I'm an English (European) Soccer Nut

February 07, 2020

I'm an English (European) Soccer Nut

Another in the "get to know Ken" blog series.

It all started in 2010. I had slept over at a buddies house rather than drive home the night before (Ah the late 20's) and when we got moving in the morning he turned on a soccer match. He had been talking about it for a few years and I didn't pay him much mind, but for some reason, that morning it stuck. I was thinking "Wait, I can watch live sports instead of hours of football (American football) pregame shows? This is alright."  I can't remember if my team was playing that morning or not but at the least very soon after I caught a Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs)1 match. They are based out of the North London neighborhood Tottenham and I liked the way they played aggressively, they were involved in the top Intra-European Competition that season and they happened to be my buddy's direct rival team. Check, Check and Check.

From there, over the next 2-3 years I loved learning about all the nuances of English and European soccer, and I still don't think I have it all down. I think after reading this 6 bullet point crash course you'll understand why it so appealed to me, the numbers guy.

1 - The promotion & relegation system was the first thing that caught my attention.  For reference, think of your local minor league baseball team.  Let's just say they play in a double A (AA) league and your local team won the "AA championship". That doesn't exist, but let's just say it did. The next season then, that team would be promoted to play in a triple A (AAA) minor league. The lowest place AAA finisher would then be relegated to AA for the following season. That's the way it is in sports leagues across Europe and many other countries. So if a team is having a crappy season, it still has meaningful games at the end of the year to try to avoid getting relegated to a lower league the next year. Brilliant.

2 - Teams are each stand alone, meaning the same AA team would be a stand alone team, not an affiliate of a parent club. Player development occurs through loans, where players on top tier teams whom aren't getting a lot of playing time are loaned to lower tier teams. The top club still holds the rights to the player's contract after the loan ends and can bring them back "home".

3 - At the top end of the standings the top teams in the top leagues fight for "European places" in the following season. In the top 4 European leagues (Spain, England, Germany, Italy) that means the top 4 finishers in those leagues qualify for next year's top Intra-European competition. That League features the top teams from all of Europe's 54 sanctioned leagues in a season long tournament to decide the best team in Europe. This means that even if a domestic league champion has been crowned before the season ends, then there are still teams vying to finish in the top 4, which means more meaningful contests. Brilliant again. There is a "B level" Intra-European competition if you're not quite at the top of the standings.  Until recently nobody really cared too much about that from the top leagues, but now the champion of the "B level" league gets a spot in the following year's "A level" competition teams take it more seriously.

4 - Player Transfers. Depending on how you look at it it's either way more complicated or way simpler than player trading system in the U.S. major sports. Bottom line is teams actually pay each other to buy and sell players back and forth. It is rare that players are swapped between teams like the traditional US sports player trade. The Transfer window opens each year in August (pre-season) and January (mid-season). Other than those two months there is generally no player movement between teams. Also there is no draft. Teams simply race to sign young talent worldwide before someone else snatches them up.

5 - Game time. Almost all matches are 2 hours. End of story. With the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) matches can take slightly longer now, but still, it's not a 3 or 4 hour event. This is a good thing IMO.

6 - English setup. There are typically 4 competitions the top teams are entered in each season and they overlap on the calendar. It is not uncommon for a team to play in 3 different competitions in 3 consecutive matches. It is nearly impossible to win all of the "cups" as they are called - winning these four below would be dubbed "A Quadruple", an exceedingly rare feat. They would end up playing 63-67 matches from August-May and the wear and tear on players is significant at that number. Teams generally draw up their goals ahead of the season and plan their priorities accordingly.
A - Domestic League. Runs August to May, 38 matches - a home and away match against the other 19 teams.  There are no playoffs at the end of the season like there are in US Sports.  At the end of 38 matches the team with the most points is Champion.  3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. The Domestic League title is probably the 2nd most prestigious competition for English teams and maybe worldwide. Spurs have been way below their recent standards this season and as of 1/29/20 they sit 6th in the table (standings), but somehow are only 6 points behind the all important 4th place.
B - Domestic Cup - ALL teams. Top teams enter in January and if you survive to the final it runs to May, up to 8 matches with replays - a replay occurs when teams draw a match up through the 4th round. This is a knockout style (lose and you're out for the season) competition and opponents are determined by a draw before each round. It starts in July with essentially local pub teams and as the tournament progresses the higher ranked teams/leagues enter into the fray. There were 735 teams involved this season. It's neat in that teams from different tiers can play against each other and major upsets seem to happen in every round. It's probably 3rd most prestigious title. This season Spurs have had to go to replays in both the 3rd round and 4th round and the 4th round replay 2/5.  The winner will play in Round 5 (Round of 16) on or about 3/4.
C - Domestic Cup - top 4 leagues only. Top teams enter in September and runs to February, up to 6 matches. This is another knockout style competition but only the top 4 leagues play in (92 teams). Opponents are also determined by a draw before each round. It is the least prestigious by far but teams seem to start taking it seriously around the quarterfinal stage. Spurs were upset by a fourth tier team in a penalty shooutout and knocked out in the round of 32 this year.
D - European competitions - "A level" & "B level". Top teams enter in September and runs into May/June, up to 13 matches (15 for "B level"). If a team finishes high enough in the league or wins one of the above cups in the prior season, they are entered into the one of the two competitions the following season. Spurs for example finished 4th in their domestic league in 2018-19 season and therefore were entered into the A level competition at the Group Stage for the 2019-20 season. There are 32 teams at the Group Stage and opponents are determined by seeding and draw and placed into groups of 4 teams. They then play each other home and away (6 matches) and at the end of the group stage the top 2 teams advance to the round of 16. From there it is home/away aggregate score over 2 matches to determine whom advances until the final which is a one off match on a neutral site. The A level European title is the most prestigious title a team can win. The B level title is probably about even to winning the All teams Domestic Cup.  Spurs have advanced to the round of 16 in the A level and face the German league leaders 2/19 and 3/10.

Most other countries have a very similar setup to their leagues.

Mixed into the calendar while all these leagues & cups are running are the International tournaments, and that's a whole other ball of wax.

I've only scratched the surface and I could go on and on. If you don't believe me look up "soccer Coefficients". That takes like a solid 2 seasons to mostly understand on its own. I should probably write a "European Soccer for Dummies" book, but A) somebody has probably already done that and B) I've got enough on my plate.

Here's the coolest part though...out of all this somehow I found quite a few fellow Spurs fans here in Harrisburg. We formed the official Harrisburg Spurs Supporters Club in 2018 and have an official watch location at the Midtown Tavern1 in Harrisburg. They will even open early for us for 10am matches. In Dec 2018, 5 of us took a group trip over to see Spurs new stadium, but sadly the stadium was hit by delays not complete yet, so instead we caught the match at their temporary home - the English national stadium. Spurs won 1-0 with a late goal winning the match. Our club president was even spotted on the U.S. TV broadcast in the background of one sequence!
Believe it or not Harrisburg Spurs had over 100 folks in the Midtown Tavern in June 2019 for the Champions League Final (think the big American football game, but even bigger worldwide) when Spurs took on Liverpool. Sadly, Spurs lost 2-0, but it was one hell of an exciting ride to get there with late late drama in the Quarterfinals against and the Semi-Finals. In the latter, Spurs scored 3 goals in the final 35 minutes to squeak out victory, the last coming with about a minute to play and came from the soccer equivalent of a "Hail Mary" pass.


I may or may not have ran around the office in Selinsgrove screaming when that last goal went in :)

That scoreline is a bit confusing but the bottom line is before that goal went in, Spurs would have been eliminated, and after it went in their oppenents were out instead.

If you ever want your ear talked off, ask me how Spurs are doing! Thanks for reading this far and come check out a match at the Midtown Tavern with us some Saturday or Sunday morning!

1 - LPL Financial and Jones Financial Group are not affiliated with Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) or the Midtown Tavern