FX Excursions

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England, Soccer

Oct 1, 2007
2007 / October 2007

Avid Beckham’s highprofile arrival in the United States has been touted as a new British invasion. Not since the Beatles has an Englishman caused such a stir. Yet, while there is no doubt that soccer is being transformed by a transatlantic invasion, in reality the main thrust is in the opposite direction.

The English Premier League (http://www.premierleague.com), which is avidly followed by a huge global television audience, is the most lucrative sports league outside the United States. From a low point during the 1980s, when the game in England was saddled with antiquated stadiums and vicious hooligans, the league has become the glamorous pinnacle of world soccer. The sport’s spiritual home, Wembley Stadium, reopened this year after a $1.5-billion reconstruction.

English soccer revenues already are staggering, and analysts see potential for dramatic growth in relatively untapped markets such as China, India, and, especially, the United States. It is this potential that has prompted several American tycoons to buy into some of England’s oldest soccer clubs.

Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, snapped up Aston Villa FC last year. Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought Liverpool FC in February 2007. Stan Kroenke, husband of Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton, is said to be preparing a takeover of Londonbased Arsenal FC. The Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, controls Manchester United, the world’s biggest soccer club.

The origins of soccer — or football — go back at least to the Middle Ages, when inhabitants of neighboring villages would battle to kick a ball through goals often placed several miles apart. The sport was refined over the years, until a professional league was formally established in England in 1888. Many of the inaugural clubs are still playing today.

Unlike American sports franchises, English teams rarely relocate to other cities. Local support is fanatical, and when neighboring rivals play each other, the atmosphere is intense. So much for English reserve.

The season runs from August until May. League fixtures are usually played on Saturdays or Sundays, while the top four teams from the previous season also play in the European Champions League (http://www.uefa.com) on weekday evenings. Match tickets usually cost upwards of $60. For the London clubs and Manchester United, sellouts are common.

If you can’t get to a game, the next best thing is to watch a match in a pub. If the local favorites are involved, the passion will be palpable. Although some of the finer points of the game can appear impossibly complicated for the uninitiated, the fundamentals are very easy to follow. It is soccer’s inherent simplicity that has earned its place as the world’s most popular sport.

When doing business in England, asking your contacts which football team they support can be a great icebreaker, and might even lead to an invitation to a match. For me, now that the season is underway again, life is lived to the rhythms of Sunderland (http://www.safc.com).

For the new American soccer tycoons, England’s national sport is a revelation. After one dramatic Liverpool match this year, George Gillett said, “This is so much bigger and so much more important to so many people than we could ever have imagined. Nothing can compare to it.”

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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