With major new television deals in both the United States and the U.K., there's a strong push to lure new viewers into the fold of Premier League fandom this season. As a result, a variety of methods are being employed to surround and gently push the uninitiated into supporting a club. Some of these approaches are very clever and too many others involve the tired and largely useless method of drawing superficial equivalencies to teams that play other sports, fictional characters or random objects found in books designed for infants.
Though these guides might make for an intriguing read the way a politician trying to eat a corn dog might make for an intriguing thing to watch, they're not really that helpful in developing a passion for the game or a particular club, whether it be in the Premier League or any other. So this is the DT guide to actually accomplishing that goal. It won't spoon-feed you information or dump a ton of names and facts on you to try and memorize right at the start. It will help you go out and find all of that for yourself and at your own pace and hopefully it will be all the more meaningful when you do it that way.
A lot of the steps below will probably sound like common sense, but I'd rather state the obvious things that are actually worthwhile than suggest you devote yourself to Hull City because your grandfather has a boat and you're a fan of the Detroit Tigers.
Now let's begin...
Talk to your friends and family — The people you have emotional bonds with are usually a good place to start when you're looking to form emotional bonds with something new. They will be better advisers than any cutesy Internet guides (unless they are idiots, which as anyone with friends and family knows, is a strong possibility). Developing an interest in a club that the people you know already support can be very rewarding, but developing an interest in the rival club of the one your friends and family support can be so, so much better. Especially if you really despise them and everything they stand for.
Track down any players you might already know — Have you previously watched the World Cup or European Championship or seen mention of a madman who bit an opponent during a match? If there are any players who have stuck in your memory (for better or worse) like a random cat fact, look them up, see what clubs they play for and what they're about. This is as good of a starting point as any and will provide all you need to begin an endless odyssey of branching out to new discoveries. Just be warned that when you reach Ali Dia, it will be time to take a break for a little while.
Watch as many matches as possible (and in public places) — Even if you already have an idea of a handful of teams or players you're interested in learning more about, don't just focus in on them. Watch as many different clubs in as many different leagues as you can to best decide what atmospheres, cultures and styles of play you like and don't like. This will also help you criticize, insult and belittle a wider range of your fellow fans, which will prove useful when you inevitably start arguing with strangers on the Internet for reasons you can't entirely explain. And if you're not averse to human contact, do your match watching in a public venue. You'll make some new friends/enemies whose mere existence will allow you to truthfully say that you're not drinking alone.
YouTube — Once you start watching matches and taking notice of certain players, you now have a new reason to surrender large chunks of your life to YouTube rabbit holes. It will become your personal research archive of wonderful highlights, bloopers and compilation videos set to brain-thumping dance music. And not just for the world's most popular players or teams, either. You're going to find nine-minute montages of Bulgarian fifth division goals that will blow. Your. Mind.
Wikipedia — There are a number of sites that offer stats and profiles for individual footballers, but Wikipedia is probably the best and most comprehensive unified resource for information on players and leagues around the world. What makes it especially nice for beginners is that it also has pages explaining the background and basic information on all the competitions, terms, rules and everything else that the possibility of being ridiculed might keep you from asking about. And you'll always know when a player or club really angered a group of fans from the non-sequitur, all caps edits that mention the union between someone's mouth and someone else's genitals that appear like shooting stars in the sky on various pages.
Twitter — Follow the players, owners (yes, some of them are on there) and the journalists on the site which has become the starting point for an increasing number of controversies, feuds and hate crimes that inevitably bleed into the games. It is perhaps the only direct link between the players and the masses, providing opportunities to endear and initiate self-ruin with ease. For everyone's sake, just stay away from the vast hellscape of awful parody accounts and retweet beggars. The sooner they are ignored, the better off we all will be.
Don't get hung up on trophies — (Also known as the Arsene Wenger Rule.) One of the criticisms of many top leagues is that the same few teams win the title every year. This encourage some new fans to only follow those few teams, but there's an important decision to be made here. Do you want to experience happiness and relief when the big club you support meets your minimum expectation of winning a trophy every year and frustration when they don't or do you want to experience unadulterated euphoria when the smaller club you support surpasses expectations by winning a trophy once in a (sometimes long) while hopefully going through the interesting process of growth and development?
The only element to consider is the fact that, unlike many other sports, there isn't just one streamlined make or break path to a singular success each year. Multiple competitions interwoven into every season means a big club can have a terribly disappointing sixth-place finish in the Premier League while winning the Champions League and FA Cup at the same time (as Chelsea did in the 2011/12 season) or a smaller club can get relegated from the top division four days after winning the oldest football competition in the world, the FA Cup, for the first time in their history (as Wigan did last season). Deciphering your emotions every year will become a confusing secondary sport unto itself.
Play FIFA and/or Football Manager — Perhaps the greatest tools for converting and educating new fans on the market today, FIFA and Footballer Manager are both immersive and dangerously addictive. If playing matches in a traditional video game simulation style (with the occasional freaky or erotic glitch) is your preference, FIFA is the way to go. But if you want to go full nerdgasm and delve into all the numbers, tactics and scouting involved in running a team over decades of simulated play, Football Manager is the game that will consume your life. And no, I'm not joking.
FIFA 14 comes out at the end of September and Football Manager 14 is released at the start of November.
Play fantasy football — Having your own team provides an instant investment in what you're watching and the budget will force you to learn about lesser known players you might not otherwise investigate. Also, Yahoo! just so happens to have a pretty new Premier League fantasy game. This is the universe telling you that it's meant to be.
Go to matches — Summer tours are a good way to see top clubs in unusual places, but go watch your local team. If you happen to have a trip abroad planned, make a point to go see a match wherever that may be. Everything else listed above is secondary and complimentary to this incomparable experience. Do it. And do it as often as you can.
And that's it. By taking these simple steps, you will be well on your way to developing a new passion in life that interjects wonderful bursts of joy into stretches of bitterness and loathing. It really is magical.