America is falling for soccer. It has been a slow-motion fall, but it’s picking up steam, with more professional teams, more kids playing, the U.S. doing well in the men’s World Cup and even better in the women’s, and more games and viewers on TV.
I think America will only love soccer more and more. But what Americans really appreciate is The Best. And the English Premier League is the best soccer league in the world. That’s why it gets triple the TV ratings in the US than our own league does.
But there a few things most Americans don’t realize about English soccer, like how much of it there is, how accessible it is, how old-fashioned it is, how intense it is, and what a great introduction to England it is. Dozens of World Cup players are on 92 professional teams all over England, playing in stadiums a quarter to half the size of an NFL stadium. And it’s very user-friendly: There are no “TV timeouts,” no commercials blaring from massive screens, very few corporate sponsorships, and no cheerleaders. Tickets are not that hard to get, and most of the stadiums are in the middle of town, surrounded by homes and pubs and fish-and-chip shops. Finally, most of the seats are filled not with hooligans or corporate fat cats but loyal fans, longtime friends and families. And, yes, they sing!
Seeing soccer in England is also a wonderful way to get to know the country and people. The longest trip between two clubs in the country is about six hours by train, and just in Greater London the top four leagues have 14 teams. This means that at every game there are thousands of away fans, making for a great atmosphere inside the stadium.
The reason I’m writing this book is to offer Americans, and perhaps those in other countries, a cultural and travel guide to the fantastic world of English soccer. I want people watching at home to know more about what they’re looking at, who the teams are, what the announcers are talking about, and what the fans are singing. I want them to know the stories of the clubs and the stadiums where dreams have been fulfilled and tragedies have occurred. I want my readers to understand the kinds of magic that take place there on a regular basis, like behemoths such as Manchester United being forced to play against tiny clubs in 6,000-seat stadiums, or clubs based within 5 miles each of other playing an intense rivalry game.
I really want to inspire people to go to games, either during a family vacation to England or on a soccer-specific journey that I will help them plan. I want to tell them when is a good time to go, how to get tickets, which stadiums they really need to check out, and where to sit in each one for the best view of the action – on the “pitch” and in the stands.
In short, I want to share my love of this amazing game with sports fans, and travelers, all over the States. I want to invite them into a new subculture, show them around, tell them some stories, and inspire them to have their own adventures.