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Choosing an EPL Team, Part Four: Choosing the Ultimate Two Finalists

Here we are, on to the fourth step  of eliminating teams.  At the end of this entry, we'll have our final two.  I am excite!

If you've missed the party thus far, read Part One to see my thoughts and criteria, Part Two to eliminate the first ten, and Part Three to pare down to five clubs.

Here we go!

Category Nine: I Like You, I Like You a Lot, but You're Just a Bit Too Good and Popular for Me.

It's Nothing Personal. I really do like a lot of things about these clubs.  If I hadn't, I would have knocked them out the same time as ManU and Liverpool, way way back in Part Two. Instead, I kept them around and kept floating them through my mind... but I just couldn't come to terms with jumping on a bandwagon or being a frontrunner, no matter how much I liked these sides.

Arsenal

Based in: Holloway in Greater London

Nicknames: The Gunners

Motto: Victory comes from harmony

Rival: Biggest rival is Tottenham Hotspur, the other North London club.  Lesser rivalries exist with the other London clubs (Chelsea, West Ham and Fulham) and Manchester United.

2009-10 Finish: 3rd in Premiership

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: None. Arsenal has been in the top tier of English football longer than any other team.

Decent Looking Kit: Home features a red shirt with white sleeves and white shorts.  Kind of looks like they're wearing a vest.  Away kit is a yellow shirt with a dark red (brown? can't tell for sure) short.

Main Sponsor: Emirates airlines. Are all airlines pure evil, or is that just something for airlines based in the US?

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? Nope, only up to 3XL.

Popularity Factor: Hugely popular.  Perhaps the second most popular team in the EPL, with dozens of supporters clubs all through the UK, Europe and the world.  From this popularity, Arsenal's rated as the third most valuable football team in the world (after ManU and Real Madrid). They always sell out matches.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Nothing but success. They've never finished lower than 12th (1994-95) in the Premiership since its founding, and that caused fans to go batshit insane. Since that year, the Gunners have never placed lower than fifth (gulp), winning the title three times.

Ownership: Arsenal is operated as a public limited company, which means that it is owned by shareholders but that shares are rarely for sale.  Around 60,000 shares of Arsenal exist, and the last one sold in 2009 went for £9,250 (about US$15,000).  The largest shareholder is an American named Stan Kroenke who's married to one of the Walton kids (of Wal-Mart fame) and owns several sports teams (Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Colorado Rapids).  Tough life.  Asshole.

Seeing them in Person: Getting to London is easy and it's a tourist destination... but you might not be able to get into a game once you're there.  Arsenal used to play in Arsenal Stadium, which seated 38,000 and sold out for every single match.  Now, they play in Emirates Stadium, which seats 60,000 and sells out for every single match.  In order to get tickets, you apparently have to be a "member" of Arsenal, and then if you've got that you've got to navigate a pretty convoluted website.  I couldn't figure out how much tickets are, but I'm assuming they're pretty pricey.

Potential for a US tour: Not very likely, it seems.  Even with a plurality of the squad owned by an American, Arsenal's management is unconvinced of how such a tour could prepare its players.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: It's neat that they actually have a cannon on their crest.  That'd never fly in the U.S. (remember the Washington Bullets?)  Fans call themselves "Gooners," a bastardization of the team's nickname, The Gunners.  The fans have a sense of humor, though.  During the 1970s, the team was considered boring for their style of play, and supporters of opposing teams would chant "Boring Boring Arsenal!" at them.  But, when the Gunners started kicking everyone's ass in the mid-1990s, Arsenal supporters turned that against the other teams, chanting "Boring Boring Arsenal" during blowouts.

American players: None, but only two Englishmen on the roster, the rest are internationals, and it's a roster of superstars.

Website quality: Excellent.  Team-built template, excellent functionality.

Celebrity supporters: A zillion of them, it seems.  Highlights: David Frost, Michael Moore, Spike Lee, Joe Strummer, John Gotti and yes, Osama bin Laden.  Icky.

In Sum: Arsenal's a bit too good and a bit too popular for my liking.  It looks tremendously difficult for someone like me to attend the matches, and they don't carry a shirt in my size.  Plus, Osama bin Laden is a fan.  That's pretty awful.

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Chelsea

Based in: Fulham, West London

Nicknames: The Blues, The Pensioners

Motto: Pride of London

Rival: Chelsea's biggest rival might be Tottenham Hotspur, followed by Fulham.  Rivalries are not as big for Chelsea supporters as for other teams.

2009-10 Finish: 1st in Premiership

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Very low. They were relegated for a brief time in the 1970s and 1980s when the club was having significant financial trouble and were in danger of losing their home pitch.  They've been solidly within the Premiership since its founding.

Decent Looking Kit: Home is a straight blue with white adidas stripes, very classic.  The away kit.... well, it's something I guess.  I hope it looks better on the pitch than it does in the store, that's all I can say.  Ugh.

Main Sponsor: Samsung.  No problem there.  The TV I got from them still kicks ass.

Is the kit offered in a 4XL? HOLY SHIT IT COMES ALL THE WAY UP TO AN 8XL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Popularity Factor: Dude, Chelsea's popular.  Not ManU or Arsenal popular and maybe not Liverpool popular.  But they've got a wide array of very loyal followers. Like Arsenal, they always sell out.

Recent History of Success / Trends: Since the early 1980s, Chelsea's been pretty successful and has really turned things on in the past 10 years or so.  Since 1996-97, they've never finished lower than 6th.  Since 2003-04, they've never finished lower than third, and they've won the EPL three times. That's pretty damn good.

Ownership: Roman Abramovich, who's biography is the most interesting of any owner in the EPL.  His resume is perhaps the scariest, making his money in the Russian oil fields, being charged with many crimes, having served as governor and having been accused of funding his own army.  Dude's frightening, but it seems he knows how to win.

Seeing them in Person: Again, getting to London is easy enough to do.  However, Chelsea sells out every single game, and seems to do so in advance.  They play at Stamford Bridge, a stadium that originally opened in 1877 and holds 41,000 people, a relatively small number considering the team's success and popularity.  There's been discussion about expanding the stadium, but the team is handcuffed by the fact that the stadium is essentially landlocked in its location. Given a long history at this location, the club remains committed to staying in that spot.  Chelsea fans are also known for being the friendliest in the league, especially to foreigners and youngsters who are fellow supporters.

Potential for a US tour: High.  They came to the US in 2009, and played a pretty substantial set of matches.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Chelsea's got a lot of cool traditions.  One that sticks out in what I've read is the tendency of fans to sing a song called "Celery" in celebration of good things, following that by throwing celery on the pitch.  That made me laugh when I read about that.  One thing that Chelsea has which is unique is that the stadium and all of its components, and the naming rights for the team itself are all owned by a fan-owned non-profit organization.  This stems from a time in the 1970s when the deed to the stadium was purchased by real estate developers who wanted to turn it into a shopping center.  It was only by the work of the supporters that this was prevented and the rights to the land were purchased by this non-profit in the mid-1990s.  Because it owns the naming rights to the team as well, if the club moves out of Stamford Bridge, it will never be called Chelsea again.  Also, I like the crest.

American players: No Americans, but plenty of international flavor and a number of superstars (Frank Lampard and Michael Essien to mention two)

Website quality: Excellent. A team-specific template with good information and functionality.

Celebrity supporters: Many many celebrity supporters.  Highlights: Michael Caine, Busta Rhymes, Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson.

In Sum: I really really like Chelsea, I really do.  Tons of tradition, and all of it is generally likable.  Really likable.  I just wish they weren't so good.  I know, a horrible thing to wish about a sports team, because, well, being good is the point but they spend tons of money to do it.  If they hadn't won the Premiership this year, they probably would be my team.  And who knows, maybe I'll be a football bigamist and secretly cheer for Chelsea in the Champions League when my team is out for the year?  By just saying that, I've just made myself deserve a beating from real EPL fans, I'm sure...

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Category Ten: I Like You, I Like You a Lot, but Something Just Doesn't Feel Right About This.

Only one side in this category, and that's Aston Villa.  Like Arsenal and Chelsea, I liked a lot of things about Aston Villa, and AVFC was even devoid of that potential bandwagon/frontrunner stigma.  But something just didn't feel right about it, and I have to blame that on the fact that it's owned by the same guy that owns the Browns.  We all know how well that has gone...

Aston Villa

Based in: Aston in Birmingham

Nicknames: The Villa, The Villans, The Lions

Motto: Prepared

Rival: Birmingham City

2009-10 Finish: 6th in Premiership

Now, the important factors...

Chance of Relegation: Very low. They've been in the EPL since the beginning, having never been relegated. This past year they finished a solid 6th.

Decent Looking Kit: Home kit is an interesting combination of burgundy and powder blue, but it's effective.  Away kit is all black.

Main Sponsor: FxPro, a currency trader.  Meh.  For the two years before this season, the primary sponsorship was done away with, and the uniforms were adorned with the logo of acorns, a children's charity.  That might have pushed Aston Villa over the top, if they had maintained that sponsorship, because that's a really cool thing to do (uniform sponsorships are worth several million pounds per season). Very generous.

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

Popularity Factor: While Aston Villa has supporters all over the world, (according to Wikipedia) the club's supporters are 98% white.... not quite as white as the Republican party, but damn close!

Recent History of Success / Trends: The Lions have been in the Premier League since its inception, but they've been all over the place within that league.  They've finished anywhere from 17th to 5th.  No real patterns.

Ownership: They're owned by Randy Lerner, an American who is the owner of the Cleveland Browns.  Yeah, he's done a great job there... (shudder)

Seeing them in Person: Being based in Birmingham, it's easy enough to get to Villa Park, their stadium that holds 43,000 fans.  Prices are reasonable and they don't seem to sellout too often.

Potential for a US tour: High, given that they came in 2007 and the owner is an American.

Tradition, motto, tifo, etc: Aston Villa was cited by several, including Bill Simmons, as having the most self-loathing fans in the EPL.  I've lived in Northeast Ohio for five years now.  I know what self-loathing fans are like, and that's really not something I want to be involved in. Throw in the fact that they're owned by the very owner that makes part of Cleveland so self-loathing and... yikes, some serious potential for fan suicides at Aston Villa.

American players: Two Americans.  One, Brad Friedel, is a long-time EPL goalkeeper.  The other is Eric Lichaj, who doesn't play for the US national team.  He's green, and he's been loaned out a few times to get experience.  Otherwise, a fairly English roster.

Website quality: Remember how Birmingham City's was from 1997?  Well, Aston Villa's is firmly out of 2003. Functionally, it works, but....

Celebrity supporters: Tom Hanks, Prince William, Nigel Kennedy, Ozzy Osbourne, among others.  Good stuff!

In Sum: Aston Villa was a high-marking team. Good kit, easy to visit, not too successful or popular, and a generous team having given the jersey sponsorship to a children's charity.  The ownership though, Randy Lerner, and the self-loathing scare me because, well, I've seen how teams can emaciate a fanbase's heart.  I'm not interested in being miserable like the folks up here.  I feel for them, but I don't want to join them.

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Okay, so that leaves the final two teams, Everton and Fulham.

And to be honest, "The Decision" has been made, but the announcement is coming tomorrow at 7:00 pm via a special broadcast on ESPN. Or more likely, a blog post here. Yeah, we'll stick with that.

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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