Poor Man's Guide to the '08-'09 Premier League: Part 1

I'm not usually one for New Year's resolutions. Start going to the gym more frequently, lose the spare tire, become more organized - that's all garbage to me. However, with last January's impending end to the NFL season leaving a gaping chasm before Spring Training and my general defiance in recognizing the NHL and NBA, I felt that I had to discover something else to waste my time with on the weekends. The void was quickly filled by that curious temptress we in America call soccer.

I'll admit that I didn't (and still don't) know the history and peculiarities of the sport that the rest of the globe calls football. What I did know for certain was that the English Premier League (now Barclays* Premier League) was arguably the best league in the world, and the Fox Soccer Channel shows Premiership games on my local cable affiliate. Therefore, it was pretty clear that if I put a minimal amount of effort into the process and remained open minded, I could open myself to a whole new realm of sports and fandom.

With fellow bartenders The Hundley and Lingering Bursitis already immersed in the glory of the sport, I knew I had a support staff to guide me in this new venture. Naturally I had to choose a side to cheer on for the remainder of the '07-'08 campaign. I intentionally chose not to come off as a bandwagon fan for a top flight club, so I sought one that was mediocre at best and would provide me with the same harsh realities and imminent failure that I am used to with the Chicago Cubs. After some suggestions by Bursitis, the natural fit upon which to pledge my allegiance was Everton.

Now more than six months in, I've been through the drama of a run to finish in the top four of the Premiership, along with a UEFA Cup ride with Everton and the intensity and nationalistic flair of Euro 2008. I'm can say with all confidence that I am hooked on soccer, and am greatly looking forward to the '08-'09 season.

In my excitement, I wanted to provide TMS with a preview of the upcoming Premier League season. In my preparation, I quickly realized that I still don't know shit about the league. However, I still wanted to compile my thoughts and throw them into a post on TMS, so I've decided to take the angle of the novice soccer fan, in hopes that my basic descriptions of the league and the teams will inspire others to finally give soccer it's fair shake. Below you will find my loosely thought out rankings for the season, along with a little information about each club and a few sentences regarding what I've learned about their upcoming season while cruising other soccer websites and blogs. This post is geared toward other soccer novices, who will hopefully find it useful. I pray that those of you who are more knowledgeable will not react too harshly to my ignorance.

The Premier League consists of 20 clubs (remember, this is for the remedial soccer fans). A couple thoughts about each club will be followed with "what I've gathered", which is my cribbed version of what the analysts are saying. Projected finishes for the lower half will run today. Check back tomorrow for my underdeveloped and borrowed thoughts on the top tier.

20. Stoke City
The first thing that someone new to Premier League soccer needs to understand is the fantastic concept of relegation. Of the 20 clubs, the bottom three in the standings at the end of the year get relegated down to the Championship League. For baseball, this is akin to having your entire franchise sent down to Triple A for the next season. The clubs in the Championship League fight like dogs to finish in the top three, upon which they are bumped up to the Premier League for the upcoming season. Stoke City is one of the teams that has been thrust up to Premier level for the '08-'09 season.

From what I've gathered: Stoke City will be heading right back down to the second division with a fairly deplorable showing. Last season's worst team, Derby County, finished with exactly one victory in 38 matches. One. Stoke will not be that bad, but the Potters (yes, that's their nickname) will have a short-lived existence in the top tier.


19. Bolton Wanderers
Bolton staved off relegation last year by winning their final five matches and finishing 16th in the table (British for "standings"). They are also sponsored by Reebok and play in Reebok Stadium. This is a vast improvement from the days in which they were sponsored by L.A. Gear.

From what I've gathered: Bolton has made a few positive personnel moves, bringing in Johan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba. Who are those two? I have no idea, but it doesn't appear that they will provide much of a goal-scoring boost, so look for Bolton to struggle again. I think.


18. Hull City
This is another team that was promoted from the Champions League. Their most prominent player is a 39 year old striker named Dean Windass. Fitting, as Hull City's chances this season will Blowass.

From what I've gathered: The Tigers apparently had a player named Frazier Campbell on loan from Manchester United last year. He helped them to get promoted, but now he has to return to Man U, which will not help in Hull's attempt to avoid immediate relegation. And yes, for those new to soccer, you can loan out your bench players to other teams for cash. Think anyone would take Daryle Ward off of the Cubs' hands?


17. Fulham
Fulham finished 17th last year, and they look to be no better this season. You think that Wrigley and Fenway are old, check out some of the stadiums in England. Fulham has been playing at Craven Cottage since 1896. The club is owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of the late Princess Diana's late lover Dodi. Cue "Candle in the Wind 1997".

From what I've gathered: Fulham has had a major roster overhaul, but there defense remains suspect enough to cause them to linger near the bottom. They paid roughly $21 million to Everton for pansy-ass Andrew Johnson during the transfer window (free-agency period in the offseason). He's sure to keep the crowd at the Cottage entertained as he runs around the pitch (British for field) falling over at the faintest hit of contact.


16. West Bromwich Albion
This is the last of the three promoted squads, and with a little luck, they may stick around for the '09-'10 campaign. Their nickname is The Baggies. I can only assume this is because they should be playing with paper bags over their heads.

From what I've gathered: This is another poor defensive team, but has enough goal scorers that they should keep relegation at bay and improve. Also, the Drunk Hobo tells me that their club anthem is Psalm 23. Yes, that Psalm 23 from the Bible. They sing it. They sing "the Lord is my shepherd..." while (whilst) cheering on their club. I better move on.


15. Blackburn Rovers
My God, there is nothing interesting to say about this team. They won the league in 1995, but were then split up Florida Marlins style. I guess they have a cool name, but that won't translate to enough victories to finish in the top half.

From what I've gathered: The team is in transition with a new manager assuming the post. They also sold their best player, David Bentley, to Tottenham. It should be a rebuilding year for the Rovers, but not an all-out disaster.


14. Middlesbrough
Just like their name suggests, Middlesbrough will finish near the middle of the pack, but most likely on the wrong side of the middle. They play their home matches at Riverside Stadium. This is not the same Riverside in which Reed Johnson is the pride of.

From what I've gathered: This is a young team, with potentially dynamic scorer in Alfonso Alves. Their fans seem resigned to their mediocre status on the pitch and in life. I would imagine suicide rates are the highest amongst Middlesbrough supporters.


13. Newcastle United
Yes, like the beer. Newcastle wears black and white striped kits (British for jerseys) which make them look like referees. Newcastle is generally regarded as the dirty scum of the Premier League due to a history of questionable conduct and players with off the field issues.

From what I've gathered: They have no real playmakers on the field. It's another young team that scores a lot but brings nothing to the pitch as far as defense goes. Seems to be a common theme amongst these lower tier squads.


12. Wigan Athletic
Only in the last few years has Wigan played to the level which most would qualify as "good". Their existence was mired in mediocrity bordering on hopelessness until entering the Premier League in the '05-'06 season. They apparently have the same attendence issues that the Marlins have, where stadium capacity is well under 50% for most matches.

From what I've gathered: Wigan have added a great young goalscorer on loan in Amr Zaki who should help them improve upon their record from last season. They have a lot of depth and an outside chance of finishing in the top half of the league.


11. West Ham United
The West Ham club has been around for 113 years. Their team anthem is called "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", which would win them the title as queerest club, were it not for their supporters' penchant for hooliganism. This behavior was glorified in the Elijah Wood film Green Street Hooligans. Coincidentally, Elijah Wood and Ian McKellan were often discovered blowing bubbles with each other off set during the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

From what I've gathered: West Ham has a good pair of strikers in Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy, and their defensive play is as steady as any club in the league. They'll contend for top tier status, but will ultimately finish around 10th place.


*From what I've gathered: Barclays Bank bought the naming rights to the entire league. Thus it is now known as Barclays Premier League instead of English Premier League. I still don't know much about soccer, but I know that corporate sponsorship is bullshit no matter which side of the ocean you're on.

Tomorrow: The Top 10

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