In order to keep what follows from causing the villagers to start marching towards my door with pitchforks and torches raised in the air I need to give you some context.
My earliest memory of watching soccer on television date back to the late 1970s, when I can remember watching North American Soccer League (the original one) matches on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I specifically remember being eight years old and watching Pelé’s final match- an exhibition between the New York Cosmos and the Brazilian National Team, a match in which El Rey scored the winning goal on a free kick for Brazil (he had played a half for each side).
Pretty soon after that Public Television started showing an hour long highlight show from the Bundesliga called, Soccer Made In Germany, “Germany” in this context being West Germany- the show ran from 1976-1988. It was on early Sunday morning and I was usually able to catch most of it before my parents dragged us off to Sunday School, which, unlike soccer, didn’t “take” with WeeFuse. Why PBS showed this program has always remained a mystery to me, but it was a revelation revelation just the same.
What followed was a lengthy fallow period when it came to watching soccer on television. I went off to college in the fall of 1987 and, as shocking as it may be to some of my younger readers, my dorm did not have cable television, anything internet related, or even phones in individual rooms. That was fine, though. I was getting my fill of the game playing it in those years and, frankly, the chance of me being up at 8am on a Sunday morning while I was in college stood at 0%.
When I moved on to graduate school I did have cable television in my apartment and that exposed me to two things. The first was a three hour (or longer!) show each Sunday morning called Irish Sports Cavalcade on SportsChannel. The centerpieces of the program were Gaelic Football and hurling matches (both of which I LOVED to watch) shown in their entirety as well as extended highlights of other sports- including soccer. SportsChannel would also occasionally show a match from the pre-EPL English First Division. Usually at around 2am.
After moving back several times I started to watch the weekly “Premier League Review Show.” This would remain a constant in my life for the better part of two decades. No matter where I lived some network seemed to carry it and I would- no joke- plan my week around being home at whatever odd hour might make it possible for me to see it. Starting in the mid-1990s, of course, the USMNT began to appear on television on a semi-regular basis, MLS began, the Women’s World Cup came to the U.S., and the Fox Soccer Channel began in 1997 and lasted until last year.
During this period I would watch anything related to the EPL whenever I could and I would watch MLS…if I had to. What that basically meant was that if it was the fall and I was coaching I could see the morning EPL matches if our match was at home, but I’d miss them if we were on the road. It also meant that I rarely had a chance to see an MLS match, as most of those were on in the afternoon. About nine years ago, however, I changed careers and no longer had many Saturday or Sunday mornings off and my ability to watch anything other than the EPL Review Show shrunk.
Coincidentally, this was around the time that MLS began to move many of its weekend matches to the early evening and to generally have a match or two on a weekday night. Even so, I really only watched (or attended now that I lived close enough) New England Revolution matches, maybe the playoffs, and MLS Cup (since New England were so often in it…and losing it, it must be said). That began to change, however, over the last 2-3 seasons as MLS- I think it is generally agreed- made serious strides forward in terms of the quality of play.
Which brings us to now.
I still don’t have many weekend mornings off so I still don’t see many EPL matches. I also don’t go out of my way to watch the EPL Review Show. The flip side of that is that while I still watch/attend every New England Revolution match, I will also watch any MLS match that is on when I’m at home- afternoon, evening, late evening matches from the West Coast, it doesn’t matter, I’m in. Part of this is just that my life is different, part is that MLS is better, and part of it is that the EPL is a different league now. It’s not really “English” anymore, it’s not “local” any more (when was the last time Luton Town were on television?)- the quality of the play is generally excellent, but the same can be side for four or five other leagues in Europe. It’s become generic, boring even.
And that is my confession: I don’t miss this EPL. At all.
I miss the EPL that had the Leeds United of Strachan, McAllister, and Fat Tomas Brolin. I miss the EPL that had the Manchester United of Schmeichel, Keane, Baby Ryan Giggs, and Eric Cantona. This was a dynamic league, an unpredictable league, a league still rooted in its history. A league that still contained “unfashionable” clubs like Ipswich, Oldham, and Swindon. That league, however, is gone and will never return.
Do I have qualms with MLS? I do. They range from the mundane- having a single kit supplier for the whole league- to the maddening- player allocation “rules” anyone?- to the just plain stupid- turf fields? Really?
But having said that, you know what has happened? MLS has become “my league.” I care about the gossip, I care about who is getting a new stadium, I care about what teams are joining the league and when. I like that there are referees that I know (and loathe) by name. I like that players are succeeding in MLS and moving on to bigger and better things. I like that already successful players are coming to, or coming back to, MLS. I like that I’m jealous of other clubs having better kits than the Revs do. I like that there is good, quality, MLS-related banter on Twitter.
I like this league and I don’t care who knows it.