We’ve reached the end.
What started as a journey to football fandom has morphed into something else, and I am perfectly okay with that. I have read more about English football this week than almost any other subject in a very long time.
As an American, it’s hard to move away from the way sports work in this country, but I have also grown in appreciation of the way that association football works in Europe and around the world. The United States will probably never change – even Major League Soccer, the youngest (major) professional league in the country cannot be incentivized to change – and I fear that it will be one of the major reasons that USA Soccer will continue to lag the rest of the world in football. We can’t even qualify for the World Cup currently, and our best young players, the future of our domestic team, don’t play in their domestic league.
Maybe hosting the 2026 World Cup will set us on the path again, but that was what they said about the 1994 World Cup, which only happened because we promised to start MLS (among other things), a league that runs on a different schedule, and under different rules, than every other major football association in the world. MLS, while nominally a Tier 1 league, will most likely never be seen as a top league in the world – one ranking places the league’s strength between the top leagues of Denmark and Croatia – without making some changes. I’m hopeful that Major League Soccer will figure it out, but now that it’s pretty solidly established, I don’t think it’s going to happen unfortunately.
So I decided to identify a current English Premier League team to devote by football fandom, and I’ve spent the last week eliminating teams to reach two finalists: AFC Bournemouth and Leicester City. I’ve highlighted during that time what has moved what were my second- and third-seeded teams in my mini tournament, so I’m not going to rehash them here. I will admit, however, that the two teams I had considered before doing this little thought experiment actually advanced through to the end.
I wanted to be convinced by “the numbers” before delving into the story, as my experience as a financial writer and investor taught me. If you try to examine all 6,000+ public companies as an investor/writer, you will drive yourself crazy. Though the population of the Premier League is a bit smaller, delving into 20 teams’ history would be just as daunting, hence trying to identify the things that I care about as a fan. I didn’t simply want to pick the Google or Amazon or Apple (your company of choice) of the Premier League and be happy. I wanted to find something more.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a great underdog story. I lived in New England when the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, finally overcoming the Yankees and the “Curse of the Bambino.” The Red Sox were never truly an underdog I suppose, but lifelong fans of the team felt that way, and seeing grown men and women cry when the sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals was complete was sight to behold.
The teams I grew up supporting due to proximity – the Utah Jazz and the Brigham Young University Cougars – had some middling success – the Cougars even won a “national title” during my lifetime – and I continue to be a fan, though a bit less so with the college football team for various reasons. I’m excited for the upcoming Jazz season, but the NBA is currently dominated by a team taking advantage of the salary cap to field a team that seems unbeatable. At least for now. Hence my interest in the Premier League.*
*Though I understand the irony of abandoning one league for another that has a similar dominant team, but all of the other stuff about English football – relegation/promotion, non-league tournaments, in-season non-league competitions, etc. – make the league more interesting, even if Manchester City or any of the other “Big Six” teams continues to dominate the top of the table.
But back to the underdog story. Leicester City’s unexpected run to the Premier League title in 2016 shows that somebody can triumph over the supposedly superior clubs of the “Big Six.” It helped them earn a spot in this little competition. But I think I’ll be going with the team that is even more of an underdog: AFC Bournemouth.
The Cherries have only spent four seasons in the top tier of English football, a run that started with their promotion during that magical season for Leicester City. In their three completed seasons, they’ve finished in 16th, 9th, and 12th place in the table. I don’t think they will be leaping to the top of the table this year, but I also don’t think they will be heading back to the Championship. They seem like they want to stay at the top, and while their transfers don’t always seem to make the most financial sense – bringing in players, placing them on loan, transferring them out, and then bringing them back again isn’t what success is made of – but they are figuring out how to operate with more money than they ever have before. I feel like they will figure it out, and find a long-term home in the Premier League.
Could I be wrong? Sure. It would have been easier to pick one of those teams with a longer run at the top of English football. But Bournemouth remains a team with a lot to prove, and I think that they will continue to show that they belong at the top level. Maybe in a few years they do better in those English Cups, or reach the top quarter of the table and find some success in Europa League.
I will be following the EPL as a whole obviously, but I will be paying close attention to the Cherries as they progress along through the year. And when they kick off against Cardiff City at August 11th to start the season, I will be watching. Be sure to follow my new found fandom throughout the season as I follow the ups and downs of the Cherries during the upcoming season… and beyond!
Until next time…
We’ve reached the end.