Friday, 30 August 2013

Game Time (?) 1 - The Competitions

Hello there. This post is a bit of an experiment. I've made it clear on the podcasts that I am a huge football fan (soccer for my American/Canadian/Australian listeners, though I shall call it football here), particularly for my beloved home town club, Manchester City. As the sport is expanding in America, and most of my listeners are American, I thought 'Hey, why not try and explain it a bit?' I often receive questions and comments about football, so this shall be a test for adding it to the blog, and we shall do this by discussing the competitions. Well, the top competitions for English clubs. I'm sure I'll get into foreign leagues at some point, but let's start with the basics. You can group competitions into three groups, 'League, Cup, and European', we'll begin with the most important, the league.

As I'm writing this for an American audience, I should explain just how a league works. In a league, all the clubs in it play each other twice, once in their home ground, once in an away ground. You receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. The team with the most points after everyone has played each other wins. There are no playoffs at the end to determine who wins, it is a simple most points wins. Or, if the teams are tied in points, then it goes on goal different (goals scored minus goals conceded), then most goals scored, and it very rarely ever goes beyond that. So, that is how a league works, but what league do the teams play in?

The top league in England is the Barclay's Premier League, usually just called the Premier League or sometimes the English Premier League (EPL). The Premier League has twenty teams in it who play the other nineteen (making for 38 games a season) from August until March. The top four teams qualify for the Champions League (to be discussed later), 5th place qualifies for the Europa League, while the bottom three teams are relegated to a lower league. There are a group of clubs who always tend to finish near the top of the league, these are Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. If you're beginning to take an interest in the league, these are the teams you need to keep an eye on. That isn't to say another team won't break into their stranglehold on the top, Swansea City and Southampton are both excellent teams, but it certainly would be a surprise. The problem for these teams is that while they are very good, there are a lot of very good teams in this league. You need to be on top form throughout the whole year if you want to win. It is the hardest league in the world to win.

These though are just the top 20 teams. The football league comprises of 92 clubs. What of the other 72? There are three leagues below the the Premier League; the Championship (not to be confused with the Champions League), League One and League Two. While the Premier League receives most of the attention in the UK, and all the attention abroad, the Championship is one of the closest leagues out there. Every year there are between 10 and 15 teams who all stand a realistic chance of being promoted. To be promoted you can either come in the top two places, or places three through six fight it out in the playoffs for the final place. These three replace the bottom three teams in the Premier League in the next season. Similar battles take place between the Championship and League where three teams chance place, and between League One and League Two, where four teams change places. Below League Two is the Blue Square Bet Premier, a league known as the Conference. This is the top League in non-League football which has its own vast network of leagues too complicated to go into. Two teams go from non-League Football and out of the League each year. Much is made of the Premier League being the best league in the world, but the real beauty of English football is the lower leagues. Most countries only have 2 major leagues, such as Serie A and Serie B in Italy, but England has 4. This is enough about leagues for the moment, let's move on to the cups.

There are two major cup competitions in the UK, the FA Cup and the League Cup. Both begin around August, but the League Cup only comprises of the 92 Football League clubs. It is a knockout competition, easy enough to understand. The League Cup is the least important of the major trophies. The FA Cup however is a major cup. Every team in the country complete, in the 2013-14 competition this means 737 teams will enter the competition. It takes a few months of competition between the lower-leagues for the League Clubs to get involved, but it has a rich history. It is the oldest football competition in the world, dating back to 1871, and it is a great prize. The season is opened by the winners of last years FA Cup and Premier League playing each other in the Charity Shield.

As to European Competition, there are two competitions. The Europa League and the Champions League. Both begin with small leagues of 4 clubs playing each other. These matches go on until December, after Christmas a knockout competition begins. The Europa League is often mocked as a competition, but the Champions League is the ultimate prize in European Football. The two things every football player wants to win are the World Cup and the Champions League. It is a competition which pits the best clubs in Europe against each other, and is something special. The winners of these competitions play each other at the start of the season in the European Supercup, but this isn't particularly important.

I hope you've found this interesting, and hopefully there will be more of this explaining the finer points of the game, and eventually some analysis of what is going on.