19

Choosing an EPL Team, Part Two: First Sides Out

I'm working to choose an English Premier League team.  In my last post, I discussed how I was going to determine which team to support.  Here are the teams that were thrown out in the first go-around, and I've put together an analysis to help explain my decisions so there's a place people can go who face the same dilemma as I do.

This post, I'm going to cut the field in half, and tell 10 teams to pack their knives and go.  That means ten lucky clubs will get roses at this rose ceremony.  It's a sad world, and a harsh world, but I had to cut it down somehow.  Here goes...

Category One: Immediate Relegation Threats

- Basically, these teams were discounted because they seem to have a hefty chance at being relegated in the near future.  In recent years, teams that achieve promotion from the second tier often are relegated soon after.  This year is the first year of promotion for Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United.  The other three in this category placed 15th through 17th this past year.  Is relegation a sure thing for any of these sides?  Well, no, but it's a risk.

Blackpool

Based in: Blackpool, Lancashire (northern England)

Nicknames: The 'Pool, Seasiders, Tangerines

Motto: Progress

Rival: Preston North End (in Championship)

2009-10 Finish: Placed 6th in the Championship (second tier), were promoted to Premier League buy winning a tournament between the third through sixth ranked teams.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Very high.  Snuck into EPL by getting hot during a playoff.  The official club website says, in its main banner: "The 44th Club to Play in the Premier League."  How many teams have played in the Premier League since its beginning in 1992?  44.  Sounds like "We're just happy to be here" to me.

Decent Looking Kit: Very orange, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Main Sponsor: Carbrini Sportswear by JD.  Totally harmless.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? I may never know. The kits for 2010-2011 aren't yet available for purchase, or even perusing on the incredibly broken Club Store website.

Popularity Factor:  Minimal popularity, so no bandwagon jumping here.  Seems to be pretty niche thus far, though.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Success is a new animal for this generation of Blackpool followers.  They were decent in the 1950s, then sank badly through the 1980s, getting as low as the Third Division (two tiers below the EPL) and languishing at the bottom of that league.  They almost declared bankruptcy in 1986 and sold their pitch to a supermarket.  They went back to the Third Division (which was now three tiers below EPL) in 2000, but returned to Second Division in 2001, Championship in 2007  and now are in the EPL for the first time.

Ownership: Owen Osyton, businessman and convicted rapist (Yikes!).... and Valeri Belokon, a Latvian banker.

Seeing them in Person: Blackpool is definitely off the beaten path for an American tourist.  It's near the northernmost part of England, and would require a train ride from London or Manchester to take in a game.  Its stadium is called Bloomfield Road, and it is the smallest in the Premier League in terms of number of seats (around 12,000).  It is currently under an expansion at the demand of the EPL to increase capacity to 18,000 or so.  It's supposed to be one of the more intimate settings in the EPL right now. Prices?  Cheap seats around £25 (US$ 40) and going up from there.  Blackpool itself is a low-rent touristy place, a la Coney Island or some place that has seen its best days pass.  Looks fun to visit, but probably not something high on the list of places to see.

Potential for a US tour: Seems low, unless their current success trends continue.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Seems to be pretty high on the tradition factor.  Blackpool has a small stadium but rapid supporters, constantly drumming and singing through the games.  Shield is kind of cluttered, but it's probably just old or something.

American players: None currently.  Entire roster is English, Welsh and Scots.  Not a bad thing, but there's no one there that I've ever heard of.

Website quality: Very poor.  Don't mind the color (the orange is... well, everywhere), but the function is crap.  Broken links and dead functions abound, and the thing takes forever to load.

Celebrity supporters: Apparently, just three people I've never ever heard of.

In Sum: Seems like a nice underdog story, like cheering for a 16 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament.  But, in those 1-16 games, 99% of them are blowouts, the other 1% are heartbreakers.  Underdog alone doesn't do it.  Sorry, Blackpool.

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West Bromwich Albion

Based in: West Bromwich, West Midlands.

Nicknames: West Brom, The Baggies, Albion

Motto: Work conquers all.

Rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers

2009-10 Finish: 2nd in the Championship, automatically promoted.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: High. The club has been in and out of the Premier League throughout the 2000s.

Decent Looking Kit: Downright classy kit, with dark blue stripes on white for the home, classy looking black on black stripes for the away.  Only thing is, that sponsor patch is god awful.  God awful...

Main Sponsor: HomeServe, which is "Britain's Home Emergency Repair Experts."  Makes it sound like a bunch of guys with plumber's crack, but that could be worse.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  Yes, it does!

Popularity Factor: While not necessarily widely popular, the club boasts supporters clubs throughout the world in countries like Australia, Canada and Thailand, and heavy support in Black Country (area around Birmingham) and Scotland.  The club's supporters have been voted the most loyal in Championship.  Seem to be a club for working class folk.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Generally on the up, having started the 1990s on the third tier and now bordering the Premier League and the Championship.  Seem stuck in that cycle of promotion and relegation.

Ownership:  Guy named Jeremy Peace, who's apparently a stockbroker or something.

Seeing them in Person: They play at a place called The Hawthorns, a stadium built in 1900 that holds 26,500 people.  It's just up the road from Birmingham, England's second largest city, so it's relatively easy  to get to for a tourist, even though it's not exactly a tourist mecca.

Potential for a US tour: Like Blackpool, seems pretty low unless they become Premier League mainstays.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Working class folk, mostly.  Like I mentioned, the club's supporters have been voted the most loyal of all Championship fans.  That's a pretty good honor, I think.  There's also a tradition of getting dressed up in costumes and crashing the club's last away game.  Pretty neat.  The shield is a pretty straightforward design as well, not too simple but not nearly as cluttered as say, Blackpool's.

American players: None on the current roster, but the roster has a relatively large number of international players, so perhaps they're open to the idea?

Website quality: Good.  The template is much like Blackpool's, but everything seems to actually... work.  Shock and amaze!

Celebrity supporters:  The highlights?  Eric Clapton, Judas Priest and John McEnroe.  Interesting who football brings together.

In Sum: History says recent promotees are often recent demotees. Seems like a nice club with good supporters and nifty traditions, but the threat to relegation is just too great for a long-term relationship at this point.

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Wigan Athletic

Based in: Wigan, Greater Manchester

Nickname: Latics

Motto: Ancient and Loyal

Rivals: Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End (Championship), Oldham Athletic (League One - the third tier).

2009 Finish: 16th in the Premier League, just a point ahead of #17 West Ham.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Relatively high. The team's only been around for 31 years in professional football, and just joined the Premiership for the 2005-06 season.

Decent Looking Kit: A classic look for both home and away... though the sponsor logo clashes enormously.

Main Sponsor: 188BET, which is a gambling operation based in the Isle of Man.  Seems a touch shady, though I know sports gambling is far more commonplace in... well, just about every country that's not the United States.  Don't know how comfortable I'd feel wearing it on match day in front of a class of moldable college student minds, though.  Wouldn't Kennesaw Mountain Landis be rolling in his grave over that one, though... sports gambling advertised on sports jerseys?

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  Sure does!

Popularity Factor: I'm not even sure if Wigan Athletic has any supporters.  Theirs is the only EPL Wikipedia entry for a team to not have a supporters section.  I guess that makes a little sense, since they joined league football in 1978, which is much much later than the other teams.

Recent History of Success / Trends:  Moved on up in the football world until joining the EPL in 2005-06.  They've been bottom-dwellers ever since, and have faced some pretty embarrassing losses to other EPL teams in that time.

Ownership: Dave Whelan, an entrepreneur who owns a chain of sportswear stores.  Good news: he did build the Latics up from a third-tier team to the EPL.  Bad news: he donated serious money to the UK's Conservative Party.

Seeing them in Person: They're in Manchester, which is easy enough to get to being England's third largest metro area.  Their stadium is called DW Stadium, named after their owner, was built in 1999 and seats around 25,000 people.  Should be plenty of tickets available, though. Wigan Athletic typically has the home lowest attendance average in the EPL.

Potential for a US tour: Seems low at this point.  I don't know if anyone would know who they were when they showed up.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Nothing listed on the various websites.  The shield is cute enough, I guess?  And the motto, "Ancient and Loyal," for a team that's been in professional football since 1978?  Isn't that like how Fox News always calls itself "Fair and Balanced"?

American players: None, but a surprisingly diverse roster full of international players.  Certainly an American wouldn't be a reach.  Don't recognize anyone, though.

Website quality: Different template than the others, and somewhat effective.  Some broken links and some issues loading pictures.

Celebrity supporters: Mikhail Gorbachev.  That's it.

In Sum: If I was just starting into baseball, would I choose the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as my team?  There's a good chance of relegation, and just not a lot of tradition with this side.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers

Based in: Wolverhampton, West Midlands.

Nicknames: Wolves, The Wanderers

Motto: Out of darkness cometh light.

Rival: West Bromwich Albion

2009 Finish: 15th in Premier League, just 39 points in 38 games.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Relatively high.  It's happened before, and it could happen again.  They're teetering on the edge.

Decent Looking Kit: Home kit is orange and black, which makes me think of nothing but Halloween.  Away kit is all black, which certainly helps them with the metalheads and the goth kids (and perhaps that's where the Scandinavian link comes in!)

Main Sponsor: Sportingbet.com, which is, you guessed it, another sports betting website.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? They apparently offer 4XL at times, but every shirt has it showing as out of stock.  Fail.

Popularity Factor: Relatively popular squad, with clubs all over the world.  Apparently very popular in Scandinavia... but then, so is black metal.

Recent History of Success / Trends: An old club that had a rough ride through the 1970s and 1980s, and ending up in the Fourth Division for a while. The Wolves came came back to the Premiership for the 2003-04 season... and were promptly demoted back to the Championship the next year.  They came back to the EPL again for 2009-10 and finished 15th.  Seems to be a slightly upward moving trajectory, even if its ten steps forward and nine steps back.

Ownership: Some guy named Steve Morgan, who's listed on Wikipedia as a businessman and philanthropist.  Made his money in construction, it seems.

Seeing them in Person: They're just up the road from Birmingham, so no problems getting there, even though Birmingham may not be the first destination on the mind of an American tourist.  They play in Molineaux Stadium, which has been around since 1889 and seats just under 30,000.

Potential for a US tour: Possible.  They've apparently got a few supporters clubs in the US and could use an image boost.  To some in the states, their kits, colors and logo might be badass enough to spark an interest in EPL.  Cheap seats are £30 (US$44) which seems high.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: They have a player who breathes fire at the start of a match, like the thing LeBron used to do with his chalk, only fire is way cooler.  They've got a fan parliament which brings fan issues before the ownership, also pretty cool.  And like so many EPL clubs, they've got the songs and tifo and so on that you'd expect.  Not totally sold on the shield, seems too simplistic, but I guess it's original.

American players: One, a keeper named Marcus Hahnemann, who played on the US team in 1994.

Website quality: Website's a lot like Wigan's, but it's also a bit of a mess.

Celebrity supporters: Eric Idle, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, among others.

In Sum: A pretty cool club with a neat niche image that they seem to be going for, though they'll always make me think of Halloween.  Again, they've got too high of a chance at relegation for me to be comfortable in the long term.

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Category Two: The Crazy Weird Uncles -

After further review, these teams just kind of seem like they're a mess.  No offense to them or their supporters, but they just seem a bit weird and a bit dysfunctional.  I wouldn't date a girl that everyone described using those words, and I wouldn't pick a sports club that way either.

Newcastle United

Based in: Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England.  Way the hell north, near Scotland.

Nicknames: The Toon, The Magpies

Motto: Triumphing by brave defense.

Rival: Sunderland AFC

2009-10 Finish: First in the Championship, automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: History says relatively high, but history is probably wrong here.  Since the Premier League broke off from the Football Association in 1992, recently promoted teams have a higher chance of being relegated soon after promotion, if not in the first season, then after a second season slump.  There's even a Wikipedia article on the phenomenon. Nothing against Newcastle itself, but the risk is there.  Newcastle, though, doesn't have the same history as a typical Championship team, having spent much of the 1990s and 2000s in the Premiership.  They were just relegated for 2009 and came back for 2010.  And they destroyed the Championship on the way, having wrapped up an automatic promotion with six games left in the season.

Decent Looking Kit: Home looks like of like a referee from American football, black and white stripes.  Hrm... Away is a relatively inoffensive blue.

Main Sponsor: See, I had hoped it would be Newcastle Brown Ale, because that stuff is delicious and how cool would it be to be sponsored by a beverage company?  Well, while Newcastle is originated in Newcastle upon Tyne, they aren't the primary sponsor of the club. The current club sponsor is Northern Rock, which is best known as being the "first bank [in Britain] in 150 years to suffer a bank run."  Ouch.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  Nope, 3XL is as large as they go.  Fail.

Popularity Factor: Doesn't seem terribly popular as a club, though apparently a 2007 survey said that supporters of Newcastle United were most likely to make large sacrifices to attend the games.  The supporters are called, as a bunch, the Toon Army, which sounds like some sort of scary version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Recent History of Success / Trends: Newcastle's been a damn soap opera, it looks like. Owners that sack successful managers, refuse to spend money on players, and wonder why the team fails.  From all indications, it looks like Newcastle's recent fall from EPL's challengers is a result of this drama.

Ownership: Mike Ashley, who sells sporting goods.  That seems harmeless enough.  But read about his ability to guide this club.... seems like a fool.

Seeing them in Person: Newcastle upon Tyne is way off the beaten path for an American tourist, unless you're hitting Scotland on the same trip as a trip to England.  They pay in St. James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne, which has over 52,000 seats and is the third largest football stadium in England.  Tickets as low as £20 (about US$33), which seems to be the norm, but those tickets at Newcastle are way, wayyyy up.  The stadium does have a bar called "Shearer's Bar," which is not Shears, but is close... it's named after a former player and manager, but it's fun to think it might be named after me in a vain attempt to gain my support for the club, haha.

Potential for a US tour: Higher than the other two recent promotees, for sure... as long as ownership gets its act together.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc:  Newcastle's been around forever. The supporters are called the Toon Army, which I still think is funny.  Newcastle frequently has the highest rate of fans traveling to see away games, and protests when the club makes an unpopular decision (which, apparently, pretty often these days).

American players: Totally dominated by English players, with a couple of Argentines and a couple of Spaniards.  No American in sight, and no name I recognize from the World Cup.

Website quality:  Pretty much the same as Wolverhampton's.  Similar template, good functionality.  Everything works.

Celebrity supporters: Sting, Tony Blair... and a handful of people I've never heard of.

In Sum: A very nice history, but a really messed up relationship with the owner and an emotionally draining past couple decades in terms of ownership incompetence and malignancy.  No shirts in my size, and way, wayyyy off the beaten path for a trip.  No thanks.

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West Ham United

Based in: Upton Park, East London (in the London metro area)

Nicknames: The Academy of Football, The Hammers, The Irons

Motto: Doesn't seem to have one.  Closest thing I found was "We are forever" on some of the graphics on their official website.

Rivals: West Ham has plenty... Millwall (League One) historically. Sheffield United (now in the Championship, was in the EPL at the time) recently because of a contract dispute in 2007.  And with the other London clubs Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.

2009-10 Finish: 17th in the Premiership.  At least they avoided relegation by five points?  Only scored 35 points in 38 games though.  You get three for a win, one for a draw.  Ay...

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Relatively high. West Ham's on a downward trajectory and by some accounts, its ownership is broke.  It was fighting to stave off relegation throughout the 2009-10 season.  Its main sponsor bought its only free agent for them that year, which is downright dysfunctional.  Yikes.

Decent Looking Kit: Home and away kits are both downright classy looking.  Nice color scheme, and I like the baby blue.  Looks great on the San Diego Chargers, looks great on West Ham.

Main Sponsor:  Sbobet, which is a gambling company based in the Philippines.  Again, it boggles my mind.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  Forget 4XL... this thing comes in 5XL!  Sweet!

Popularity Factor: It seems, from the websites I've come across, that no one is a West Ham supporter unless they're born into it.  And hooligans seem to abound amongst West Ham supporters, despite the fact that they've been marginalized everywhere else in English football since the 1990s.  The club's Wikipedia page is the only EPL team that I've found with its own section dedicated to discussing hooligans. Seems a bit... what's the word?  Dysfunctional.

Recent History of Success / Trends: They've been in and out of the Premiership since its founding, and are on a solidly downward trajectory since nearly reaching the Champions League in 2005-06.  They've gotten really bad in the past two seasons.  Seems like a sinking ship to me.

Ownership: Okay, given what we've said so far about West Ham, this is totally unsurprising: sixty percent of the club is owned by pornographers, Daniel Sullivan and David Gold.  Dysfunctional?  Well, frightening at least.  Also, they run the team in a less-than-ethical way.  They were fined by the FA in 2007 for the equivalent of free-agent tampering.

Seeing them in Person: West Ham is based at Boleyn Ground, also called Upton Park after the neighborhood it's in.  It was built in 1904 but has been renovated substantially since then.  It's got over 35,000 seats and is squarely in East London, which means it's easy to get to, and it's in a city that is certainly a tourist destination.  I'd be scared to death of making the other supporters and potential hooligans mad with my poseury, though.

Potential for a US tour: Relatively high, I guess?  They went on a US tour in 2008, playing friendlies at several MLS clubs.  Of course, during this time, West Ham supporters got into a brawl during a match with (of all clubs) the Columbus Crew.  A bit... dysfunctional.  Who knows if they'll be invited back?

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Plenty of dedicated fans, plenty of singing and plenty of hooligans.  They burned David Beckham in effigy after a game where he was sent off for a foul in 1999 and have booed him heartily every time since.  These folks don't seem to forget.  Reminds me of the hardest core Phillies fans.

American players: Yes, one American, Jonathan Spector, who helped the US shock the world by beating Egypt, Spain and taking Brazil to the brink in the FA Confederations Cup in 2009.  Also, plenty of international players mean this team isn't afraid of bringing in Americans.

Website quality: Same template as Wigan, but very effective and it works great.

Celebrity supporters: Apparently, West Ham calls Dave Grohl, Rod Stewart, John Cleese and Lennox Lewis amongst its supporters. And maybe Queen Elizabeth too?  Not bad!

In Sum: To someone who's followed English football for a while, they might just be used to the weirdness that is West Ham. To an outsider (me) looking in, everything about this team is the weirdest I've ever seen in professional sports.  Pornographer owners, hooligans, gambling websites buying players... just weird.  Plus, I think I'd be scared for my life at one of the matches.  Run away!

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Category Three: They're Just Too Good and Too Popular

- As I said in my entry detailing what I was looking for in a team, I don't like being a bandwagon jumper, and I don't like being a frontrunner.  Enough said.

Manchester United

Based in: Old Trafford, Greater Manchester

Nicknames: The Red Devils

Motto: Apparently, none.

Rivals: Liverpool's the biggest one, but also rivals to Manchester City (the other club in Manchester) and Leeds United (Championship).

2009-10 Finish: 2nd in Premier League, just one point behind Chelsea, the champion.

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: None. Better chance of hell freezing over.

Decent Looking Kit: Classic red and white home kit.  Not sure what they're thinking on the away, with the black shirt and a blue check mark.  Kind of stupid looking.

Main Sponsor:  Aon, an insurance company.  Yawn.... Last year, it was AIG, so I guess Aon is an improvement.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  They do.  I would hope that the most popular sports club in the world would recognize the possibility of there being fat fans.  Their shirts are the most expensive I've come across, though, running £44.99 (US$70) for the shirt, plus an extra £6 (US$9.50) for an EPL patch.  Steep.

Popularity Factor:  Off the charts popular.  Most popular team in the world, and in effect, second most valuable sports team in the world after the New York Yankees.  Many people with a passing interest in the EPL choose ManU by default, because they're the best!  No thanks.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Since the Premier League was founded in 1992, ManU has won 11 titles, and three FIFA Club World Cups. Gulp.

Ownership: Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who made his money in food processing.  He also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  ManU fans were pissed when an American bought their team, but he hasn't really changed their winning ways.

Seeing them in Person: In Manchester, so easy enough to get to given that it's the UK's third largest city. They play in a stadium called Old Trafford, which was built in 1909 and holds nearly 76,000 people, the second largest in England after Wembley in London.  Cheap seats are £38.00 (nearly US$60.00) and are far from the pitch. Meh.

Potential for a US tour: Very high.  They did it just this year, playing friendlies against several international teams, dropping a friendly to the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS (really?) and then mopping the floor with the MLS All-Stars.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Winning, and supporters being obnoxious about it.  Flooding opponents' stadiums with supporters.  Much like the New York Yankees.  I just can't get behind this.

American players: None.  Strong international flavor, and I wouldn't put an American player out of reach given the American owner. Plenty of names I recognize from the World Cup.  Deep pockets grant the team that privilege.

Website quality:  Perhaps one of the best in the Premier League.  Tons of information, well-organized, ready to go.  Helps to have tons of money, I guess.

Celebrity supporters: Nelson Mandela, Tom Cruise (the actor, not the inventor of the Hoveround), Usain Bolt, Posh Spice, Paul Mitchell, Justin Timberlake, Orlando Bloom, Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy... among like a zillion others.

In Sum: The most popular team in the world, and the most successful in the EPL.  No thank you, no no no.

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Liverpool

Based in: Liverpool, Merseyside.

Nicknames: The Reds

Motto: You'll never walk alone.

Rivals: Manchester United's the big one, while Everton, the other side in Liverpool is an intracity rival.

2009-10 Finish: 7th in Premier League

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Very slim.  Founding member of the Premier League that's never been relegated.  Haven't been out of the top division since the 1960s.

Decent Looking Kit: Home kit is all red (hence the team's nickname), away kit is white with black shorts, red accents. Simple, elegant.  It works.

Main Sponsor: Standard Chartered, a bank based in London that specializes in undeveloped markets, such as Africa and Asia.  Seems a little neocolonialist to me... A while ago it was Carlsberg, which in my opinion is far cooler.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL?  Nope, 3XL is as large as they go.

Popularity Factor: Plenty of fans, given their decades of success.  Usually average the highest attendance per stadium capacity of all EPL clubs.  They've got supporter clubs all over the world.  Not as popular as ManU, but quite popular.

Recent History of Success / Trends: They are the most decorated team in English football history.  But... they've never won the Premiership.

Ownership: A couple of Americans - Tom Hicks, a venture capitalist and owner of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars.  George Gillett Jr, a junk bond entrepreneur, which is a shady way to make money.

Seeing them in Person: Liverpool is next to Manchester, so not difficult to get to.  Liverpool plays in a stadium called Anfield, which holds 45,000 people and was built in 1884.  Creepiness factor: it was the site of the the Hillsbrough Disaster in 1989 when the stadium was overcrowded and people were trampled, killing 96 folks.  Thanks to commenter Phil for clearing this up for me.  The Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 was actually at Hillsborough, the stadium for Sheffield Wednesday, not at Anfield.  My confusion came from the fact that most of the fans that were killed were Liverpool fans.  Anfield has never had such a disaster.  Sorry Liverpool fans, and my condolences for that horrible day.

Potential for a US tour: Relatively high.  Solid EPL team, not unlikely to draw crowds in the US, and American owners.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Isn't "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel?  Ick.

American players: None right now, but perhaps the most international roster in the EPL.

Website quality: Very nice, useful website with plenty of information that's easy to find.

Celebrity supporters: What a crowd! Dr. Dre, Elvis Costello, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson, and Billy Bob Thornton.  Nice!

Sum: Historically good and a solid fanbase, just seem a bit too popular to me.  They don't have a shirt in my size, either.  Sorry, Liverpool.

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Category Four: I Can't Imagine Ever Spending Money to Visit These Towns -

Now, before I get hate-mail from supporters of these teams, please remember that it's nothing personal.  I've spend my entire life in the industrial wastelands of the midwestern United States and I know depressing places very well.  But, if I'm going to eventually make a pilgrimage to England to watch my new team, I just can't imagine spending money to go to these towns anymore than I could imagine spending money to visit Muncie, Indiana... which ironically is my hometown (point being, if I have to be someplace miserable in my downtime, I'd at least like to see my parents while I'm there!)

Sunderland AFC

Based in: Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, way the hell up by Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Nicknames: The Mackems, The Black Cats

Motto: In pursuit of excellence

Rival: Newcastle United

2009-10 Finish: 13th in Premier League

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Medium.  They've done fairly well during this spell in the Premier League, solidifying their side into the middle of the pack.

Decent Looking Kit: Home kit has a red-and-white striped shirt over black shorts. Away kit is a white shirt with red shorts. Simple.  And the sponsor logo doesn't clash ridiculously, so bonus points!

Main Sponsor: Tombola, which advertises itself as "Britain's Biggest Online Bingo Site."  Good grief, I had no idea such a thing existed.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? Nope.

Popularity Factor: Dedicated supporters from the northern reaches of England give Sunderland the fifth highest average attendance in the Premier League.  There are supporters groups throughout England and in the US and Canada.  So, reasonably popular but certainly not one of the most popular in the EPL or anything.

Recent History of Success / Trends: They bounced in and out of the Premier League in the late 1990s into the early 2000s.  They were promoted to the Premier League the last time in 2007, and they've been finishing better each season.  Generally an upward trajectory.

Ownership: Owned by Ellis Short, another American owner, who made his money buying out and liquidating failed businesses.

Seeing them in Person: They play in a relatively new stadium called Stadium of Light, which seats 49,000. Matches against non-premium opponents are as cheap as £23 (US$36) but that goes up to £32 (US$50) for the likes of ManU, Liverpool or Chelsea. They play in Sunderland, which is not exactly a vacation destination.  In fact, it seems as exciting as a trip to Dayton, Ohio.

Potential for a US tour: American owner, but not exactly a side Americans will be breaking down the turnstiles to see... so who knows?

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: They were good for a while until the 1950s, and basically suffered for 40 years.  The fact that they still have supporters that still come to the games reminds me of the Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Cubs.

American players: None. England-heavy roster with some a couple mainland Euros, a couple South Americans and a couple of Irish.  No one I really recognize from the World Cup, either.

Website quality: Very nice, very effective template offering a great amount of information.  Good.  The store's kind of a mess, though.

Celebrity supporters: Paul McCartney's one-legged ex-wife, Sugar Ray Lewis... and that's about it.

In Sum: Decent, likable enough, but it's way off the beaten path, no shirts in my size ,and seems like more effort to follow these guys than it's worth.

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Stoke City

Based in: Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire (in the middle of everything, but not near anything).

Nicknames: The Potters

Motto: None, apparently.   Update: Vis Unita Fortior ("United Strength is Stronger"), thanks to Stoke fans for submitting the info.

Rival: Port Vale (League Two, the fourth tier of English football) and to a lesser extent, West Bromwich Albion.

2009-10 Finish: 11th in Premier League

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Medium to low.  Just promoted for 2008-09, and have worked their way into the middle of the Premier League, finishing 12th their first season and 11th the next.

Decent Looking Kit: Home includes a red and white striped shirt, similar to Sunderland's, with white shorts.  Away kit, which may be one of my favorite this far, is all blue, and a beautiful shade. Very nice kit.

Main Sponsor: Brittania, a bank.  Meh.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? Nope, only to XXL.  Shame, because I really like this kit.

Popularity Factor: Stoke City has a very loyal fanbase, but the fanbase seems to be specifically local.  Few supporters clubs elsewhere in England and internationally.  A very niche market.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Spent most of the 1990s and the 2000s in the Championship league and earned promotion for 2008-09.  They've shown respectably in the Premiership and seem poised for a big step in the positive direction.

Ownership: Peter Coates, who made is wad by running a gambling website.  Bought the club for only £1.7 million in 2005.  Not a bad investment.

Seeing them in Person: Stoke-On-Trent is right between Manchester and Birmingham... so like I said, it's in the middle of everything but near nothing.  The city itself doesn't exactly inspire dreams of visiting from what I've read.  Brittania Stadium a relatively new deal, built in 1997 and holds 28,000.  They always sell out, it seems.

Potential for a US tour: Seems relatively low, but again, who knows?  They haven't done it yet, but maybe they'll try anything to get out of Stoke-on-Trent for a few days?

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Wikpedia says that Stoke City has a long storied history of hooliganism, and extremely passionate fans.  However, it also says that they've cleaned up their act and now get discriminated against by cops and such.  Hmm.

American players: None.  Not terribly many international players either, and no one I recognize from the World Cup (though, admittedly, England's team didn't last long, haha).

Website quality: Same template as West Ham, et al., and it's a bit clunky in how it operates.

Celebrity supporters: Stephen Foster, but not the cool American one.

In Sum: Stoke City's location mostly kills it for me.  I can't imagine spending all that money necessary to go to England and end up spending my time in the middle of no where. Beyond that, they're apparently vehemently anti-fat people (only up to 2XL, in some of the nicest kits in the EPL too).  Blech.

________________________________

So, there you have it.  The first ten sides, eliminated from this "competition" with exhaustive details provided to aid dumb American folks (like me) who are seeking an EPL team.  So, the question is, who is left? In alphabetical order:

  • Arsenal
  • Aston Villa
  • Birmingham City
  • Blackburn Rovers
  • Bolton Wanderers
  • Chelsea
  • Everton
  • Fulham
  • Manchester City
  • Tottenham Hotspur

Part three will cut it down even more, so come on back in a few days!

UPDATE TWO (August 6, 2010): I've finished the series and chosen my team.  If you like, you can click through to the other pages below:

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