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Identity and the Premier League: Connecting England’s top clubs to teams in North America

Aug 14, 2013, 11:22 PM EDT

premier-league

Identity may be the most important part of a professional team, but only when you stop to think about it. How we view a club is a concept so mundanely accessible — the facet of the team we start to grasp the moment we become aware of them — we never talk about the concept’s significance. We do discuss how the images of the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Yankees affect those teams’ perceptions, but we rarely debate the nature of those images. We just know what the Cowboys are, just like we know the nature of the Lakers. Or Yankees. Or Canadiens, Red Sox, Celtics – everybody.

But consider, for a moment, being an NFL fan in London, seeing a Dallas Cowboys and Washington game on your television, and having no clue as to the significance of those two teams. Imagine knowing nothing about their histories, legacies – their context in the broader culture of American football. If all you had to go on were standings and statistics, how could you ever grasp the weight of that game, let alone the unique nature of that matchup.

That’s why exercises like this one can be helpful. If you’re giving the Premier League a try this weekend, parallels between North American sports franchises and Premier League clubs can be a useful baby step, giving you some minimal, accessible context for your first games. When Liverpool host Stoke City to open the season on Saturday (7:45 a.m. Eastern NBCSN), these examples become a short-hand, one that tells you a well-established, historically immense club is facing a team with a smaller, more specific identity.

And if you’re already a Premier League expert, somebody who doesn’t need to have lines drawn across the Atlantic Ocean, consider providing some alternate examples, below. Many Premier League clubs have histories that extend back to the 19th century, making any one-to-one comparison to a North American sports inherently narrow: reductive. Perhaps we focused on history when we could have looked at the present, or looked at perception when a more nuanced story would have created a better parallel? If the goal of this exercise is to provide a bridge for new fans to access the Premier League, your examples (sure to be detailed in the comments, right?) are bound to be as good as mine.

That caveat out of the way, consider this an elaborate decoder ring – a way to translate a sliver of identity from one culture to another. We’ll start with Arsenal and work our way to West Ham United, giving you some idea of how each Premier League club would see seen through the lens of North American sports:

PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB N.A. SPORTS FRANCHISE CONNECTION
Arsenal Atlanta Braves
Arsenal and Atlanta are both considered elite teams that compete near the top of their respective leagues, but their true periods of dominance expired about a decade ago. Still each team, driven by their distinct philosophy, is on the cusp of returning to the top of the game despite not being able to spend with the richest teams in their league. Atlanta has always favored developing young, tools-driven players, while Arsenal’s tendency to buy young and look for bargains has helped them through recent seasons of financial constraint.
Aston Villa Miami Dolphins
While each teams’ recent history has contained both near misses and huge disappointments, both clubs’ glory days lie more than three decades ago. Miami’s 1972 squad remains the only NFL team to complete a perfect season, with Don Shula’s team going on to win two straight Super Bowls. In 1981-82, Aston Villa became one of five English clubs to win the European Cup. While neither organization has ascended to those heights in recent times, both remain historic, well-respected members of their leagues.
Cardiff City New Orleans Pelicans
As you’ll figure while making your way through all 20 teams (and God bless you if you do), we’re trying to zero-in on one, maybe two prominent features of each club. It’s  a very narrow way of doing things, but let’s not take this exercise too seriously.

If we did, we couldn’t justify this parallel between two curiously re-branded teams. Cardiff City, known as the Bluebirds throughout their history, changed their colors to red at the insistence of Vincent Tan, who bought the club last year. Like New Orleans, who discarded Hornets for Pelicans this summer, Cardiff will look for a few players to carry them up the league, with Andreas Cornelius, Gary Medel, and Steven Caulker serving as fuzzy analogs for Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans.

Chelsea Dallas Mavericks
Before Roman Abramovich (Chelsea) and Mark Cuban (Dallas) bought their teams, both organizations were sleeping giants, albeit for different reasons. Chelsea were a London-based club with its own, large venue and a unique history, while Dallas were a fledgling team in a huge sports market playing in a league ripe to leveraged by an ambitious investor (which made a number of NBA teams sleeping giants, but stay with us).

Since Abramovich brought Chelsea in 2003, the club has won three league titles and a European Cup. And since Cuban took over the Mavs, Dallas have claimed their first NBA championship. Along the way, both organizations became one of the most fashionable in their sports.

Crystal Palace New York Islanders
The New York Islanders grabbed the eighth spot in last year’s NHL Eastern Conference playoffs, but for many years they were an underfunded team overshadowed in their own market. That description’s a perfect fit for recently promoted Crystal Palace. And just as the Islanders grabbed their league’s final playoff spot, Palace’s route through last year’s Championship playoffs casts them as team number 20 in this year’s Premier League.

Still, whereas the Islanders had a minor, Mike Bossy-fueled mini-dynasty 30 years ago, Crystal Palace have never won anything of note. Apologies for not noting this at the top, but none of these matches are going to be perfect.

Everton Chicago Bears
Both Everton and Chicago are among the oldest and most storied franchises in their leagues, but unfortunately, each team has gone about 25 years since their last title. Chicago’s last championship was in 1985, while Everton claimed England’s top division in 1987. Both teams have, for the most part, been competitive during the last quarter-century, and while it will be easier for the Bears to end their drought, both teams are seen as historic clubs that have rarely been true title contenders since the 1980s.
Fulham Edmonton Oilers
London, which Fulham calls home, is by far the biggest market in the Premier League. Conversely, Edmonton is the third-smallest city by population in North American professional sports.

Despite that obvious difference, the perceptions of the Cottagers and Oilers are remarkably similar. Both clubs are viewed as limited teams who, whenever they win, are punching above their weight, leaving their coaches and players to be patronized when they make runs to Europa League or Stanley Cup finals. Realizing their team will rarely compete for big things, the teams’ fan bases have a different perspective on their teams’ successes.

Hull City Tigers Miami Marlins
Like Cardiff City and New Orleans, both of these teams have undergone recent re-brands, albeit minor ones. Hull recently changed their name from “Hull City AFC” to “Hull City Tigers” (it’s simpler, the owner claims). Miami came up with a new color scheme to mark the end of the Florida Marlins. In both cases, however, the teams aren’t expected to be competitive. Miami’s last in the National League East while Hull City are being picked for relegation.
Liverpool Boston Red Sox
Some of these connections are cumbersome to the point of reaching. Others are obvious. There was a large crossover between Liverpool and Boston Red Sox fans before John W. Henry bought the Merseyside club. Now that both teams fall under the same umbrella, the link is undeniable. Both are historic if slightly hard-luck sides, albeit in different ways. Boston just recently exorcised their Curse of the Bambino (in no way are they a hard-luck team anymore) while Liverpool has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era.
Manchester City Los Angeles Dodgers
Manchester City and the L.A. Dodgers are both iconic in their own ways, but it’s taken new investors to return these teams to prominence. For City, that return is complete, their huge spending allowing them to claim the Premier League two years ago. This year, adding four significant players over the summer, they’re stocked for another run. The Dodgers have Major League Baseball’s second-highest payroll and, thanks to a recent run, find themselves on top of the National League West. Both clubs, embodying so much of their local community’s sporting identity, have changed drastically, yet each have returned to contention.
Manchester United New York Yankees
Like Liverpool’s link, this is a lay-up, even if the New York Yankees have entered a relationship with United’s chief rivals, Manchester City, to own and run Major League Soccer’s next team (New York FC). Commercially, Manchester United is the only English club that can rival Spain’s big two (Barcelona, Real Madrid), a stature that’s allowed them to finish no lower than third in every season since the Premier League’s 1992 debut. While they don’t get linked with the “evil empire” label as often as the Yankees, United are an empire, nonetheless.
Newcastle United Atlanta Hawks
For people who knew (and enjoyed) the Dominique Wilkins-led Hawks teams of the 1980s, this comparison will make sense, as Newcastle always seem to have more talent than their results produce. The Magpies haven’t won a first division title since the 1920s, even though they had their own Wilkins in Alan Shearer from 1996-2006.

Atlanta’s only championship came in 1958, and while recent teams have featured players like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, they’ve failed to mount a significant playoff threat. The futility was reminiscent of the under-achieving Toon squad that featured an attack of Micheal Owen, Mark Viduka, and Obafemi Martins. Or last year’s nearly-relegated team.

Norwich City St. Louis Blues
Norwich aren’t the most glamorous of entities, but they’re an established, well-respected club with a strong group of supporters. Like the Blues, they’ve never claimed a first division title, but they have won two League Cups. St. Louis has won a Presidents’ Trophy and two Campbell Bowls. Both teams going into their upcoming seasons with modest expectations, and because they’re outside their country’s major media markets, they often tend to be overlooked.
Southampton Minnesota Twins
Two small market teams on the edge of their countries, neither Southampton nor Minnesota are known for winning titles. The Twins have won three World Series, the last 22 years ago, while Southampton’s only major honor is the 1976 FA Cup. What each team’s really known for is developing talent. The Twins have a remarkable knack of getting value from their farm system. But just like the Saints (the team responsible for current stars Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott), the Twins rarely have the resources to hold on to their products.
Stoke City Memphis Grizzlies
Fair or not, the Grizzlies have become know as a physical team whose recent, relative successes are built on their style’s ability to match up well against particular opponents. And fair or not, Stoke is seen the same way. This season at the Brittania, that may change, with Mark Hughes brought in to move the Potters away from the Tony Pulis era. And with Dave Joerger taking over for Lionel Hollins in Memphis, the same might happen at the FedExForum. But until we see these teams actually start playing differently, they’ll carry their physical reputations.
Sunderland Philadelphia Eagles
Both England’s northeast and Philadelphia live with a sporting chip on their shoulder, each regions casting sideways glances toward London and New York. Beyond geography, both the Black Cats and Eagles have renown fan bases and a limited, distant history of success. Despite spending considerably in recent years, Sunderland hasn’t won a title since 1935-36 (though they claimed the FA Cup in 1973). Philadelphia’s own recent expenditures haven’t cured a title drought that extends back to 1960.
Swansea City Golden State Warriors
It’s hard to see a clear connection between Michu, Swansea’s sharp-shooter who led the team to last year’s League Cup, and Stephen Curry, the Warriors’ long-range sniper who’s returned the Oakland-based team to relevance. Yet like Golden State, Swansea’s seen as a new, “fresh,” exciting team on the Premier League landscape, one whose success has been built on an attractive style of play. And like Swans, guided from the sidelines by legendary player Micheal Laudrup, the Warriors are also coached by a prominent ex-player: former Knicks and Pacers point guard Mark Jackson.
Tottenham Hotspur Los Angeles Clippers
Despite their franchise being resurrected after the acquisition of all-star point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers’ brand is so bad that no Spurs fan will be happy with this link, yet if you look at the states of the current teams, the comparison is irresistible. Both are second teams in their regions, living in the shadows of Arsenal and the Lakers. Both are on the verge of overtaking their rivals, and both are fueled by players among the best in their leagues (Bale, Paul). And, if either get a couple of breaks, they could prove unexpected title contenders in 2013-14.
West Bromwich Albion Cincinnati Reds
West Brom were one of the founding members of the Football League in 1888. Though now considered a modest club by the Premier League’s financially-enhanced standards, they’re one of the more prominent in the Midlands. In Major League Baseball, the Reds are also considered a modest (mid-market, if you will), though they have an extensive history. The current version of the team dates back to 1881, with the club’s predecessor was an original member of the National League before being kicked out for selling beer and playing games on Sundays.
West Ham United Kansas City Royals
Unlike the Reds, the Royals don’t have an extensive history to match West Ham, a club that’s 118 years old (the Royals began play in 1969). The commonality here is the role player development plays in the club’s legacy.

The Royals quickly went from expansion fodder to division-winning relevance the only way you could before free agency: scouting and player development. By their third season, they had a winning record, and from 1976 to 1985, the Royals won six AL West titles.

West Ham’s development legacy rests in England 1966, with the Hammers providing Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, and Martin Peters to England’s only World Cup winner. Today, players like Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick carry on that tradition of development, though like the Royals, West Ham are struggling to be more of a factor in the actual standings.

  1. Jackson Scofield - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    Was hoping to see the Cubs and then I remembered that nobody has been that bad that long. Guess I can keep holding onto their 1870, 1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886, 1907, and 1908 championships!

    • handsofsweed - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      Sounds like you’ve got a recipe for a GREAT knockoff cubs t-shirt.

    • macca1874 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      It was Aston Villa that created the world’s first soccer league in 1888 and changed the game forever. On top of that they were England’s most trophied club for eighty years. Can the Miami Dolphins lay claim to that kind of history?

      The clubs that have recently won more than Villa have done so through financial doping or leveraging/sponsorship.

      Villa are the classiest and most historic club out there

  2. stuckbetweentwoworlds - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    It would have been a better comparison had you stuck to one sport, or did this for every sport. Also, the Braves are NOT like Arsenal. A la, Braves spend money, look at the Uptons.

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:55 AM

      Arsenal actually spends a lot of money relative to the rest of the league. Like the Braves.

  3. laurmayne - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    Liverpool = Montreal Canadiens. Both teams with Phenomenal history that haven’t won anything major in a very long time.

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:57 AM

      I like this one more than the Red Sox. Thinking about it now, I guess I’ve always linked the Red Sox and Liverpool, and while doing this, I never stopped to reconsider in light of the last decade. My bad for going with instinct.

      I think Liverpool = Canadiens is out new winner, for that club.

    • konmtu - Aug 15, 2013 at 9:22 AM

      Or even like the Dallas Cowboys. Same story, great history, very popular outside of their area, but hadn’t won anything the league in years. As a Cowboys hater, the comparison stings me as a Reds fan, but it’s a very apt comparison.

    • macca1874 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      Liverpool’s history of notable winning spans 1965-2005. Prior to that they were a second division club with no real phenomenal history.

    • bodogge - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      And both (fairly) recently old and sold by George Gillette. :)

  4. mianfr - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    I always thought Tottenham were like the New York Jets, but this list is a painful reminder about the differences.

    Best success a while ago, heavily overshadowed in their own city, history of finishing just on the outside of greatness and missing in heartbreaking fashion.

    I hope they don’t, but if they sell Bale, it will be just like the Jets and Revis. Tottenham have been able to keep steady their recent success, though, unlike the Jets.

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:58 AM

      I originally had them as the Jets. I suppose I found the Bale vs. Paul comparison irresistible and felt people less familiar with Spurs would have an easier time grasping onto, relating to that.

  5. nikodmus - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    I’d say Arsenal is more akin to the Patriots. Still near the top of the pile, haven’t won the big one in a decade, will spend money if they have to but prefer to look for bargains and other “diamonds in the rough” to fit their system.

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:58 AM

      Nice.

  6. kappy32 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Man City is more like the NY Mets more so than the LA Dodgers, especially since Man U are the Yankees of the BPL. There’s no rivalry between the dodgers & yanks (not since the dodgers left Brooklyn anyway). The Mets have always sought to take control of the city by any means possible & even when they have limited success for a year or two, the Yanks come in like gangbusters & show the Mets who the boss is. I’m a big Mets fan, but I know my place in NY baseball hierarchy.

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:01 AM

      I guess I was trying to avoid the United parallel unduly influencing City’s, but that may have been a mistake. I do like the City vs. Dodgers one, though, mostly because the current state of City would make sense to a non-PL fan through that Dodgers lens.

  7. Matthew - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    Reblogged this on Carolina Mountain Blue and commented:
    Interesting analysis of the Premier League’s 20 clubs as the 2013-2014 campaign grows ever closer…

  8. kb57 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    How IN THE WORLD is four consecutive Stanley Cups a “minor” “mini-dynasty”?

    • Richard Farley - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:02 AM

      Guess I’m looking at it from the soccer perspective, where there are some league monopolies in the world that eclipse that.

  9. azc86 - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:39 AM

    Liverpool to me are like the Dallas cowboys, both teams have large fan bases and are darlings of the media even though they haven’t been relevant for 20+ years, both are over hyped every season and always disappoint and both teams think that they are better than they actually are.

    • steyermark - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:34 PM

      If by irrelevant (LFC) in the last 20 years you mean 1 Champion’s League win, 6 CL appearances, and all top 10 EPL finishes, then yeah, right. LFC is always relevant in the EPL. Man-U, City, and Chelsea don’t dominate. Learn some history, and look to the future. And no, I’m not an LFC supporter (I prefer Ligue 1).

      • robeml - Aug 17, 2013 at 10:59 PM

        LFC have never won the premier league. Won the old first division an awful lot dominating the 70s and 80s. But to say Man United have not dominated the Premier League is just plain ignorant.

  10. bestbitter - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    Not that it really matters, but just the other day I was thinking Spurs were a lot like the Washington Redskins.

    – Two extremely loyal fanbases with very little to cheer about until recently.
    – Both sides have, arguably, the ‘up-and-coming face’ of each respective league on their payroll.
    – There are questions regarding the future of said super stars for each team (Bale transfer, RG3 injury).

    Probably more of a here and now comparison, but just something that hit me the other day.

    • jaxhotspur11 - Aug 15, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      This is much better than the Clippers. The Clippers don’t have a storied history, while Spurs and the Redskins do.

  11. delboy0 - Aug 15, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    The Red Sox is perfect match for Liverpool. Liverpool is kinda like the Boston of England. Gritty cities with links to Ireland. While Liverpool haven’t won the Premier League, they did become European Champions in 2005, so like the Red Sox it hasn’t been barren.

    Arsenal have to be the New York Knicks. Used to be one of the best teams in the League, loads of cool celebrities passionate about the club, lots of history and one of the biggest brands, but probably don’t have enough quality to be a true contender.

    Chelsea are the La Lakers. Used to be dominant force up until a few years ago. They are the team celebrities like to say they support because they are in a cool part of London. But have an aging team where their best players are pass their best.

    Man City are probably the Miami Heat because in Yaya Toure, David Silva and Vincent Kompany they have the LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh of the Premier League and player for player the strongest team talent-wise.

    • macca1874 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Just like the US, every city in England has an Irish population!

  12. macca1874 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    It was Aston Villa that created the world’s first soccer league in 1888 and changed the game forever. On top of that they were England’s most trophied club for eighty years. Can the Miami Dolphins lay claim to that kind of history?

    The clubs that have recently won more than Villa have done so through financial doping or leveraging/sponsorship.

    Villa are the classiest and most historic club out there.

  13. philipthefloorman - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    How about Man United and the LA Lakers . Both are loaded with talent and payroll. They have had great ownership and coaching. They are historic champions. They play with a sense of the love of the game and not the $ like those damn Yankees.

  14. smillr58 - Aug 15, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    The Twins have won 2 World Series (87and 91), not 3…

  15. steyermark - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    This must be the worst story/”reporting” on this site yet. And that’s saying something. Is NBC so hurting to bring viewers in that they need to compare EPL clubs to US Pro sports? How about just reporting on strengths and weaknesses of all major clubs, including Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1? No, OK. Bring it back to the lowest common denominator that you think a dumb Bud swilling ‘Merican can comprehend.

    • old97 - Aug 16, 2013 at 9:50 AM

      God, I can’t stand EPL snobs. Please forgive us “…dumb Bud swilling ‘Merican(s)…” for our ignorance. How many Brits can give you chapter and verse about American baseball, it’s teams and their traditions?

      Regardless of the league’s success elsewhere in the world, the EPL hasn’t ever got traction in the US. Maybe its starting to now. NBC has made an investment, hoping to catch the wave. I give them credit for doing so.

      Speaking as a fan of sports in general, I welcome this kind of basic information about teams in the league. I want to become a fan, and this kind of general introduction to some of the clubs gives me a frame of reference I can easily understand. I welcome some hand-holding as I try to make sense out of something I’m interested in, but entirely unfamiliar with. Why do you have to crap all over it, and the American sports fan?

  16. lordofblogsend - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    Reblogged this on Lord of Blog's End and commented:
    This is an interesting article and just what I needed to try and figure out who’s who in the Premier League based on what I know from American sports.

  17. emeryx - Aug 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    Well, from this borrowed 2 year old article that is totally moronic, to the parody/promo of Tottenham, NBC’s coverage of The Premiere has been horrific so far. I’m sure they’ll roll out Bob Costas to do some sappy editorializing on English Football. Hopefully, they’ll have good commentators and studio personnel, but from everything I’ve seen so far, I fear the worst. This is just insipid, and a superficial approach to covering the Premiere League.

    • Sometimes Interesting - Aug 16, 2013 at 9:46 AM

      You watch your mouth when talking about Ted Lasso!

    • creek0512 - Aug 16, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      You’re anger is misplaced, this article is about the Premier League, not the Premiere League.

      The coverage of the Premier League has actually been really good, considering they haven’t actually played any matches yet. They’ve previewed every club, the top players at every position, and all of the Bale/Rooney/Suarez soap operas.

      Also, Ted Lasso is hilarious! I hope they bring him back as the manager of another EPL club later, it would only make it seem more realistic.

  18. skymaverick26 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    I think the Browns would be a better match for Liverpool. Huge successes and tons of history from long ago, nothing recent however. The Indians would be a good match too.

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