Welcome to part III of my EPL Primer, in which I eschew the long-form rambling of part II and round the whole thing off with seamless panache. You’re welcomes.
So maybe none of the V.I.T.s impressed you. Maybe you don’t want to want to hop on the bandwagon of an already successful team. Something about it doesn’t feel fair, and you’re looking for a reason beyond which team has the best looking uniforms or the coolest crests. It just so happens there are a few alternatives to the V.I.T.s that may be up your alley. Essentially, you’ve got three options:
Option #1: The Americans
What better way to develop a fast kinship with a football club that’s at least 3000 miles from your doorstep than through the thin veil of nationalism? Of all the EPL clubs, Everton and Fulham have the most significant American presence. U.S. Goalkeeper Tim Howard plays for the Toffees (intimidating, no?) and has been a stalwart of the mid-level club for years. Landon Donovan has also made a few stopovers for the club on loan from the MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy, excelling in his typical pressing midfield role. Right now, though, no American can claim a greater degree of EPL success than Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, whose 16 goals so far this campaign makes him the single season record holder for the club. In fact, Dempsey’s performance has spurred rumors of a transfer to a bigger market club this summer (I’m praying Liverpool swoops in for him, bringing their total number of quality offensive midfielders to two-and-a-half.).
Option #2: Going Hipster
Let’s face it: about 80% of American soccer fandom is just a hipster ploy anyway, so if you’re going to fake it, go with one of these clubs to give yourself some shallow, but instant, football credibility. And don’t forget to always, always, call it football. Every American who isn’t a soccer fan hates that.
Before you ask, yes, approximately a third of all English football clubs have “United” in their names. It’s like Wildcats or Bulldogs in U.S. college athletics. Newcastle suffered a humiliating relegation a couple of years ago, but since then has fought back admirably (aided in part by their Bernie Madoff-like sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool for approximately 34,999,990 too many pounds) and are contending for a Champions League place.
Sunderland and Newcastle are enormous rivals, so if one of your hipster friends (or friends recently returned from a missions trip to anywhere in Britain) chooses to “support” one team, you can “support” the other and pretend to not like each other two days a year. The biggest thing the Black Cats have going for them is that they play in the Stadium of Light, which is maybe the best name for a sports venue ever. Outside of that, there isn’t a ton going for Sunderland, besides Nicklas Bendtner, who is, according to a recent profile of European footballers, the most self-confident athlete on the planet, despite scoring just seven goals during this campaign. Great hair, though.
If you’ve been hesitant to embrace soccer because you see it as a “soft” sport, then do yourself a favor and tune in to watch Stoke City sometime. The Potters play a, well, let’s call it “stringent” brand of the game, like Wisconsin basketball or the New York Jets. Stoke are physical, deliberate, and perfectly content to plant themselves behind the ball, pushing possession-oriented finesse teams around and waiting for opportune moments to counter attack. There is probably no better example of making the most out of what you have than Stoke. They don’t have the luxury of big-money transfers, and so they’ve adopted a style that makes them tough to beat and even tougher to watch. They’re so hip, they don’t even need your fancy “offense” or “goals,” man, just long throw-ins and every shoulder and elbow they can spare.
Option #3: Cheering to Stay Up
If you read part I of the EPL Primer, you know all about relegation and promotion. If options one and two do nothing for you, and you have no taste for the V.I.T.s, then your only other real option is to latch onto a club from the bottom half of the table and entertain yourself by rooting for upsets and hoping that your adopted club has what it takes to finish 17th or better and stave off relegation. Treating that 17th spot like its own holy grail and rooting for the Davids of the EPL to hold or even beat Goliath isn’t as bad as it might sound, especially since the League and FA Cups provide a more realistic chance at glory for smaller clubs. It isn’t glamorous, but somebody has to love the little guys. Plus, I’d bet that the smug look you’d get to throw at Man U supporters after telling them you’re a Bolton or Aston Villa fan would be pretty satisfying.