September brings with it the start of football season: hard tackles, brilliant passes, and the symmetry of each team bringing 11 men onto the field while thousands of cheering fans watch anxiously. Each year brings new hope.
And while American football started last week, in this case we’re talking FOOTBALL: the drama of the English Premiership League. The Premiership is a 20-team league featuring the most highly-paid and talented players from across the globe. These players get into scuffles at bars, accuse their team owners of being slaveholders and one of the owners is an alleged Russian mob boss.
Some in these parts call it soccer, true. By whatever name, the sport is exploding in popularity Stateside after what experts agreed was the most exciting World Cup in years this summer.
Cable and satellite TV packages are bringing live EPL matches to Yanks, many of whom find the teams, their players and their traditions a refreshing alternative to stolid American corporate sports leagues.
Anyone seeking the title of most passionate Premiership fan will first have to dethrone David “Tufty” Clough, better known in Indianapolis as a punk-rock icon and the owner of Radio Radio, the beloved nightclub in Fountain Square.
“I’ll get home from the club at around 3:30 a.m. and then I’ll set my alarm for 7 to get up to watch the game. I’m fanatical about it. Maybe that’s what happens when you turn 50,” he says. “You want to watch young men running around and you wish you could do it again.”
Clough, who came to Indiana from Great Britain when he was 13 years-old, lost touch with the league in the ‘80s and the ‘90s. “Now, with the satellite dish, I can watch every game I want to watch.” He estimates he watches an average of two matches a day.
One of the main differences between the Premiership and American pro sports leagues, Clough says, is the closer proximity of the teams and the fierce regional rivalries. “In Liverpool, where I’m from, you have two teams, Everton and Liverpool, with the stadiums being three-quarters of a mile apart. It’d be like having a stadium in Broad Ripple and another in Glendale. Half of the fans are for the opposing teams.”
Prior to a 1989 incident in Sheffield in which nearly 100 fans were trampled to death, many Premiership stadiums didn’t even have chairs. “Before that, it was like being in a mosh pit, with singing going on and trying to watch a football game.”
Denied his childhood passion no more, Clough loves to share it with others. During the World Cup, he opened Radio Radio to screen the games on the club’s big-screen TV. Several matches drew 100 or more fans, but Clough often found himself, to his dismay, in the kitchen making food for customers when he would rather have been watching the games.
He has no current plans to show Premiership games at Radio Radio, due in part to a significant licensing fee he’d have to pay the satellite company. If there’s enough customer interest to justify that cost, he says he wouldn’t mind doing it again.
As for the new season, Clough agrees that the pundits are probably correct about Chelsea and Arsenal and Manchester United being the favorites, but he’s not counting out his Liverpool squad for potential to win the league championship.
“Growing up in Liverpool, the only things we had were the football teams and the Beatles,” he says. “The Liverpool stadium was the first place where fans started to sing. All singing at football stadiums started in Liverpool. On that old Pink Floyd record, (“Fearless,” from their 1971 album Meddle) you can hear the Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ the team song, at the beginning and end.”
Asked whether, given the choice, he’d rather have played the Cavern Club with the Beatles or scored a goal for Liverpool F.C., Clough laughs heartily, the laughter of a man given to such flights of whimsy.
But he doesn’t hesitate in his answer. “Scoring the goal. No question.”
(Locally, Bright House Cable offers the Fox Soccer Channel as part of its Digital Variety Package. Comcast carries FSC and Gol TV, a network showing mainly German and Mexican matches, as part of the premium sports package. Dish Network has four soccer channels available in its sports package. DirecTV also offers Setana, another soccer network, for $12 per month.)