Let's face it, Philly sports are in a bad place right now (except for the Union!). And things will only get worse in a few weeks when the Eagles' season kicks off (just admit it already).
But I'm here to help.
The English Premier League season begins Saturday at the bright-and-early time of 7:45 a.m. For the first time, EVERY single game will be available on NBC Sports Network, big-boy NBC, the NBC Sports Live Extra app or NBC Premier League Extra, a tier of channels that was provided to cable providers at no cost and SHOULD be available on most cable packages (I'm looking at you, FIOS!)
Games are played mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings with one game saved for Monday afternoon (night in England -- yup, Monday Night Football). Amazingly, fans in the United States will have FAR more access to the English Premier League than fans who actually live in England. For soccer nerds like me, it's a wonderful thing.
"But I don't have a team to root for," you might be saying. No worries, I'm here to fix that, based solely on what type of Philly fan you are.
It's best to pick one club and stick with it. There's no reason too stupid to choose your favorite team (mine began with FIFA 02 on PlayStation). But if you choose a top team, it's perfectly fine to adopt a bottom-feeder to cheer on through the relegation fight. And if you choose a more obscure club (more power to you), it's fine to have a rooting interest in the title race.
Quick notes to remember:
- The 20 teams all play each other twice -- once home and once away (38 games). The season runs into next May. Teams get three points for a win and one for a draw.
- There are no playoffs. The top three teams earn a spot in the 2014-15 Champions League, a separate competition between Europe's best teams. The fourth-place team gets a chance at the Champions League, but must play an extra round to get there. The fifth-place team (and possibly more) will go to the Europa League, a similar competition you can think of as Europe's NIT.
- The bottom three teams at the end of the season are "relegated" and spend next year in the second tier (think AAA). They will be replaced by the top three teams from this year's second tier.
- EPL teams will play some games that are not part of league play (confusing, I know). Four will be in this year's Champions League, two in the Europa League, and all 20 will be part of two bracket-style competitions,: the FA Cup (all teams, including amateurs, are invited), and the Football League Cup (the top 92 teams in English soccer).
We'll start with the teams most likely to finish in the bottom half this season, beginning with the teams I think will be relegated. Tomorrow we'll discuss the favorites, again in reverse order to the top. Each includes the club's home jersey, in case you pick teams like my sister used to bet on football:
20. Hull City (Northeast England) - Orange and Black (Alternate: Red and Blue)
Cheer for the Tigers If: You're a self-loathing Flyers fan who wants an excuse to wear that Petr Svoboda jersey in the back of your closet.
Steer Clear If: You enjoy cheering for goals, winning, or not having people laugh at you.
19. Crystal Palace (London) - Red and Blue (Alternate: Black or Yellow)
Cheer for the Eagles If: You're a Wings or Soul season ticket-holder, since clearly you enjoy going against the grain with the least-popular teams in town. Palace is one of a half-dozen London-based teams in the EPL this season, and is the least-popular of the six.
Steer Clear: Unless you as a fan enjoy getting kicked by the other team's best player.
18. Southampton (South coast) - Red and White (Alternate: Black and White)
Cheer for the Saints If: You're a Villanova fan who spends summers by the coast. Much like the Wildcats, Southampton has always been respectable at worst and above average at best. The Saints spent 27 straight seasons in England's top division before relegation in 2005. They've never won the top-division title, but finished second in 1984 and won the FA Cup in 1976. Like 'Nova, they also have religious ties, and are called the "Saints" due to their history as a church team (thanks, Wikipedia!). Like the Wildcats, they also have a bitter nearby rival who they don't consider worthy of their leftovers (St. Joe's = Portsmouth).
Steer Clear: If you'd rather not wear that weird sponsor logo on your shirt (which is apparently a global IT services provider).
17. Cardiff City (Cardiff, Wales) - Red and Black (Alternate: Yellow or Blue)
Cheer for the Bluebirds If: You're an Adam Aron fan. Not only does one of their players share the name (Aron Gunnarsson) of the Sixers' Twitter-happy executive, but the Bluebirds' ownership seems to think style is more important than substance (much like Aron). New Malaysian owner Vincent Tan came in last year and took the blue out of the Bluebirds, completely changing their crest from a peaceful bluebird to a fire-breathing dragon, and switching the team colors from blue and white to red and black. Needless to say, many Cardiff fans were not happy.
Steer Clear: If you actually want to visit England to watch your new team play. Yes, in the English Premier League, there are now two teams not located in England: Cardiff and Swansea City, who are rivals in neighboring Wales, a country (I think it's a country?) that somehow has its own league that neither team plays in.
16. Norwich City (Eastern England) - Yellow and Green (Alternate: Black and White)
Cheer for the Canaries If: You enjoy oddball historical traditions, like the throwing of the toast at the University of Pennsylvania. According to my extensive Internet research, Norwich fans sing a song -- "On the Ball, City" -- that is considered the oldest football song in the world.
Steer Clear If: You could barely watch when the Eagles wore those horrendous yellow and blue alternates a few years ago. Norwich's yellow and green combo looks especially garish in HD.
15. West Bromwich Albion (Central England) - Blue and White (Alternate: Red and Black)
Cheer for the Baggies If: You live in Philly but root for a college alma mater that no one has ever heard of. That's how nondescript and "blah" West Brom is.
Steer Clear If: You feel like you need to call them by their full name (think "THE Ohio State University). EPL-snobs get all annoyed if you say anything other than "West Brom."
14. West Ham United (London) - Claret and Blue (Alternate: Claret and White)
Cheer for the Hammers If: You are a St. Joseph's fan or enjoy having an inferiority complex (same thing). Much like the Hawks, the Hammers are the forgotten team in London, despite having a history that should help them stand out. They are one of eight English teams to never play below the second tier, but have never won a title. Manager Sam Allardyce is big, loud and not afraid to speak his mind. Much like this guy.
Steer Clear If: You hate the tourists who take pictures with the Rocky statue. West Ham is best known in the United States as the club Frodo (Elijah Wood) supported in the movie Green Street Hooligans. Also, the fans blow bubbles before most games. What's that about?
13. Sunderland (Northern England) - Red, White and Black (Alternate: Blue and Yellow)
Cheer for the Black Cats If: You love living in the cradle of liberty. Sunderland is the first team on our list with an American on the roster: New signing Jozy Altidore, who should feature prominently in his return to England (he played briefly for Hull a few years ago). Altidore, who had a hat trick on Wednesday against Bosnia and Herzegovina, He scored 24 goals last year for AZ Alkmaar in The Netherlands, the most ever by an American in Europe.
Steer Clear If: You enjoy being entertained. Sunderland are not always the most exciting team to watch, scoring just 41 goals last season and barely avoiding relegation.
12. Aston Villa (Birmingham) - Claret and Blue (Alternate: Maroon and White or Green and Black)
Cheer for the Villains If: You're a Flyers fan living in the past. Aston Villa has history. It is one of just five clubs to win the European championship and has more major trophies than any English team other than Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. One major problem: The Villains' last trophy came in 2005 and they have been yo-yoing between respectability and mediocrity in recent seasons. Oh, they also have an American goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Steer Clear If: You don't want your replica jersey to be confused with another team. I'm always getting West Ham and Aston Villa confused when they appear on my TV.
11. Fulham (London) - Black and White (Alternate: Red and White)
Cheer for the Cottagers If: You're a Penn fan. If you're a Quaker supporter, your biggest claim to fame isn't really your team, it's the stadium/arena it plays in. Franklin Field and the Palestra are two of my favorite sports venues on Earth, and I have no connection at all to Penn. Fulham is much the same. The team is known as the Cottagers after its home of Craven Cottage, a tiny bandbox of a stadium that sits crammed into a London neighborhood. It was opened in 1896 and has a history going back hundreds of years before that, when it was the site of a royal hunting lodge.
Steer Clear If: You want to root for Americans. After years of being known as "Fulham-erica" with the likes of Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and others on the roster, the Cottagers are American-free in 2013.
Coming tomorrow: The top 10. In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious NBC Sports promo with SNL's Jason Sudekis.
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