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      Smack Zone — Gareth Bale

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      How to Pick an English Soccer Club (and Why You Should)

      [caption id="attachment_1018" align="aligncenter" width="474"]English Soccer Like it or not, now that NBC has extended its deal with the Premier League another six seasons, English soccer is here to stay. Illustration: Steve Hill[/caption] You need to pick a team from the English Premier League. Pick a team and love it. Hate it, too, sometimes, because that’s the nature of the sport they call football. But pick a team and support it, because as much as you love your current U.S. teams – and love to hate your rivals – you haven’t experienced true sports passion until you’ve channeled your attention toward the English game. A few things you ought to know: The top tier of English soccer is, as mentioned, the Premier League. There are 20 teams, and they play each other twice (home and away) during the 38-game, nine-month season. While the top tier of English football has been contested since the First Division was founded in 1888, the formation of the Premier League in 1992 moved the culture away from the rampant hooliganism that marred the sport in the 1970s and ‘80s and toward a more corporate image, bolstered by big TV contracts. In the U.S., NBC just negotiated a six-year extension of its deal to broadcast every game of the Premier League season on its cable and broadcast properties. The English game is here to stay. Oh, a couple more things. There is no post-season. When the regular season ends, the champion is crowned. Also, there are two domestic tournaments that teams from every English soccer division compete for each year – the League Cup and the Football Association (FA) Cup. In addition, the top five or six teams in the Premier League compete in ongoing, season-long tournaments with teams from other European leagues – the Champions League and the Europa League. The league takes a few weekends off during the season for “international breaks,” during which the players who are good enough compete for their national teams in friendly matches or qualifiers for competitions such as the European Football Championship (the Euro Cup). Also, there's this: The three Premier League teams that finish in 18th-20th place are relegated to the second division (called the Championship) for the ensuing season. They are replaced in the Premier League by the two teams that finish at the top of the Championship, along with a third team that wins a playoff among the third-sixth-place teams. This is known as promotion, and it means the teams enjoy a SUPER HUGE payday (as much as 60 million pounds) and get to play with the big boys for at least one year. Got all that? Good. Because now it gets a bit more complex. How, exactly, does an American go about picking an English team to support? Well, start by acknowledging that it might be more fun to simply choose one of the two MEGA teams from Spain – Barcelona or Real Madrid – and enjoy their respective romps through that country’s relatively weak La Liga schedule. If you love winning, if nothing else really matters to you, if you gravitate toward high-salaried superstars who are guaranteed to post video-game-like performances match after match after match, by all means follow Real Madrid or Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo. Lionel Messi. Either one could be considered the Michael Jordan of soccer. Or maybe one is Jordan, the other LeBron James. Whatever. They’re great, they win all the things, and (yawn) … sorry, got a little bored, there. But … If you want passion – true passion – the kind of passion that forces you to wake up at 6:30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a pregame show … go for the English game. You won’t be sorry. Do yourself a favor this weekend. Find a local pub/sports bar that shows Premier League games on the telly in the morning. Do a Google search for your city and, say, Liverpool or Arsenal fan club. That should help you find the places you’re looking for. Set your alarm Saturday morning and head down to the pub to catch the 7:45 a.m. ET Chelsea-Arsenal London Derby (local rivalry games are called “derbies,” which is pronounced “darbies”). Yes, it’s early. But listen – defending champion Chelsea is mired in an early-season funk that has them flirting with the relegation zone, and London derbies are always a fantastic spectacle. It’s a good introduction to the league, if you have not already been caught by its history, passion and – yes – the beauty of it. So, back to the question at hand. What team is right for you? We’re not going to try to re-invent the wheel here. We’ll come right and tell you that Tottenham Hotspur is the official team of the Smack Zone, and that our bitter rival is Arsenal. It’s like Red Sox-Yankees on steroids, that rivalry. We love it. Furthermore: Come on you Spurs! We still miss this guy, Gareth Bale, who took his talents south to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of $134 million in 2013: [caption id="attachment_1019" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Gareth Freaking Bale. He's taken his talents to Real Madrid, but they still miss him at Tottenham. Gareth Freaking Bale. He's taken his talents to Real Madrid, but they still miss him at Tottenham.[/caption] (We've been ordered to insert a disclaimer here: No one else at Smack Apparel gives a crap  about Tottenham Hotspur! – Smack Apparel Management) OK, then. Moving on ... So, here’s the thing. A lot of publications already provided handy, dandy guides on how to pick your Premier League team. We’ve decided to help you out by listing a few of the most useful, starting with the recent Buzzfeed quiz: What Premier League Club Are You? Here’s one that helps you pick a team based on your favorite rapper: Choosing a Premier League Club Based on Your Favorite Rapper. Here’s one from USA Today that provides oddly relevant non-sequiturs for evidence: Your Guide to Picking a Favorite Premier League Team. And here are three more that take a bit more measured approach to helping you with the selection process: How to Pick a Premier League Team and Not Look Like a Fool. (From Slant.) A VICE Sports GUide to How to Pick an English Premier League team. The New Fan's 2015-16 Guide to Picking a New Premier League Club. (From NBC.) And here’s a video of a cat that got loose on the pitch during a Liverpool-Tottenham match a few years ago: [youtube]

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