500,000); Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Plymouth Argyle, £200,000); Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid, undisclosed); Gerard Pique (Real Zaragoza, season loan).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Edwin Van der Sar; Def: Phil Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemja Vidic, Mikael Silvestre, Gabriel Heinze; Mid: Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Ji-Sung Park For: Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha
STARMAN: Rooney. All this guy does is, play football, bang whores, eat raw meat, lose millions gambling and not pay for dental work. Is he the son of Bill Brasky after he had 'relations' with a English little person?
ONE TO WATCH: New Jersey born Guiseppi Rossi tore up the reserve league last season. And yes, I'm still holding out against all hope that he decides to play for American and not Italy internationally. ... Also, Kieran Richardson might be in for a big season.
FAST FACT: United are the only team to win the English "treble" when they captured the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup all in that glorious year of 1999.
FUN FACT: Harry McShane, father of Ian McShane aka Albert Swearengen, played for United in the 1950s.
PETER KING FACT: (As in, it will only interest me.) This girl who tends bar at a local watering hole down the street from me claims her father -- Tony Phillips -- played for the Red Devils in the mid-50s. I don't want to say I'm obsessed, that would make me sound crazier than usual, nor smitten, as that's just lame. But I do find it astoundingly remarkable, even if she likes Cristiano Ronaldo.
REASON TO LIKE: Believe it or not, he's actually not that hard to dislike this current United bunch. Aside from Ronaldo, Neville and Ferdinand, they're not all that contemptable. ... Rooney, Scholes, Giggs, even Ji Sung Park are fun to watch. Carrick was a personal fav at Spurs. ... For whatever its worth, you have to respect Sir Alex Ferguson aka SAF. He's gruff, yes, but he's a straight shooter who once tossed a shoe at David Beckham. Plus he's a friggin' Knight of the Realm.
REASON TO HATE: Gary Neville, Gary Neville, Gary Neville. ... The Glazers. ... The pompousness. ... The fact they're Manchester Fookin United. ... Oh right, Cristiano Ronaldo's whole act, too.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Owned by evil leperchaun Malcom Glazer. (They always be stealin' me pot o'gold.) Seen here burning in effigy. Then again, his pasty faced kids, Joel and Avi might be worse. To qoute Will Ferrell from the SNL "Bad Doctor" sketch, "He's got a boney face, the kind you'd pay money to kick."
AMERICAN EQUIVILENT: It's easy to say the Yankees, but since the Glazers bought the team they haven't exactly been out buying players in the league of Chelski or Real Madrid. A more fitting comparison, at least at the moment, is the Pittsburgh Steelers, owners aside. Both teams have had long, separate spans of glory. And both can call on fans across the country/globe. Although I doubt the Steelers have spent a lot of time trying to market themselves to Southeast Asia.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Return to glory, win the league
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Drop points against City. ... Burn out of Europe like last season.
DIFFERENT SORT OF SCENARIO: With the change to their new, unsightly AIG sponsored kits (frankly I'm surprised they didn't include a shade of pewter), the latest Golden Era for United, the one with Becks and Keano and Co., is officially closed. United has historically always been strong, but I think their ship has sailed for the time being. It might be a few years in the desert and it's a safe bet most United fans, deep down, wonder if SAF is still the man to lead them out of it.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.manutd.com/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://manchesterunited.rivals.net/default.asp?sid=891
LAST WORD: Just watch this Giggs compliation. This team will not finish first, why waste any other breath.
NAME: Middlesbrough F.C
HOMETOWN: Middlesbrough, Northeastern England
FOUNDED: 1876, the year of the American centennial.
MANAGER: Gareth Southgate (hired this summer, famously named dropped in this classic video.)
2005/6 RECORD: 12-17-9, 45 points, 14th place. ('Boro did have an absolutely AMAZING run in the UEFA Cup, before losing to Sevilla in the final. Put it this way Massimo Maccarone can eat for free in any Italian restuarant in Northeast England the rest of his life.)
SILVERWARE: League Cup: 2004. Kinda sad that's Boro's only major trophy.
NICKNAME: Boro/The Tessiders
GROUND: The Riverside Stadium, capcity 35,100
RIVALS: Newcastle United, sort of.
IN: Herold Goulon (Lyon, undisclosed); Julio Arca (Sunderland, £1.75million); at the time of this post, possbily Brett Emerton and Sylvan Distin.
OUT: Colin Cooper (retired); Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Charlton Athletic, free); Doriva (released); Franck Queudrue (Fulham, undisclosed).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Mark Schwarzer; Def: Stuart Parnaby, Julio Arca, Ugo Ehiogu, Mid: Stewart Downing, George Boateng (capt.), Lee Cattermole, Fabio Rochembeck, For: Mark Viduka, Yakubu, Massimo Maccarone (prounounced like Macaroni.)
STARMAN: Mark Viduka aka Captain Oz. He's a big strong bloke that can alternately dominant and become invisible. I'll cut him some slack, since it's tough to juggle life as a top flight footballer and Lord of the Wasteland.
ONE TO WATCH: Stewart Downing. Fragile as an oragami swan, the young England international is a certain player on the rise, when healthy. He's probably a year away from playing for Manchester United or Tottenham. ... To a lesser extent Lee Cattermole has flashed some potential.
FAST FACT: Thanks to its Academy, 'Boro fielded an entirely English team toward the end of last season. Surprisingly that was the first time it had happened in a couple seasons.
REASON TO LIKE: If you really really love English players, 'Boro scratches that itch. ... Lots of Aussies. ... Chances are, if you buy a 'Boro shirt you'll be the only person in your county or possibly even state or time zone to own one.
REASON TO HATE: Meh. Nothing hate inspiring unless you hate centuries of mediocrity.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: USMNT defender Oguchi Oneywu spurned 'Boro's advances to stay in Belgium, which is pretty stupid considering he'd easily start with the state of their centre backs. Oh well, we still love ya Gooch.
AMERICAN EQUIVILENT: The Milwaukee Brewers for a few reasons. 1. If you had to pick a desirable place to play, Milwaukee and Middlesboro seem on the same status line. 2. Both have new, sterile stadiums. 3. Neither have won anything of note. 4. Both clubs host 'Sausage Races.' In England instead of Chorizo, they have Blood Sausage. Mmmmmmmm.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Without a European campaign to worry about, they finally reach their potential with a top five finish alongside a nice FA Cup run.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The lack of a qualified defensive unit sucks them down toward 17th place, as the window set up by McClaren seems squeezing shut.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.mfc.premiumtv.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.comeonboro.com/
LAST WORD: Under new England boss Steve McClaren 'Boro made an amazing run to the UEFA Cup final last year, as well as the semifinals of the FA Cup. This is also a team that thumped Chelsea 3-0 and shortly afterward was trounced 7-0 by Arsenal. So anything is really possible. Boateng and Arca are solid pros and Rochembeck seems to be something special, in flashes. Yakubu to this point has to be considered a disappointment. And perhaps this is the season Gaizka Mendieta remains healthy. All that said, 10th place seems about right, though many think they'll make the drop.
NAME: Newcastle United FC
HOMETOWN: Newcastle, Northeast England.
MANAGER: Glenn Roeder (hired during the spring, despite not having a proper 'UEFA Pro License' which I think allows him to hunt deer.) Reminds me of an adult Harry Potter.
2005/6 RECORD: 17-14-7, 58 points, 7th place
SILVERWARE: First Division: Champions - 1905, 1907, 1909, 1927; FA Cup: Winners - 1910, 1924, 1932, 1951, 1952, 1955
NICKNAME: The Magpies (Fans are known as the Toon Army.)
GROUND: St. James Park, (capacity 52,387) Odd looking place, yet seems to have its charm, with or without vomit.
RIVALS: Sunderland (another fierce one, even if the Black Cats are horrificly abysmal)
IN: Nicky Butt (Birmingham City, loan return); James Milner (Aston Villa, loan return); Damien Duff (Chelsea, £5million).
OUT: Alan Shearer (ret., EPL all-time leading scorer); Lee "Cinderella Man" Bowyer (West Ham United, undisclosed); Michael Chopra (Cardiff City, undisclosed); Martin Brittain (released); Amady Faye (Charlton Athletic, £2million).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Shay Given; Def: Titus Bramble, Jean-Alain Boumsong (these two are on par with Laurel and Hardy and all other classic comedy duos.) Stephan Carr, Celestine Babayaro; Mid: Scott Parker (capt.), Kieron Dyer, Damien Duff, Emre, Nolberto Solano For: Shola Ameobi ......??????????????
STARMAN:: With Owen out for the season, hmmm ....? At various point Dyer was tipped for stardom. Yey Newcastle may not have a star, persay, but a lot of very good above average players. And that's a good thing. So why not enjoy an Alan Shearer one-hand salute compilation?
ONE TO WATCH: All eyes will be on Ameobi since he's the only established striker at Toon. How the Zaire-born Englishmen handles it is anyone's guesss. ... Mabye Albert Luque will live up to his huge price tag this season.
FAST FACT: Newcastle blew a 15 point lead at Christmas to Manchester United in 1994-95. It lead to manager Kevin Keegan losing his mind on the telly due to a preceived slight by SAF.
NON-DAVID ICKE APPROVED FACT: British PM Tony Blair, a shape-shifting Lizard according to the former Coventry City No. 1, is a Magpie fan.
REASON TO LIKE: Dedicated, passionate fans who support their team through thick and thin home and away. ...
REASON TO HATE: ... Those same fans would probably hit you with a blackjack and steal the fillings out of your mouth when you weren't looking.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Alan Shearer once ate dinner at Tad's Steaks in New York City.
AMERICAN EQUIVILENT: Philadelphia Eagles -- by most account the Toon Army is its own breed, angry, hostile and devoted. Sounds a lot like Eagles fans. And the teams are basically both very frustrating to follow and haven't won anything of note since the 1950s. In the last year there has been a motion pitcure set at Newcastle (Goal: The Dream Begins) and in Philly (InVinceable.) And believe it or not, Cheese Steaks are the official grilled sandwich of Newcastle United. Plus both clubs, and cities, have massive inferiority complexes. (FYI, Newcastle's 'Twin City' in America is Atlanta.)
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Top five or six seems reasonable, should they find another goal scorer.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: No one steps up at forward and the Magpies languish midtable and out of Europe.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.nufc.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.toon-army.co.uk/
LAST WORD: This might sound crazy, but the Magpies just might have the deepest and strongest midfield in the league. They'll need it as the shadow cast from the retired Shearer will loom large. Still, the team needed to move away from Shearer, no matter how great he once was. Newcastle did some great things under Roeder at the end of last season and were very fun to watch, particularly at St. James. The boyish Roeder injected some needed fresh air and seemed to pull a lot of Toonies off the ledge.
While they might make some inroads, they best heed the advice of Geordie Brian Johnson, you know, the lead singer from AC/DC -- "It's a long way to the top, if you want to rock 'n roll."
NAME: Portsmouth FC
HOMETOWN: Portsmouth, English southern coast
FOUNDED: 1898, the year the Curries discovered radium.
MANAGER: (H)arry Redknapp (hired mid-2006). Now, I don't live in England, but Mr. Redknapp is about as bloody English as they come. Red-faced and barely comprehensible to a Yank, some how he managed to save Pompey from relegation last season (with the help of some penalties in crucial games, too.) Oh right, he also jumped off the Southampton ship, Portsmouth's closest and most bitter rival, in the middle of last season, less than a year when he made the reverse move. Also, there must be a mandate in the British press where he must be referred to as 'Arry.
2005/6 RECORD: 10-20-8, 38 points, 17th place, four points from the 'drop zone.'
SILVERWARE: First Division: Champions 1949, 1950; FA Cup: 1939
NICKNAME: Pompey, as in PLAY UP POMPEY!!!!
GROUND: Fratton Park, (capacity, 20,020) A dump, and not a dump in a charming sort of way either.
IN: Glen Johnson (Chelsea, season loan); David Thompson (Wigan Athletic, free); Sol Campbell (Arsenal, free), David James (Manchester City, £1.2million).
OUT: Gregory Vignal (Lens, undisclosed); Sander Westerveld, Aliou Cisse, Andrea Guatelli, Vincent Pericard, Collins Mbesuma (all released); Azar Karadas (Benfica, loan return); Ognjen Koroman (Terek Groznyi, loan return); Andres D'Alessandro (Wolfsburg, loan return); Salif Diao (Liverpool, loan return); Wayne Routledge (Tottenham Hotspur, loan return); Emmanuel Olisadebe (Panathinaikos, loan return); Brian Priske (Club Brugge, undisclosed), John Viafara (Southampton, undisclosed) ... In retrospect the revolving door from last season's January transfer window was once in a lifetime.
KEY PLAYERS: GK: David James; Def: Sol Campbell, Glen Johnson, Dejan Stefanovic (Capt.), Sol Campbell; Mid: Gary O'Neil, Pedro Menders; For: Lomana LuaLua, Svetoslav Todorov
STARMAN: Lomana LuaLua. First off, I respect anyone who is born in the DR Congo and didn't die of malaria at birth. Second, he injured himself on his trademark back-flip celebration. Last, he's a pest that knows how to score goals.
ONE TO WATCH: It's about time for Glen Johnson to put up or shut up. He'll get every chance to impress at Pompey. Til now he seems more like a thug than a footballer.
FAST FACT: Pompey had one of the worst named football 'firms' during the 1980s, the 6:57 Crew. (Unless UM's 7th Floor Crew, they never cut a rap song. But I'm sure they cut a few "lines".)
TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN: There is a reason former England No. 1 David James is known as Calamity. For starters, he once hurt his back reaching for the tv remote. Second, look at this idiot visiting Dolphins' camp a few years ago. Third, instead of Gatorade in his water bottle (or Lucozade in the UK), James prefers a boiling hot sip of Earl Grey tea. Here's some wisdom from his mouth, "People think you must be crackers if you've got a psychologist but psychology is part of the building blocks to make a top athlete." Maybe he should meet A-Rod, at least to compare chapstick brands.
REASON TO LIKE: Redknapp is pure comic genius. ... It'll be fun to see how these guys flirt with the drop all season and if they can pull another Houdini act.
REASON TO HATE: Old 'Harry is about as popular in Southampton as Herpes simplex. ... It's hard to throw support behind a team you know will be nothing better than mediocore.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Former owner and now executive, Serbian-born Milan Mandaric made a fortune in software in America.
AMERICAN EQUIVILENT: Hard and I mean hard to find one. Best I could do was the Golden State Warriors. Loyal fans despite many lean years. And its not like ballers are clamoring to play in either Oakland or Portsmouth. Weak, I know.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Consolodate, move toward the upper half.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The Houdini act wears thin, likely, and the trapdoor falls out.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.pompeyfc.premiumtv.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.pompeychimes.net/
LAST WORD: How will this club respond to a measure of roster stability? The defense should be much stouter with James, Campbell and Johnson coming in. This team caught fire last season to avoid the drop, but how will 'Arry keep them on the boil beginning in August? Pompey's talent level is certainly more Championship caliber than Premiership, yes? In any event it should be a rollercoaster ride at Fratton.
NAME: Reading FC
HOMETOWN: Reading, pronounced like "Redding" not like "Reading Rainbow"
MANAGER: Steve Coppell (hired 2003) Hailed as an excellent tactician.
2005/6 RECORD: (League Championship winners) 31-2-13, 106 points (Set a record for points, as well as a 33-game unbeaten string. Also outscored opponents 99-32.)
SILVERWARE: Winning the League Championship last year, thus gaining promotion into the top flight for the first time is the most noteable achievement this team has had in a over a century of football.
NICKNAME: The Royals, the British Royals used to live in Reading in some capacity.
GROUND: Madejski Stadium, capacity 24,225 (named after team chairman John Madejski, a British publishing magnate.)
RIVALS: Swindon Town
IN: Seol Ki-Hyeon (Wolverhampton Wanderers, £1million); Sam Sodje (Brentford, £350,000).
OUT: Johnny Mullins (Mansfield Town, free); Jamie Young (released).
KEY PLAYERS: GK: Marcus Hahneman; Def: Ibrahima Sonko, Graeme Murty (captain); Mid: Steve Sidwell, Bobby Convey, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Glen Little; For. Leroy Lita, Dave Kitson, Kevin Doyle
STARMAN: Steve Sidwell was voted best player in England outside the Prem two years ago by FourFourTwo magazine, although it might have made him a little too big for his britches. He's got one year leave on his deal at Reading and is already rumbling about going to a big club.
ONE TO WATCH: Dave Kitson, the best Ginger to enter the EPL since Paul Scholes.
FAST FACTS: Reading's No. 13 is officially retired to the team's fans. ... 106 points (albeit in 46 games) is a record in English football. ... The Reading Festival occurs in the city each year. It's a big time music festival with minimal 'dirty hippies.'
FUNNY FACT: In "The Office" David Brent purports to be a Reading supporter, yet Finchey gives him the business for never attending matches.
KIRK VAN HOUTEN FACT: For much of its history Reading were known as the Biscuitmen.
REASON TO LIKE: Scrappy team that knows how to score and will be plucky underdogs. ... Employ two quality Americans. ... Essentially haven't done anything of note until last season, so it's easy to jump on the bandwagon without a lot of catching up.
REASON TO HATE: Nothing in particular. Although their uniforms leave a little to be desired.
AMERICAN CONNECTION: Dos. Convey and Hahneman are both members of the Stars and Stripes. And would you believe Bobby, Bobby Convey is an Under-Armour pitchman in England? Our love for Hahneman is well-documented on this site.
AMERICAN EQUIVILENT: It's not fair to call Reading "minor-league" and they have existed for well over 100 years. Still, the best I can come up with is something like St. Joseph college basketball. Reading has a certain degree of pluck to them.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Play like Wigan last year, whilst scoring a decent amount of goals in the process to earn "darling" status.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Learn quickly that the Premiership isn't the Championship and head right back down.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.readingfc.co.uk/
SUPPORTER SITE: http://www.royals.org/
LAST WORD: The No. 1 thing Reading has going for it in its first crack at the big-time is that it can score goals. They've made a smart move in sticking with the cohesive unit that took the Championship by storm, instead of flashing cash at players for hire. The team has full faith in Steve Coppell, which might just see them survive.
Reading best heed the advice of Mike Skinner (aka The Streets), though -- "Blinded with the lights, taken to dizzy new heights."
Coming soon: The final part!
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