The best kept sports secret in America right now is the English Premier League, a.k.a. the EPL. It is flat out awesome. Perhaps I am a bit biased because I grew up playing soccer and currently coach high school soccer, but really it has only been since having children over the last three and a half years that I have discovered and begun to follow the sport regularly. And I must say I am hooked. Twenty teams play thirty-eight games between the end of August and May. No playoffs too. It is the perfect sport to get into as a dad- games are played two hours commercial free on most Saturdays and Sundays in the morning. Can’t ask for anything more as a dad, right? Your sports fix is gotten by 10am on many weekends.
The way the league is set up has also grown on me. As an American sports fan I am used to playoffs and a grueling postseason, the EPL is void of that. Initially I found this frustrating and just plain stupid, but what has become very apparent and compelling is the fact that the season is compromised of a series of built in playoffs within the league. The most notable is relegation. Each year the bottom three teams in the EPL are dropped down or relegated to the Football League Championship for the upcoming season. The Championship is the next highest league for English football after the EPL. This also means that the top three teams from the Championship are moved up to the EPL for the upcoming season. Inevitably as the season moves along in the EPL the relegation watch takes off in February and by March it is at a frenzied pitch. The three teams relegated this year were Newcastle, Norwich City and Aston Villa. The three new teams from the Championship are Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City. The bottom of the league is as exciting as the top.
Obviously the competition between the top teams regarding winning the EPL is the most exciting aspect each season, however, one team will often run away it. The quest for the title becomes anti-climactic. But what continues to be intriguing is that even if a team has run away with the league title and there are games still to be played, often some of those remaining games for this top team are against teams that are staving off relegation. Moreover, if first place is locked up competition always remains for spots 2-7 in the EPL and for good reason.
The top four teams from the EPL qualify for the Champions League the following year. The Champions League, not to be confused with the Championship, is the main international club cup awarded to the best club team in all of Europe. The EPL gets four slots for this tournament. The Champions league is played throughout the EPL season as well. Teams five, six and seven in the EPL qualify for the next level international club cup called the Europa League. It too is played throughout the EPL season. Any teams that qualify for these two cups also are guaranteed significant financial revenues.
Another aspect which adds excitement is the derby. Over in England “derby” is pronounced like we in the states would say “darby.” A derby for the EPL is when two teams from the same town or city play against each other. It’s bragging rights. Everton versus Liverpool or Manchester United versus Manchester City. London alone currently has six teams in the EPL. A team could have a horrific season but if they win a derby that lessens the sting a bit.
The end result for all of this is that there are layers and layers of high stakes drama in every EPL season despite not having playoffs. A starting player for a top team in the EPL plays far more than just the thirty-eight game EPL schedule when factoring in international club competition and then often too national team commitments. It actually can be rather brutal.
On another level what I like best about the EPL is that it has not gotten ESPN-ed. Meaning, the focus is still essentially on the games or matches themselves. ESPN in my opinion has ruined sports almost as much as it has promoted sports. It’s non-stop analysis, and over-the-top coverage is exhausting, unnecessary and in many cases insulting. The EPL at this point has not become a victim like the NFL, MLB and the NBA. Thankfully.
For myself, I have not quite committed to a team or a club. My one buddy has been a Tottenham fan for life because he has family in the area. . . my brother-in-law is a Swansea fan because he and my sister lived there for three years. You see they have good reasons for their support and that is a must. Picking a team for the right reasons is essential and is quite honestly the next step for me- I do not take this lightly either. The clock is ticking. Picking one of the top teams in my book is poser-ish and quite frankly too easy. In fact, my mentality is more of one where a team needs to pick me, yes, each weekend is an audition for my undying support and loyalty that once solidified will not be weakened through distance and ocean. It will happen and as a forty year old husband and father of three I am proud to say that I cannot wait for that moment.