The Beautiful Game

Baseball long ago displaced my youthful, Texas schoolboy fascination with the NFL.  I stopped watching the NBA in the late 80s, early 90s, when they stopped playing basketball and started showboating.  (I still love college basketball, especially March Madness.)  Golf is interesting, but not for a whole afternoon.  Wimbledon is awesome; but, I am not going to watch tons of obscure tournaments.

But, I have to admit that European Football, especially the English Premier League (EPL), is making a serious run at becoming my favorite sport.  I cannot imagine a sport with more drama.  I am not exaggerating when I say that every goal scored, every goal allowed, every game won, and every game lost – throughout the entire season – has astounding impact on the outcome of the season.  Two years ago, one team dropped and another stayed up because the latter scored one goal more than the former on the last day of the season.   Seriously, people who say soccer is boring really don’t understand the game or have not ever watched it played at this level.

Today was the last day of the season in the EPL.  Although the championship was determined last week, and one of the teams to drop to the next lower league was also determined last week – two relegation positions remained, and two teams were fighting for spots to compete in European Interleague competitions paralleling the regular sport seasons of the European Leagues.

Four teams fought to not be relegated today:  Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Hull, and Sunderland.  All four teams lost.  But, all four teams had a real shot at winning.  If Newcastle or Middlesbrough had won, Hull would have dropped.  If Newcastle or Hull had won, Sunderland would have been in serious danger of dropping.  In the end, Newcastle and Middlesbrough dropped.  Players and fans cried and shook their heads in disbelief.  At Hull, the manager sang to the crowd, and they cheered the team on the pitch as they realized they would reamain in the EPL yet one more year.

This is huge business, too.  The EPL is the richest sports league in the world.  Manchester United, the league champions, have displaced the Dallas Cowboys as the most valuable sports franchise in the world.  The EPL is the most watched sports league in the world, beamed throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and even the United States.  The Super Bowl may boast being seen in tons of countries, but the EPL is watched in tons of countries.  Relegation to from the EPL to the Championship League means a loss of millions of dollars.  Likewise promotion to the EPL from the Championship League means a gain of millions of dollars.

Sadly, European Football may become a victim of its own success.  The salaries are skyrocketing.  Egos are beginning to reveal primadonas.  Sometimes the players or managers eclipse the teams and the game.  Fortunately, though, for right now, the game is still true, and the fans are an integral part of each team’s interests.

I hope they find a way to retain that.  I know one thing…I am a fan for life.


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