A Beginner's Guide to the English Premier League
Before we get started, let me tell you a story, a story about league football in England. It all started in 1888 when the Football League was set up by Aston Villa chairman William McGregor. In its original format, it contained just 12 teams, but it grew fairly quickly to a total of 22. Moreover, the Football League soon added new divisions, what would become known as the Second Division, Third Division North and Third Division South.
In 1959, the two latter divisions became known as the Third Division and Fourth Division respectively. For the first 104 years of its history, the Football League saw precious little change in terms of its structure, but by the 1980s things had stagnated somewhat. Crowds were dropping, stadiums were crumbling, violence on the terraces was rife, clubs were struggling financially and many of England’s top players moved abroad for more money and better opportunities.
Everything changed, however, at the end of 1991/1992 season when all 22 teams in the then First Division resigned en masse and joined a newly set up league, a league created with the backing of the FA. This was the English Premier League. So why did these clubs leave the Football League to join a newly formed English Premier League? The simple reason was money. Basically, under the jurisdiction of the Football League, the 92 clubs across the four divisions were obliged to share all monies brought in by TV equally, meaning that big clubs like Manchester United earned a mere pittance. They viewed this situation as unfair as they naturally would appear more often on TV than the likes of Rochdale or Gillingham, for example.
The Premier League had already secured a TV rights package worth £304 million, and the prospect of such money being shared between just 22 teams was too much to resist, and thus the old Football League was broken up. From the 1992/1993 season onwards, the Premier League became the new top division, operating as a single division, while the Football League continued to operate the three other professional divisions below the Premier League.
This may sound fairly dramatic, but as there was no great change in the structure of English football, it opened to fairly little fanfare. However, as the years have gone by, the English Premier League has emerged into a truly global phenomenon, with only leagues such as the NFL able to generate similar kinds of revenue.
So, that’s the history lesson out of the way, now let’s get into how the league is structured. There are 20 teams, and each of them plays each other twice—home and away. So each team plays a total of 38 games. The season starts in August and runs until May.
Games are usually played across the weekend, with a game sometimes taking place on Friday night. Most of the games, however, kick off on a Saturday afternoon at the traditional time of 3 PM. A couple of games are played on Sunday, usually kicking off at 2 and 4 PM, respectively. There is finally a Monday night game at 8 PM to round off the week's fixtures. Sometimes there are midweek fixtures kicking at either 7:45 PM or 8 PM, but these are infrequent.
Teams earn three points for each win, one point for a draw (tie) and nothing for a defeat. There are no playoffs or equivalent to the Super Bowl, it’s basically a first past the post system. Once a team has accumulated enough points so that they cannot be caught by their rivals, then they are the champions. Sometimes, teams have to wait until the final day to clinch the championship, as Manchester City did in the 2011/2012 season. On other occasions, such as the 2017/2018 season, Manchester City steamrolled their way to the title, wrapping it up in April.
If two teams happen to be on the same number of points, then they are separated firstly by Goal Difference. This is calculated by tracking how many goals a team has scored and conceded, and then either adding or subtracting the difference. So, for example, if a team scores 80 and concedes 30, then the Goal Difference is +50. Likewise, if a team scores just 30 and concedes 80, then the difference is -50. If that isn’t enough, then the teams are separated according to Goals Scored, if that fails then its Head to Head record, and on the very rare occasion that isn’t enough, then it comes down to a one off playoff match, but this has yet to happen in the Premier League.
The idea of a league with no playoffs or one off final match to decide the champion may seem boring at first hand, but there two knock out competitions that run alongside the Premier League. The FA Cup is the primary competition and is steeped in history; it is the oldest knockout tournament in the world, open to professional, semi-professional and amateur teams alike. The League Cup, another knockout competition, is often regarded as a secondary competition and is open to all 92 teams in the Football League.
Moreover, if the title race is wrapped up early, then there are other battles to look out. The top 4 teams in the Premier League gain qualification to the following season's edition of the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier club qualification. The top 3 teams qualify for the group stage of the Champions League automatically, whilst the 4th place teams must play a two-legged knockout tie in order to enter the group stage. The team that finishes 5th gains automatic entry into the UEFA Europa League, while the teams that finish 6th and 7th can also qualify, but this is dependent on whoever wins the two cup competitions as each respective winner is guaranteed an automatic place in the Europa League.
The scramble to qualify for European competition can be fierce and intriguing, as qualification means extra revenue for a club. Moreover, there is the glorious opportunity for a club to pits its wits against giants such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich, PSG and Barcelona. However, for most fans both partisan and neutral, there is perhaps, a more important battle that rarely fails to disappoint.
Relegation and Promotion
There’s quite simply nothing like it; nothing else in all of sports can compare with it. Each year in the Premier League, the bottom three teams- the teams that finish 18th, 19th and 20th are relegated into the Football League Championship or EFL Championship as it is now known and are replaced by three teams from the Championship. The teams that finish 1st and 2nd in the Championship are promoted automatically into the Premier League, whilst the 3rd and final spot is decided by a knockout playoff tournament involving the teams placed 3rd through to 6th.
The semi-finals are two-legged affairs with the winners advancing to the final, which over the years has emerged into one of the biggest and most important games in world football. The Championship playoff final is reportedly the richest game of football on the planet, with the winners pocketing a cool £150 million, as well as a much-prized place in the English Premier League.
You may remember me talking about how the three other professional divisions in England are operated by the Football League, or EFL, as it's now known. These leagues are all connected to each other through the beauty of promotion and relegation. Theoretically, it is entirely possible for an amateur team to work its way from the regional leagues right up to the Premier League. Likewise, theoretically, it's possible for Manchester United to tumble out of the Premier League, right down into the regional leagues. Below is a brief summary of promotion and relegation spots across England’s top 4 leagues.
- English Premier League: Three teams relegated to the EFL Championship.
- EFL Championship: Three teams promoted to the EPL; three teams relegated to EFL League One.
- EFL League One: Three teams promoted to the EFL Championship; four teams relegated to EFL League Two.
- EFL League Two: Four teams promoted to EFL League One; two teams relegated to the National League.
Once a team enters the National League, then they are essentially out of the professional game, and into the semi-professional game, or Non-League game as it is more widely known. From there on in, English Football then becomes regional, with the leagues being split by a roughly north and south divide, with of course promotion and relegation between all of them.
The Pain of Relegation
Who Do I Support?
For anyone wishing to take an active interest in the game, you’ll no doubt want to pick a team to cheer for or support, and choosing the right team can be tricky. For hardened, lifelong fans like me, though, there was no choice. I was born and bred just a few miles away from St. Andrews Stadium, home of Birmingham City FC, a former Premier League team now playing in the Championship, they became my team during my childhood and will remain my team no matter what. Supporters in the UK tend to gravitate towards their local teams, but many do opt for one of the big boys. Obviously, if you’re a fan on the other side of the Atlantic, supporting a local EPL team is not an option, although I would urge you to at least take an interest in your local team if you have one.
It’s important to understand that if you want to be considered a legitimate football fan, then are a few simple rules you need to remember when choosing a team to support. Firstly, stick with your decision- once you chose a team, then that is your team for life no matter what happens to them. Do not go changing your allegiance, as you will undoubtedly lose respect amongst your peers.
Secondly, learn as much about your team as possible. Learn about the history, the manager, the chants/songs, the players, the ground or stadium, the team colours and who your rivals are. For example, if you chose Manchester United, then you cannot support Liverpool and Manchester City as well, as they are your fierce rivals. After all, if you support the Boston Red Sox, you would never dream of cheering for the Yankees, so the same applies in football. Thirdly, be respectful of rival fans. Rivalries are great for the game, but never allow hatred to come into play. Hatred isn’t good in any walk of life, and especially not in football, as all too often it leads to violence. Fourthly and finally, just enjoy it, no matter who you chose, you will experience highs and lows; I tend to find that it all balances itself out anyway.
Never A Dull Moment
The Greatest Miracle of All
Here are the 20 teams that will compete in the 2018/19 season. I’ve placed them in the order that they finished last season, so as to give you an idea of which teams may be worth supporting, and which may be a risk.
- Manchester City: Champions last season, Manchester City play in sky blue and play at the Ettihad Stadium, Manchester. They are one of the richest clubs in the world and boast a squad dripping in world-class talent, with the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero gracing their ranks. They also have a world-class manager in Pep Guardiola at the helm. This would be a wise choice, as City’s riches mean that they should be perennial contenders for many years to come.
- Manchester United: Runners up last season under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Manchester United play in red shirts and white shorts. Their home is Old Trafford and are fierce rivals to Manchester City and Liverpool, for that matter. They are the most successful club in English football history with 20 league titles, 13 of them in the Premier League era under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson. Their star player currently is World Cup winner Paul Pogba, an undoubtedly world-class talent, who does have a frustrating tendency to go missing during games sometimes. This team is another great choice, but you might find that most other fans will dislike you. Most fans of other teams dislike Manchester United, for much the same reason why fans in the US despise teams such as the Patriots and the Warriors.
- Tottenham Hotspur: Tottenham or Spurs to give them their nickname hail from North London and currently play at Wembley, whilst their new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is being completed. They play in white and form one half of a fierce rivalry with close neighbours Arsenal. They are an exciting young team, and in Harry Kane possess one of the world’s deadliest strikers. This team certainly have the pedigree to win the league, but they haven’t won it since way back in 1961 under the management of the legendary Bill Nicholson. Current manager Mauricio Pochettino is hoping emulate that achievement. Tottenham is a great choice if you fancy opting for an up and coming team who are hungry for success and trophies.
- Liverpool: Rounding out the top 4 is Liverpool. They play all in red and play at the iconic Anfield. Their fans belt out one of the best songs you’ll ever hear at any football match ’You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ and in Jurgen Klopp, have perhaps the most engaging and entertaining managers in world football. Liverpool have a rich history, with 18 league titles (0 in the Premier League era) and 5 European Cups/Champions League. Like Tottenham, they have a deadly strike force, and in Mohamed Salah, a man who scored 32 goals last season, earning him the coveted golden boot. Liverpool would be a wise choice, both in terms of their quality and history. They are also popular amongst neutral fans; if I were coming into the game as a new fan, then Liverpool would probably be my choice.
- Chelsea: Chelsea are from West London, play in blue and play their games at Stamford Bridge. They are owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and have enjoyed fairly recent success in the Premier League winning titles in 2015 and 2017 respectively. This is a team, though, renowned for its ruthlessness. This past summer, the club fired Antonio Conte, the man who steered them to success in 2017 and replaced him with Maurizio Sarri. Chelsea are the 2nd most successful team in the Premier League era with five titles (2005, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2017). It's safe to say that they are currently going through a rebuild phase at present, but they will be back soon, I’m sure. One thing is for sure; you’ll never be short of drama as a Chelsea fan.
- Arsenal: Here is the other half of the North London derby. Arsenal play in red and white and play at the Emirates Stadium. This is a team that formerly was one of the most feared teams in world football. Iconic manager Arsene Wenger, who only retired last summer after 22 years in charge, built a formidable team containing the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires, etc. This team achieved a unique feat in the 2003/2004 season by winning the title without losing a single game. In fact, Arsenal would go on to set an English football record of 49 games without defeat. But those days are long gone, and in spite of Wenger’s continued guidance, Arsenal slipped out of title contention. New boss Unai Emery faces a huge challenge in getting the team back to the top. Getting the best out of star players like Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will be key to any future success.
- Burnley: Probably the surprise package of last season, this team hailing from Lancashire play at Turf Moor in claret and blue defied many pundits prediction of relegation and comfortably finished in the top half and with that qualified for Europe for the first in over 40 years. They are tough, gritty team who are head to beat, conceding just 39 goals last season. Manager Sean Dyche is a rarity at the top level of English football, an English manager and surely a candidate for the England managers job in the future. Burnley could be a good choice if you fancy rooting for an underdog.
- Everton: Everton are the other half of the so-called Merseyside Derby with Liverpool. In fact, their two grounds are less than 2 miles apart and are divided only by a stretch of parkland called Stanley Park. This rivalry, however, is somewhat friendlier than others, with many families split down the middle in terms of allegiance. In fact, you’ll often find fans of both clubs sitting together during matches- a rare occurrence in English football, as fans are segregated at virtually all matches regardless of importance. Everton then play at Goodison Park in blue shirts and white shirts and are, in fact, along with Arsenal the longest-serving members of England’s top division, being ever-present since the 1954/55 season. However, success in recent years in recent times has been non-existent. Their last trophy was the FA Cup back in 1995. There is potential there, though, if you fancy someone from outside the top 6 and they do have plenty of money in the bank, as was proven by their £50 million outlay on Watford winger Richarlison.
- Leicester City: During the 2015/2016 season, everybody became a Leicester fan, as they charged their way to the unlikeliest title win in the history of professional sports. Beating odds of 5000/1 they not only claimed their first Premier League title, but their first-ever top division, and thus became the first new champions of the top division since Nottingham Forest back in 1978. The club play their matches at the King Power Stadium in all blue kits and can count England legend Gary Lineker as their highest-profile supporter. Sadly most of their title-winning team has broken up, with Riyad Mahrez becoming the latest player to depart this summer. But they still have star striker Jamie Vardy and should never be counted out.
Newcastle United: One of England’s most iconic and easily recognisable clubs. The Toon Army or Magpies play in black and white striped shirts at the grand venue that is St James Park. The Geordie fans sell out the 52,000 seater stadium every week no matter what, and considering that they haven’t won a major trophy since claiming the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, an ancestral competition to the Europa League in 1969. They would probably be my pick if I fancied following a team from outside the top 6. A rich history and iconic local heroes like Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer make them an attractive club to follow, plus there’s the passionate local rivalry with Sunderland to get your teeth into, although it may be a while before the two play each other again. The only downside to choosing Newcastle is the fact that they are owned by Mike Ashley, the most stringent owner in the Premier League and also the man behind the sports retail giant, Sports Direct. This company is notorious for mistreating employees and disregarding basic rights, e.g., a minimum wage and only offering zero-hour contracts, meaning virtually no job security at all. He’s not at all popular with Newcastle fans, who have been trying to force him out almost from the day he walked in.
- Crystal Palace: The owners of undoubtedly the most attractive name in the league, this club play in red and blue striped shirts at Selhurst Park in South London. They are one of many clubs in the bottom half who are relative newcomers to the Premier League. Although they have had spells in the top division before, including notably securing a 3rd place finish in the 1990/1991 season. Last season they staged a miraculous recovery, staying in the Premier League, despite losing their first eight games. Wilfred Zaha is their star player and former England boss Roy Hodgson is their manager.
- AFC Bournemouth: Bournemouth to most of us Brits is better known as a summer holiday/vacation spot than a footballing hotbed, but in recent times things have changed somewhat. As recently as the 2008/2009 season, the club was actually fighting for survival in EFL League Two, the fourth tier of English football. The following season, they gained promotion into League One, and its safe to say that their rise has been meteoric. I can remember seeing this for myself back in the 2014/2015 season when AFC Bournemouth turned up at St. Andrew's Stadium to play my team Birmingham City. The result was one of the heaviest home defeats in our history, an 8-0 thrashing. They would go on to win the EFL Championship comfortably and secure their place in the Premier League. Whilst they have no real superstars, they have a talented young manager in Eddie Howe, a former Bournemouth player, who has been the mastermind behind Bournemouth’s rise from League Two to the Premier League. If you fancy supporting a true underdog, then AFC Bournemouth may be your team. They have in Dean Court, the smallest stadium in the Premier League seating just 11,000 fans and play in red and black striped shirts.
- West Ham United: West Ham United or the Hammers as they are often known are a team from East London who play at their former London Olympic Stadium, now known simply as the London Stadium. They play in claret and blue, and their fans sing another one of football’s great songs, "I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles." They are the team often credited with making England world champions in 1966, as greats such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters all played at the club at that time. They are often known as the Academy of Football, and among the many great players they have produced are Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard. West Ham are the kind of club that always seem to be on the verge of greatness but never quite get there. Maybe, this coming season things will be different; manager Manuel Pellegrini has had success with Manchester City, and in Mark Noble, they have a true cult hero as captain. Noble is a local boy and lifelong Hammers fan. He’s been at the club his entire career and has played nearly 400 games for the club.
- Watford: Watford play in the county of Hertfordshire just north of London at Vicarage Road. They play in yellow shirts, and despite the fact that their club crest is essentially a red Moose, they are known as the Hornets. Their biggest claim to fame is the fact that Sir Elton John owned the club and acted as a chairman for near 30 years. Today they are under the ownership of the Pozzo family, who in their short tenure have implemented a bizarre policy of changing their manager at the end of each season regardless of results. In all honesty, this is a team I would probably avoid, as many pundits are tipping them for the drop. Many in the game feel that their policy will eventually result in relegation; moreover, the sale of winger Richarlison and the drop off in the form of striker Troy Deeny suggest that this is a club on the slide.
- Brighton & Hove Albion: Brighton are another football success story. Back in the '90s, they found themselves without a home after selling their old ground to generate income. Although the club actually received virtually nothing from the same. For years they languished in the 3rd and 4th tiers of English and had to play their home matches at the tiny Withdean Stadium, an athletics venue, before finally settling into the AMEX stadium in 2011. They play in blue and white stripes and last season were able to survive their first season at the top level for 34 years under the guidance of talented but underrated manager Chris Hughton.
- Huddersfield Town: Believe it or not, The Terriers are the only representatives from Yorkshire in this year's edition of the Premier League. They play at the Kirkless Stadium in blue and white stripes. The most successful period in their history came in the 1920s when legendary manager Herbert Chapman led the club to the FA Cup in 1922 and 3 successive league titles (1924,1925, 1926). Most of their recent history has seen the league languishing in the lower league. But in 2017, manager David Wagner guided the team back into the top flight after an absence of 45 years. Against all odds, they survived the first season back. However, the second season is often a step too far for many promoted clubs, so they may be a team to avoid.
- Southampton: The Saints play on the South Coast just a few miles down the road from Bournemouth, although they tend to consider Portsmouth as their main rivals. They play in red and white stripes at St. Mary’s Stadium. Like West Ham, they are renowned for producing top quality players. The likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all coming through the club's academy. Last season was a disappointment for the club, and if not for the timely appointment of Mark Hughes, the club may have been relegated. They are probably best known "selling" club, as they usually sell off top players, most of whom have ended up at Liverpool at one time or another.
- Wolverhampton Wanderers: At last, we come to the first of the promoted teams. Wolves, as they are commonly known are the only representatives from the West Midlands. They play their games at Molineux Stadium in gold shirts and black shorts and will compete in their first Premier League season since 2012. Last season they stormed to the Championship title, and indeed these are exciting times for Wolves. They are a wealthy club with a top manager, the former Porto and Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo and a squad of players that even many long-established Premier League teams are envious of. They are undoubtedly the best equipped promoted squad I’ve ever seen. In this past summer, they have added Portuguese World Cup stars Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho to their star-studded ranks. They could be an interesting team for a new fan to follow, as many pundits are actually predicting a top-half finish for the 2018/2019 season.
- Cardiff City: Along with bitter rivals Swansea City, the Bluebirds are the only the non-English teams to play in the Premier League, both hailing from Wales. They play in all blue, and their home ground is the Cardiff City Stadium. Cardiff currently has one of the most controversial owners in football, in the form of Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan. From 2012 to 2015, he controversially rebranded the club, changing their colors from blue to red. Furthermore, he changed the old bluebird crest to that of a dragon. However, amidst widespread fan protest, he changed both the club colors and crest back to their traditional design. Under the guidance of veteran manager Neil Warnock, Cardiff secured an unlikely automatic promotion spot back into the Premier League after a four-year absence. They’ll be looking to improve on their last stint in the Premier League, where they were relegated after just one season.
- Fulham: Last, but most certainly not least, we have Fulham, a club based in West London. They play in white shirts and black shorts at one of the prettiest grounds in the Premier League, the wonderfully named Craven Cottage. Their nearest rivals are Chelsea and are, in fact, the oldest current Premier League club playing in London. They have a colourful history of ownership, with Harrods boss Mohamed Al-Fayed owning the club from 1997 to 2013. He sold the club to businessman Shahid Khan, who also happens to own the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. Like Cardiff, Fulham are returning to the Premier League after a four-year absence, after defeating Aston Villa in last seasons playoff final. They are an exciting team to watch and haven’t been afraid to splash the cash, adding the likes of Alfie Mawson, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Jean-Michael Seri to the squad for big money. They have also added German World Cup winner Andre Schurrle on a loan deal. Furthermore, in Ryan Sessegnon, they have one of the brightest young talents in the game. Many pundits are expecting to Fulham to avoid relegation this season.
So, there we have it, at last, the full list of the 2018/2019 English Premier League teams. Choose wisely; personally, I would go for one of the top 6, although I would probably avoid Arsenal for now. No matter who you chose, though, the most important thing to remember is to simply enjoy it and respect rival fans. Best of luck for the upcoming season for whoever your team might be.
10 Of The Best
© 2018 James Kenny