English Premier League fan is born

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Along with the majority of the country, I was captivated by the FIFA World Cup this summer. Never a big soccer fan, I watched the competition in 2006 when it was held in Germany, and when South Africa hosted in 2010, but this year’s tournament seemed to reach new heights in national and global popularity.

The United States squad dominated headlines when they played, and undoubtedly caused a significant depletion of stockpiled sick days throughout most offices. Despite finishing with a 1-2-1 record, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s trip to Brazil in 2014 will be remembered fondly.

USMNT (Wikipedia)
US Men’s National Team (Wikipedia)

The World Cup continued to provide amazing moments as it drew toward its conclusion on July 13. It culminated in Germany’s 1-0 defeat of Argentina in extra time (helping me to win a six-pack of beer in the process). But it was a bittersweet finale. After soaking up all the “football” knowledge I could in the month-long span of the World Cup, I would have to wait another four years to experience it again.

And then I was informed of the allure of the English Premier League. I had heard of the EPL and of course knew that these international players had club teams that they played for when the World Cup was not taking place, but I had hardly any background on them, aside from the movie “Green Street Hooligans.”

(Wikipedia) Alexis Sánchez enters his first season playing for Arsenal. (Wikipedia)
Alexis Sánchez enters his first season playing for Arsenal. (Wikipedia)

Described to me as “England’s NFL,” I quickly began researching the league and its players. Noticing marquee international players from the World Cup who are teammates in the EPL was particularly intriguing. I loved the atmosphere that the enormous fan bases created, with their scarves and chants. I was hooked; the only issue was finding a team to follow.

From Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool, Newcastle United, etc., the options were seemingly endless. To narrow down the choices I knew that I wanted to pick a team close to London with a fairly significant history and impressive jerseys.

The single most common piece of advice I received from trusted friends who are EPL fans is simply not to choose Manchester United. Perhaps the most recognizable team in the Premier League, Man U was labeled as “the New York Yankees of the EPL,” immediately rendering them out of the race. My brother — who is joining me on this EPL journey — chose Liverpool, while I landed on Arsenal.

The English Premier League season started on August 16 and Arsenal took on Crystal Palace in the opener. We ventured to Federal Hill, where Abbey Burger Bistro, Baltimore’s Arsenal bar, is located.

Arriving a half-hour before the match was not prompt enough, as the place was packed with fans of the “Gunners” who wouldn’t be leaving their seats any time soon. Four of us managed to rotate in and out of one seat at the bar, sampling their impressive menu (highlighted by Adam Jones’s signature burger, dubbed the “Simply AJ10”).

 Orioles All-Star Adam Jones added his own custom burger to the menu at Abbey Burger Bistro.
Orioles All-Star Adam Jones added his own custom burger to the menu at Abbey Burger Bistro.

Crystal Palace took an early 1-0 lead in the 34th minute. Arsenal responded, however, with two unanswered goals—including the game-winner by Aaron Ramsey in stoppage time—to seal both the victory and my allegiance.

Whether it’s the NFL or Major League Baseball, being a fan of a professional sports league feels incomplete without having a fantasy team to accompany it. So naturally we started a fantasy EPL league.

Despite obviously having little background knowledge to go on, my team appears to be competitive, highlighted by Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez and Manchester City’s Yaya Touré.

As I’m set to begin my inaugural season of English Premier League fandom, I can’t help but give credit to the FIFA World Cup for sparking this interest. Without a worldwide celebration of soccer this past summer, it’s fair to say that my appreciation for the sport would be minimal at best.

I’m looking forward to a great season. Cheers.