Posted August 20, 2013

Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the English Premier League

Riffs
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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

English football has finally and truly arrived in America — live in technicolor and streaming on your iPhone, with all the necessary accoutrement — courtesy of the NBC Sports Network. You could tell within the first 30 seconds of NBC’s stewardship of the English Premier League just how this was all going to play out.

The pristine studio shows, the gorgeous helicopter panoramas of Britain’s lyric little bandboxes nestled tightly amid row houses and pubs and hillsides, the authentic and sublimely Extra-Dry British commentary teams. All of this is certainly a blessing for American fans subjected to decades of pre-recorded games, YouTube-sourced studio highlights, and analysts like Eric Wynalda prattling on about a U.S.M.N.T. game he played in Guatemala in 1994. NBC Sports was saying all the right things about their bold acquisition of the English Premier League, but none of it mattered. It all came down to 30 seconds. Would the Network capture the magic of “You’ll Never Walk Alone?”

Football is about the empty spaces. It’s about letting things breathe. It’s about shutting up for a second—a brief respite from the Alex DeLarge sensory-overload chamber that is the NFL. The PR rhetoric in the build-up to this weekend’s opening matches was nothing new. NBC’s promos, filled with chants and scarves and slow-motion shots of Stella-marinated post-hooligans going bloody bonkers in the terraces, was hair-raising propaganda. But we’ve been teased before.

For years, Fox Soccer Channel told us that the heart and soul of the EPL was the character, the passion, the je ne se quoi. Yet on match day, as Liverpool’s fans greeted their team in full-throated harmony — “walk on, walk on,” scarves raised, children weeping, post-hooligan bros making the rafters quake — none of the exhausted souls in America who woke up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to hear Merseyside roar could hear them roar, because they would inevitably be stuck watching a commercial for the ShamWow. And then, with a jarring smash-cut, the game would kick off, absent of context or crescendo.

NBC Sports talked the talk, but the walk came down to 30 seconds at 7:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, as millions of hungover and sleep-deprived Americans stumbled to their coffee pots, and then collapsed in the fetal position on their sofas, half-drooling, for a song and a bit of football.

And, would you believe it? Sweet merciful Lord, there it all was. Live and silent and breathing from Anfield. No ShamWow commercials. No grating theme music. No chuckling studio buffoonery. Just green, green grass, a rollicking sea of red scarves and Gerry & the Pacemakers crooning out of the tinny Anfield PA system.

And then … more Gerry & The Pacemakers. The Anfield chorus never really took over. The post-hooligan bros and flat-capped pensioners sleepwalked through an unusually half-hearted rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Liverpool have been a bit sh*te lately.

Still, full marks to NBC Sports for handling the English game with class and nuance. This feels, and sounds, like a new era for serially-abused Anglophiles.

Open wide for some soccer, America.

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Man United, Always and Forever

These guys. These guys. Unbelievable. When manager Sir Alex Ferguson walked away from the Red Devils after 25 years of emotionally manipulating referees into injury-time Harakiri and opposing managers into tactical self-sabotage, many neutral fans hoped that Manchester United’s EPL oligarchy was finally over.

Parity! Free-will! A world rife with possibility!

Nope, sorry. Same old United. After being dominated for 30 minutes by the Spanish-infused, sexy-football purveyors of Swansea, Manchester United did what they always do. They scored two goals against the run of play in the span of two minutes. The first was a physics-defying roundhouse kick by Robin Van Persie, arguably the best striker in the world, poached from rival Arsenal for what now seems like an extortionist sum of $35 million.

Ugh. Never change, United. Can’t wait for this team to have the title wrapped up in April again so we can endure six meaningless matches with the joyless David Moyes stalking the sidelines like he’s about to throttle a garden snake to death.

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Chelsea, back to the future

Jose Mourinho, we’ve missed you. Now that you’ve returned from your Spanish telenovela, it’s like you never left. Chelsea look reinvigorated and you’re just as maddeningly effete as ever.


(Can’t see video? Click here.)

Say what you will about Mourinho, but football needs its villains, and not just the one-note Sid Vicious heels. The game needs its slick, winking Ric Flairs even more, and The Special One wears the proverbial alligator shoes better than anyone in the sport.

Chelsea ran wild in the first half against Hull City, scoring first on a tika-taka interplay that culminated in a nifty Oscar toe-poke, and then on this vintage Frank Lampard free kick.


(Can’t see video? Click here.)

Woof. Robust.

Mourinho’s antics aside, Chelsea are loaded in midfield. Newcomer Kevin De Brunye has been particularly impressive and is extra fun because he looks like a third grader who’s been zapped with a reverse shrink ray. Now if only handicapped-parking specialist John Terry would just fall into a sinkhole, Chelsea might be semi-palatable.

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Norwich City Could Be Fun

With the NBC Sports era, there’s been another round of self-help blogs for casual American fans who want to pick an EPL team to follow. Tottenham is a popular choice for masochists, but here’s an idea for people who want to be football hipsters: How about Norwich City? Your new favorite player could be the luxuriously-named midfielder Ricky van Wolfswinkel, whose magisterial header earned Norwich a draw with Everton on Saturday. When van Wolfswinkel played in Portugal for Sporting CP, fans nicknamed him “O Lobo.”

The Wolf!

Imagine the fun manager Chris Hughton is going to have bringing him off the bench: “Chill them dudes out. I’m sending in The Wolf.” Van Wolfswinkel should forgo the traditional tracksuit and Maserati motif so beloved by footballers for Winston’s classic tuxedo and silver Acura NSX. “Carrow Road is 30 minutes away. I’ll be there in 10.”

After van Wolfswinkel scored his sublime header against Everton, the Norwich fans howled and chanted, “Feed the Wolf and he will score.” If that’s not enough to make you adopt Norwich, consider this: The Canaries have also appropriated one of the most underrated goal songs in world football, “Samba De Janeiro.”

Spicy!

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Stoppage time

  • “Fans want us to buy players, but-but-but who?” says perennially-aggrieved Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. His cries contain an extra layer of irony considering the striker who torched the Gunners, Christian Benteke, was brought in by Aston Villa for just $7 million. Anyone still making excuses for Wenger should ask themselves this: If you were playing as Arsenal in FIFA 14′s manager mode and you did not make a single splash with your $100 million budget during the transfer window, would you reset the Xbox? Of course you would.
  • Speaking of Xbox, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard plays real-life football like your nephew plays videogame football. Trick-stick all day. Enough back heels, fella.
  • Despite the pensive mood at Anfield, Liverpool looked quite creative in their 1-0 win against Stoke City. The trio of Coutinho, Aspas and Sturridge is a bit lightweight, but can you name a more technically-savvy frontline in the Premiership? Also, Aspas resembles a character in a boilerplate Internet Troll Meme Generator.

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Image of the weekend

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That middle-aged gentleman’s soul is escaping his body. (via @ErikMal)

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Tweet of the weekend

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Chant of the weekend:

Man United fans, to the tune of Slade’s “Come on Feel the Noize”:
Come on feel the Moyes!
Play like Fergie’s Boys!
We’ll go Wild! Wild! Wild!
We’ll go Wild! Wild! Wild!

Inspired.

1 comments
Samuel
Samuel

I've adopted Swansea.  This hurts - but it's SO par for the course.