With NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA all at the forefront of our sports collective minds, how could we ever etch out more time for another sport? Even if you had time outside of the ‘Big Four’ North American sports leagues there is the added distraction of more niche sports like tennis, auto racing, lacrosse, MLS Soccer, rugby, Esports, and more. Those, plus real life responsibilities usually fill the schedule for most functioning adults…most.
If only there was a league that offered limited games, and time slots that are uniquely open…
Airing on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the Premier League, a European football or Soccer league based out of England (and Wales) perfectly fits the bill. The season spans from August to May with 38 games being played between the 20 teams in the league. It fits the perfect middle ground between the minimalistic NFL schedule (16 games) and a wildly busy MLB season (162 games).
With the games being played in England, the usual start times for matches is 7:30am, 8:30am, 10:30am and 12:30am on the weekends with the odd weekday game being played at 3:30pm (all times in EST).
The season is extended in length by domestic tournaments, the English Football League Cup (EFL Cup) and the FA Cup, and European tournaments like the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Season breaks are instituted for early round action of these tournaments as a majority of league teams will have early round games to play.
The Champions League and Europa League, designated for the best teams across all of Europe’s top flight football league, add to the desire to win and excitement in the football season. Should your team fail to qualify for the Champions League, which is the top three in the Premier League guaranteed, with fourth place in the Prem getting a play-in game, or Europa League which is designated for fifth place in the league, EFL Cup winning team, and FA Cup winning team also qualifying, you have rooting options. Either support a foreign team, or find another Premier League team that you don’t entirely hate to back as an English competitor.
Another foreign aspect of football to North American fans is relegation and promotion. There is no reward for tanking a season away, and more than just glory and bragging rights for league champions. To keep the Premier League fresh and constantly competitive there is a linking of the top league through the English Championship (tier below Premier League) and EFL League 1 and League 2 at the bottom.
The 92 team tiered system is completely dynamic, with the champions and top teams of the league below gaining promotion to the upper leagues and the bottom teams in the upper leagues getting relegated to the league below. This keeps the games important until the end of the season, either by the thrill of promotion, the fear of relegation, or the excitement of European tournament play, English football has multiple levels of excitement that revolve around these levels of competitiveness.
An aspect of Premier League football that adds to the watchability of the matches is the fully enveloped life that develops around that team. Each team is geographically rooted into a city, town, or community and many have decades of cultural importance with the people that reside there. These stories are told in a snapshot by the team names and badges; here are a few examples:
West Ham United – “The Hammers”
As shown on their crest, West Ham is a working mans club. Created from the Thames Ironworks, a ship building company in East London, West Ham United don crossed rivoters hammers on their crest within a shield-like shape that is actually a cross section of the hull of HMS Warrior, a ship created by Thames Ironworks in 1860.
Stoke City – “The Potters”
Based out of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire England, Stoke City currently are staring down relegation in the Premier League. The club was founded in 1863, originally nicknames The Ramblers, Stoke City now has their club nickname The Potters on their crest, a nod to the pottery industry that grips the region the club plays in.
Manchester United – “The Red Devils”
Created in 1878 and called Newton Heath LYR Football Club, Manchester United switched to their common name in 1902 and Red Devil nickname in the 1960s. Looking for a more marketable team icon (over their previous logo of a sailing ship) the Red Devils nickname was taken from the English Rugby team and printed on scarves and programmes. Now one of the most recognizable teams in all of sport, Manchester United consistently battles for Premier League dominance and European championships.
One last pitch for more Canadians to start watching the Premier League is the overwhelming sense of community that supporters get adopted into. Like I said, these clubs envelop everything about their supporters lives, and with social media linking people from all over the world, there is a massive group of club supporters waiting to welcome you into supporting their team.
Whether you are looking for trophies and glory by supporting Manchester United, or Chelsea, chasing Premier League stability like West Ham United or Leicester City, or chasing top flight survival like Stoke City or Southampton FC there is a strong community around all levels of Premier League teams.
So why not flip on the tube on a Saturday or Sunday morning? Nurse a hangover with the quiet, yet tense build up of the grass fuelled chess match that is European football. My advice? Find a club and start watching their games. Do some youtube research, and find some twitter groups to boost your connectedness to your team. It is truly the beautiful game, and deserves more North American eyes on it.