Has the NHL lockout got you down? Are you going through hockey withdrawal? Just be thankful this didn’t happen last year in the Jets’ inaugural season in Winnipeg. The Jets will be back, but in the meantime, what is a die-hard hockey fan to do in winter without pro hockey?
If you really miss prima-donna-spoilt-brat-millionaire athletes behaving badly on a weekly basis, I have just the alternative for you: start watching English soccer.
It’s the world’s most viewed spectator sport and the English Premier League comes up with staggering amounts of money to attract the world’s top players. In addition to the beauty of the game—a veritable ballet on grass—there are plenty of player shenanigans that add more intrigue.
There are many similarities between the two sports, enough so that hockey fans can jump in quite easily. Just like hockey, the main objective is to get the ball, like the puck, into the back of the net.
Soccer is free flowing; the action is uninterrupted during each forty-five minute half. That means no time outs or commercial breaks, subjecting you to mind-numbing advertising for teeth-whitening toothpaste.
Then there is the way the English leagues (and most other European leagues for that matter) are structured.
The English Premier League consists of twenty teams, but these teams change each year. The three teams that finish the season in the standings basement are relegated to a lower league, currently known as the English Championship League. The top three teams from the Championship League take their place as they are promoted to the Premier League. This system of relegation and promotion is a structure found throughout most European soccer leagues.
So if you’re going to watch you’ll need a team to pledge your undying allegiance. It’s easy for the English, you generally follow the team from your home town. So if you’re from Burnley in Lancashire, you’ll follow Burnley no matter how bad they are. But for a frustrated Canadian hockey fan convulsing from pangs of withdrawal may I offer the following guide of the bigger teams to help you pick a team to follow:
One of six London teams currently playing in the Premier League, Arsenal—named after a former London munitions factory—have won it on three occasions.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Top players: Gervinho, Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby, Olivier Giroud
Famous fans: Michael Moore, Prince Harry
Another rich London team, Chelsea is a three-time winner of the Premier League. Currently in first place, but can they keep it up?
Manager: Roberto DiMatteo
Top players: Fernando Torres, John Terry, Frank Lampard
Famous fans: London Olympics honcho Seb Coe , Michael Caine
The other team from Liverpool and one of the original twelve teams who formed the first football league back in 1888.
Manager: David Moyes
Top players: Phil Neville, Marouane Fellaini
Famous fans: Sylvester Stallone, Paul McCartney
A powerhouse of the seventies, they’ve struggled to find form as of late. Always a potent threat, though. Follow them and you’ll never walk alone.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Top players: Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard
Famous fans: Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, Dr. Dre
Manchester City has emerged from the shadow of United with a new trillion-dollar owner. Big spending to procure an influx of top talent proved enough to win the Premiership last year, snatching it from their cross-town rivals United.
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Top players: Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli
Famous fans: Ricky Hatton, Liam and Noel Gallagher
Man U is England’s most consistently successful team. Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 United have won it a staggering twelve times.
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Top players: Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie.
Famous fans: Thom Yorke, Usain Bolt
Most English Premier League games are played on Saturday afternoons at 3:00 p.m., UK time, which is 9:00 a.m., Saturday morning for Winnipeggers. You may have to curtail that late night partying on Friday nights. It’s not easy being an armchair athlete!