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04 February 2013

"That man has it now. He's kicked the ball." I think I need to pick a Premier League and/or UEFA team for office schmoozing purposes. Any tips?[More:]My new supervisor (longtime colleague) and several others are Premier League fans. I am getting the feeling that it may be our office's equivalent of golfing. Anybody got any tips on picking a team and getting into it?

For reference, I have relatives in Bradford, and here in the US I live in the land of the Green Bay Packers.
I'm a Manchester United fan, and there's a long-standing joke that Man Utd fans have never been to Manchester. I was born in Australia, grew up in Derbyshire and have lived in London/Essex for 35 years so I fit the demographic perfectly. So on the assumption you've never been to Manchester, you'd be a good fit for a United fan. Plus, they're the best.
posted by Senyar 04 February | 12:15
(Token ManUre swipe at Senyar).

I'm a (pretty half-assed, admittedly) Newcastle guy, kind of by accident. In '98, a buddy and I had spent a couple of days in Glasgow and stopped for a night in Newcastle on our way back to London. That Sunday, they happened to be hosting a friendly against (Italian club) Juventus and I managed to score a ticket (my buddy had no interest in going, so I went solo). It was just a couple of weeks after the World Cup ended, so a lot of the big names weren't there, but I did get to see Alan Shearer live before he retired, so that was pretty cool. Despite it being "just a friendly", I had a blast. So yeah. Toon Army! At least we're not relegated any more!
posted by ufez 04 February | 14:22
There's no reason too shallow to like a team. Whatever gets you interested at first; you can change your mind later. IMHO there's no chance of passing as a Serious Fan, so just follow your fancy on whatever makes you want to see one team win.

I don't really follow the EPL that closely. I just watch a game now and then, I don't follow the league table. I like Chelsea because I like the blue of their jerseys, and because I like watching Fernando Torres waste opportunities to score. Okay I also like Mata and Lampard.

I say avoid the red-jerseyed teams with pedigree. Arsenal, Man U, Liverpool. Too much entitlement, too much red. (As I said, there's no reason too shallow.)
posted by fleacircus 04 February | 14:37
I've always been a fan of players more than of teams, and a fan of whatever I could catch on TV. I'm not a strong believer in the duty of a non-local fan to root for one team only, or to stick with a team through the years.

Many years ago ESPN only gave us Dutch soccer, and I became quite interested in Ajax, because they won a lot and because of guys like Finidi George, Nkwankwo Kanu, Patrick Kluivert, and Dennis Bergkamp (to name just a few: early-90's Ajax was a classy team full of products of their vaunted youth system, who went on to storied careers at Ajax and elsewhere).

Then we started seeing a lot of Spanish soccer, and I found I really liked the non-Spanish (Catalan and Basque) sides. Barcelona because they're great, and because they played a Dutch system (have I ever mentioned that I learned soccer as a kid from Johan Cruyff at a Washington Diplomats (NASL) camp? I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that with my Dutch friends. Also, having been there live to see Saudi Arabian Saeed Owairan's 1994 World Cup goal against Belgium earned me quite a few free meals in Palestinian homes. Soccer and music are the international languages). Anyway, the other Spanish league team I got to really like was Athletic Bilbao, because they were tough, hard, and entirely Basque. It's easy to root against Real Madrid, because they're a bunch of Royalists, for one thing, and now at least they have the world's great prima donna, Cristiano Ronaldo, on their squad (though I have to admit a soft spot for antagonistic, uncompromising Raúl González of days past).

Nowadays the only people who badmouth Barcelona are the ones repeatedly getting their asses whipped by them (most of Europe, then). Nobody cuts the field into triangles within triangles like Barça. Currently, Lionel Messi is reason enough to root for Barcelona. He's the best player in the world, in a lifetime, "What he is, he’s like something out of Greek mythology, man. Little short-legged bull, Lionel Messi, covered with eyes!"

Okay but that's just Europe, and you've asked about England.

For awhile I rooted for Manchester United, basically because of Eric Cantona, that flamboyant French son-of-a-bitch. What a treat he was to watch! I could never warm up to much of the rest of the team, so when he retired in his prime I lost a lot of interest. Of course Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand have always been admirable, but Schmeichel and Scholes and Sheringham and Stam I never liked. Didn't like Ince or Beckham, either. I did, however, appreciate Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunner Solskjaer, the babyfaced assassin. But without Cantona I wasn't so interested in Man U. Now they're a big-money Frankenstein team, very strong, very talented, as easy to love as they are to hate.

My dad's a diehard Arsenal fan, which has been a blessing and a curse. He's the sort who thinks that you should stick with a team through thick and thin, even if your connection to them is just a random decision. I liked Tony Adams back when he played. I like Arsène Wenger, their current coach. He's had a lot of good players on his squads, and I've nodded along with my dad's weekly litany of Arsenal-related minutiae enough to know just about everything about them, but they aren't really "my team."

[Also, I've liked a few teams over the years simply because of their coaches and the way they give post-match interviews. Gerard Houllier, for example, always looked like a deer in the headlights. And Harry Redknapp, incomprehensible and sleepy. Apparently he's functionally illiterate, which is sad but inspiring, in a way. Also Sam Allardyce gives a great interview.]

My brother's a big Liverpool fan, and I have to say, they've been fun over the years. I liked them in recent years when they had Peter Crouch (who at 6'7" must have been named by Charles Dickens).

I spent awhile admiring (but never bringing myself to fandom of) Chelsea, mostly because of Didier Drogba, who is now playing in China, I think. What an amazing player. A bad attitude here and there, yes he's a bit of a prick, but with a body like a god and a nose for goal, how could I turn away? The same goes for super-Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, currently at Paris-Ste Germain. Uncoachable wünderkinder.

So, what's my favorite team now? I like Tottenham Hotspur. I have a thing for Gareth Bale, though he's injury-prone and not always on form. Spurs always loiter around the top of the table, so the matches they play tend to matter in the grand scheme of things. And I'm not usually jingoistic at all, but they have my two current favorite US players, Brad Friedel (g) and Clint Dempsey (f). Plus Scott Parker, who tucks his shirt in and plays like a man on fire.

It's hard to be a passing fan and not be drawn to the big clubs by their stars or their style of play. I embrace that. I don't think there's anything wrong with picking a winner or choosing based on a fondness or a crush for an individual player (as long as it isn't Man U's Wayne Rooney, who is soccer's Lebron James, a fantastically talented meathead without a shred of personality. *wink*)

One thing England has that's pretty unique is the FA Cup, an annual tournament open to all clubs, from top-flight professional clubs like the aforementioned, down to amateur village teams. It's a real treat to watch part-time strivers take on the giants, and when they win, well, how awesome is that? I root for the minnow in FA Cup play no matter what, even if they're up against my favorite team.

In short, watch more soccer! Go to a game, that's the best, even if it's not particularly high-level competition. Pick out a player, or a team, and like them for whatever your reason might be (picking a mellifluous or funny name, for example, is a perfectly good reason. If it works for racehorses, it works for athletes!) Have fun with it!

And of course: Come on you Spurs!
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 14:38
Also, I agree wholeheartedly with fleacircus, that uniform color is a perfect reason to root for a team. I like Italian side Fiorentina because their uniforms are a wonderful, rich purple.
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 14:45
Hugh, have you come across Ian Holloway? He is a legend for his post-match interviews.
posted by Senyar 04 February | 14:45
Hehe, never seen Holloway before, but he's awesome! Also, I have always loved Gordon Strachan. A dry wit indeed, has the wee man.
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 15:11
(picking a mellifluous or funny name, for example, is a perfectly good reason. If it works for racehorses, it works for athletes!)

This is the only reason I liked Berbatov and maybe half the reason I like Lampard. If it was pronounced "lam-perd" things just wouldn't be the same.
posted by fleacircus 04 February | 15:37
Berbatov was such a nuisance when he lived near me. He drove a Hummer, and would park it in such a way that nobody could get by, on a one-way street. So I was glad when Spurs sold him to Man Utd, but not for any footballing reasons, more that I could get down the street to Waitrose again.
posted by Senyar 04 February | 15:43
I hope you shook your fist and cursed "BERBATOV!!" because that is exactly the best use of his name.
posted by fleacircus 04 February | 16:06
I really liked Graeme Le Saux because of his name. After he was subjected to homophobic abuse because he enjoyed clothes-shopping with his wife, and then threw hands at appalling shitheel Robbie Fowler after Fowler followed him around on the pitch making buttfucking gestures, he became one of my favorite players ever. Also, he's a Channel Islander! What's not to love?
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 16:12
"Robbie Fowler" is a good name for a jerkwad who gets what's coming to him, as well. And ahem jersey colors.
posted by fleacircus 04 February | 16:36
I refuse to support an Italian side, except at Oscar time. HONESTLY.
posted by Madamina 05 February | 00:07
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