I first got into Chelsea when I was studying abroad in London about three years ago. To start, their history is a lot like the Red Sox -- early success followed by a century long drought of championships, finally culminating with a new owner injecting the team with cash; hence, glory years in the 2000s so far.
I'm partial to simple names like "Red Sox" and the Chelsea "Blues" certainly keep it simple. Another thing I liked right off is that, like Fenway Park, Chelsea didn't cave to building a new stadium and renaming it with a corporate twist – they just built around what they had in order to preserve the history and environment of old (for example, Arsenal play in Emirates Stadium, Bolton play in Reebok Stadium -- kind of like Petco Park or the Staples Center -- no soul to it). Stamford Bridge was only about a mile from my apartment in London, and I guess you could call it a fashionable area brimming with hoodlums. It's an eclectic mix of hardcore fans and dainty business people with their families -- again, do we see any similarities with our Old Towne team? Chelsea are also compulsively followed by the media. It's almost too intense ... people know the name of Frank Lampard's bulldog ... seriously. There was even a media campaign last season against striker Didier Drogba (you might have seen him on the Ivory Coast team) for diving too often. Chelsea fans like their football hardnosed and English ... that's why they stack their team with English Internationals like Joe Cole, Lampard, John Terry, Wayne Bridge, etc.
As for the owner, Roman Abramovich, he's a billionaire oil tycoon that's suspected of high crimes in Russia. In a way, he's Mark Cuban, but in another strangely satisfying way, he's the Godfather. Other teams will blame Roman and Chelsea for throwing ridiculous amounts of money at players, but what incoming players really want is to suit up under Jose Mourinho, who is probably my single favorite manager of any sport ever, besides maybe Belichik. They're totally different breeds though, except for the fact that they're both absolute geniuses. Mourinho has been known to write entire 200-page game plans in preparation for even the easiest of matches. He wears all black, broods on the sidelines the entire game, and basically looks like somebody is trying to pull out his toenails until the second Chelsea scores. He jumps around like a maniac. His players all love him. Watching a Chelsea game is as simple as this: you know the game plan is flawless and the players are world class -- you just have to wait until that right moment when Joe Cole makes some crazy run, kicks the ball 30 yards across the field to Drogba's left knee, who then heads it to Lampard for a missle shot that was all planned out the night before. I'll go ahead right now and put Chelsea's championship winning match against Manchester United at the top of all sporting events I've watched in the last year.
That's about it. Whatever bad marks you hear about Chelsea are most likely absolutely true besides the money issue. Money doesn't buy championships.
--A. Bolton, Cambridge, Mass.
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Chelsea is my recommendation for the following reasons.
1) You will recognize almost all of their players from the World Cup because in European soccer all the best players go to a handful of wealthy teams and Chelsea is one of them. The others go to Barcelona or Real Madrid but we don't get Spanish League games here regularly enough to follow a team.
2) They win a lot in the Premiership so they will be more fun to follow, yet they still crap out in the Champions League so you can sort of root for them as the underdog in that competition.
3) Their games are on Fox Soccer Channel every week at some point so if you have TiVo you can just look for them, record the games when they air (Premiership games are not always live), and watch them whenever you get around to it. If you don't have TiVo, they are often on Sunday or Wednesday nights. Nobody is going to follow soccer THAT closely to set their schedule around it. Soccer is easy to avoid on the Internet so you won't find out the results before you watch it anyway.
4) Cristiano Ronaldo, from Portugal, plays for Manchester United and nobody can justify rooting for him at any level. Phenomenal talent, enormous crybaby. Chelsea plays them twice per year, and sometimes in Champions League as well.
--Nick, Mechanicville, N.Y.
Chelsea is what you're looking for and here's why:
1) If you're traveling to games, you would much prefer spending the weekend in London than Newcastle or Liverpool, particularly if you bring your wife.
2) It would piss people off. Totally different angle as a writer than the underdog Red Sox angle. They are the team with the deepest pockets, they essentially bought the last two Premier titles. You'd be the Premiership equivalent of a Yankee fan. It's different than the Pats' recent success, which was great coaching and great scouting. This is an international all-star team.
3) Roman Abramovich -- you couldn't invent a guy like this. Russian oligarch who dumps money into players, hitting the bid on exorbitant transfer fees to stock his squad with so much talent while showing no regard for the bottom line. Even Steinbrenner is profit-oriented.
4) John Terry -- the stoic homegrown captain and best defenseman in the country. The anti-Beckham.
5) Singing "Blue Flag Flying High at the Fulham Tup" and "Ten Men Went to Mow a Meadow in The Shed."
6) Huge American ex-pat following. Embrace the dirty gringo in you and also be cognizant of who your readers are.
7) Arsenal sucks. Too French and North London blows. Highbury is pretty tight, but just don't be that guy. It would make me hate you and I've been a reader since the Digital Cities days and am a diehard Sox fan.
8) Zero chance of being relegated. Don't be cute and pick Fulham or Sunderland or some second-tier squad and find yourself at First Division games in 2007-8.
9) Stamford Bridge. It's what you're looking for in a home pitch.
10) Cool colors, cool sponsor.
11) So much international diversity on the squad. Argentina, Czech, Ghana ... all had Blues. England had three starters that were CFC -- Cole, Terry and Lampard.
12) Great blend of supporters -- wealthy wannabes and diehard hooligans sitting shoulder to shoulder.
That's all I got. We need the BSG in the CFC!!!!
--Chip L, NYC
As far as who to root for in the English Premiership (no one says Premier League), you've got to roll with Chelsea. Their owner is probably the only major sports owner that has had his business rivals assassinated (Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich), Roman plays a Russian anthem before home matches at the conclusion of which he stands and waves to the delirious crowd like a Caesar and their captain is the only England player that actually showed up at the World Cup (John Terry). If that doesn't do it, their manager refers to himself as the Chosen One and loves to insult his rivals in the press. They are a constant soap opera, that team, and everyone else in the soccer world hates them. It is great!
--Bob, San Diego
Like Michael Davies, I am a Chelsea fan. I worked there for four months as a college student. Allow me to tout the benefits of being a Chelsea supporter. (In England, you're a supporter, not a fan.)
1) They've won the EPL two consecutive years, and they've now got the money to continue to get top talent, so they should be good for some time. (Unlike Man U., who are basically the Yankees of the EPL, Chelsea have just started to dominate the league.)
2) They've come to the U.S. for two consecutive years, and are coming again this year to play the MLS all-stars, so there's a shot you could see them in person not too far from home.
3) I don't have any hard stats because I didn't feel like doing the research, but I believe they had more people on World Cup teams than any other team in the world. They had members on England, France, Portugal, Germany, Chezc Republic, Ghana, Holland, Argentina, Ukraine, Ivory Coast, and Spain. So if you followed the World Cup, as we all know you did, you'll recognize many of their players not just from England, but several teams from around the world.
I suggest Chelsea Football Club as the Premier League team to keep track of. I know, I know, they are the New York Yankees of the league (spending the most money on shiny new free agent studs). However, hear me out.
My wife and I went to London three years ago and I insisted we go to a soccer game. I've played soccer my entire life and I do enjoy the game. I wanted to experience the singing, the hooliganism (albeit from some sort of safe distance), and the speed of a world-class game. Chelsea was the only team in town during our trip. I did not jump on the bandwagon once they started winning or spending the big bucks. I could very easily have ended up an Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur or Charlton fan. However, Chelsea was at home so we went. Other than the Super Bowl (GB vs. NE) and the Rose Bowl (my alma mater Northwestern vs. USC), I have not been to a more enjoyable sporting event than the Chelsea/Portsmouth game we attended at Stamford Bridge.
First, the stadium has three full-size bars INSIDE THE STADIUM. So, the wife and I proceeded to toss a few back with the locals, who were friendly as can be. I think we bought one beer apiece, but then drank three more apiece "on the house" courtesy of our new friends. Second, once in our seats, the entire two hours was spent surrounded by happy (tipsy, but not sloppy drunk) and singing fans. Trust me, you've never experienced ANYTHING like English soccer fans singing. The songs are incredibly catchy and the lyrics are such that it is easy to follow along. Third, the game is incredible to watch. Although there is not much scoring, there are at least three dozen times during the game where a play develops and something fast and interesting develops (a breakaway stopped by the goalie with a lightning-reflex- save, a corner kick or cross where players elbow each other in the nut sack and the other players try to head the ball in opposite directions, a sliding tackle by a defender). English soccer fans are the most knowledgeable on the planet. You will know when something really impressive happened, even if you don't know about soccer, because the entire crowd will APPLAUD or WHISTLE to give you a clue about whether they did or did not like what just happened.
Anyway, when we got back home after our trip I began following Chelsea games on Fox Soccer Channel. The games are always on early in the morning (between 8 and 10 a.m.) and last a guaranteed two hours -- no more, no less. Unlike a MLB or NBA game that, due to extra innings, no pitching, or 700 timeouts, may last up to four hours or more, you know you will be done watching in exactly two hours.
And if you're a fan of transactions, the offseason for soccer is like MLB/NFL/or NBA on acid. The buying and selling of players even before a team gets into negotiating contracts with players is fascinating. It's like a combination of legalized slavery and prostitution. And no one dresses worse than an English soccer player ... you thought NBA draftees had scary outfits, wait until you get a load of Michael Ballack or Andriy Shevchenko's outfits the day they were purchased and signed by Chelsea.
Anyway, Chelsea now is the New York Yankees of English soccer. They literally have an all-star, world-class caliber player at every position. This not only makes for entertaining soccer every Wednesday or Saturday, but also increases the chances of 3-0 or 4-0 games ... lots of scoring for a typical soccer game.
And last but not least, invariably a professional soccer player's wife or girlfriend will be the hottest woman you have ever seen in your lifetime. They cut to pictures of them in the stands every so often.
--Scott Fensin, Milwaukee
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.