The new fan’s 2014/15 guide to picking a new Premier League club
Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.
But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. They had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.
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I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!
So without further adieu, I submit to you my 2014/15 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.
1. Arsenal Last championship: 2003-04 Years in Premier League: 23/23 Nickname: Gunners Location: London American players: None Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers PST’s Premier League season preview
Gooners… they are everywhere. From Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of celebrity fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. With Mesut Ozil last year and Alexis Sanchez (and more?) this year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight.
2. Aston Villa Last championship: 1980-81 Years in Premier League: 23/23 Nickname: Villians Location: Birmingham American players: GK Brad Guzan Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship) Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames PST’s Premier League season preview
Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa. Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but manager Paul Lambert has struggled as much as his predecessors and almost had the ignominy of seeing his club relegated for the first time in its history. He’s on the hot seat, and the return to health and form of Christian Benteke is a massive concern.
3. Burnley Last championship: 1959-60 Years in Premier League: 2/23 (Return: 2014/15) Nickname: Clarets Location: Lancashire American players: None Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers (championship) Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Chiefs PST’s Premier League season preview
The Clarets have enjoyed local support regardless of what league they’ve fallen into -- a headline on a bio I looked into was labeled ‘Decline and Near Oblivion’ -- and fans know what they are up against in attempting to survive a season in the Premier League. Still this is a 130-plus year-old club with a rich, rich history. Rooting for Burnley to stay up is a hobby most PL buffs could get into... can you?
Team’s loaded. LOA-DED. They have four EPL titles and some Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Maniacal genius Jose Mourinho enters season No. 2 with his own cast of characters, a process that began in earnest with the pick-up of midfielder Nemanja Matic last January. Here’s what I said last year, “Honestly, if the Blues put the pedal to the floor this year, they have the talent and depth to put up some record-setting or tying marks in wins, goals, goals allowed… everything.” That was wrong, but it hasn’t changed for this year; The addition of Diego Costa makes them a viable contender for the PL title and Europe.
You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.
5. Crystal Palace Last championship: Never Years in Premier League: 7/23 Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers Location: London American players: None Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies PST’s Premier League season preview
Palace is a truly intriguing option. They seem to be a real working-class London club, a statement backed up by the management of Tony Pulis. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park, and the addition of Brede Hangeland will make them even harder to play against this season.
6. Everton Last championship: 1986-87 Years in Premier League: 23/23 Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science Location: Liverpool American players: GK Tim Howard Biggest rivals: Liverpool Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos PST’s Premier League season preview
It’s hard not to like Everton, especially under borderline genius Roberto Martinez. Provided Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman don’t drop off, and we see continued development for Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, Everton will compete again for a UEFA Champions League slot. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.
7. Hull City Last championship: Never Years in Premier League: 4/23 Nickname: Tigers Location: Kingston upon Hull American players: None Biggest rivals: Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United Comparisons: Toronto Raptors, Cincinnati Bengals PST’s Premier League season preview
Hull under Steve Bruce is an interesting club in that you really never know what you are going to get. The Tigers ran to the FA Cup final and gave Arsenal a scare before ultimately going down to defeat. They’ve already used their first European run to get into the playoff round by beating Trencin, and now have a winnable set-up against Belgian club Lokeren. They are true underdogs, not only in Europe but in England. If you can put up with owner drama -- Assem Allam wants to change the team’s brand -- you can probably enjoy rooting for a smaller club like Hull.
8. Leicester City Last championship: Never Years in Premier League: 9/23 (Return: 2014/15) Nickname: Foxes Location: Leicester American players: None Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles PST’s Premier League season preview
Leicester -- or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say -- rolled through the Championship last season on 102 points, more than any team outside of Newcastle in the past decade. The Foxes are four-time FA Cup and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.
Really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the EPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). Like Manchester United, now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. Liverpool has its return to the UEFA Champions League this year and came oh, so close last season before slipping up in the season’s penultimate fixture. And now, with Luis Suarez gone, perhaps there’s less villainy to choosing the Reds.
10. Manchester City Last championship: 2013/14 Years in Premier League: 18/23 Nickname: Citizens Location: Manchester American players: None Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels PST’s Premier League season preview
Manchester City is a cluster of fun. They have great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. The reigning champs and winners of two of the last three, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation. Also consider that there will be a natural connection to NYC FC in MLS.
11. Manchester United Last championship: 2010-11 Years in Premier League: 23/23 Nickname: Red Devils Location: Manchester American players: None Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots PST’s Premier League season preview
Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team was a relative shambles last year. New manager Louis van Gaal has a great resume and the club is and will be loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and Holland’s captain in Robin van Persie. It will take just a couple great signings, center back and physical midfielder, for an immediate boost back into UEFA Champions League competition.
Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history -- and a great read at that -- is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. It’s a miserable team to support, let’s be honest, but head butting manager Alan Pardew has a slew of new talent this season, and is set to tease his fans with another Top 10 run.
13. Queens Park Rangers Last championship: Never Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return: 2014/15) Nickname: Hoops, The R’s Location: London American players: None Biggest rivals: Brentford, Chelsea, Fulham Comparison: New York Mets, Brooklyn Nets PST’s Premier League season preview
Harry Redknapp guided the club into the Championship and then back into the Premier League in two years time, though his big budget and playoff success were bigger components than consistency. The opinionated boss should have no trouble adapting his veteran club to the Premier League, but could face problems if he struggles to do so. In talking to a QPR blogger for a piece I’m working on, he maintained that Loftus Road is the “most vocal ground in the country” on its best days, and that the club’s jersey is the best going. Judge for yourselves, but a London club, as stated before, does provide great travel opportunities.
14. Southampton Last championship: N/A Years in Premier League: 16/23 Nickname: Saints Location: Southampton American players: None Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth Comparison: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Athletics PST’s Premier League season preview
A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into a third-straight season in the Premier League. But wait!! The Saints have sold a bevy of their young talent and move forward with a bunch of question marks. Many are tabbing them as relegation favorites, but experienced players like Fraser Forster and Shane Long have joined an influx of new PL talent for manager Ronald Koeman. Hold on, this will be an interesting year to ride the St. Mary’s Express.
Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. Moving from Tony Pulis to Mark Hughes carried a few bumps in the road, but the Potters were really moving by the end of last season. Bringing in defender Phil Bardsley and Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic help both ends of the pitch, while they carry under-the-radar players Marko Arnautovic and, yes, the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league.
16. Sunderland Last championship: 1935-36 Years in Premier League: 14/23 Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear American players: FW Jozy Altidore Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs PST’s Premier League season preview
There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with a good manager in Gus Poyet, but it’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last season. American forward Jozy Altidore can still play a big role in their season, and their new relationship with DC United is also cause for raised American eyebrows. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).
17. Swansea City Last championship: Never Years in Premier League: 4/23 Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks Location: Wales American players: MF Kristian Scott (reserves) Biggest rivals: Cardiff City Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns PST’s Premier League season preview
A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive last season. Sure, they dealt with a bevy of training ground drama, but Swansea has the feel of a club that could stay up for a while.
18. Tottenham Hotspur Last championship: 1960-61 Years in Premier League: 23/23 Nickname: Spurs Location: London American players: GK Brad Friedel, DF DeAndre Yedlin (next season) Biggest rivals: Arsenal Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys PST’s Premier League season preview
Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, a cool-albeit-goofy logo and they play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his American backup, Brad Friedel. There’s really a terrific tradition in North London and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.
19. West Bromwich Albion
Last championship: N/A Years in Premier League: 9/23 Nickname: Baggies, West Brom Location: West Midlands American players: None Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers PST’s Premier League season preview
I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:
“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support... Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”
The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that has played some boring soccer under boss Sam Allardyce. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added Enner Valencia to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.