Our story so far:
On Tuesday, I introduced my little quest to pick an EPL team to call my very own, then ran through the teams at the bottom of the table. On Wednesday, I published my report on the “midtable” clubs in this absurdly subjective and pointlessly quirky competition. In today’s installment, I present the four teams currently residing at the top of the heap, and reveal the club that has taken the lead… for now, anyway…
Because I really have this thing about commitment…
(All table position and points figures listed here are accurate as of Tuesday, when this was written, and do not include the Jan. 1 match results.)
Current DR: 4
Nickname(s): The Reds
Ownership: Americans John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, and LeBron James, who has the very British nicknamed “King James.”
OCF: 0. Actually, I think these guys are kinda cool.
U.S. president when the club was founded: Benjamin Harrison (1892)
Promoted: Founding member.
Relegated: Never relegated
Silverware: Too much to count or carry.
LSG: Yes, The Official Liverpool Supporters Club of South Carolina, a spectacular crew of people including John Ace, who writes for this site, plus a bunch of other people I like drinking with. Also, Troy Lesesne, the assistant coach of the College of Charleston Cougars and a former player for the Charleston Battery.
Pros: One of the great sporting franchises on planet Earth. History, tradition, passion. On the rise from a period of rare underachievement… Anfield is supposedly so electric that it gives people goosebumps…. Liverpool proper is a great city, and clearly a great place to visit…. Louis Suarez is the hottest striker anywhere… You’ll never walk alone…
Cons: Everybody who isn’t telling me to like Tottenham is telling me to like LFC. That’s a bit of a change, because when I started thinking about this years ago, Liverpool was one of the “big clubs,” and if you liked them, you were a bandwagon-jumping American moron. Or so “They” said… There’s a distinct possibility that the secret to Louis Suarez‘s uncanny play of late is that, having dined once on Chelsea-flesh, the taste of celery-flavored blue blood has given him super-human powers… Do you ever wonder whether Liverpool supporters occasionally get grouchy and say, “No, seriously, I’m just not in the mood for company, and I really just want to go for a walk BY MYSELF! Is that too much to ask? And what are all you people doing here in the first place? Can’t a grown man get A LITTLE PRIVACY around here???” Because, you know, the truth is, I actually like walking alone.
Summary: Man, being a Liverpool fan in Charleston sure would be a lot of fun. Can I handle that much fun?
Current DR: 3
Nickname(s): The Gunners, The Gooners
Location: North London
Stadium: Emirates Stadium
Ownership: Arsenal Holdings plc, which is a non-quoted public limited compan, whatever that means. Missouri Sports mogul Stan Kroenke, the husband of the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, owns the largest share, at 29 percent.
OCF: 1, just because any connection to Wal-Mart is at least a little creepy.
U.S. president when the club was founded: Grover Cleveland (First administration,1886)
Promoted: Founding member
Relegated: Never relegated
Silverware: If it’s out there, they’ve probably won it. But they haven’t won any of the big titles in a decade or so.
LSG: Yes, it’s called Charsenal, and it meets at Local 616, a great little bar in Uptown Charleston.
Pros: I really dig Arsene Wenger. I think he’s kind of a genius, but genius alone isn’t enough to make me like someone. What made me a Wenger fan was the 2013 summer transfer window, when everyone in English football, including a bunch of Arsenal fans, were freaking out because Arsenal kept not signing a striker. And then, boom, right at the end, Mesut Ozil. Plus, now that Sir Alex Ferguson is off gardening somewhere, English football needs a Grand Old Man… Gooner football used to be “One-Nil-to-the-Arsenal,” but that’s not the case anymore. It’s that attractive “New English style,” but without giving you the sense that the club has paved over all its traditions… I also like the badge, and the kits…. I like the way that they’re on an upswing after a few years of disappointment… Local 616 is a great bar, and it’s right here in my neighborhood! … My Nashville friend John Sloop really hates the idea of me picking the Gooners, and scores the number of points my IQ drops every time I make a pro-Arsenal statement. And it’s personal with him, not a Chelsea thing. Arsenal fans just annoy him for some reason (It’s John. Don’t ask. Just go with it). That almost sealed the deal right there, because John looks like an agitated Mesut Ozil with a yeast infection when you annoy him. Good times…Also, I once had the actual job title “gunner,” so it’s almost too perfect.
Cons: While messing with Gooners-hater John Sloop is one thing, talking the same smack with my Londonist Spurs friend Geoff Marshall — at least when it comes to Arsenal — is entirely another. At first I was just enjoying giving Geoff a bit of stick about my interest in Hotspur’s rival club, but there was this moment during his most recent visit when he cut his eyes away from me while I was yacking, and I totally recognized the look. It’s the look I would give an Englishman who decides to make a big deal about taking up NCAA basketball, and delights in telling me — like some smug, ignorant teenager — that he’s thinking about cheering for the Duke Blue Devils because he “likes their style of play.” You don’t “like” an ACC basketball team because you “like” their style of play. You choose a school because it means something, and if you don’t get that, then you’re just an annoying tourist. And while I enjoy a bit of friendly rival banter, when it’s a friend who was raised in that culture, someone as invested in that North London Derby as I’m invested in Carolina-vs-Duke, well… that’s a line I just can’t cross… Also, Geoff threatened to write horrible reviews of all my books on Amazon if I picked Arsenal. Touche.
Summary: I’m leaving Arsenal on my list just in case Geoff ever severely pisses me off.
Current DR: 2
Nickname(s): The Saints.
Location: Southampton (pronounced sow-ZAMP-tun), on the south coast
Stadium: St. Mary’s Stadium
Ownership:The Saints are owned and operated by the executor of the estate of the late owner Markus Liebherr
OCF: 0, but then again, maybe a 1, because under this arrangement, Liebherr still kinda owns the team from beyond the grave…
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Grover Cleveland (first administration, 1885)
Silverware: There’s an FA Cup from 1976, and they’ve clearly been good at the lower levels over the years, but it’s not a particularly distinguished list.
Pros: Southampton was a dreary squad in the first year of its return to the top flight. They avoided relegation, but it was survival, not triumph. Then a funny thing happened. After spending some money in the summer, the Saints got hot in September. After a 1-0 win at Anfield on Sept. 21, the Saints went on a 5-0-2 run that included at draw at Old Trafford, a +10 goal differential and four shutouts. They did it while playing the kind of football I really enjoy watching — high pressure, build from the back, tight defense, sharp finishing. This is a credit to Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino, who took over the club midway through its 2012-13 season and dragged the Saints to safety… I love watching their home games, and St. Mary’s Stadium looks like a modern reinterpretation of the traditional smaller parks that gave decentralized English soccer so much of its charm… Sorta like Camden Yards was to baseball, maybe.
Cons: If the 41-year-old Porchettino continues this level of success for the next six months, he’ll get snapped up some larger club in La Liga that’s looking to make a move next summer. And unless the club’s back-office management has taken a turn toward radical enlightenment, it’s less than a coin-flip chance that they’ll replace their current manager with someone half as good… Oh, and that great run of form I mentioned above? They’ve gone 1-5-2 since that undefeated streak ended on Nov. 23
Summary: You could enjoy this team as a fun mid-table club… if they can build on this recent run of relative success. Yes, Southampton qualifies on a number of levels for me, but there’s a huge risk that if you give your heart to the Saints, your heart will wind up relegated to the League Championship within a couple of years, never to be heard from again. This is the high-risk, high-reward choice…
Current DR: 1
Nickname(s): The Toffees, The Blues, The Black Watch, The School of Science, The People’s Club
Stadium: Goodison Park
Ownership: A group of investors that includes Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright, a 68-year-old Scouser who made his fortune as a West End theatrical producer; Robert Earl, a 62-year-old Englishman who turned his insight into the commercial value of shallow celebrity-culture into the Planet Hollywood chain of “themed-dining” restaurants; and Jon Woods, a 67-year-old Liverpool-born video game programmer who sold his company, Ocean Software, for $100 million in 1996.
OCF: 0. Woods and Kenwright are clearly Everton fans first and foremost. Although I’ll be keeping a close eye on this Earl fellow…
U.S. president when the club was founded: Rutherford B. Hayes (1978)
Promoted: Founding member
Relegated: Never relegated
Silverware: 1995 FA Cup
Pros: If you’re looking for a fun mid-table club, you’re not likely to find a more enjoyable one than Everton. No, the Toffees are not likely to win the Premier League in my lifetime, and yes, the best international honor they can likely hope for is the occasional trudge through the Europa League. But this is a great club with great fans in a great city with a great stadium with a great tradition. It’s just that they’ll always be the weak sister in the Merseyside Derby, because they happen to share Liverpool with The Reds, and that is never going to change. Why is that a “Pro?” Because after watching a lot of English football this fall and winter, I’m beginning to think that cheering for one of The Big Clubs just isn’t for me… Everton is famous for developing quality young players and selling them for cash that keeps the club afloat… They’ve only seriously flirted with relegation three times, and they’ve finished 11th or above for the past eight seasons… If there’s a trend for the club, it’s upward, but not radically upward … Nobody — not even its rivals in the Merseyside Derby — appears to really hate Everton… The Merseyside Derby is also known as “The Friendly Derby,” and the clubs and their fans appear to sincerely respect each other, even while dreaming of smacking down their opponents in the next go-round… The best American player in the world today, USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, plays for Everton. And that’s huge for me…
Cons: If I wind up picking Everton, I expect I’ll have to take a regular ration of abuse from the Liverpool fans around here, since Liverpool is going to be better than Everton… well, almost always… Sylvester Stallone is reportedly “a fan,” but I suspect that might have everything to do with his partnership in Planet Hollywood and nothing to do with interest in soccer. It still makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit, though… Nobody — not even its rivals in the Merseyside Derby — appears to really hate Everton…
Summary: After my lesson with the whole Arsenel-Hotspur-hurt-feelings-in-London episode, I did a little soul-searching, and it occurred to me that while passion is a good thing, I’ve got enough passion in my life. If anything, I need a passion downsizing. Plus, I make enough enemies out there just by going around being me. The last thing I need is to pick a football club that produces MORE of them. No, what I really want to do is follow a team that I can care about and enjoy, and maybe someday visit. But mostly I just want to watch quality football, no matter who is playing, and just enjoy the hell out of it. At least while MLS and USL PRO are on hiatus…
So for the moment, Everton appears to have the inside track. This isn’t to say that I’m recommending The Toffees to everyone, and I hope that comes through in this series. There’s no right answer, just like there’s no one-size-fits-all pair of whitie-tighties.
The point of doing this in public — other than having a little fun with my friends — is to gin up some conversation with you people, whether here, on Twitter, or Facebook or even G+. Also, I’d love to find out if there are any people around Charleston who cheer for the teams that don’t have local fan groups, because it would be great if we could link fans up with each other.
So let us know what you think, and stay on the front foot.