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Jeff Maurer's Soccer Blog
Monday, 19 May 2008
The Premiership: the Most Boring League in the World
Topic: English Premiership

The British press was freaking out last week about the end of the Premiership season. They were calling it the most exciting season in years, the closest Premiership race ever, etc. And, in a way, it was - it was only the fourth time in the history of the Premiership that the title came down to the final day. Here's the thing: I can't understand why I'm supposed to care about any of that.

I'm not a Chelsea fan or a Man U fan. I also don't cheer for Arsenal or Liverpool. Actually, I feel that any American who cheers for any of those four teams better have a damn good reason for doing so - there had better be some sort of family connection or other very good explanation. In the case of Chelsea, it's okay if you became a Chelsea fan before Roman Abromavich bought the team (Grant Wahl did this). But, barring those exceptions, for an American to pick any of those four teams as "their" team is blatant frontrunning.

I probably went too far in the other direction: I cheer for Fulham. I chose Fulham for obvious reasons: they're the team with the Americans. And now they're my team forever. I'm not changing. As I mentioned in the previous post, I will stay with this marriage no matter how bad it gets.

So, obviously, my attention last week was with my team. And it was a great week; they won and, against all odds stayed up. Which means that Fulham's 2009 relegation-avoidance campaign will be broadcast in the US. Hooray?

Here's the thing: because I don't cheer for one of the big four, my team will never, EVER win the title. Never. I could live to be 100, and Fulham will never win the Premiership. They're already 0 for 129 years, and their highest finish ever is - drum roll please - ninth. Cheering for Fulham is different than cheering for any American team in that I don't know exactly what the ultimate goal is. In the US, the ultimate goal is always to win a championship. For Fulham, and many teams like them, the goal is...what...? Avoiding relegation again? So, 17th place is a victory?

Fulham aren't the only team in this position - not by a long shot. Pretty much any team in the Premiership outside of the big four can't aspire to more than a UEFA cup spot, and a few can maybe hope for a place in the Champions League (where they will be promptly dispatched by a G-14 team). Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and a few others might consider themselves title contenders, but they're kidding themselves: they are not close to even sniffing the title. Realistically, they are competing for fifth place.

I would be willing to bet that no team outside of the Big Four will win the Premiership in the next 20 years (unless a team undergoes some sort of Chelsea-esque financial infusion). Already, only four teams have ever won the Premiership in its 16 year history. The one break from Big Four dominance came when Blackburn won in 1995, and that's looking like more and more of a fluke. In the past 13 years, it's been only Chelsea, Arsenal, and Man U. The Big Four have finished in the top four spots for the last three years. And every year that they earn more Champions League money only widens the gap between the Big Four and the rest of the league.

If I haven't started caring about the Red Sox or Yankees after all these years, then I'm not likely to start caring about the Big Four, either. I care about my team. And my team is never involved in the title race, nor will they ever be unless something changes. I think that some people in England are starting to realize that the lack of parity is a growing problem; as money becomes more prevalent in soccer, the gap between the rich teams and the poor teams becomes more apparent on the field. This might - one day - lead England to adopt a very American solution: the dreaded salary cap.

Of course, there won't be a salary cap any time soon. The very fact that the US pioneered the idea probably pushes it back by at least two decades. So, in the meantime, the Premiership is basically a four team league, or maybe even a two-team league. And that's not very exciting to me. Don't get me wrong - I'll keep following the Premiership, but I'll be following the bottom of the league, where my team plays. The top of the table is just boring to me.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 4:40 PM EDT
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Sunday, 27 April 2008
The Seven Stages of Relegation
Topic: English Premiership

Fulham are going down. Probably. They've still got a chance, but it's not looking good. Like many Americans, I am a Fulham fan. And, like many Americans, I have never been through this before.

Relegation pain is unique. It's gradual and incremental, with flashes of hope that only prolong the suffering. It's more like a gutshot than a bullet to the brain - the suffering unfolds slowly, in stages, with the outcome becoming more apparent with each passing moment.

I can't explain this condition to my non-soccer-loving friends. It's an experience that Bill Simmons hasn't documented. I feel a need to record my symptoms so that Americans can understand this affliction that the Europeans have brought over. Maybe Nicholas Kristof will chronicle my plight. Mabye little rubber bracelets will draw attention to the horrors of this condition. Bono might get involved (though maybe not - he supports Celtic). I must speak. The world must know:


The Seven Stages of Relegation:

Stage 1: Naive Optimism.  Soccer players are a bit like race horses - they're evaluated largely by pedigree. Fulham's opening day roster had some pedigree. Danny Murphy is ex-Liverpool, who are politely included in the Big Four. David Healy holds the record for most goals scored in European qualifying, and no one ever went wrong in soccer basing their evaluations on goal-scoring statistics, right? The manager, Lawrie Sanchez, had great success managing Wycome Wanderers - they absolutely tore apart my rec team (they were winning 4-1 when we had to clear the field for marching band practice). And we avoided relegation last year by one whole point! Who else here has their sights set on European football in 2008!?!

Stage 2: Tinkering. A few weeks into the season, it was clear that the team needed...let's say "adjustments". Specifically, Brian McBride's tibia needed to be adjusted to be roughly in line with his femur. Also, it was not yet clear whether Stephen Davis should be played in the center, played on the wing, or shot into deep space. Still, there was time, and reinforcements were coming from, um, Crystal Palace, and with Lawrie Sanchez applying the same deft tactics that helped Northern Ireland almost not fail to qualify for Euro 2008, the ship would still be righted, right? Right?

Stage 3: Hatred of Chris Baird. Is Chris Baird's dad really powerful or something? Does he possess compromising photos of important people? What I'm asking is: what was it that kept this man on the field for so long? Was it the same thing that's keeping Andy Rooney on TV? With all of Fulham's contacts with America, why didn't they just pick any - literally any- right back from MLS? They're all better than Chris Baird.

Stage 4: Denial/False Hope. I don't think that Mohamed Al-Fayed celebrates Christmas, but I sure celebrated when he fired Lawrie Sanchez in December. With that act alone, things started looking up. After all, surely the new coach wouldn't make the same mistake that Sanchez had made: buying players based on reputation alone, then sticking with those players for too long in a stubborn attempt to avoid admitting a mistake. Besides, Bullard and McBride were coming back, and Bolton was horrible, and Derby was already down, and Wigan is a rugby town, so there's nothing to worry about, right? Right?

Stage 5: Xenophobia. You know who's fault this all is? Foreigners. Specifically those filthy fucking Irish: Baird and Healy and Davis and Aaron Hughes...they're the ones to blame. They come here and they take jobs away from hard working Americans, and look what happens. None of this is the Americans' fault. Bocanegra, Dempsey, and Keller aren't seeing enough minutes, and it's all because of their sneaky English coach. The English have always favored the Irish.

Stage 6: Bitterness/clinging to God, guns. This is all a test. The penalty kick against Newcastle, the hand ball goal against West seems like everyone is out to screw us right now - and they undeniably are - but you know how we can get through this? Faith. A little good, old-fashioned, faith - you know, the kind of faith that causes God to give you stuff. You've read snippets of the bible - ask and it shall be given unto you. Well, God, if you're listening, I would like to hold onto a one-goal lead. And if we can't, I'm going to get a gun and shoot Chris Baird in both knees.

Stage 6: Aethism. Thanks a pantload, God. Or, should I say: "god". There is no hope - life is meaningless. We are born, we suffer, and then we die. Soccer is like life: a random series of chance encounters over which we have no control. All we can do is watch where the ball bounces and hope for a quick and relatively painless death. The sky is grey. The orb is spinning. I retire. Silence.

Stage 7: Manchester United. They are the Death Star of English soccer. They are big and powerful and have a gravity that draws you inward. Yes, they are evil, and they exist to squash the hope of smaller civilizations throughout the galaxy, leaving only the blackness of space...but, damn it, they win. Maybe I should stop being such a martyr and go over to the dark side.


But no...I've already decided: if Fulham go down, I'm going down with my team. Hell, I'm part Irish myself: I'll stick with this marriage forever no matter how bad it gets. Actually, after the comeback win at Man City last week, I'm starting to think they could stay up. Which either means that we've either begun Chapter IV: A New Hope, or that I've cycled back to Stage 4 and still have stages 5, 6, and 7 ahead of me.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:18 PM EDT
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