Category: Writing (Page 1 of 5)

The Casual Soccer Fan’s Guide to Premier League Football Clubs

A view of Tottenham Hotspur Football Stadium from the south stand
Tottenham’s palace of football

When I was a young warthog, in the ancient days following the 2010 World Cup, I emerged from the tournament with a conviction to start watching soccer again. At the time, that meant the odd televised MLS match or Saturday mornings with the English Premier League. I was quickly entranced by the skill and pace of the Premier League. The lack of commercial breaks certainly helped. Since then I’ve continued following football, moved to England, and been to (nearly) every professional football ground in London. If you’ve just finished watching the 2022 World Cup and you’re looking for a league or a club to follow, let me introduce you to the Premier League.

First up: you know about relegation, right? The bottom three clubs from the Premier League get relegated to the next division down (charmingly called the Championship) while the best three clubs from the Championship are promoted to the Premier League (technically the best two clubs with the third coming up as the winner of a playoff between teams in third through sixth). While there’s certainly good football played in the Championship, it’s the money that’s the big difference. Premier League clubs make 10x the television revenue (or more) than clubs in the Championship, which can be life-changing for a smaller club that joins the top division, or devastating for a Premier League club that is relegated and suddenly loses most of its revenue.

The Clubs:

Arsenal

Fun facts: London-based Arsenal moved from Woolwich in the southeastern part of the city to north London in 1913, to the intense frustration of the existing clubs in the region. After a backroom deal saw Arsenal promoted to the new First Division (despite only finishing fifth in the old Second Division) at the expense of neighboring Tottenham Hotspur, a 100+ year rivalry was fully cemented. Arsenal saw a leap in popularity in the early 2000s with their French coach Arsene Wenger bringing an attacking style of football that caught the eye, proved immensely successful, and captured the imaginations of the kind of people who think a knock-off handbag with a continental designer’s name on it means you’re posh.

Cheer for Arsenal if: you think Benedict Arnold was a good lad and you like a bit of peace and quiet at your football matches

Aston Villa

Fun Facts: Villa is based in the midlands (the hollowed-out former industrial region of England that’s basically English Ohio) city of Birmingham (basically Cleveland). Argentina’s penalty shootout hero and all-around madman, Emi Martinez, is Villa’s keeper, so while the football may be stodgy, the penalties will be entertaining.

Cheer for Villa if: you’re from Birmingham. 

Bournemouth

Fun facts: The beach in Bournemouth has sand, which is not true of most beaches in this country. Bournemouth, as a football club, are almost certainly playing in a division too difficult for them, which means they’ll end up relegated, but only after beating your favorite club. That relegation will likely be confirmed with a few games to spare, which will be convenient because the players will be able to nip out early for the nearby beaches. (jk jk. They’ll be off to Marbella and Mallorca.)

Cheer for Bournemouth if: you follow the Championship and have a way to watch Bournemouth in it next season

Brentford

Fun facts: Despite being founded in 1889, Brentford Football Club are named after me. The club’s owner is a childhood Brentford supporter who bought the club after making a moderate-sized fortune in the gambling industry. He brought his data analysis background to the club and has helped them achieve promotion from League One to the Championship and from the Championship to the Premier League. The club have found their recent success by being cleverer than most of the clubs around them. Unfortunately, after gambling and analytics carried them to success, they are about to lose their star striker, Ivan Toney, for a year+ due to… gambling on football. (Bit of a double-standard, innit?) 

Cheer for Brentford if: you play Football Manager or FIFA Career mode and you want to support the real-life moneyball team of the Premier League and aren’t secretly worried about them being relegated after they lose Toney

Brighton

Fun facts: Remember how in the Brentford section I mentioned that their owner made his money in gambling? He got his start in the industry by working for Brighton’s owner, and their parting of ways left a certain amount of bad blood between them. The city of Brighton is on the south coast, but the pebble beaches are categorically inferior to those at Bournemouth. As a football club, Brighton are unobjectionable. Canny ownership, a good manager, good football. Basically Brentford, but harder for me to personally reach. 

Cheer for Brighton if: you want an underdog who plays good football and is probably safe from relegation

Chelsea

Fun facts: Chelsea aren’t even based in the village of Chelsea; they’re in Fulham but couldn’t use the name because Fulham FC got there first. Previously owned by a Russian oligarch, Chelsea blazed the trail for the sportswashing we just saw at the World Cup. Their owner used the wealth of the Russian people to buy some of the best players in the world and win multiple Premier League and Champions League titles. To make it worse, the club have America’s best player, Cristian Pulisic, on the books, but have been criminally underutilizing him and are likely to sell him in the summer. 

Cheer for Chelsea if: you like kicking puppies

Crystal Palace

Fun facts: Crystal Palace are based in the south London village of Crystal Palace, which is named after a structure originally erected in Hyde Park (further north) for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The cast iron and glass edifice was moved in 1854 where it stood until it burned to the ground in 1936. The football club’s mascot is an eagle, and for a while, a local wildlife foundation would bring a living bald eagle to matches and let it fly around the stadium pre-match. Sadly, that ended in 2020 when the eagle had a heart attack and passed. 2020 was a rough year, okay.

Cheer for Crystal Palace if: you’ve ever lived in Croydon

Everton

Fun facts: Carissa’s cousin married an Irishman, and he’s a massive Everton supporter. That poor man. Everton are a middling Premier League club who have long been overshadowed by Stanley Park neighbors Liverpool FC. I’d feel bad for them, but I’d probably get punched in the teeth for saying it.

Cheer for Everton if: you’re willing to suffer

Fulham

Fun facts: Fulham are in southwest London in the village of Fulham, which wouldn’t be notable, except Chelsea FC are just down the way and their owner backed the club with a billion pounds of blood money, and Fulham’s owner built a statue of–checks notes–Michael Jackson out front. On the plus side, Fulham have historically given us Yanks a place to ply our trade, and their current squad includes Missouri native and US National Team central defender Tim Ream plus surprisingly-good-for-a-Yank leftback Antonee Robinson. 

Cheer for Fulham if: you don’t mind bouncing between the Premier League and the Championship, you want to support good-but-not-amazing Yanks, and you fancy a trip to one of the nicest parts of London to watch your football 

Leeds

Fun facts: The English have a phrase: “doing a Leeds” to describe gross financial mismanagement, poor squad building, successive relegations, and the near-destruction of a once-proud football club. After a decade in the lower leagues, Leeds returned to the Championship and managed to hire another Argentinian madman–Marcelo Bielsa–who helped them back to the Premier League. These days they’re managed by American Jesse Marsch and sport a midfield including Americans Tyler Adams and Brendan Aaronson. I don’t have the multi-generational knowledge of English football that the locals do, but Leeds were historically one of the universally-hated clubs in the country, though that seems to have mellowed after their near-destruction.

Cheer for Leeds if: you want to support the largest concentration of Americans in the Premier League 

Leicester City

Fun facts: Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016 and it was such a surprise that not even a screenwriter could have written the script and had it be believable. Several of the players from that title-winning side promptly left the club, but ownership has done a good job of spending the money and solidified them as a top-half (but still mid-table) side. If you want a wild story that encapsulates modern England, read the Wagatha Christie saga sometime; one of the main characters is married to a Leicester City player.

Cheer for Leicester: if you want to be 7 years late in cheering for the underdog, but also don’t want the stress of annual relegation battles

Liverpool

Fun facts: Liverpool are a historic powerhouse of English football, but had a rough time out of the spotlight through the 90s and 2000s. They returned in the teens after their American owners (who also own the Red Sox) quietly embraced analytics and had the money to buy Very Good players, including Mohammed “Mo” Salah. A study in 2019 found that Mo’s presence in the Champions League-winning Liverpool side contributed to an 18.9% reduction in Islamophobia in the Liverpool area. Liverpool’s 2020 Premier League win was their first in nearly 30 years and cemented their place as one of the top English teams of the last decade. 

Cheer for Liverpool if: you want to jump on a massive bandwagon, but don’t want to support Manchester City

Manchester City

Fun facts: The club were massively overshadowed by Manchester United for most of their existence until Abu Dhabi decided that the Chelsea sportswashing experiment could be done bigger and better and conclusively proved that money can buy championships.  

Cheer for Manchester City if: you want to win at any cost and don’t mind blood on your hands

Manchester United

Fun facts: Manchester United were THE team of the 90s and early 00s until the (American) Glazer family purchased the club in a leveraged buy-out and drove it into the ground with poor management and a decade+ of wealth extraction. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny (as an outsider). Bloody Americans, amirite. (More like “bloody capitalism,” tbf.)

Cheer for Manchester United if: you care about The Brand more than actual success on the pitch. 

Newcastle

Fun facts: I was at the pub a couple of months ago with some local friends. One of the guys there was “Geordie Bryan.” (A Geordie is someone from Newcastle.) He was wearing a black and white Newcastle top. One of the other guys said, “Bryan, show the Yank your badge,” and Geordie Bryan lifted his top to show me the Newcastle badge tattooed on his left tit exactly where the badge was on his shirt. Geordie Bryan is the Ur-Geordie. Possibly the Ur-Englishman. In other news, the Saudis bought the club last year to see if they can pull off another sportswashing “miracle.”

Cheer for Newcastle if: you’re from Newcastle OR you want a healthy dollop of fossil-fuel-driven global warming with your inevitable on-the-pitch success

Nottingham Forest

Fun facts: Carissa and I saw them play an FA Cup match at Arsenal a couple of years ago. Their mascot, a cartoonish Sheriff of Nottingham, took the lead in a pre-match penalty shootout against Goonersaurus and still managed to lose. That’s how you know he’s English. Their owner is a Greek shipping magnate who totally wasn’t match-fixing or drug trafficking, I promise, guys.

Cheer for Nottingham Forest if: you totally didn’t threaten to murder that referee and the FA totally ignored it and let you buy a football club, anyway

Southampton

Fun facts: Southampton are another south coast city with a moderately successful football club. They’ve historically had a great academy (for youth player development) and been a club who have recruited well, turned decent players into good players, and sold them on to larger clubs for a profit. If I lived in Southampton, I’d be a satisfied season ticket holder. I do not, however, live anywhere near Southampton, so whatever.

Cheer for Southampton if: you want to see your favorite players get sold to one of the top 6 clubs for tens of millions of pounds

Tottenham Hotspur

Fun facts: After that 2010 World Cup, I spent a season watching the Premier League before choosing a club to follow more closely. At the time, I didn’t want to cheer for the English Yankees (Manchester United) or the Obviously Funded by Blood Money Club (Chelsea), but I did want to follow a team who played exciting football and would keep me entertained without feeling guilty about their off-pitch activities. It really came down to a choice between fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. At the time, Tottenham had Luca Modric and Gareth Bale, who were both young, massively talented players. They both quickly forced their way out of the club to join Real Madrid and win multiple La Liga and Champions League trophies. Spurs re-invested the money poorly and limped on until Harry Kane emerged from their academy and powered them to a title challenge where the club somehow came third in a two-horse race in the season when Leicester City won the league. The last twelve years have been objectively good years for the club as they’ve established themselves firmly in the top 6 places of the Premier League, have played in European cup competitions year after year, built a magnificent stadium, and generally punched well above their (financial) weight class. And still won nothing.

Cheer for Tottenham if: you don’t mind being the bridesmaid and never the bride, don’t want to support a sportswashing empire, but still want a puncher’s chance of winning something every season (and yet always fall short)

West Ham

Fun facts: the Hammers play in east London in the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 2012 Olympics. It is the worst football ground I’ve ever been to, mostly because of the huge track that runs around the pitch and separates the fans from the action. The West Ham supporters think that Tottenham are their rivals, and the Tottenham supporters mostly forget that West Ham exists.

Cheer for West Ham if: your dad and granddad would be bitterly disappointed if you didn’t

Wolves

Fun facts: In Football Manager the club have a philosophy–based on real life–that you should sign Portuguese players. I’m not sure the exact relationship between the owners and the player agents that drives this, but there’s something fishy going on here. You might expect someone to investigate, but that would assume that FIFA weren’t making money on the whole enterprise somehow. I don’t actually have anything against Wolves, but I don’t think the good times can last.

Cheer for Wolves if: you’re from Wolverhampton (or Portugal) and want to see roleplayers for the Portuguese national team ply their trade. 

Conclusion

If you don’t have any prior allegiances, watch the rest of this season and pick a club to follow who catches your eye (and hopefully aren’t built on an empire of human rights abuses). The above list will give you a tongue-in-cheek idea about each club, but there’s also a germ of truth in most of the descriptions.

Or, and bear with me here, you can follow Spurs and learn the true meaning of pathos, the essence of human frailty, where you have the talent, you have the opportunity, but you reach for success only to fail at the last moment, falling on your own sword over and over again.

Sounds a lot like my marathon experience, actually.

New Story Day! The Regolith Eaters

Another new story?!?

I know, right! That’s three in basically a month. There are times of famine, and there are times of feasting, and apparently, this is a time of feasting. Which is a metaphor entirely appropriate for this story.

The Regolith Eaters is online at Martian Magazine. This is a fun horrific little story that I tried in a few forms until I decided to try my hand at a drabble* (for about the third time ever) and it just fell into place.

Am I bothered by repeating the word “leg” near the end? Yes! Can I change it now? No! Am I still proud of this little story? Also yes!

Fun fact: I stole the title of the story from a card in the board game Terraforming Mars. The story itself is vaguely inspired by the game since it is, technically, about terraforming Mars.

*a drabble is a story that is exactly 100 words

New Story Day! Three Resurrections and the Warm, Embracing Earth

My story “Three Resurrections and the Warm, Embracing Earth” is out today in the wonderful British magazine Shoreline of Infinity. This one isn’t a gimmick. It’s a raw, painful story about separation and sacrifice, told from the point of view of a woman called to war by a necromancer and forced to fight battle after battle through death after death, all while haunted by a creeping realization that she’s left something important behind.

New Story Day!

Gratuitous Aela photo. (Cheering for the USA during the World Cup)

You all know that I love a good gimmick story, and I cooked up a wild one this time. My story “First Sergeant Xelos Nesteroy’s Christmas List, care of Admiral Almay, Seventh Fleet, Interstellar Navy” is live today at The Dread Machine. It’s a Christmas list from a prisoner of war, addressed to the admiral who let him be captured. It’s inspired by Starship Troopers and Children of Time, but it’s a Brent story, so it Goes Places. Also, it’s a Brent story, so it’s only about 3 pages.

Publication News: The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to 21st Century Attire

My short story “The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to 21st Century Attire” is out in the POST ROE Alternatives: Fighting Back anthology. Like much of my work, this is a story with a grim undertone. Also like much of my work, it has a good gimmick. In this case, it’s written as if it’s a guide to style with perfectly sensible advice for suits, shirts, shoes, and ties, but there’s a thread of story woven into it, and it turns into a look at what it’s like to live in a country where the police think they’re the military and that civilians are their enemies. Modern America, in other words.

Most of my friends will likely enjoy this story. Most of my family probably won’t.

Publication News: The Mission Continues

The inspirations

Apparently I’m terrible at noticing these things, but I had a new story published at the end of May. The Mission Continues is available now at Factor Four Magazine. I was trying to brainstorm a topic, and Fezzik and Aela were chomping on each other, as they do. It got me to thinking about writing a cleverly disguised pet story about pets that actually get along. Dozer and Digger are post-apocalyptic robots trying to complete a long-standing mission of replanting a devastated Earth. It’s the story of their friendship, but it’s also a story about autocracy.

Publication News: Retirement Options for (Too) Successful Space Entrepreneurs

I am delighted to have a new story out in the May/June 2022 issue of Analog Science Fiction. “Retirement Options for (Too) Successful Space Entrepreneurs” is the story of a space entrepreneur who has achieved his goals, but found that he hasn’t quite realized his dreams. It’s a story about food, regret, and doing a little good in the world.

You can read it via most major newsstands and bookstores, or through the Analog website. My personal suggestion is to go visit your nearest independent bookshop and buy all the copies on the shelf.

Selling this story to Analog was the realization of a long-time goal when I started writing. Analog is one of the big, historical markets for SF, and having them buy one of my stories is a validation that I am, in fact, getting better at this whole writing thing.

I just re-read the story. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. You should read it, too.

Awards Eligibility 2021

Hello, friends. I have three stories eligible for 2021 awards. All three are flash length (under 1000 words), which qualifies them in the “short story” category for science fiction and fantasy awards.

Lisbon Sea Dragon

Kintsugi for a Broken Heart” is probably my favorite story that I’ve written, in part because it’s so intensely personal. If you really want to read just one story to get a feel for my writing, I’d start with this one. It was published in February 2021 in Nature.

A Dying World, Overheated and Nearly Ruined” is another personal story, drawing on a lifetime of computer repair and customer service, but perhaps not the same degree as Kintsugi. I’m proud of it, and I’m especially proud to have sold a second story to Nature, this one in August 2021.

An Open Letter to Bezoath, Lord of Darkness and Shareholder Value” is a “write what you know” story about corporate life, and the tone of it is right there in the title. It’s a bit lighter, but with an underlying seriousness. This story also came with the best acceptance letter:”I’m afraid I have some bad news. We really enjoyed “An Open Letter to Bezoath…” and we would like to accept it for publication, which means you will no longer hold the title of TTL’s most-shortlisted-but-never-accepted author. (P.S. congratulations!).” Translunar Traveler’s Lounge may be a semi-pro publication, but they are publishing some great work, despite (or because of?) publishing a Brent Baldwin story.

I may yet have a fourth story out this year, but it looks as if it’s slipped to Q1 2022.

New Story Week! x2

We take a break from the regularly scheduled Football Manager posts to announce not one but two new short stories available this week.

The first is “A Dying World, Overheated and Nearly Ruined” at Nature. It’s a flash piece that’s about computer repair, global warming, and corporate bureaucracy. They say to write what you know, right?

The second is “An Open Letter to Bezoath, Lord of Darkness and Shareholder Value” at Translunar Travelers’ Lounge. This is another flash piece about bad bosses and corporate bureaucracy. Again: write what you know, right? (My current and past managers are wondering which of them this is about. I’ll tell anyone that wants to buy the first round.)

Dying World is my second published story at Nature, and it’s the first time I’ve had a market publish me twice. I’m delighted to have another story there. I’m also delighted to have published a story that I think is about something serious and affects us all. July 2021 was the hottest month on record since humans have kept records, and I still have to listen to assholes tell me that it’s totally natural, despite all evidence. Yeah… things are going great.

Lord Bezoath is my first sale to Translunar Travelers Lounge. It could be the last. The editors at the lounge want stories that are “fun.” I struggle with fun. My work tends to be on the serious side. Or the “vaguely creepy whoah this veered toward horrific” side. I want to broaden my repertoire, though, and that includes more things that are fun. You. Will. Enjoy. My. Stories, he says, turning purple in the face.

Both stories are quick. I hope you enjoy each of them for entirely different reasons. Please laugh in the right places.

Now, back to the Football Manager posts.

March Happenings

Spring has arrived in England, and the weather has turned beautiful again. It’s still cool, but the sun is out and the rain is more sporadic. It makes for wonderful jogging weather. With the country still mostly in lockdown, I’ve been getting out of the house by jogging around the borough. I’m in the middle of a half-marathon training plan and doing about 20 miles a week right now. Carissa and I are signed up for a 10k at Kew Gardens in mid-May, and I am confident in repeating my September 2020 victory in our head-to-head competition. She’s back to running, but not with the same consistency as I am. Maybe I should feel bad for taking such joy in beating her at her own sport, but that’s not how either of us are wired.

Grazing deer at Richmond Park

The deer at Richmond Park. There were about 30 more to the left.

In other news, I have received my first vaccination. The NHS sent me a text message on Saturday a few weeks ago. Initially, I thought it was a scam, but when I went to the NHS website and entered my information, it allowed me to schedule a jab for the following week. It still seems odd–and honestly kind of inexplicable–since I’m younger than the current age group getting the jab and I don’t have any current underlying conditions. Maybe childhood cancer has been useful for once? Maybe I am the beneficiary of a computer glitch? Either way, I wasn’t going to turn it down.

I received the first round of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab a few days after my invitation. My shoulder was a little sore by the end of the day, but I felt pretty well until I woke up in the early hours of the morning with a fever, headache, and full-body aches. Even my achilles tendons ached. After tossing and turning for an hour, I took a tylenol and dozed for a few more hours. One of the benefits of working from home is that I was able to roll out of bed at 8:50 and be online before 9:00. I felt a bit under the weather throughout the day, but it was like deal with a mild cold. I wanted to go out for a run, but Carissa wouldn’t let me.

Kebabs on the grill

Chicken, mushroom, onion, and bell pepper kebabs right after they went on the grill

The next morning, day 2 post-jab, I felt fine, other than a sore shoulder. That evening I went out for an easy four-mile jog and had no issues.

On day 3 I woke up and my shoulder was a little sore, but otherwise I felt completely fine. I did a 5k time trial midday. My time wasn’t great, to be honest, but that’s probably more about my own fitness and pacing than the vaccine.

By day 4 even the shoulder soreness was gone.

Pepperoni pizza, fresh from the oven

A pepperoni pizza with pepperonis from the local butcher

When I made the original appointment, I was able to schedule a second jab for June, but it was at a pharmacy a few miles away, which was annoying given that the first jab was at the Twickenham Stoop (Harlequins rugby stadium) that’s half a kilometer away. I gambled a little and canceled my follow-up appointment. It took two days, but I was able to book one at The Stoop for the week after the original follow-up.

Carissa is still waiting to be called for her first jab, but we expect that to happen in the next month or so. Given the 12 week delay in second jabs, we’re thinking we’ll postpone our planned trip to America this summer and try to do it at Christmas instead. Neither of us want to get on an airplane with a bunch of our fellow Americans until our systems are fully-loaded with covid antibodies. It will also be nice to spend the holidays with family; it’s one of the things I miss most about living so far away.

Uncooked Hawaiian pizza

Hawaiian pizza with Black Forest ham. Because Germany is closer than Canada.

The girls were doing remote schooling from January until early March, but they’re back to in-person classes. Well, they were. They’re currently on Easter break for two weeks. They were fairly happy to go back, but happier to have the break. I’m taking a week off, too, so I can relate, kind of.

The country has relaxed the lockdown a little. We can now meet up to six people outdoors and get takeaway beers from the pub. The kids both met up with friends today. The next big relaxation is April 12th, and the whole country is looking forward to being able to get haircuts and drink in the beer gardens again. Or maybe that’s just me.

A slice of homemade carrot cake

A slice of homemade carrot cake for our March birthday girl. The icing didn’t quite turn out, but the flavor was divine.

In the meantime, we will continue our usual routes. Planning groceries. Buying groceries. Cooking groceries. Planning groceries again. Insert some laundry in there, too.

The writing continues apace. I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since the autumn. (I’ve taken lots of breaks to write short stories and play video games.) The plan is to get the last few chapters into place over the next week while I’m off work, then do some cleanup before I send it to some writing peers at the beginning of June. I don’t know if this novel is good. I re-read the first chapter, and I genuinely enjoyed it, so I’ll take that as a good sign. I have more in mind after this one, whether this one sells or not.

On the short story front, I have 50 submissions so far this year with 43 rejections and 0 acceptances. Eighteen stories are currently out at various markets, including some reprints. It would be nice to sell another story or two this year, but much like the novel writing, I have more tales to tell, whether these sell or not.

The author at the Stoop after his covid jab

A quick selfie at the Twickenham Stoop after my covid jab, complete with my “I was vaccinated sticker.” Did you know the jab comes with FREE STICKERS?

Take care, folks. Stay safe. Get vaccinated.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that you get free donuts in America if you get vaccinated. I’m so jealous. Get vaccinated. Get those donuts!

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