Well, so much for that.
It seems like my attempt to become a fan of the English Premier League has ended less than two months into my first season.
Liverpool, the team that was a natural fit for me, and the team who I’ve attempted to develop an attachment with, is being bought by the Boston Red Sox.
Of all the rich douchebags in the world, why did these particular rich douchebags have to buy this particular team? I was enjoying my time as a nascent Liverpool fan. I had begun to legitimately look forward to waking up early on weekend mornings, buying a cup of coffee, watching the Premier League and thoroughly annoying my wife.
Well it’s all over now, baby blue.
It’s not like being a Liverpool fan in and of itself has led to beautiful rewards. The team has been a disaster so far, currently sitting in 18th place out of 20 teams in this admittedly young season. If the season ended today, Liverpool would be relegated to the lower division, an unthinkable fate for one of England’s cornerstone franchises. They’ve suffered humiliating losses (including an embarrassing defeat at home to fourth-division Northampton) and lackluster ties. Manager Roy Hodgson’s team has been feisty at times, including coming back from a 2-0 deficit to Manchester United before ultimately losing 3-2, but they haven’t been able to put the pieces together for more than a half at a time. (Soccer analysis! You’re welcome. Knowledge: dropped.)
The on-the-field struggles have been exacerbated by a deteriorating and murky ownership situation. Former Texas Ranger owner Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought Liverpool three years ago, and as baseball followers know, Hicks has run into severe financial trouble. He was forced to relinquish control of the Rangers, and the team went through bankruptcy before Nolan Ryan’s group outbid Mark Cuban this summer. Liverpool soon ran up massive debt, and a war erupted between the team’s owners and its board over control of the team. Hicks and Gillett have tried desperately to maintain their ownership, in the face of widespread fan discontent and even protests.
Essentially, the team has been left to founder while rich Americans struggle to pay off their ill-gotten financing and fight against all logic to keep the franchise. Liverpool blogs are filled with posts about lawsuits and power-wrangling rather than match results or strategy. Read more about the ongoing struggle here.
So, yeah, this has not been the best time to jump on the Liverpool bandwagon.
But, having a rooting interest seems to me like an essential ingredient to following a sport. I’ve been able to enjoy the Premier League, and enjoy watching games precisely because I knew there was a team out there I was pulling for. I could watch, say, Chelsea against Stoke City and not be bored because of my burgeoning fandom for Liverpool. Remove that rooting interest in the equation, and I’m not sure what’s left.
And make no mistake…that rooting interest has been removed, stomped on and set aflame.
John Henry and his company, New England Sports Ventures, have swooped in and agreed to buy the club. I wonder if he’s getting a sweetheart deal similar to what his pal Bud Selig arranged for him when he bought the Red Sox.
So Henry is taking steps to ensure that the sun never sets on the Red Sox empire. And I, of course, can never root for a team, entity or company that has such direct ties to my most hated sports franchise. I must bid Liverpool adieu. (Unless the sale falls through; then we can regroup.)
Already, Liverpool fan message boards are lighting up with comments like, “Red Sox fans I have said for years are the closest thing to Liverpool fans.” Gross.
So, as far as the Premier League is concerned, I’m a fan without a team. Picking Liverpool at the start of this experiment was an easy choice. My uncle’s from Liverpool, I followed them a tiny bit as a kid, I had a Liverpool backpack in junior high. And I don’t see a simple, organic way to choose another team. It’s not that I feel such a strong attachment to Liverpool that I can’t fathom cheering on a different team. It’s only been a month and a half of early-season play. But immediately jumping to some random club would feel disingenuous, if not a moderate betrayal.
Watching the games, no other team has jumped out at me. I know I can’t root for either of the Manchester teams or Chelsea, and probably not Arsenal either. They’re too much the overdogs, and as a Yankees fan, I don’t feel like I can just whimsically choose another dynastic juggernaut. So I’ll probably just keep watching games, and see if a particular team emerges. Maybe the Yankees will eventually buy Tottenham, or maybe I’ll become enamored with a certain player or style of play. More likely, I’ll just give up on the whole thing sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned what John Henry and the Red Sox brain trust have planned to help turn Liverpool’s season around. They’re introducing a number of initiatives based on their success in Boston:
- Obviously, they’re dispensing with of Glen Johnson, Charles Itandje, David N’Gog, Ryan Babel, Nathan Eccleston, Victor Palsson, Thomas Ince, David Amoo, and Andre Wisdom. They’ll be replaced with players more…suitable to the Red Sox fan base.Let’s just say that red jerseys go better with lighter skin tones.
- Anytime the team drops or transfers a player, the English version of Peter Gammons will mysteriously get a scoop about what a terrible, selfish cancer that player was in the clubhouse.
- Before the next match with Manchester United, there will be a severe ketchup spill in the immediate region of Steven Gerrard’s sock.
- New tradition: the old Liverpool songs sung by the crowd at Anfield are going to be replaced with Neil Diamond songs. Just wait until, after a big goal, the fans start singing “Forever in Blue Jeans” as one. Magical.
- The next time the team’s energy is lagging, Fernando Torres will put on a mask and full catcher’s gear, then punch someone from Everton in the face.