Bluffer’s guide to the English Premier League

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number twenty two – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here
The English Premier League (EPL) is the biggest domestic football competition in the world, and hot on the heels of the World Cup, it kicks off this weekend – here’s all you need to know.

A quick history lesson
English football has come a long way from muddy pitches, men with spiderwebs tattooed on their necks fighting on council estates and Big League Soccer on a Sunday. 1989’s Hillsborough disaster meant stadiums were made all-seater and family friendly, moving the game away from its working class roots, while Rupert Murdoch’s SKY injected plenty of TV cash when the Premier League as we know it was born in 1992.

Fast forward to 2018, and some of the best players in the world earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week (a week!) in exotic London, Manchester and, um, Bournemouth for kicking a ball about, doing a bit of training and trying to stay out of the tabloids.

What they’re playing for 
The top of the table has has been dominated by the top London and Manchester clubs, along with Liverpool, who all want to finish in the top four to get a lucrative and sexy place in the Champions League, Europe’s top competition. Three teams get relegated at the end of the season, prompting some desperate football and woe in May, the favourites are Cardiff, Huddersfield and Watford at this stage. In between is a whole lot of mush, really.

The teams

  • Tottenham Hotspur – From the North East of London, they’ve hovered around second place for the last few years, but last won the league title in 1961. In England, ‘Spursy’ means choking, but in actual fact they are the greatest football team the world has ever seen (I support them, ahem.)
    • Star – Harry Kane, the World Cup golden boot
    • Storyline – they move into a sumptuous new stadium this year, but tight finances mean they’ve become the first EPL team to not sign a single new player in the off season, much to their fans’ annoyance
  • Manchester City – won it last year without too much trouble. Were perennially shit and a really solid laughing stock for years until they were brought by Abu Dhabi sheiks, who gave them the cash to buy pretty much any player they wanted. They’ve done pretty well since.
    • Star – take your pick
    • Storyline – can they be stopped?
  • Manchester United – dominated the 90s and 2000s thanks to the bombastic Alex Fergusson, who oversaw an admittedly fantastic series of teams. Replacing him was hard though, and they’re onto their third post-Fegie manager Jose Mourinho, who’s either a genius or an unpleasant shyster depending on where you sit
    • Star – Paul Pogba, the dynamo world cup winner
    • Storyline – pressure is on to stay in touch with deadly rivals Manchester City
  • Liverpool – dominated the 70s and 80s but have struggled to reach the same heights for some time. Charismatic German (not a typo) manager Jurgen Klopp has brought wisely in the break, and they should be there or thereabouts
    • Star – the wonderful Egyptian striker Mo Salah
    • Story – with some decent signings, they’ll be hoping this is the season they can break through
  • Chelsea and Arsenal – the other two London clubs have both had disappointing (for them) runs lately and go into the season with new leadership – the former goes through managers like rugby goes through rules changes, while Arsenal have just replaced the venerable Arsene Wenger, who’d been in charge since the late 90s
    • Stars – for Chelsea it’s Eden Hazard from the tremendous Belgian world cup run, while for Arsenal Mesut Oil is the least underwhelming
    • Story – both aiming for top four, it’s hard to see them doing much more

The kits 
None of this World Cup retro sophistication – they’re all shocking. The league’s global popularity means many of the sponsors are in Chinese characters, which is fine but makes it all look a bit Blade Runner.

Where to watch
In New Zealand, unless you’re doing something untoward with your computer, you need beIN, who partner with SKY to bring you every game, the Spanish league and more to your dish or laptop for $16.10 per month.

Where to follow 
The Premier League app has all the fixture and tables etc. I like the Guardian’s football pages, and recommend their podcast too.

Welcome to planet football

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number fourteen – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here
World Cups generate memories – goals, like Micheal Owen’s solo effort as an 18 year old in ’98 and Brazil 70’s supreme team goal in the final. There’s the craziness of Luis Suarez biting a defender, or the great Zinadine Zidane’s red card for a brutal head butt, and even whole games, like Italy v Brazil 1982 or West Germany v England 1990.

You can watch at the pub of course, but the real work is done on the couch, with a milo. Football fans live a half-light solitary existence, mapped by World Cup wall charts, time differences and time-shifted recordings for the month. You basically turn into Renton in Trainspotting, but for football. It’s hard to resist.

Hosts Russia kicked things off this morning with a match against Saudi Arabia and, inexplicably, Robbie Williams. And we’re off. Here’s the build up, teams and how you can follow along.

Last time out
Germany won the last tournament in Brazil in 2014, taking the hosts down 7-1 in a seismic semi final. The champions are just as strong this time around, and seeing how Brazil, who live for World Cups, bounce back will be one of the great storylines.

Russia welcomes you! 
Russia won hosting rights in 2010, with Qatar announced as 2022 cup hosts at the same time, in a bidding process shonkier than your un-consented deck. Since then, FIFA has been discredited by massive systemic corruption while Russia has hosted the drug, human rights violation and judging scandal-plagued 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, had state-sponsored  athlete doping exposed, interfered with the US elections (allegedly!) and annexed Crimea. Expect some pretty painful Putin photo-ops over the next month.

The telly
It’s a fairly challenging time difference for New Zealanders, with most of it happening in the middle of the night, but there’s a game on at 6 or 7am most days. All the matches will be live on SKY Sport, with quite a few free to air on Prime including the semis and final – here’s the list.

The internet
The FIFA World Cup app looks pretty decent for yer fixtures and standings, but they’re not giving much video away – for that, sashay over to r/soccer, where you’ll find goal clips within seconds of them going in, and all the highs and lows of internet fandom.

I really like the Guardian’s football coverage – this preview is an amazing effort and achievement – and recommend the Football Weekly podcast, which is going daily. At home, Radio New Zealand have the Squeaky Bum Time podcast running for the duration.

Selected team previews
Brazil 
History: Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002. Often called the All Blacks of Football by people who don’t know much about either sport, those yellow shirts and languid skills are everyone’s favourite second team.
Chances: Depends on how they bounce back from 7-1. They have the best players around, but as always, it depends on how they knit together.

England 
History: Winners in ’66. Penalty shoot-out horrors, comedy goal keeping, non-qualification and general over promising and under delivery ever since.
Chances: Harder to predict than what’s going on with David Seymour. Harry Kane is the marvellous Tottenham striker who can’t stop scoring, if he can do the same for England they’ll be well placed. Come on!

Spain
History: Winners in 2010. Perennial underachievers, they finally put together a special team and tactics to match in South Africa, starting a golden run.

Chances: Boldly sacked their coach a week out, but are still laden with talent. The world’s caught them up somewhat, but this golden generation will have some life left, no doubt.

Germany
History: Winners in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: More efficient than a Kraftwerk bassline, but not quite as stylish. Will be very, very organised and very, very hard to beat.

Argentina
History: Winners 1978, 1986. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: If Messi gets injured, they’re in trouble. It’s not a LeBron – Cavaliers situation but close.

Elsewhere
There’s loads more of course. France have a fantastic team, Ronaldo’s Portugal are flying and all previews are obliged to mention Belgium, who have their own golden generation happening, and replace Croatia as hipster tipsters’ European dark horses.

Australia are there, but up against France, Denmark and Peru, who put the All Whites out, so will have a tough time making it out of the group.

Brilliantly, there’s always an unlikely nation like Cameroon in 1990, Romania in 1994 and South Korea and Turkey in 2002 who become global superstars for a couple of weeks. And there’s no way of knowing who it will be. Enjoy it.

Like playing in the highlights

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number nine – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here

Watching sport online in 2018 is a bit of a minefield – sure there’s BeIN for football fans, or League Pass for the NBA and SKYGO, run by the national set-top box business. But nirvana, or being able to see that amazing shot / try / catch / tackle / goal on your Twitter / Instagram / Facebook as it happens is still a little way off for most sports.

Sure, you can usually track down someone who’s pointed their phone at their TV and hit record, but shouldn’t we be able to get a quality, not to mention legal, product these days?

Most sports would see this as cutting their own lunch, or be handcuffed by their broadcasting agreements that pay the bills – but not the NBA. In this fascinating interview with Commissioner Adam Silver, he outlines how fans using NBA clips to create their own content isn’t just allowed but encouraged:

We promote the posting of our highlights. The highlights are identified through YouTube’s software, and when ads are sold against them, we share in the revenue. We analogize our strategy to snacks versus meals. If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.

In other words, if you create a YouTube clip of your favourite player picking their nose, you’re more likely to get a viral hit than a legal letter, because it all drives fans back towards live games on their TV’s.

That means accounts like House of Highlights or content like the Ringer’s NBA desktop not only exist with the league’s blessing but get huge engagement numbers. It’s mature and refreshing, and really, really successful for one of the most popular sports in the world.

Here’s a subjective selection of how other sports stack up:

  • I’ve watched more Indian Premier League on my computer and phone than the TV this year, thanks to the exhausting amount of video, from the seven minute match highlights reels to the stunning catches and sixes to the individual player highlights. The ICC does this really well at tournament time also
  • New Zealand Cricket send you highlights of the day’s play to your phone an hour or so after close of play, if you’re happy to give them your email address – it’s a simple concept but bloody handy if you’re at the beach or work. They also get highlight clips of the amazing moments on social media swiftly
  • The Premier League has some average video ‘content’ on their site, and some retro stuff – wouldn’t it be amazing if they made more of the clips from its history? The teams themselves have some limited highlights and content they’ve created themselves on their own sites
  • Rugby isn’t really in the game, as Elliott Smith pointed out in the Herald this week – and the NRL are leaving them in the dust. And Super Rugby really needs to fix their website for mobile, it’s a shocker
  • Other US sports like Baseball and the NFL have loads of high quality content available, fast

It’s not easy putting a model like the NBA’s in place, which requires not just the vision to accept fans taking control of your product, but either a great relationship with your broadcaster or complete control of your rights.

While most NZ sports well recognise the importance and value of video to create and reward fans, it’ll be interesting to see who’ll be the first to take it to the next, mature level.

Links on Friday

Most Fridays I post links to videos, long reads and weird stuff. Peruse the Links on Friday archive.

Ian Anderson puts in an application for the Northern Knights T20 coaching gig, promising some serious Moneyball-style resource maximisation. sportreview.net.nz understands Ian will take flash-tactic-suggestions mid-match via Twitter, and is therefore 100% behind his campaign.

Grab a nice red and settle in for 5 minutes 34 seconds of Juan Roman Riquelme passing a football:

“Because an entire industry is geared toward suppressing objectivity and encouraging fans to feel they are members of something they can never leave, no matter how grindingly unhappy they might become with the product.”

Sobering stuff for Arsenal and football fans (boom!) – is your innate sense of ownership and loyalty to your team cynically exploited smoke and mirrors?

Links on Friday

Most Fridays I post links to videos, long reads and weird stuff. Peruse the Links on Friday archive.

“It’s child cruelty, really, isn’t it? Taking your kid to lower league football. That’s the joke. It is sometimes made to me. I sometimes make it myself, in a self-deprecating way. But I’ve been taking my little boy to watch Leyton Orient this season, during the worst period of their long history, and I can’t help but worry that I’m going to ruin football for him.”

Martin Belam on taking your kids to the football. I’ve had similar feelings about taking sportreview junior to rugby. Phones definitely help – I’m concerned he sees 80 minutes of Super Rugby as an opportunity for uninterrupted device time. As we all do now, come to think of it.

Fallon on Sumner

“We used to have our battles in training me and Stevie, don’t worry. It wan’t always pleasant and it was toe to toe sometimes. 

“In the latter days, which is a funny one actually, we got along great! When we weren’t on the field we actually became friends!”

A very Kevin Fallon tribute to Steve Sumner on Morning Report, managing to sound a bit put out that his former skipper took over his desk at Gisborne City. For more Fallon, read Duncan Greive’s boots and all Metro profile.

RIP Steve Sumner, obviously. Fantastic captain, fantastic eyebrows. Here is scoring six against Fiji en route to Spain.

Post script – OK, we won this 13-0, but there’s some glaring missed chances here. Fuming.

Links on Friday

The FIFA 17 football game can get deeply weird – but FIFA 17 in real life is weirder:

This professional wide boy looks after the Premier League’s highly paid man-child’s every need, from mobile phones to super cars.

My friend told me, “Now I have to work, you’re kind of on your own from here.” In other words, If you get caught, I don’t know you. The three rules he gave me were no autographs, no personal photos, and no cheering.

All you need to get press access to a major league baseball game is a fake newspaper and a fair amount of Chutzpah.

Behold – the coolest sneakers in movies in one minute:

Links on Friday

From the ‘fark that’ files – downhill urban mountain biking:

Watching Ronaldo was like watching a river flowing, lightning flashing, or a herd of bulls stampeding across the plains. It was profound and beautiful, insomuch as it was a natural occurrence. Ronaldo was a phenomenon, and he inspired the requisite human awe.

Vice on Ronaldo, the proper buck-toothed, huge shouldered, twinkletoed one, not the irritating gobshite one.

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If, like perennially slow to the party sportreview.net.nz, you had no idea what the Crying Jordan meme was all about, the New York Times has you covered.

Fan engagement at its absolute best, from the sportreview.net.nz-endorsed Oakland A’s:

Links on Friday

Godzilla – great at trampling model buildings, breathing fire. Shit at putting it in the net:

Watching blokes fish for Yellowfin Tuna and Giant Travelly in the Seychelles is the kind of thing that makes you want to run away to sea.

John McEnroe – still the greatest.

Road cycling and peacocking go hand in hand, as mainly middle aged white guys want to make it clear to passersby they’ve dropped shitloads of wonga on their rides and lycra – but if you’re a proper Tour de France rider forced to wear a team uniform by The Man, how do you stand out? New York Times investigates.

Links on Friday

The new face of international diplomacy. Euro wrecker Boris Johnson drops his shoulder into the middle of an opponent’s gentleman’s area, while playing football. Best comedy foreign minister since Winston.

Long read – Premier League rivalries unraveled.
Includes Arsenal’s underhand and wholly immoral inclusion in top flight football then and forever more, and ones that spring up then fade, like Liverpool and Chelsea in the late 2000s. Some rivalries you don’t want, like when Spurs depressingly played Wimbledon something like 16 times in a week in 1999, and some are just weird, like our ‘title rivalry with Leicester City in 2016’. Tremendous pics and layout here too.

Turns out Bradley Cooper is an uber-Tennis fan, turning up all over the world to watch @PseudoFed, looking impossibly yet casually cool.

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The name of this article, “These Incredibly Shit Euro 2016 Flags Will Make You Lose All Hope For Humanity” does said flags a disservice, because they are brilliant.

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