ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. And in England, that means Football, which actually means soccer. Premier League Football is how one would say Big League Soccer over there and over here, too, thanks to NBC Sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBCSPORTS)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Premier League on NBC. Premier League on NBC.
SIEGEL: Premier League on NBC. As this promo attests, NBC's sports channel has made a bet on the English Premier League. Today's 10 matches are all available to paying cable subscribers. And joining us to talk about why so much Premier League Soccer is actually worth watching is Matt Weiland, co-editor of "The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup" and also the self-appointed captain of the US Writers World Cup Soccer team, which has yet to play a game. Welcome back to the program.
MATT WEILAND: Hey. Thanks a lot.
SIEGEL: Boxing Day is the day, as I recall, when the people who collect the trash knock on the door in search of a Christmas tip. How big is soccer, actually, in the U.K. these days?
WEILAND: Well, it's huge. And soccer on Boxing Day is as deeply English as caroling or Christmas pudding itself. You know, when Dickens was visiting the United States in 1867 to give a reading tour, they were playing soccer on Boxing Day even then.
SIEGEL: Well - so for the uninitiated, how big is English Premier League Soccer in the world of soccer, and where are we in the season?
WEILAND: Well, sure. We're about midway through the season. It runs through May. And it's a thrilling season, this season in particular, because Manchester United, the traditional powerhouse of English club soccer and the defending champion, has fallen on harder times, is not playing as well as they have in the past. And, of course, soccer on Boxing Day in England is a bit like football on Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It's huge.
It's what everyone gathers around to watch on television and to go to see. It's bigger, in fact, because all of the teams play. And there's always been a traditional effort to organize local rivals playing each other so that the fans wouldn't have to travel as far.
SIEGEL: And how good is Premier League Soccer? I mean, is it significantly better than German soccer, Spanish soccer, Italian soccer?
WEILAND: Well, I think most people around the world would agree that the Premier League is the finest league in the world. Certainly the best players in the world are going to play in it. And far as passionate fans and atmosphere, I mean, this is like watching, you know, Duke-North Carolina in college basketball. These are extraordinarily passionate fans with rivalries that go back not just decades but more than a century and something that people look forward to all year round.
SIEGEL: I want you to give us a vocabulary lesson for watching English Premier League soccer - football. First of all, you know that chanting group of Brits that NBC used for its promo, they said Premier League. They didn't say Barclays Premier League on NBC. Do self-respecting football fans say Barclays Premier Soccer League?
WEILAND: No. I think the Premier League will do. Just like the logos on the team uniforms, the sponsors change from year to year. It's been Barclays Bank for a few years now but the Premier League will do for most proper fans.
SIEGEL: There were 10 fixtures today. Translate.
WEILAND: Games or match-ups.
SIEGEL: Manchester City versus whoever, that's a fixture.
WEILAND: That's right.
SIEGEL: Sometimes there's a relegation battle. Do you need a lawyer for a relegation battle?
WEILAND: No. But this is one of the things I think a lot of fans love about soccer around the world, that the 20 teams in the top league are not fixed from one season to the next. The bottom three in the English Premier League can fall out, be relegated down to the league below, while the teams that finish in the top three places in the league below them can be promoted to the top league.
SIEGEL: And if I ask where does this side stand in the table, I'm asking not about furniture but...
WEILAND: Which team. Your side is your team.
SIEGEL: And the table would be the...
WEILAND: The league standings.
SIEGEL: The standings. That's Matt Weiland, co-editor of "The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup." Thank you, Matt.
WEILAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.