Soccer and The SEC: SEC Football Teams and Companion Soccer Clubs, Part I: The SEC West

SEC Football returns tonight. No better time to continue our soccer and football companion club series.

SEC Football returns tonight. No better time to continue our soccer and football companion club series.

Jon Levy

Earlier this year, right around Super Bowl time, we here at The Yanks Are Coming indulged a little bit. We took a couple posts off from making Pulp Fiction references about the US Men’s National Team, and instead made Pulp Fiction references about the National Football League and each team’s “companion soccer club/national team.” Not only were these posts fun to write, but y’all seemed to enjoy them too. And I drop that “y’all” purposefully, because college football is about to kickoff, and we’re about to take a glorious trip down south.

Last time we did something like this we selected a soccer equivalent for the best two conferences in football; now we’re focusing on the third. AFC. NFC. SEC.

Yes, The Yanks Are Coming was found by Southeastern Conference alums, and we’ve since added even more SEC-affiliated writers. But while we’re aware of our bias towards college football’s dominant conference, we feel a lot more justified writing about the bourbon-and-beer-soaked SEC than we would writing about a conference that hasn’t won the last seven National Championships.

Dig the concept, and want to check out our NFL/soccer posts? We got you covered:

NFC       

AFC    

Now get yourself a beverage and enjoy the SEC West, plus…Missouri:

Juve fans celebrate their 29th championship by claiming it is # 31. Sound familiar? Photo Courtesy Associated Press.

Juve fans celebrate their 29th championship by claiming it is # 31. Sound familiar? Photo Courtesy Associated Press.

Alabama – Juventus: No soccer club or college football team can legitimately claim to be more legendary or historically significant than these two. For those of you not familiar with Juventus, the club nickname is “The Old Lady.” As such, they’ve been around forever and won everything there is to win in European football multiple times. Similarly, Alabama is as tradition-laden as college football gets, and the Crimson Tide claim to have won every National Championship since the sport was invented. To be fair, they have legitimately won a ton of titles, and this season they’re going for three in a row. But these teams haven’t been without their scandals. Juventus was relegated out of Serie A for the first time in club history back in 2006 for match fixing. Alabama’s got Juve beat on this front, having been subject to NCAA sanctions multiple times for various infractions. In fact, no program in the SEC has spent more time 0n probation in the last two decades than the Crimson Tide.

 In their present-day incarnations, both of these teams have crafted new winning identities centered around their former foes. Nick Saban coached LSU to a National Championship, but after taking the NFL for a test drive, he was lured back to the SEC by Bama. All he’s done since is win three titles. Up in Turin, midfielder Andrea Pirlo is one of the greatest players of this generation, but Italian powerhouse AC Milan dumped him after ten trophy-filled years because he was getting a little too far into his thirties. Since signing as a free agent (players of Pirlo’s caliber are NEVER free agents in soccer) for Juventus, Andrea’s become The Old Lady’s field general and won the Scudetto (Italian League Title) both seasons he’s been there. By the way, Juve supporters even share Tide supporters hatred of actual math– like Alabama, they claim more championships than they’ve actually won. (SEE PHOTO- real # is 29.)

Auburn – Everton: Sorry Bama fans that thought I might make an Auburn/Torino analogy to jump off the Bama/Juve link, War Eagle gets more respect than that. Both Auburn and Everton are charter members of their leagues, and to some extent both teams are always held up in comparison to their more popular and more successful rivals. But despite the fact that they’re in the shadows of Alabama and Liverpool, both Auburn and Everton have their own rich traditions independent of the big kids next door. While you may not be a fan of either team, it’s hard to deny that it’s plain good for the sport when these teams are challenging for trophies. Thankfully, that is the case more often than not. Not so thankfully for visiting opponents, Auburn and Everton habitually turn their historic stadiums into fortresses. You’re not leaving Goodison Park or Jordan-Hare Stadium without an almighty fight, and you’re more likely to pick up a few injuries than you are a “W.”

Manziel has delivered happy times to College Station. But for how long?

Manziel has delivered happy times to College Station. But for how long?

Texas A&M – Atlético Madrid: These teams are like Auburn and Everton in that they’re historically successful clubs who are commonly outshined by their rivals. But it’s just a little bit more insulting for A&M and Atlético. Their aforementioned rivals usually consider other teams to be their main competition. Real Madrid couldn’t give a crap about Atletico, they’re focused on Barca. Even when Atlético Madrid beats Real in the Copa del Rey Final like they did a few months ago, the bigger club always has its eyes on bigger prizes ahead.

Meanwhile, the Aggies hated rival, the Texas Longhorns just want to beat Oklahoma– they’ve got no regard for Texas A&M these days. UT owns the Lone Star state even when A&M is the better team, and that’s probably a big part of the reason A&M jumped to the SEC in the first place. But take heart Aggies and Atlético, worldwide respect and renown now cometh in the form of star power. Johnny Manziel and Radamel Falcao make the Aggies and Atletico the place to be. But for how long? Seemingly, just as Falcao was starting to get mentioned in the same categories as Messi and Ronaldo, he’s sold to Monaco. And how bout Johnny Manziel; no sooner does he become the first freshman to win the Heisman than he’s jeopardizing his athletic eligibility and calling into question whether we’ll ever see him play college ball again. (It appears we will, after one half.)

Ole Miss – AS Monaco: The University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss as it’s known to everyone everywhere, fields a football team that alternates pretty evenly between being absolutely piss poor, and being good in a nationally relevant way. The same could be said for Monaco and their yearly performances in France. In fact the past year at AS Monaco is a useful microcosm. The team was bad enough to get relegated to the French second division, but they rocketed back into the top tier and purchased Falcao from Atlético Madrid; now they’re automatically relevant again. Big-time talents like Patrick Willis, Michael Oher, and Archie and Eli Manning have briefly done the same thing for Ole Miss, but this comparison doesn’t really fly until we step back from the games themselves and look at what makes these teams special.

Monaco, a tough place to live and play football for a living.

Monaco, a tough place to live and play football for a living.

AS Monaco plays in paradise… y’know, Monaco. It’s not “Miami Beach paradise” with the 110% humidity and constant mosquitoes either. It’s real actual paradise. Just look at the picture. And while Oxford, Mississippi may not be heaven on earth, The Grove is college football’s tailgating paradise. To quote The Sporting News, The Grove is “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites,” and we only used that quote because it was the most colorful. I‘m honestly not sure which websites have the most credibility when it comes to tailgating rankings, but they all rank The Grove at Ole Miss number one anyway. Dammit, now I’m ready to sit in the shade under a tree and get a nice day-drunk on while I chow down on something fried and enjoy the view of sundresses on a seventy degree Saturday afternoon.

Ole Miss gameday in the grove. Tough way to spend an autumn Saturday.

Ole Miss gameday in the grove. Tough way to spend an autumn Saturday.

Mississippi State – Millwall: Miss State fans, you may not have heard of Millwall or the famous chant emanating every week from their supporters, but you’ve been living the credo for as long as you’ve been supporting the Bulldogs. “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Millwall are about the tenth most popular soccer club in London on a good day for the Lions. They generally dwell in and around the second and third division of English football. They play against other teams you may not have heard of, and their relatively small group of passionate supporters keeps showing up at The New Den, which is of course located in a dingy, industrial area of southeast London. “No one likes us, we don’t care.”

Ole Miss has the grove and the romantic history. Miss State doesn't care. Sounds like West Ham and Milwall.

Ole Miss has the grove and the romantic history. Miss State doesn’t care. Sounds like West Ham and Milwall.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs play at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi, which I believe is the capital of Middle-Of-Freakin’-Nowhere County. Starkville’s got none of the charm of Oxford, and appropriately, where there’s a heady romance for the history of Ole Miss football, no neutrals hold Miss State in nearly the same esteem. The same can be said about the West Ham and Millwall rivalry. While all of England remembers West Ham as “the club that won the World Cup” in 1966, albeit often facetiously, Millwall is just regarded as that other, crappier, East London club. “No one likes us, we don’t care.” But for as much as all of this really does apply to Mississippi State, whether their alums are just realizing now or not, the fans keep filling the stadium. We may not like the team, but they certainly don’t care.

Arkansas – Mexico National Team: Ask any neutral fan about these teams and you’ll hear the same praise over and over. They have sterling reputations for competing at a high level in the SEC and at World Cups respectively. They’re really tough to play against, and they’ve regularly produced quality players that excel at the next level. That means the NFL and European clubs. So why do fans of these teams constantly seem pissed off at team management? The hard truth: they haven’t accepted their level. And that’s understandable; no one wants to stay in middle management for their whole life. But there’s an argument to be made that this sense of unrest is precisely the factor keeping Arkansas and Mexico from reaching the top tier. Recently both Arkansas and Mexico have been following the same pattern. Hire a coach. Let him implement his system. Wait for him to have one bad season or a few crappy games in World Cup Qualifying. Fire coach. Repeat. The really sad part for these teams is that most often the coach has a good run before being fired prematurely for what could be just a relatively brief downturn in form. The pipeline is constantly full of good athletes with immense skill, so there really is no telling how high a good coach could soar with one of these squads, if only the brass would show a little patience. It seems like Mexico is finally doing that with Chepo de la Torre, but it remains to be seen how Arkansas will react if Bret Bielema turns in a four-loss season two years from now.

Cardiff have been all smiles in their new environment. It remains to be seen what Mizzou will do.

Cardiff have been all smiles in their new environment. It remains to be seen what Mizzou will do.

Missouri – Cardiff City– Yes, we know they are in the Eastern Division. : Mizzou and Cardiff City are ambitious teams in a desperate search for new identities. The Missouri Tigers football team was a doormat in the Big 12 for a long time. Then they hired the right folks in the athletic department, started making better decisions with their coaching hires, and became one of the teams to watch in the conference. But they couldn’t sustain any level of dominance, and were desperately searching for a way to take the program to the next level. Cardiff, meanwhile, has been one of the big dogs in the English League Championship for a long time. They were constantly making the promotion playoffs and even challenging for the FA Cups and League Cups, but they could never win the big one to get them over the hump. Now both of these teams have what they want, they’re in the ring with the big boys. Mizzou jumped to the SEC last season and struggled to gain respect in a league where wins are tough to come by. They should know they can play with national title contenders at this point, but this season will they start winning consistently in conference? Cardiff reacted a little more violently to their promotion to the Barclays Premier League. It’s the Welsh club’s first time in the first division, so the chairman decided a complete rebrand was in order, changing the team’s colors and crest. Proving none of that crap matters, Craig Bellamy and his droogs went out and beat monstrous Manchester City in Cardiff’s first home Premier League match. It remains to be seen how their new identities will shake out, but count me as a believer that these teams can survive in their scary new worlds.

Les Miles is the Domenech of college football. Fitting, as LSU is the France.

Les Miles is the Domenech of college football. Fitting, as LSU is the France.

LSU – France National Team: Geaux Tigers! See what they do there? It’s all Cajun and French and stuff. Very impressive, I know. I’m serious though; LSU fans will add a silent “x” to pretty much any word. They love that crap. Okay, I’ll write the meatier portion of the comparison now.

High on skill, athleticism, and ego, and just low enough on discipline to fall short of their championship aspirations. That’s generally the story with both France and Louisiana State University football. See Nicolas Anelka and Ryan Perrilloux. But that level of hubris isn’t always the case, and these aren’t cursed teams by any means. While we’ve never seen an LSU dynasty, and it’s been a while since France dominated the world, both programs have been to the mountaintop. And when they get there, there’s always more than enough swagger to go around. “We were supposed to win this, you did not know?” But the most entertaining thing about France and the Bayou Bengals in their most recent runs at championships has been the coach. Les Miles coaches LSU and he’s absolutely nuts. “The Mad Hatter” eats the grass on the field. I like football, but I’m good on grass, thanks. Then there’s Ray Domenech, the guy that coached France from 2004 through the 2010 World Cup. Somehow in between evaluating players based on their astrological signs, alienating his best and most trusted veterans, and acting like a complete buffoon, Domenech managed to get his team to penalty kicks in the 2006 World Cup Final. I guess there’s something to be said for on-field talent ruling the day.

That’s it for the SEC West! Come back next week for the SEC East and a bunch of soccer teams.

Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. You can e-mail him at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and you should follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.

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  • http://www.yanksarecoming.com/ The Yanks Are Coming

    So every time I think of Milwall obviously I think of the Green Street Hooligans film. Milwall is a dangerous club to love, and it is obviously true that the rivalry with West Ham, despite the best efforts of everyone from Margaret Thatcher to John Major to Tony Blair to the head of Scotland yard has not made a great deal safer. This is another notch in the belt for Miss State and Milwall being club companions. Why you say?
    Well, let’s just say I’ve been to ten of the SEC venues at this point in my life (I’ve yet to go to Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri or College Station to see a game). Nowhere was I more genuinely afraid than Starkville. I’d rank it second most scary place I’ve ever been– first being when I was carjacked with a gun as an undergraduate.
    Florida lost the year I went to Starkville. We parked in a vacant lot that had chickens roaming around it. No one offered us food or drink before the game. Ole Miss was of course the opposite on the hospitality front. That was fine. After the Gators lost, however, things got our of sorts. On our way back to the car– various creatures of the Mississippi Delta approached us, performing such activities, from innocent to frightening, as follows: ringing cow bells in our ears, barking at us, spitting on us, bumping us “by accident”, telling us to get the f$#! out of town, threatening us with golf clubs, throwing whiskey bottles at us, circling our car as we decided to leave.) Now, it is true that we weren’t happy we lost– but we were hardly hostile. All we said was we’ll probably go to Atlanta (we did) and they won’t (they didn’t). But as they circled our car, I was never more happy to be with a redneck Gator fraternity brother of mine (now a doctor, ironically) who told me, quite calmly, to open his glovebox and retrieve his friend Smith and Wesson.
    He pulled out his gun, told the four drunk men hovering around the car barking that they needed to move, or he’d be forced to “take remedial measures.” They muttered something in broken, molasses English back about him being something homophobic and how they’d F$#! him up, and didn’t move until he showed them his friend. At which point, we hightailed out of Starkvegas, and are likely to never return again, to the man.
    It took us just under 2 hours to get to Tuscaloosa. We’ve never been more happy to see Alabama.

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