The British Premiere League (BPL) now ranks as the number one sport in my entertainment world — and Directv combined with the character of the NFL is responsible for the change. Those who know me will be surprised; I’m universally regarded as a 49ers fan, have a man-cave filled with Niner gear but that adopted world no longer holds much sway. I used to be an ardent fan, watching the NFL on a weekly basis and even playing fantasy football with friends. But those days are gone as I’ve returned to my English roots and embraced my beloved Liverpool Football Club once more.
The change started about three or four years ago. I noticed the BPL games on subscription-based Directv channels and was drawn to the sport. Football (read: soccer) has always been a passion of mine but the disconnect happened when I moved from England to the United States many years ago. I lost touch with my childhood team, Liverpool, but always kept a few trinkets around to remind me of those times. Once I noticed the BPL on Directv, I began to get back in touch with the British Premiere League and more importantly, Liverpool. On a personal note, during that reconnect I began to see some significant differences between the NFL and BPL — differences which have pushed me even further away from American Football.
Appreciation for the Fans
Football (read: soccer) players around the world are, by and large, completely in touch with the fans. This is displayed in a number of areas but the most obvious is when a player either leaves the pitch via substitution or at the conclusion of the game. Football players will walked towards their fans and applaud. This happens often and consistently. The players are showing appreciation for their fans and applauding them. This genuine display endears the fans to the team on a level rarely matched in other sports. Contrast this again the average NFL player who wants to be the center of attention through word, action, or deed — who may thank the fans but never as often or on the same level as football players.
Watching a game of football (read: soccer) with the world’s finest athletes is a thing of beauty. Sure, there are low scoring games, and some players flop in attempts to wrangle and advantage from the ref, but it is much more than that. Football is a game of constantly evolving strategy and movement. Chances and near-misses come continually. The ebb and flow of the defense, supporting midfield play, feeding the strikers who dance their way through tackles in an attempt to score is stunning to watch. Contrast that against the NFL where action is 3-7 seconds long, then spectators wait 30 seconds for another play. I never really bought that argument against the NFL until I got back into football. Now, the difference is brought into sharp contrast.
Better Game System
The BPL consists of 20 teams fighting for a number of potential victories. The top four teams at the end of the season qualify for the European Cup the following season — playing against the best from all of Europe. The bottom three teams are relegated from the Premiere League to the Champions League (one step down). Conversely, the top three teams from the Champions League move up. The system is cut-throat but provides a huge incentive focused around revenue. Moving to or from the BPL means financial boon or bust for a club. That alone causes agony and elation as a goal can make the difference between millions of dollars in revenue. There is simply nothing even close in the NFL sporting world.
Respect for Old Teams
There is a lot of player movement in the BPL. Players can be lured from one team to the next in two precise windows of time where teams have a chance to solidify their rosters and add depth or gamble on that rising star. Since there is so much movement, players often find themselves competing against old teams. The other week, I watched a game where a rising star had moved on to a powerhouse team and then played against his former club. He scored but didn’t celebrate out of respect for his heritage. So classy was that move, the opposing fans actually applauded their former player’s muted response. I just smile in watching such a refined decision and one rarely if ever finds a similar antics in the NFL. Players will attempt to crush former teams then rub their noses in any scores, regardless of the scoreboard.
Actual World Champions
Often mentioned but rarely stressed, the game of football (read: soccer) spans the globe. When there is a world championship, all the best teams from countries around the Earth compete every four years. It is truly a planet wide event, spanning months and months of preliminary qualification games, and hard work. The best and brightest from national teams compete on a grand scale for the ultimate prize. No other sport can claim this kind of cohesive and awe-inspiring event. Contrast that against the tedious claims from Major League Baseball about being “World Series Champions” or the NBA title earning the “World Champion” credential. Only the US could be so arrogant as to make such a claim.
So, for these and other reasons, I find myself excited about Saturday when all the best teams play. Will Arsenal remain on top of the BPL? Can Liverpool continue their form and retain a shot at the European league next season? Will Liverpool’s arch enemies, Everton flourish under new management. Can Manchester United recover from the middle of the table? The stories and plot lines are endless and man, am I having a great time with it.