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How the Massive Report staff fell in love with their English Premier League teams

Breaking down how some MR writers became Premier League fans.

Nike Premier League Strike Football Photo by VISIONHAUS

With the recent announcement that The English Premier League will be resuming their season on June 17, sports-starved viewers (especially those who support an EPL side) are excited for more opportunities for real, live sports. As one of the best leagues in the world, the Premier League has countless fans and casual observers among soccer fans. Here at Massive Report, many of us have loyalties to certain Premier League Clubs; but with most of us in or around the Central-Ohio area for most of our lives, it takes special circumstances to organically find a connection with a team an ocean away. With almost a month before MLS resumes action, we anxiously await the resumption of the Premier League schedule. Some of us reflected on how we got to support the “side” of “football” we did.

Many of our writers here at Massive Report are very excited about the return of the English Premier League this week. So much so that we wanted to write about it. We decided to have the staff provide an explanation on why they are a fan of whichever EPL team they support.

Doug Hildreth (Liverpool)

My story of becoming a Liverpool supporter, and a more passionate soccer fan in general, really begins with the birth of my daughter. Or, rather, just before the birth of my daughter. The summer she was born, the most recent men’s World Cup dominated the world sports stage. As a lot of Americans, I found myself with a renewed interest in soccer, and was hoping to watch a lot of it. Anyone who’s ever been around a pregnant woman, or has been pregnant themselves: you know it is an exhausting endeavor and they sleep, A LOT. My wife’s frequent naps provided me a lot of time to start to kindle my renewed soccer interest. I played a lot of FIFA, and watched a lot of soccer. In fact, the first Liverpool match I watched was as a relative casual observer: the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final loss to Real Madrid. I am a massive Beatles fan, and had recently traveled to Liverpool and really enjoyed it as a city, finding a connection similar to Columbus. I casually rooted for Liverpool, but nothing that might resemble true support. As the summer progressed, and my daughter was born, and the World Cup came to a close, I found myself looking for more soccer.

My aforementioned Beatles love had me leaning towards one of the Merseyside clubs, and I truly debated on which I wanted. In the end, it ultimately came down to that connection originally from the first game. While it didn’t end the way most Liverpool fans would’ve liked, I could tell this was a team on the rise with players and a manager I could truly get behind. Some further reading and a lot of podcasts later, I identified with the working-class, more progressive attitude of their supporters and further identified with the history. Truthfully, I see a lot of parallels between English soccer and college football, and more specifically: Liverpool and Ohio State. A somewhat organic fandom started to bloom.

That next season, I followed a little more closely. If for nothing else, it provided a nice Saturday-morning pregame to OSU football. But I found this team to be engrossing. Some of the best players on the planet, who were also good human beings; Jurgen Klopp, their manager has a passion and personality that is magnetic. How can you not like someone who has a “no dick-head” rule when signing new players? And by the time Divock Origi headed an extra-time decider over Jordan Pickford, I was sold. The magical return run to the Champions League final, with the comeback against Barcelona and ultimately their sixth European Championship, everything clicked.

Some might call me a front-runner, and I’d be lying if their success didn’t help stoke my interest; but as a Cleveland sports fan, if I get to pick a team, why would I choose a perennial loser? I know there will ultimately be tough times ahead...but I’m not going to worry about that now: we have a Premier League title to finish up!

Nick Hudak (Manchester United)

While I’ve only been a major soccer fan for a better part of six years, I like to think I do a decent job of hiding it. However, the day I knew I was a Manchester United fan was on Dec. 9, 2012, when Robin van Persie solidified a victory over arch-rivals Manchester City by scoring a deflected free kick in stoppage time at the Etihad Stadium, en route to their most recent Premier League title.

It wasn’t until after the 2014 World Cup when I began to fully embrace the sport as one I would now adore more than any other. While my time as a Manchester United supporter has been filled with highs and lows (mostly lows) due to poor executive leadership and dismal mismanagement, United finally seems to be turning the tide and inching closer to a return to European glory.

Collin Johnson (Everton)

I consider myself one of the unlucky few who chose to support a team outside the modern version of the top six. While Chelsea and Man United supporters get to watch their team compete for domestic and European trophies, I get to watch my beloved Toffees struggle to finish just outside the European spots every single year.

My Everton supporter story starts in Columbus with Crew legend Brian McBride. In the fall of 2003, I got my first copy of FIFA and decided that it was time to start following the Premier League. To this point, my entire soccer fandom was consumed by the Black & Gold and the U.S. Men’s National Team. So, I looked for the team that had the strongest, or most recent, Columbus Crew SC connection.

McBride had just come off a loan with Everton, and was still available for Everton on FIFA, so that became my team of choice. I asked my mom for an Everton jersey for Christmas and the rest was history. I’ve yet to make the trip to England to watch Everton play but did catch the Toffees when they played the Crew in a summer 2006 friendly. The half Crew-Everton scarf from that match remains one of my prized soccer possessions.

Orri Benatar (Liverpool)

Before either going or watching the next Columbus Crew game, it was a Saturday tradition in my house to rise from our slumber and watch the Premier League in the morning. My father grew up a Manchester United fan, enamored with the legend George Best. My brother decided to bleed red and his all-time favorite player was the Dutch poacher Ruud Van Nistelrooy. I chose a different red path: Liverpool.

I wanted to be the rebel of the family for the EPL just like I am for football (Browns fan against two Steelers fans). Hence part of the reason I chose Liverpool. The other main reason was Michael Owen. As a 5-foot-4 striker myself, Owen (wh0 stands at 5-foot-8) was the guy I idolized and impersonated on the field and to this day, he is my all-time favorite player. The love for Liverpool still continues today and hopefully at some point this summer, they can lift the trophy. YNWA!!

Patrick Murphy (Manchester United)

Like every Ameican soccer fan growing up before NBC Sports (or Fox Soccer Channel before that), it wasn’t easy to find European soccer in the United States. Yet living in a soccer-crazed home, we found a way. My dad, who had less success watching soccer in his younger days, was a casual Manchester United fan. But I remember the first time we watched a game together, he pointed out David Beckham and the way he could place a ball, the technique of his free kicks, etc.

It started with Beckham, as my dad would help me imitate the right winger in the yard, but it grew into so much more. Even as my dad began to watch more Fulham and Everton due to American players on those teams, I was hooked on United and Sir Alex Ferguson. When the games were on TV, I watched them. If they weren’t on TV, I read the recaps as soon as they were up. Summer transfer window, I was on top of it.

It’s been a rough last several years by United’s lofty standards, but that won’t change the passion I have for the team. This January, I was finally able to take in a game live at Old Trafford. If possible, that only reinvigorated my love for the club, even if I don’t agree with most decisions they make these days.

Jay Homan (Arsenal)

I have the grand pleasure of being an Arsenal fan! I should not complain because if it were not for one of my friends, I likely would have become a Manchester United fan. Some background: I grew up in a small Ohio farm town in the 2000s where it was nearly impossible to find a soccer match on TV even if you had cable. But as a dedicated fan of the sport, I picked up a copy of FIFA 2007 to get my fix. Of course, it is never as fun to play FIFA alone, so my best friend would come over for competition. He would always pick Manchester United first because, even with the lack of availability of soccer in our town, everyone still knew Manchester United.

So, this left me reeling for another club to select. They had to be someone good because these were the Fergie years of Manchester United, they were stacked. But low and behold, the first team that popped up on the selections screen was Arsenal. This is an Arsenal squad that had attacking power, Arsene Wenger had not run the team into complacency yet at this point. Even with the mysterious absence of Thierry Henry on the roster, they still had Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor up top, with a young Cesc Fabregas controlling the midfield. After countlessly beating up my friend with this stellar squad, my loyalty stuck. I eventually moved to Columbus where it was much easier to catch a match on television, and just in time for the complacency era to begin. Oh well, I can always brag about the Invincibles season. People do not have to know that I was not a fan yet!

Eliot McKinley (Aston Villa)

Aston Villa is the Premier League (soon to be Championship, again) team that I support. The reason I chose Villa was due to a probably misguided loyalty to the Cleveland Browns as, at the time, both Villa and the Browns were owned by Randy Lerner. It also didn’t hurt that they had Crew and USMNT legend Brad Friedel as its goalkeeper, who was eventually replaced by Brad Guzan, and a couple of other Americans like Eric Lichaj and Michael Bradley. At first, this decision seemed pretty good. Villa were contending for Champions League spots. But soon things went south with a revolving door of managers and ownership groups, financial troubles and ultimately relegation. It’s been a wild ride as a Villa won the Championship playoff last season and is likely to be relegated again. That’s way more exciting than stability at the top of the Premiership and Villa have a European Cup, which is more than can be said for many of the clubs that people have band-wagoned on to like Arsenal or Man City. Up the Villa!

Thomas Costello (Liverpool)

My Premier League fandom involves Richmond, Virginia, and LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. My family and I moved to the capital of Virginia in 2013, from Northeast Ohio. One difficult part of moving is building new relationships. Outside of coworkers and neighbors, it can be tough without lifelong friends or family near you. Enter the 2014 World Cup.

To meet new people, I joined the Richmond American Outlaws so I could go to watch parties. For USA v Germany, I sat alone around a group of Richmond supporters. They asked me my EPL allegiance and I said I didn’t have one. MLS was part of my life, but I never dipped my toes in the Euro leagues. A guy with a red bird on his hat told me “you’re a Liverpool fan now.” Ask my wife about how well I do with people telling me what I am or what to do. Unless you’re LeBron James.

As a suffering Cleveland sports fan, 2014 was the year that the King returned to his throne. I remember where I was the second I heard he was coming home, and I have goosebumps as I write this. In the sea of content surrounding “The Return” I saw a tweet with LeBron hitting a “This is Anfield” sign. This is when I learned that he was a part-owner of the team and this is also when I became a Liverpool supporter.

So whether you like a scrappy underdog, a globally-giant brand, or somewhere in between; we are closer to live sports we can really care about. I hope these stories can help bring some context and direction to the return of the EPL.