Southampton top the list but perhaps it's Aston Villa who should get most credit. Their defence is the reason why they are sitting comfortably in mid-table...
Garrulous, uncompromising, always fighting his corner, but not without charm if the mood takes him. Sam Allardyce is the Premier League's classic Proper Football Man...
Half of this column has spent the week doing unspeakable things to his body at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas and is currently residing in Beverly Hills with his liver weeping at the heinous abuse it has suffered. On this trip some things have occurred to him.
Some get irritated that Americans call football 'soccer', although we ourselves find it rather endearing, and a throwback to the good old days when people talked of 'rugger' and 'soccer' and even 'footer' and you could do unconscionable things to your fag without fear of censure or appointment to a senior posting in the Conservative party. In fact, the use of the word soccer goes back to the 19th century beginnings of the game, which was just before the Premier League's inception. So on this matter, Americans are right and sneery Euro-trashers who think it represents their misunderstanding of football culture are wrong.
This column has travelled to America many, many times over the last couple of decades and finds watching, and talking, soccer there to be a constant pleasure. The time difference on the East Coast - we should add that we largely stick to the coasts for fear of potatoes, Jesus freaks and big men called Bubba who buy porn magazines which feature naked women firing guns - means that you can enjoy a 3pm kick-off with a bracing 10am pint and an eight egg breakfast omelette, or a long, late lunch with the Champions League. On the West Coast, you can watch live Premier League football with your bacon, maple syrup and grits, as half of this column did on Sunday. If there is a finer start to the day than a bit of delicious California scran by a sunny pool strewn with bikinied ladies as you watch Chelsea v Sunderland, then we have yet to come across it. Well, perhaps you might substitute Sunderland for another team, but the point stands. It is a jarring juxtaposition, to be sure, but an enervating one.
The TV coverage itself has its heroes and zeroes in the same way we do in UK but this is somewhat offset by the fascinating, seemingly arbitrary selection of ex-Premier League players called upon to dispense insight. Is that...yes, yes it is...it's Warren Barton. What are you doing here, Warren? Boom boom, it's Shaka Hislop and...yay, some other bloke we vaguely remember from 1994 and someone else who once played for Hereford United in 1967. Welcome, one and all.
A bit of distance from the Premier League - or, rather, a distance from the constant feeding frenzy of synthetic scandal, bile and outrage that swarms around the actual football - is no bad thing. The absence of the hysteria industry that goes with the sport is refreshing; the pages of the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post remain, mystifyingly, free of the sort of 'Did Suarez Deliberately Kick Guide Dog?' nonsense that greets the UK football fan on a daily basis. In the USA, you can enjoy the football without the hate and the shrill indignation. It's also the case that those things that initially might jar - expressions such as 'a shut-out' for example, all actually add to the glorious alien nature of the beast. It is to be embraced and not rejected as 'wrong'.
Football is a universal language. Troop into a rainforest and soon enough you'll find someone in a Barcelona shirt with Messi on the back. On the elevated plains of the Andes, tribal elders worship James Milner as a god while others have a tribal name for Harry Redknapp that when translated means 'unpleasant melted candle'.
However, despite the best efforts of FIFA, the US women's team and Saint David of Beckham, football is of course still a minority sport in the USA. But this is in no way a bad thing, because the US football fan is therefore more likely to be smarter than the average bear. Because the sport is played so much outside of American shores, they are often by default, more open-minded, global and cultured animals. They are often left-field, quirky, indie sorts who want little to do with the 'jock' culture intrinsic to American society. They don't see crushing a beer can on your forehead as your greatest achievement.
It's very pleasing to see how well-respected women's football is in America. The sexist sneering that all too often happens in the UK is mostly absent here. After two decades of success at international tournaments, many of the women footballers are big stars. Women such as the impressive Abby Wambac,h who won the FIFA player of the year award in 2012, command great respect as athletes and sportswomen in a way that our own sadly do not. They even have players such as the splendidly named Hope Solo deemed famous enough to be involved in boyfriend-related scandals. This all adds to the colour of football life.
Fans select a club to support and throw themselves into it wholeheartedly, often being more well-versed in its history and players than a local boy in England. Because football is inescapable in the UK, almost everyone has at least some passing interest. Naturally, it is often those who know the least about it who have the loudest opinions, meaning that any conversation with a stranger about the sport in the UK has to be approached with caution. Because there aren't that many football fans in the USA, and it's a bit of a boutique choice of sport to watch, the chance of a person going 'I support Arsenal (or whoever)' and then giving you a ludicrous opinion that makes you want to punch them in the eye is smaller than in the UK. In America, you can enjoy football at odd times of day, and without idiots, and that is surely an excellent way to go.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
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