All American eyes may be on this weekend’s Super Bowl, but the real action will be happening across the Atlantic.In fact, that’s how it has been all during the American football season and how it will be until May, when the European soccer season ends.
If you’re an American who loves the World Cup, but feels lost the other 3 years, here’s your solution.
The Basics: Here’s how European football works
Pretty much every country in Europe has a league. The only leagues that matter are the English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Portuguese. The French and Portuguese leagues are pretty much breading grounds for talent in the other leagues. The two biggest, best, and one’s worth watching are the English and Spanish.
There are multiple competitions in each country.
- Premier League Championship – 20 teams play each other home and away once; team with most points at the end of the year wins title. (Like the NFL regular season.)
- FA Cup – All English teams entered into knock out competition, starting with smallest pub team, all the way to Premier League Champions. Final at Wembley, London in May. (Like the World Series, if EVERY minor and major league baseball team in the country could compete.)
- Carling Cup – Weaker version of the FA Cup (More like the College World Series.)
- La Liga Championship – 20 teams play each other home and away once; team with most points at the end of the year wins title
- Copa Del Rey – All Spanish teams entered into knock out competition. Played in April.
Then there is European competition. The top four teams in England and Spain are entered into the UEFA Champions League. They play against the top teams from all other European countries, first in group stages, then in knock out rounds, until the final. (This year at Wembley Stadium in London). There is a secondary European championship called the UEFA Cup which is contended between the other top teams in each league and teams knocked out early from the Champions League.
Where to watch:
The ESPN family of networks carries a small amount of games from the English Premier League and La Liga (Spain). In order to get serious, you’ll need Fox Soccer Channel (English Premier League) and Gol TV (La Liga). Both carry a bit of the Serie A (Italian) as well. As another option, find a local bar with these networks and pay for beer instead of TV.What you need to know: Follow either the English or Spanish league, focus on the domestic league and European competition, get to know your local pub, or get Gol TV or Fox Soccer Channel.
Now, how to get involved:
Step 1: Determine your level of availability
Depending on the quality of your team, they could play as many as 60 games a season. Those games usually occur Saturday and Sunday morning or mid-weeks. If you live on the East Coast in the U.S., that could mean waking up as early as 7:00 AM ET to catch your favourite team in action, though usually you’re safe sleeping until at least 10:00 AM ET with the English league or 12:00 PM ET with the Spanish league.
Mid-week games start at 2:30 PM ET, so your best bet is scheduling some “work meetings” so you can catch that all important cup tie.
Step 2: Watch for a couple months from afar, fall in love with a team
If you just want to be a fair weather fan, or someone who watches casually, feel free by all means. But if you’re serious about this and don’t just want to pick a team because your friend likes them, watch a bunch of games over a period of a couple of months. See how a team plays.
This may seem strange to you, but the reality is football is a lot about aesthetics. It’s about the noise the fans make in the stadium, the culture around the club, the history of the team, and most importantly, the style of play.
Football’s tactics have evolved over the past 100 years (read Jonathan Wilson’s fantastic Inverting the Pyramid for full detail). Today, teams play in a myriad of different styles, some more defensive, some more offensive, some involving short rapid passing in attack, others an effective counter-attack.
Photo: AP Images
For many who have never followed a team before, it’s all about what’s easy on your eyes.That being said, it is a good idea to pick a “big” club — by that we mean a team in the top flight (4-6 teams) in England, Spain, Italy, or Germany (in that order). That’s not because you want to be a front runner, but because you need to be able to watch you team. The TV stations that show the games typically prefer the big clubs, so it’s easier to catch their games live. No point following a club you can only watch once a year (though web video is making this better).
Step 3: Pick your club
In England you should be choosing between these 6 clubs:
- Arsenal (North London)
- Chelsea (South London)
- Tottenham (North London)
- Manchester United (Manchester)
- Manchester City (Manchester)
- Liverpool FC (Liverpool)
In Spain you should be choosing between these 2 clubs:
- Real Madrid
In Italy you should be choosing between these 4 clubs:
- Inter Milan
- AC Milan
- Juventus (Turin)
- Roma (Rome)
In Germany you should be choosing this club:
- Bayern Munich
This may seem like a short list. It may exclude hundreds of clubs throughout Europe, with great histories and tons of trophies. But it’s an honest assessment of clubs you’ll be able to watch on a regular basis in the U.S. who are likely to win something in your lifetime. This may seem like front-running, but it’s actually just logical. Unlike every other sports team you’ve encountered in your life, you’re not born into this. Would you really have chosen the Kansas City Royals or Columbus Blue Jackets if you had to? No, so don’t make this a “loveable loser” issue. Make it easy on yourself. Pick an (occasional) winner.
Step 4: Get involved
Like any sport, there’s plenty of great writing about football on the internet. Some of the best is found at The Guardian. For breaking news, Soccernet is a good choice. If you’re really hardcore, follow your team’s local beat writers on Twitter (huge in the UK, somewhat smaller in Spain). If you suddenly fall in love with the tactical side of the game, Zonal Marking is the place to go.
But if you do only one thing, search out English language bloggers on your club. It will help you get better in touch with your team, the heart of it, and the struggles it contends with.
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