During the doldrums of winter a couple years ago, I realized that I was really craving my college football fix. Oh sure, I had other sports. College basketball is great and all, but not really meaningful until the NCAA Tournament. When spring arrives, there’s the Atlanta Braves, but being a baseball fan is more like a marathon than a sprint. You can’t get too up or down about an individual game or else you will burn yourself out by June. I follow the Thrashers, but again, with an 82 game season, hockey is also more of a marathon of a season (and they’ve been non-existent in the playoffs where the games actually before important.) I needed a sport where Every. Single. Game. was important and a win meant taunting your opponent’s fans and a loss meant misery all around. I looked around and found myself returning to the sport I played and loved as a child.
Thanks to the Internet, following a soccer team in the English Premier League is as easy as following a team in your own town. Even mainstream sites like ESPN provide live updates, photos, stories and enough information to know what’s going if you are not going to the actual game. I decided I’d follow the league for a year or so and see if I started developing a love for a team. Bill Simmons had a great article about picking an EPL team, when you live in the States unless you have some sentimental or emotion connection to a team or place in England, one team is as good as another to follow, so just pick one. It took about a year, but I found myself gravitating to Newcastle United. They are the lovable losers. The Boston Red Sox still stuck in 2003 every year. They have a huge and devoted fan base and a team full of dysfunction. If they ever actually did win something, the celebration would be epic. I couldn’t pass it up (plus, their hometown beer, Newcastle Brown Ale, is pretty darn good.)
Naturally, if I start following a team, then my curse comes along with me. Sure enough, a year or two into following Newcastle they turned so bad they actually got kicked out of the league. That’s right, in European soccer if a team finishes in the last 3 places, they actually drop out of the Premier League and play in the second-tier league in England next year. Yeah, I know how to pick a winner! I guess that’s one of the advantages of following a team overseas, since I really wasn’t affected by it. I’m sure it was absolute misery for people living in Newcastle. I can’t imagine how bad I would feel if Georgia Tech was so bad that they actually got kicked out of the ACC.
That was last year though and this year has been a fun story of redemption. Newcastle United shaved their payroll, got rid of a lot of overpaid and underplayed players and relied on a tight core of blue-collar players and rampaged through the second-tier Coca-Cola Championship League. Today, with five games still to play, Newcastle will finish this year at least in second place, which earns promotion back up to the Premier League, and the Championship trophy is still in play. The soccer season is winding down before The World Cup begins this summer and the Atlanta Braves are opening up their season, but I have to say, I’ve had a load of fun this past season following Newcastle and next year it’s back up in the big leagues in between my other favorite sports.