EPL Quest Part Two: In the running

EPL Quest Part Two: In the running

Our story so far:

In Tuesday’s opening installment*, I laid out the rules for this little exercise, and went through the first seven teams, three of which I removed from the board entirely. Today, we look at the middle of the table in the continuing race for my undying (but occasionally fickle) loyalty…

*All points and table positions were current as of Dec. 31st, when I finished this piece.

Dark Horses

West Ham United

200px-West_Ham_United_FC.svgCurrent Dan Rank: 13
Table: 19
Points: 15
Nickname(s): The Hammers
Location: East London
Local Interest Index: 5 (4, if area outside the stadium is patrolled by anyone vaguely resembling the Green Street Hooligans)
Stadium: Boleyn Ground, Upton Park
Stadium Bonus: 0
Ownership: Pornographers David Sullivan and David Gold.
Owner Creepiness Factor: 0. Two guys start a porn empire in order to raise the cash to buy their favorite East End football club. You call it sleazy. I call awesome.
Mid-table Fun Factor: 3

A Gold & Sullivan production.

U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Grover Cleveland (second administration; 1895)
Promoted: 2011
Relegated: 2010
RRF: 5
Silverware: FA Cup, 1980.
Local Supporters Group: No organized supporters group, but The Hammers do have Gary Perridge in their corner.
Pros: President Barack Obama became a fan of The Hammers during a visit to London in 2003 and watches them when his schedule allows… Excellent logo… Stadium is said to be haunted… The core of the West Ham squad that won the FA Cup in 1964, including the legendary Bobby Moore, helped lead England to the World Cup title in 1966, the nation’s last world championship…. The club got its start as a recreational outlet for hard-ass ironworkers, and still has a hard-ass, blue-collar image… Club is owned by porn kings… Andy Carroll signed in the summer… Partying with Gary Perridge.

Gary Perridge, Battery tailgate legend.

Gary Perridge, Battery tailgate legend.

Cons: During his most recent visit, I commented to my London friend Geoff Marshall that I was surprised there wasn’t a regional derby between Chelsea and West Ham. He replied, merrily, “You do understand, don’t you, Conover, that just because a place has the word ‘West’ in its name doesn’t mean that’s where it’s located, yes?” Man, I hate that guy now… Upton Park is, by several accounts, a shithole, and the club has spent years trying to sign a lease to play its matches in Olympic Stadium… re: Those colors… Hello, isn’t that Aston Villa? … Club is owned by porn kings… Andy Carroll signed in the summer… Partying with Gary Perridge. Because who the hell can keep up with that maniac?
Summary: I thought about becoming a fan, but my liver went on strike at the thought of trying to keep up with Gary.

Stoke City

220px-Stoke_City_FC.svgCurrent DR: 12
Table: 12
Points: 21
Nickname(s): The Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
LII: 1
StadiumBritannia Stadium
SB: 0
OwnershipPeter Coates
OCF: -1 (as in, not only is there zero creepiness, Coates is actually one of the club’s great assets)
MFF: 3
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Abraham Lincoln (1863)
Promoted: 2007
Relegated: Never
RRF: 2
Silverware: The League Cup, 1971-72.
LSG: No.
Pros: Owner Peter Coates grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, the son of a miner. He worked his way up through catering to become a wealthy man, bought a sports betting service, and ultimately purchased his beloved hometown club. He sold it, then bought it again. Here’s what he said in 2001:

coates-stoke-webI am a Stoke boy, I have supported the club since I was a boy and I have had two comings at Stoke-an early one in 1985, after which I sold the club to an Icelandic consortium and then bought it back again in about five years ago this summer. I bought it back again against my better judgment, in some ways, and my family’s, who all thought I was daft to do it. The club was in a mess at the time and I thought I could help it and do things for it, and I was a bit disappointed with my previous time, and there was little bit of unfinished business about it and all that sort of thing. But I thought it would be important for the area if the football club were doing well. Stoke was having a difficult time. It has lost the pot banks and the mining industry. I thought that if Stoke could get in the Premier League it would give the place a lift and would be good for it. I think that that has happened, I am pleased to say.

More Pros: The home club of USMNT fullback and midfielder Geoff Cameron, a player who represented the solid core of the Stoke City style. The transfers of two additional US internationals — Maurice Edu and Brek Shea — made it look like Stoke was on its way to becoming the heir to Fulham when it came to English showcases of U.S. talent. It’s a hard-working, well-drilled, blue-collar club.
Cons: God, they’re just so… dull. I mean, I want to like them. But most of the matches I’ve seen have been about as entertaining as marching up and down the square. Granted, the club is in transition away from the boot-and-scoot style of Tony Pulis (now running the show at Crystal Palace) under the more open game plan Mark Hughes, but it’s not as if they have a lot of money to throw at nifty strikers… It’s midway between Birmingham and Manchester in the industrial heart of England, and not exactly a tourist draw… Edu had to leave for Turkey on loan, and Shea disappeared, got hurt, and hasn’t been seen since…
Summary: Maybe this is a mid-table club that you can respect, but never quite love.

Aston Villa

aston-villa-logo-nc-thumbCurrent DR: 11
Table: 12
Points: 20
Nickname(s): The Villa, The Villans, The Lions, The Claret and Blue
Location: Birmingham
LII: 2
Stadium: Villa Park
SB: +1
Ownership: Randy Lerner, who inherited his wealth from his father, Al Lerner, the late owner of the Cleveland Browns
OCF: 0/1 (Could go either way)
MFF: 4
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Ulysses S. Grant (1874)
Promoted: Founding member.
Relegated: Never relegated.
RRF: 0
Silverware: Tons of it, mostly old and tarnished.
LSG: No.

It’s not often that Americans are the best players on an EPL side, but when they are, they’re always goalkeepers (except at Fulham).

Pros: Villa Park used to have a velodrome that encircled the pitch… Their motto, “Prepared,” is vague, but in general I find it’s usually much better to be prepared for stuff than it is to show up without a clue to what’s about to happen, which typically winds up quite embarrassing… Owner Randy Lerner not only donated the front of Aston Villa’s shirts to a children’s hospice, he wrote off interest owed to him from the club in order help it financially… Future starting USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan patrols the penalty area for AV… Tom Hanks became a Villan while filming Saving Private Ryan… Hey, who wouldn’t want to be called a “Villan?”
Cons: Some people really like the idea of “claret and blue.” I’m not one of them… It’s a good thing that Guzan plays here, because he gets lots and lots of practice at making saves… For a team that doesn’t play great defense, they make up for it by not scoring… Oh, and that charity that owner Randy Lerner supported by giving away the advertising on the front of the Villa kit? Under his leadership, the club has been losing so much cash that he had to take back the shirt and get a paying sponsor… Because even when a rich foreigner who inherited his wealth puts his heart in the right place, there’s still just something a little creepy about the whole thing.
Summary: One way of putting it is, Aston Villa are consistent. The other way of putting it is, they’re mediocre. They don’t win titles, or threaten for a spot in the Champions League. They seldom flirt with relegation. They do this by not distinguishing themselves in any particular aspect of the game, and by relying on Guzan to clean up in the back. It could be fun to hang with Tom Hanks, but in the end I just have to wonder: Why doesn’t Birmingham have better football?

Hull City

529px-Hull_City.svgCurrent DR: 10
Table: 10
Points: 12
Nickname(s): The Tigers
Location: Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire
LII: 2
Stadium: KC Stadium
SB: 0
Ownership: Assem Allam, an immigrant to Hull who scratched his way to success and bought the Tigers because, he said, he wanted to give back to the community.
OCF: 2
MFF: 1
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Theodore Roosevelt (1904)
Promoted: 2013
Relegated: 2009
RRF: 4
Silverware: Just for the training table.
LSG: No.

Midfielder Tom Huddlestone vowed not to cut his hair until he scored for Hull. After this week's 6-0 pasting of Fulham, he's finally on his way to the barber.

Midfielder Tom Huddlestone vowed not to cut his hair until he scored for Hull. After this week’s 6-0 pasting of Fulham, he’s finally on his way to the barber.

Pros: Their home kit looks an awful lot like the Charleston Battery’s… In December 2012, I picked up a Hull City team near the bottom of the second tier in an English Championship game world in Soccer Manager and built it into a squad that’s currently three points off a top-four finish. Eventually I’ll win that league, and then I’ll give up that Hull club, because it’s just too damned hard to win as The Tigers… Hull City came into the league without much in the way of buzz, but has so far done quite well for itself so far,  beating both Liverpool and Manchester United… Last week they scored six times against Fulham in the second half… It’s not quite clear how they’re doing it — Hull lacks both top-level talent and depth — but they’re doing it. A 4-1-2 home record certainly doesn’t hurt.
Cons: I mean, that is just one ugly logo. Not in the sense that it lacks artistry because that doesn’t look like a tiger, but in that looks like a tiger, and it still lacks artistry…. BTW, that Hull tiger’s name is “Roary the Tiger”… On the one hand, you want to love an owner who comes to a city as a poor immigrant, makes his fortune in the industry that defines the place (in Hull’s case, shipping), and then buys the hometown club. But Assem Assam isn’t so much creepy as he is arrogant and abrasive. For instance, when he announced that the team would be dropping the name “City” from its “marketing” in order to make more money internationally by selling merchandise, fans pushed back. Assam responded with these epic public-relations gems: “Nobody questions my decisions in my business,” and (in response to a fan group that called itself “City Til We Die”), “(They) can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.” Good times.
Summary: I could like Hull City. But they’ve got a long way to go before I’ll believe that they’re going to stick around and not tear themselves to pieces..

Fulham

Fulham_FC_LogoCurrent DR: 9
Table: 18
Points: 16
Nickname(s): The Cottagers, The Whites, The Lilywhites, Fulhamerica
Location: Southwest London
LII: 5
Stadium: Craven Cottage
SB: +4
Ownership: Shahid Khan, an American businessman and the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars
OCF: Too early to tell.
MFF: 4
U.S. president who was in office when the club was founded: Rutherford B. Hayes (1879)
Promoted: 2000
Relegated: Never relegated
RRF: 5
Silverware: Runner-up, Europa League, 2010.
LSG: None.

Clint Dempsey playing for the Lilywhites, back when he had hair.

Clint Dempsey playing for the Lilywhites, back when he had hair.

Pros: On paper, Fulham seems like the perfect club for me. After a long history as an also-ran, the club finally made it to the Premier League in 2000, and they’ve hung around ever since as a charming little mid-table side, seldom too close to relegation, never finishing higher than 7th. They’re located in London, the default tourism destination for Americans visiting the UK. They have no great history and no great prospects, so to be a Fulham fan is to live in the moment. And of course, while the English call them the Cottagers, on this side of the pond we call them Fulhamerica. Brian McBrideCarlos BocanegraKasey Keller and Clint Dempsey all plied their trade at Fulham, and Dempsey left for Tottenham in 2012 as the Cottagers’ all-time leading Premier League goal-scorer. They’ve got a cool old stadium, nice kits, and a cheeky mascot named Billy the Badger, who is like a the illegitimate hybrid offspring of John Cleese and Beatrix Potter’s Jemiamah Puddleduck. How much more English can you get?

Shahid Khan, Pakistani-American billionaire. Rockin' the "Look at Me" handlebar 'stache.

Shahid Khan, Pakistani-American billionaire. Rockin’ the “Look at Me” handlebar ‘stache.

Cons: Man, they suck right now. With Dimitar Berbatov in the lineup Fulham has some finishing punch, but the 32-year-old has missed the last three matches and now it looks like he could be sold off as a squad player for Arsenal or Liverpool. Shahid Khan is the kind of guy that Americans can be proud of, if they’re inclined to do so — a Pakistani immigrant who worked his way to wealth. But on the other hand, there’s something about men who succeed in business by being smart and efficient and then take over sports franchises and run them into the ground that just screams “Love me! Notice me!” Granted, Khan hasn’t done that at Fulham, but during his two years as owner of the Jaguars, the once-competent North Florida team has gone 6-26, and looked inept doing it. Plus, Khan acquired Fulham from former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian businessman best known as the father of the guy who was dating Princess Diana when… uh… that bad thing happened in Paris. The dude sunk massive amounts of his personal fortune into the Cottagers, and didn’t appear to come close to breaking even. How will Khan respond to losing money? And with two massively expensive franchises to run, how much can Khan afford to sink into keeping Fulham in the upper flight this winter? Plus, how embarrassing it is that there’s a statue of pop singer Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage now, thanks to Al-Fayed being a crazy old coot?
Summary: The Cottagers are definitely in the drop zone for good reason, and the fate of their long run in the EPL probably boils down to the fate of Berbatov, their success in the January transfer window, and the Clint Dempsey factor. Dempsey wasn’t a bust at Tottenham, but he wasn’t a regular starter, either, and he looked like a shaky, unhappy man when he arrived in Seattle. If his upcoming two-month loan to Fulham can re-capture some of the magic he used to bring to Craven Cottage, then I could see Fulham climbing this list dramatically. But if it goes badly — and Fulham fans were not happy with the way Deuce departed — Fulhamerica could be closed forever.

Sunderland

250px-Logo_Sunderland.svgCurrent DR: 8
Table: 20
Points: 14
Nickname(s): The Black Cats, the Rokerites, The Roker Men, the Light Brigade, the Miners, and the Sol
Location: Sunderland
LII: 1
Stadium: The Stadium of Light
SB: +2
OwnershipEllis Short
OCF: 4
MFF: 1
U.S. president in office when club was founded:Rutherford B. Hayes (1879)
Promoted: 2007
Relegated: 2005
RRF: 5

More of this, please.

More of this, please.

Silverware: Other than an FA Cup in 1973, nothing since the 1930s.
LSG: Unless you count guys wearing USA shirts with Jozy Altidore‘s name and number of the back, none.

Pros: From one perspective, Sunderland looks like a solid prospect. Thirteen years in the top flight during three stints in the Premier League. Never higher than 7th. Passionate fans who turn out and fill The Stadium of Light week after week (Sunderland is 7th in the league in attendance and regularly fill every seat). Great nickname (“The Black Cats”). An intense derby with neighboring Newcastle. Decent-looking kits. And most importantly, Sunderland went out and signed America’s best young player, striker Jozy Altidore, for $13 million from AZ Akmaar in the summer.

Yeah, Paolo, we don't get it, either.

Yeah, Paolo, we don’t get it, either.

Cons: First things first: Sunderland owner Ellis Short is a Texan who moved to London, and the arrogant bastard has $3 billion and still can’t buy a clue. Who hires Paolo Di Canio, an Italian fascist who also happens to be a few olives short of an antipasto, and installs him as the manager of a club that was historically supported by unionized Northeastern coal miners? Maybe he could have asked his chairman for advice, but… whoops! Short gave himself that job. With guys like Adam JohnsonSteven FletcherLee Cattermole and Emanuele Giaccherini, not to mention the tremendously under-utilized Altidore, the Black Cats should be punching toward the middle of the table. Instead, they’re dead last, and Di Canio didn’t make it to October. On the bright side, they’ve been marginally better since he left… That Sunderland logo looks like John Philips Souza‘s Liberty Bell March sounds…
Summary: The only good thing about the Di Canio era was that, for a brief, shining moment, he gave me the opportunity to refer to Sunderland as “Jozy and the Fascist Cats,” which I always thought was just freakin’ hilarious, but which nobody else ever found remotely funny. Altidore isn’t playing horribly — he actually looks pretty good, but the guy can’t finish his breakfast in Sunderland. If the new manager can help Altidore regain his scoring confidence, they could yet survive. But they look like roadkill to me.

Contenders for my affection

Swansea City

240px-Swansea_City_AFC_logo.svgCurrent DR: 7
Table: 11
Points: 27
Nickname(s): The Jacks, The Swans
Location: Swansea, Wales
LII: 3
StadiumLiberty Stadium
SB: 0
Ownership: Five different owners, including a 20 percent share that is owned by supporters.
OCF: 0
MFF: 5
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: William Howard Taft (1912)
Promoted: 2010
Relegated: Never relegated.
RRF: 1
Silverware: FA Cup, 2013
LSG: No
Pros:The Swans beat all the expert expectations in 2012-13, finishing 9th in the EPL in their first year in the Premier League. They did that largely behind the foot of Spanish striker Michu, who scored 22 goals and notched six assists across all competitions for Swansea. Not bad for a guy who cost the Welsh club about half what Sunderland paid this summer for Altidore. They’re not catching anyone by surprise this year, but they’re still a solid mid-table club.
Cons: Michu is out for the next six weeks and wasn’t quite the revelation that he was in his debut season. Bony is picking up some of the slack, but he’s not the game-changer Michu can be.
Summary: I like these guys. They’ll be in the hunt. But it doesn’t feel like love.

Tottenham Hotspur

150px-Tottenham_Hotspur.svgCurrent DR: 6
Table: 7
Points: 34
Nickname(s): The Spurs
Location: North London
LII: 5
StadiumWhite Hart Lane
SB: +4
OwnershipENIC International Ltd, an investment firm that is one of many of the holdings of Joe Lewis, a British billionaire who has so much money and owns so much stuff that Tottenham Hotspur isn’t even listed on his Wikipedia page.
OCF: 0
MFF: NA. Tottenham often finishes around the middle of the table, but it’s not a mid-table club. The Spurs are an elite club that tends to fall short of its potential.
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Chester A. Arthur (1882)
Promoted: Founding member
Relegated: Never relegated
RRF: 0
Silverware: League Cup, 2008
LSG: Yes, the S.C. Spurs, and they meet at Prohibition on Upper King Street.

The Ted Lassoe Era at White Hart Lane was blessedly short.

The Ted Lassoe Era at White Hart Lane was blessedly short.

Pros: This was the team I took up casually back around 2007, when now-Londonist videographer and Tube Challenge champion Geoff Marshall and I were working together for the metro daily here in Charleston. Listening to him talk about them, I thought, “Well, that’s a team I could enjoy. Historic, proud, always in the mix, but not one of the bandwagon teams.” And watching Gareth Bale grow up was a lot of fun. They’ve got a cool logo, OK kits, and a great derby with Arsenal. That brilliant David Sedeikis “An American Coach in London” promo for NBC’s EPL coverage was filmed at Tottenham training in August. My old friend Mitchell Davis is a passionate new convert.
Cons: Spurs never quite won me over, and I can’t exactly say way. Watching AVB slight Clint Dempsey last year pissed me off… Bale left… Spurs went from being the good team that wasn’t for bandwagon-jumpers to being the good team that every goddamn article I ever read about “Picking Your EPL Team” recommended because — get this — if you picked Tottenham, you wouldn’t be jumping on a bandwagon.
Summary: It’s not like I ever broke up with Hotspur, because whatever it was that we had, we never really went all the way. To me, Spurs are like that attractive woman who checks off all the boxes for what you want in a life partner, but then you’re finally alone and the candles are lit, you just sorta talk about the weather. Plus, I just don’t know if I can love a team that is practically the unanimous expert recommendation for the English club that smart American fans are supposed to like. Because I’m just not that smart.

Norwich City

Norwich_City_logoCurrent DR: 5
Table: 14
Points: 19
Nickname(s): The Canaries, the Yellows, the Citizens
Location: Norwich (pronounced NOR-itch), in Norfolk, East Anglia
LII:  2
Stadium: Carrow Road
SB: +1
Ownership: Celebrity cook and TV presenter Delia Smith, and her husband, some writer-editor guy nobody cares about.
OCF: 1. In 2005, Delia Smith made an appearance on the pitch at half to exhort Canaries’ supporters to cheer more loudly. It is remembered in club lore as a particularly awkward moment, and when English people think something is awkward, that’s The Gold Standard of Awkward. As Charles Lawley described the scene, “If you want to rouse support from football fans, don’t speak to them like you’re a Victorian-era police constable and they’re a gander of ruffians hanging around a cobbled street up to mischief.”
MFF: 3
U.S. president in office when the club was founded: Theodore Roosevelt (1902)
Promoted: 2011
Relegated: 2005
RRF: 2
Silverware: They finished third in the Premiership in 1992-93. You don’t get silverware for that, but it’s still pretty good.
LSG:Other than someone with the suspiciously perfect English name Simon Ashton, no.

vicki-and-geoff.2jpg

The lovely Vicki Pipe, ambassador of Norwich F.C.

Pros: My friend Geoff Marshall met a lovely English girl named Victoria “Vicki” Pipe when he returned to London after several years in Charleston. She’s now come to visit the US with Geoff twice, and she’s just as sweet and adorable a person as one is likely to meet outside of a novel by Jane Austen. During her last visit, while I was torturing Spurs fan Geoff with talk about my emerging fondness for Arsenal, Vicki, who is from Norwich, suggested that instead of picking one of the two North London clubs, I should consider the Canaries. I asked her why I should like them. She said they were quite nice. I asked her about her home town (which she described as being “in the country,”) and why I might want to go there. She told me that was quite nice, too.  And she said it in such a nice, pretty, charming way, that Norwich shot right up toward the top of my list.
Cons: She’s probably still going to marry that lucky bastard Geoff anyway, no matter which team I pick.
Summary: Vicki, please drop by for afternoon tea any time. I finally figured out what you meant by “biscuits,” and I promise there will be no repeat of the previous “Southern tea and biscuits” debacle (Call me!).

Coming tomorrow: El Tercera Parte. ¿Quién es más macho?

3 Comments

  1. Don’t forget that Stephen Fry is a life-long Norwich fan, having grown up in a nearby town, and that he is on club’s Board of Directors.

  2. Not a Norwich fan, although I have nothing against them.

    However, and for some reason this really matters, Tottenham Hotspur are *always* known as either Tottenham or Spurs. Not ‘Hotspur(s)’ and never, ever, ever ‘The Spurs’.

    That said, I’m delighted you ruled them out for precisely the reason you did. There seems to be some feeling that they are the perfect team for new American fans, without being glory hunters by picking Manyoo, Citeh or Chelski. I hate them, and the London arrogance of the media that keeps pushing them.