Reader Patrick Sullivan wrote us and posed the following question (we’ll paraphrase):
Now that the World Cup is over, what does a newbie soccer fan do and how can I find some ways to root for a team that are “fun” and “hip?”
Here you go Patrick and others: a schematic for those new to the game or those fresh off the World Cup excitement who want to ratchet up the excitement level after South Africa:
1. Pick an EPL team to follow. Buy a jersey. Go to a bar.
ESPN is locked into EPL soccer for another year, at worst, on the dial on your televsion. The Premiership boasts some of the top talent in the world and its teams boast some of the best history. Just last week, TSG had a feature on Blackpool who are newly promoted the Barclays.
Pick a team to follow and purchase a jersey to cement your loyalty.
First, though, do your research. Find a team that best evokes the spirit, flair or style of soccer that you like. Learn some of the history, star players, how the club grew to the stature of where they are now. Or think about the town the club is from, maybe it’s similar to your town.
Then buy your jersey, but be careful there too. More so than in American football, global football stars get sold all the time. Find out about how the player arrived at the club, see how long their contract goes for. If your team–gasp–gets relegated to a lower division will they have to sell the player whose name is on the back of your jersey.
Wait…I forgot to check…does my team have a chance to get relegated? (Ask those wearing Jozy Altidore Hull City jerseys to the gym these days.)
Is the player often injured–and why does this matter?
Well, an injured player–especially a star–is on the manager’s often look to replace because they need that star power consistently. For example, I purchased a Fernando Torres jersey for my brother a few years back when he went to Liverpool. It looked great the first 18 months, but now with Torres’ injury frustrations and his contract, that kit may become an heirloom.
Next–and here’s the key–tie it all up by going to a pub on Saturday morning for a game. Find a pub that is home to followers of your chosen team.
Here’s what will happen next.
You’ll walk in.
Mr. “I’ve-been-following-Birmingham-since-diapers” Fan will give you a brief snicker as you stand in your still-creased, smelling-of-number-adhesive jersey as you ask the bartender for a Guinness (a safe choice in nearly any case.).
Immediately, you’ll recognize the snicker and ask the old-timer how you think the club will fare this season, explaining to him that you’re a new fan and that you choose this club to follow from all your research and you bought the jersey to show true support.
And presto, the new fan will be impressed by your knowledge, sincerity and commitment. He’ll fill you in on his history and he’ll likely welcome you back to the pub the next Saturday with the first stout on his tab.
Just one option here to continue following soccer.
2. Keep the national team fresh in your mind: Read The Shin Guardian (of course), but also join a fan club or participate in an online soccer group
The summer–as we are witnessing now–is the downtime for soccer as the transfer season slowly unfurls and players–except in MLS–are on holiday before they return to training or await their next destination.
The national team is even in a long hiatus, with just one exhibition event August 10th and one in the Fall, but none of consequence.
It’s like trying to get excited for the NFL in the 3rd quarter of an exhibition game, it’s just tough.
Both fan groups go about their rooting and camaraderie in different ways. With the Outlaws, you’ll immediately be introduced to other soccer fans in your area through “AO’s” novel “chapter” management of its members. Thus, you’ll find others to watch that August 10th game with or maybe you’ll find some folks to attend local matches with.
With Don’t Treat On This, you’ll find a steady stream of information, gossip and irreverent humor when you check into Facebook each day. Just enough to refresh your fanaticism until the real rooting starts to increase when qualifying for 2014 begins.
3. Have a girlfriend or wife or just a “playa,” pick a travel destination where you can catch a soccer game
Our friend Dan at the Free Beer Movement and his wife Anah have a novel concept. They take trips to locations for US Soccer games and combine a soccer match with a cultural or active endeavor.
In Los Angeles this past January, TSG met with Dan at the Honduras friendly at HDC. Anah and Dan also included the Getty and Norton Simon museums in their Southern Cal sojourn.
A few years ago, I combined a trip to surf to Ireland with a series of soccer matches across the south and west of Ireland.
This works in the States too and the Pacific Northwest might be the pre-eminent continental trip come next year.
With the Timbers and Vancouver set to debut in 2011, set up a trip from Vancouver down to Seattle (4 hours) to Portland (2 hours).
Just look for that first Thursday Vancouver MLS game of the week and then find a weekend when both Seattle and Portland are home as well. In the meantime, climb the challenging Grouse’s Grind trail in Vancouver, hit up the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and check out Portland’s infamous rose garden….oh and go some MLS games.
4. Back to the EPL, play some fantasy, but make a wager.
You think Daryl Morey, Billy Beane and Theo Epstein are wrong? Stats matter….in any sport.
In soccer, the “box scores” just aren’t aggregating the right metrics.
However, get together with your friends and wager a little bit on some EPL fantasy and you’ll not only perhaps win some bragging right, but you’ll have to invest yourself at the risk of losing face.
Pretty soon, you’ll be spouting of things like Hugo Rodallega is an underrated striker who always starts off hot or, wow, did you know than when Fulham’s starting backline plays they are just as likely to have a shutout as one of the top four teams?
You’ll also be a step ahead of the forthcoming sabermetrics movement coming to soccer.
5. Join a recreation coed league; coed especially if you’re a male.
Why coed? Because if you play in a men’s league you’re likely going to run into some player who want to reclaim their purported high school greatness.
You know…the type that professed they were “All County” or “All State Honorable Mention”. You know two team recognitions that Google can’t even find for the player if queried.
Anyway, that opponent is going to typically have slowing motor skills and next thing you know you’re going to be asking Sal Zizzo or Oguchi Onyewu how to come back from a knee ligament injury. Tere’s just a little too much testosterone and risk of injury if you’re a newbie.
A good coed league makes the game a little tamer and just might have a cute right midfielder whose idea of a date is a dinner and a…..match.
In any case, take it from me; a lot easier to understand and appreciate the game when you actually play it.
• MLS! MLS! MLS!
And, once again, the TSG community is right! I did leave out MLS. My rationale was that the league is already midseason so jumping in may be tough.
That said, as you’ve read here on TSG, we absolutely love the Thursday Night Game of the Week. That’s definite and…TSG will make an exec decision right now to try and have a column or commentary up for each one through the end of the year. Wow!
The challenge, for me, for MLS is that I live in San Francisco. While the product on the field at San Jose is average to above-average, the hour drive and stadium leave a lot to be desired. For this writer, the 1-hour drive to experience MLS is underwhelming.
Put a team in San Francisco and you’ll have me at every home game.
• See a game live, especially college
Tried to cover this in number 3 above.
Go see the game live, MLS or whatever.
In fact, alluding to the “Eurosnob” comment below, I regularly go watch University of San Francisco games that are a 10 minute bike ride from my house. If you haven’t watched college soccer, it’s phenomenal because nearly every player is trying to impress at every minute of the match.
Watching player also mature during the course of the season is rewarding from a fan perspective.
• A travel tip soccer article is forthcoming
A few of have written in….and yes, we’ll gear up “A weekend at Red Bull” or other stadium, city, team visit pieces.
» A few of you also asked about the Van Gogh picture above. If you get a chance to do the Amsterdam trip, don’t hesitate to reach out to TSG for suggestions. “The Sower” is my favorite work from Van Gogh and it’s on display at the absolutely phenomenal Van Gogh Museum in the heart of Amsterdam. I’m not even an art expert or fan of impressionist painting and I truly enjoyed it.