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By Way of Introduction: Jake Wilson

12 August 2010

How and when did you come to support your club?

After the 1994 World Cup here in the States introduced me to the international game, I got very into the game during the next World Cup in 1998. By the time 2002 rolled around, I was hooked, getting up early to watch the matches. Over the next four years, I kept hearing about how great club play was and how I was missing out by only following at the international level.

In 2003, Brian McBride’s loan spell at Everton prompted me to follow club results and read game recaps for the first time. In May 2005, I watched my first club match on television: the epic Liverpool v. AC Milan Champions League final in Istanbul. By the time the 2006 World Cup rolled around, I was familiar with a fair percentage of the players and knew what it meant when I heard Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko were joining Chelsea.

So in August of that year, I began the process of picking a club to follow. I had a few criteria:

1. The Big Four were out. I wasn’t going to jump on any bandwagons or be accused of gloryhunting.

2. I wanted a club that was a mainstay in the English top flight. I didn’t want to end up following a League 1 side in a few years’ time.

3. It was important that the club be from a city that I wouldn’t mind visiting every few years to take in matches in person.

This resulted in a short list of Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City, Newcastle, Tottenham, and West Ham. I researched the history and culture of the six clubs. Then I asked myself which of the clubs were the most similar to the Philadelphia Phillies at the time, as they tended to dominate my life as a sports fan. Manchester City began to stand out to me.

I liked the fact they were overshadowed by Manchester United, yet were the better supported side in their own city. I liked the fact they hadn’t won anything during my lifetime, yet between the excellent youth academy, the new ground, and the increased television revenues for the league, they struck me as a sleeping giant. Add in the fact that Manchester seemed like the kind of place I would enjoy visiting — especially being a massive Joy Division and Smiths fan — and I felt good about my decision.

The 2006-2007 season was my first as a City fan. I bought the shirt, began following the matches, and watched as a late-season slide brought on by a maddening scoring drought at home nearly resulted in a shock relegation. But I was hooked.

Typically, how do you watch your club’s matches?

We managed to find a small group of City fans in the Boston area at the start of last season, and we did meet up at The Phoenix Landing in Cambridge to watch a few matches. However, I watched the lion’s share of City’s matches last season at home. We have DirecTV and subscribed to Setanta before and FOX Soccer Plus now. With nearly every City match now shown live on one of those channels or ESPN2 and a television in our bedroom, it’s a little too easy to stay in bed and watch on a lazy weekend morning — especially if it’s a 7:45am ET kickoff.

This season, our Facebook group, MCFC Boston has grown to around 20 City fans and we’re going to make a concerted effort to get together to watch the matches. As a matter of fact, we’re scheduled to watch City’s season opener at Spurs on Saturday morning at The Phoenix.

What have been your best and worst moments as a supporter?

While it feels like there have been many more bad than good moments over the four seasons, there have been some moments of real joy. Doing the double on United under Sven-Göran Eriksson was euphoric, though it didn’t really impact the season at all.

Coming back from two down in stoppage time to earn a point at Ewood Park two seasons ago was memorable, I guess.

Most of the memories that make my blood boil involve losses to either Spurs or United. Dumping the match at home to Spurs this past May has to rank as the worst moment, by a longshot. Between City’s excellent home form and Spurs’ poor away form, that was a brutal time for a shocking result like that, and it effectively ruined City’s season — and, it could be argued, this season due to the lack of Champions League football. Honorable mention goes to losing both league matches and the Carling Cup semifinal to United at the death this past season. Ugh. Compared to those, that 8-1 embarrassment at the Riverside in Sven’s final match in charge seems like a walk in the park.

What is it about the game — and specifically the English game — that appeals to you?

I love the flow and artistry of the game and the passion of the fans. That’s one of the things that makes the English game so attractive to me: the fans live and die with their clubs. It’s almost as if the game makes me bipolar. If City win, the manic episode will last until the next match. A City loss and my depression makes me want to forget all about the sport — though that always proves impossible.

The things I really love about European Leagues are the separate concurrent competitions and promotion/relegation. The structure of the competitions in England appeals to my sense of fairness. Each club plays the same exact schedule, facing the other 19 sides home and away. After those 38 games, the side with the most points is the champion. Simple. Fair. Beautiful. And unlike American professional sports, where postseason playoffs essentially render the long regular season meaningless, in Europe the win-or-go-home thrill comes from the completely separate cup competitions.

As a big believer in meritocracy, I love that there’s a very powerful negative incentive for clubs not to languish at the bottom of the table. Promotion and relegation and qualification for next season’s European competitions mean there’s something at stake for the vast majority of clubs right up until the end of the season. Scenes of lackluster competition in front of bored crowds with nothing at stake don’t take place very often at the top level in England.

What would you say to a recent convert to the sport looking for a club to support?

I wouldn’t recommend City at this point. If you’d gotten in prior to the takeover by the Abu Dhabi royal family’s investment fund, sure. But now you’ll just be a gloryhunter and even your fellow City fans would resent you. Plus, right now it’s not very fun being a City fan. They’ve managed to fall short of consensus preseason expectations each of the past four seasons, and they’re the favorite villain of the UK media, who seem to be praying for The Project to fail.

Up until this week, I would’ve recommended Aston Villa, but Martin O’Neill’s departure makes them much less attractive to a new supporter. Everton need to be taken over, as even David Moyes’s genius in the transfer market can’t bridge the gap with the monied sides above them in the pecking order. The timing also is poor for choosing Spurs, as they’re coming off Champions League qualification. I need to see a bit more from the Birmingham City and West Ham owners before recommending either of them. For all of Glockner’s complaining about being stuck between stations with Fulham, the Cottagers are a decent option at this point, despite being relatively new to the top flight. Maybe give Newcastle a shot? (Although I think they’re pretty likely to drop right back down this season.)

How do you feel about your club’s longterm prospects?

Probably about as good as supporters of any club on the planet. Sheikh Mansour has the deepest pockets in the world and I love the investments he has made in the club infrastructure — from dramatic improvements to the training facilities, to youth signings, right down to what is easily the best club website on the Internet.

The new UEFA Financial Fair Play rules have given some City fans cause for concern, but all of the signings the past two seasons have been done with these regulations in mind, and as long as City qualify for the Champions League this season, it shouldn’t pose a problem.

What other clubs do you either support or want to see do well?

Like most fans of clubs outside the Big Four and Spurs, I really admire the way Arsenal play. Back when City weren’t contending for a Top Four finish, I would always root for the Gunners to win that four-club mini-league. I also have an immense amount of respect for how Arsène Wenger has kept his club right up there near the top of the league despite the youth movement he instituted a few seasons back.

FC Barcelona are my second-choice club. With City yet to qualify for the Champions League, Barça are an easy choice to support in that competition. They play the best and most attractive football on the planet with ridiculous footballing talents like Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez and you want to see that rewarded.

We have a season ticket package for the New England Revolution, but the drive down to Foxboro to watch them play in an oversized, 75-percent empty NFL stadium leaves me wanting. Plus the style of play in MLS is way, way too direct for my tastes. Still, if they were to build a soccer-specific stadium for the Revs here in Somerville, we’d probably get full season tickets.

I guess I have a club in pretty much every country that I want to see win their league: Wolfsburg in Germany, Marseille in France, Livorno in Italy, Porto in Hearts in Scotland, Ajax in the Netherlands, and Pumas in Mexico. But it’s City over whom I obsess.

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