English Premier League fans love their non-American football
As the NFL’s international series arrives yet again Sunday with the Raiders and Bears meeting, the English Premier League continues to own a grasp on fans across the globe.
Updated October 5, 2019 - 9:04 pm
LONDON — The chanting and singing and whistling never stop. Ever.
The clapping is almost rhythmic in its uninterrupted pattern of sound.
“I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air. They fly so high, nearly reach the sky, then like my dreams they fade and die …”
Here in a sporting universe of promotion and relegation, which just might downgrade the Miami Dolphins to a Pop Warner team, the world’s most popular form of football carries on.
As the NFL’s international series arrives to the United Kingdom yet again Sunday with the Raiders and Chicago Bears meeting at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium — the first of four such games in London this season — the English Premier League continues to own a grasp on fans across the globe.
On the same grounds where the 2012 Olympic Games held its opening and closing ceremonies, where Usain Bolt ran a 9.3 in the 100 meters, West Ham engaged Crystal Palace on Saturday before a capacity gathering of 66,000.
“It’s the football that makes the (Premier League) so special, the constant moving of the game,” said Mike Wenden of Gatwick, who spent two years on a waiting list to purchase West Ham season tickets. “I’ve watched enough American football to know it’s stop, start, stop, start.
“The passion, the emotion of the Premier League, the absolute best players in the world.”
TV rules all
From the beginning, it was about television, and what isn’t now in professional sports?
The Premier League was formed in 1992 after a decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away and take advantage of a lucrative rights deal.
Think the College Football Playoff cartel long before it existed.
There are 20 clubs for a 38-match season that runs from August to May, with more than a pinch of American billionaires swimming in the Premier pool, including Rams owner Stan Kroenke (Arsenal), Jaguars owner Shahid Khan (Fulham), Red Sox owner John Henry (Liverpool) and the Glazer family, which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United.
That, and it appears a league rule is that each person entering a Premier stadium must do so holding a beer.
“This is my first West Ham game,” said 29-year-old Mia Vaughn of South London, cold draft in hand. “The football here is just classic. It’s just England, isn’t it? It’s what we grow up with. … I know absolutely nothing about (American football).”
Not even Tom Brady?
Little did Vaughn know how happy she just made most folks outside the Eastern Seaboard.
“Oh, good cheerleading squad.”
Think of it this way: The Bears and Packers are Liverpool and Manchester United, the Cowboys and Giants more Arsenal and Tottenham.
Intense rivalries help define both sports, but there are obvious differences.
Up and down
A major one is the promotion and relegation system, in which teams are transferred between multiple divisions based on their performance for a completed season.
If you’re good enough over time, really, really, really good enough, you can as a lower club continue to climb the ladder of prestige all the way to the top.
If you’re bad enough, you’re sent down and down and so on.
The Dolphins don’t want anything to do with England.
It’s not a flawless league, as other parts of the world feature better clubs.
More and more, balance in competition also suffers within the Premier, as a handful of elite teams exhibit more wealth and, in turn, have the best players.
More and more, it’s not so much 10 intriguing months of soccer, with some warning that the league should be concerned its global fan base only watches the top three or four clubs.
Crowds are different. NFL stadiums can become electric at the most critical and intense of moments of a game, but those here are born with such constant static.
The most famous chant in these parts is the American song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” and, along with thousands of real bubbles sifting above the pitch, it greets kickoff in a deafening manner.
It has been sung from the stands of East London since the early 1920s, when a former West Ham manager had a friend who used to sing it to a boy in school.
“Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere. I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air.”
The league isn’t like the NFL and, well, in some ways it is.
With the match tied 1-1 in the 87th minute Saturday, striker Jordan Ayew of Crystal Palace found himself unmarked near the goal, blasting a shot past West Ham keeper Roberto.
Ayew was immediately called for offsides.
Enter the video assistant referee.
The on-field referee put his hand up to pause action and informed players that the decision was being reviewed.
Then, the video assistant referee, at a different location miles away, watched the footage.
The call was overturned, the goal allowed and Crystal Palace walked out a 2-1 winner.
“Intense moment,” Ayew said. “I knew it was good right away. (Video replay) has its positives and negatives. We got the positive part today.”
Translation: A replay in football actually led to the right call.
Take that, America.
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Contact Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Who: Raiders vs. Bears
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
Radio: KDWN-AM (720), KYMT-FM (93.1) KCYE-FM (102.7)
Line: Bears -5; total 40½