The World Cup fired you up, and you’re still fighting the shakes when you don’t wake up to a soccer game each Saturday morning. Even worse, Wayne Rooney’s wonder strike over the weekend has you wishing you’d seen it live. You’ve reached your breaking point and have decided you want to follow an English Premier League club, but you don’t know where to start. The best way to teach anything is to relate the material, and thus, we’ve sorted out the closest American comparisons for each of the 20 English clubs to make your choice that much easier. They’re arranged by their current table position with three months left in the season. And don’t worry, there are zero vuvuzelas in the Premier League.
The most common comparison you’ll see, and there’s a reason. The biggest, most popular club in the Premier League shuffles in stars with ease and ponies up the cash for them, as well. Red Devil fans love their club and know they’re the villains, and opposing fans all join together in their hatred of Manchester United. You could even compare the clubs’ longest tenured core players. In 2010, the Yankees had Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera –- a group that had played for the club dating back to 1996. Meanwhile, Manchester United has had the duo of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes playing together since 1994, with Giggs making his first appearance all the way back in 1990. What Jeter is to the Yanks, Giggs is to United. And if you were picking a baseball team to root for out of nowhere, everyone would hate you if you picked the Yankees. The same holds true for United.
Arsenal has won the league 13 times. St. Louis has 10 titles. Arsenal’s last league title was in 2004. The Cardinals’ last title was in 2006. Both are led by stars that may be on their way out after this season (Cesc Fabregas and Albert Pujols), both reside in two of the newest stadiums in their league and both have a manager (Arsene Wenger and Tony LaRussa) that is lauded for his achievements and openly questioned by his skeptics. Opposing fans don’t really hate Arsenal or the Cardinals (except rivals Tottenham and Chicago) because it’s hard not to appreciate the skills and the seemingly traditional way in which the results are achieved.
Defined mainly as playing second fiddle to neighboring clubs (Manchester United and the Yankees). City has won two trophies (FA Cup in '69 and League Cup in '76) while the Mets have won two World Series ('69 and '86). Both clubs spend rampantly without much to show for it. City is the richest club on earth (recently purchased by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan). The Mets had the fifth-highest MLB payroll in 2010. Both are considered to break through to elite status every year, but always fall short.
Spurs last won a league title in 1961. The Jets last won a Super Bowl in 1969. And for years since those titles, both have competed with the best some years and floundered in others. Lately, they’re both making a push to the top, with the Jets reaching two straight AFC championship games and Spurs qualifying for the Champions League with a top four finish last year. Led by dynamic -– if not somewhat misunderstood –- young talents in Gareth Bale and Mark Sanchez, and two blustery coaches that please every interviewer that points a microphone at them (Harry Redknapp and Rex Ryan), the teams relish the spotlight. Trouble is, they can’t seem to stand the heat of it all at the end.
Name a team that was largely unsuccessful for decades while remaining in the picture, but in the last decade has seen an incredible surge in both success and bandwagon fans. These are your best answers from both sides of the pond. Sure, Chelsea is run by an eccentric Russian billionaire in Roman Abramovich that spends money on whoever the hottest commodity is at the time, and that’s not exactly the approach John Henry, Tom Werner and Theo Epstein take in Boston, but the Red Sox do have the second-highest payroll in Major League Baseball. Frank Lampard and David Ortiz are hailed by each of the clubs’ fans as often as they are questioned by the local sportswriters, and both clubs have elbowed out the kings of their league (Manchester United and the Yankees) to share the top dog spotlight.
Everyone jumps to compare Liverpool to the Red Sox, mostly because of a storied tradition, working class port cities and the fact that they’re both owned by the same people. But really, the best comparison is the Celtics. Liverpool ran through the 60s, 70s and 80s in much the same way that the Celtics did, and were led by a revered father figure (Bill Shankly) that has become a legend in the game and among the fans, much like Red Auerbach. Portly coaches continued the tradition in Bob Paisley and Tommy Heinsohn (after Bill Russell), and former players (Kenny Dalglish and K.C. Jones) would eventually win titles with team at the ends of the eras. Since that run, though, the teams have only managed a blip here or there (Liverpool with a Champions League title and another finals appearance, and Boston with an NBA title and one other appearance).
Both clubs have had their struggles recently (although Sunderland has made the surprise run of this season). Sunderland finished the 2003 campaign with a then-record low of 19 points and spent years bouncing between the second division and Premiership. The Bengals have only had two winning seasons in the past 20. Both clubs are stationed in hard-working towns and are known as blue-collar clubs. Both clubs also feature stripes as predominate parts of their respective uniforms.
Bolton FC has gone 71 non-consecutive years without winning the title in England's top division of football. Cleveland has not won a World Series since 1948 (63 years). Both clubs had long spells with less than sparkling results. In 1987, Bolton was relegated to the fourth division. From 1960-93, the Indians only recorded one third-place finish, and nothing higher than that. Neither club is synonymous with success.
Stoke City is the believed to be the second oldest club in English Football (1863). Golden State was founded in 1946 as the-then Philadelphia Warriors. Stoke's last title came in 1972 (League Cup) while Golden State's last NBA title was in 1975. Both clubs are known for their long-ball specialists. The Warriors have Steph Curry while Stoke has Rory Delap, whose throw-ins average 125 feet (extremely far to throw a soccer ball). Nobody really expects much or even notices these clubs, but they are always there.
One of the easiest comparisons to draw, as both clubs have a long history of losing. But both are equally adored by their fan bases and manage to be considered “big” franchises in their respective leagues despite never winning titles. Newcastle has made a few trips down to the second division, but if baseball had relegation, the Cubs wouldn’t be strangers to demotion. In recent years, Newcastle has even been labeled as cursed, joining a club the North Siders are all too familiar with.
No era decides the two clubs more than the mid-'90's. Blackburn is the only club not named Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United to win the Premier League as it is now formally known (1995). Houston's titles (1994 and 1995) were lost in the Bulls’ and Lakers’ dynastic runs. Houston has not won a conference or division title since, and Blackburn hasn't finished higher than sixth since its title run. Neither club has a real standout player (Yao Ming doesn't count because of injuries).
Craven Cottage is scenic, sitting right on the banks of the River Thames. Petco Park is one of the nicest parks in baseball, and sits just off of San Diego Bay. Neither club has ever been all that competitive, and neither has won a title. Their fans don’t really expect titles, either. At least, not in the ravenous way that many other fan bases do. Fulham and San Diego fans have come to accept that their teams aren’t going to compete with the best every year, and frankly, they’ve probably got more interesting things to do than worry about it.
Everton has nearly always been a competitive team in the Premier League. The Toffees have won nine titles, and built over a century of winning tradition. Lately, though, Everton can’t seem to beat the best, while managing to hang around the top half of the table (and sometimes very nearly the top four). Likewise, the Tigers are a part of the oldest fabrics in baseball, with four titles to their name and unmistakable historical figures. Neither club has won a title since the 80's, but remain afloat thanks to fans in working class cities (Everton is the other team in Liverpool) that keep showing up and savvy management in the past decade.
Both teams wear blue. Neither team has mattered in decades. Both have one title (Birmingham in '63 and KC in '85). Both teams have their seasons defined by playing their arch-rivals. Birmingham have Aston Villa and Kansas City has St Louis. Both sets of fans mark these games on their calendars and don't have much else to root for.
Villa is one of the oldest clubs in English football (1874) and one of the founding members of the current Premier League (1992). While not a founding member of the NFL (expansion team in 1960), football in Minnesota dates back to the 20's. Many consider the Vikings as one of the NFL cornerstone franchises. Villa is the fourth most successful English club of all time, with its last major trophy being the '81-'82 European Cup. The Vikings have one of the highest winning percentages since their berth and have made the playoffs 24 times, third most in the NFL. Both clubs are routinely picked to finally have that relative "big year," but can never seem to break through.
Blackpool is a tricky one to compare to anything. Newly promoted from the second division, the club wasn’t expected to avoid relegation. But the Seasiders relentlessly attack their opponents and have made a name for their manager Ian Holloway seemingly overnight, thanks to impressive performances against the best teams in the league. Your average fan looked at Butler’s rise in a similar fashion during last year’s NCAA tournament, and the Bulldogs’ incredible run to the championship game certainly made a name for head coach Brad Stevens. After both teams’ fairy tale runs, the obvious question is whether they can do it again. Butler has struggled, and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if Blackpool were doing the same a year from now, especially considering the club has crept into the relegation zone after sitting mid-table midway through the season.
OK, so the Senators don’t exist and their only title was in 1924, but really, when you’re the third most popular team in Birmingham and your last title was in 1920, maybe there are moments when you wish you didn’t exist, too. Besides, West Brom won’t be a permanent fixture in the Premier League, as they were promoted last season from the second division and are sitting in the relegation zone as the season enters the final three months.
Sure, the Lions won four NFL championships before the league merger, but really, that’s as good as all the second division titles that Wigan has won. Not as impressive with context. Both franchises are excellent at hanging around while achieving very little, and while Detroit was the only NFL team to go 0-16, Wigan is ripe for demotion in the relegation zone this season.
Stick with us on this one because it’s a bit of a stretch. For starters, West Ham was founded in 1895 –- just a bit earlier than the Seahawks (1976). And on the flip side, Seattle was a Super Bowl runner-up -– West Ham has never finished higher than fifth. But here’s why it works: Both teams have abnormally devoted fan bases relative to the amount of success they have, and Qwest Field is one of the toughest stadiums to play in the NFL, while West Ham fans’ “Forever Blowing Bubbles” anthem is one of the most iconic in the Premier League. It all sort of ties together in a “mediocre-but-loved” sort of way.
Wolverhampton (or Wolves as they are known) was established in 1877 as one of the founding members of the Football League. Cleveland was a charter member of the All-American Football Conference in 1946. Wolves were dominant from '49-'60 (three league titles and two FA Cup trophies). The Browns won the NFL Championship four times between '50-'64. Both have endured lengthy dry spells and are considered expansive rebuilding projects. Two old franchises that certainly saw better days, back when they could still see.