Gambrills natives co-author travel book about the English Premier League

Some friends thought Brian Burden and Blair Morse were crazy to chuck it all in order to go traipsing around England for three months to fully experience professional soccer.

Those closest to the longtime friends from Gambrills fully supported the idea, knowing they had been talking about it for several years.

Burden and Morse enjoyed the adventure of a lifetime while completely immersing themselves in English soccer and the result is a very interesting and informative book.

The two Arundel High graduates are co-authors of The Sports Tourists’ Guide to the English Premier League, an extremely thorough and in-depth look at the world’s most popular pro soccer brand.

Morse and Burden traveled all over England to personally check out all 20 clubs in the English Premier League – watching matches at every stadium, discovering the favorite pubs of supporters and learning all about the various towns.

“I feel like we put out a product we can be proud of,” Burden said. “I think the book is a great reference tool for people that want to learn more about the Premier League.”

This 579-page tome is chock full of facts and information that tells readers everything they could possibly want to know about the English Premier League. The authors provide an overview of English football that details the overall structure and explains the unique system of promotion and relegation.

There is a chapter providing valuable tips for getting the most out of your English Premier League experience, such as becoming an official member of your favorite club and not wearing away colors in home seats.

However, the heart-and-soul of the book are the individual chapters devoted to the 20 different clubs. There are breakout sections within each that provide a brief history of the club and its stadium along with those that highlight the big rivalry match and review the 2016-2017 season.

Highlighting the chapter on each club is an essay, written by either Burden or Morse, that summarizes their overall experience of visiting the town, hanging out in the pubs, checking out the attractions and attending the match.

Under the heading of “Our Arsenal Experience,” the first sentence is a real grabber: “Zip up your jacket Wenger, you wanker!” What follows is a story about how die-hard supporters of Arsenal Football Club are divided about whether long-time manager Arsene Wenger should be fired. On the day the two Americans visited Emirates Stadium, fans in their section berated Wenger – one of the most successful coaches in EPL history – pretty much nonstop.

Morse’s essay about West Ham United is basically a history lesson that goes deep in explaining the Cockney people of East London. Residents of this working class, industrial part of London endured the nightly bombings of the German Luftwaffe during World War II.

“We had the general format settled going in. We wanted to include the same basic information about each club in order to create a thorough profile,” Morse said. “However, we were bound and determined to have a creative element as well. I think the essays are the best part of the book. I hope people find them very interesting and entertaining.”

All the chapters about the 20 EPL clubs also include a handful of tips for what to do when visiting that particular town or stadium. Two of the Sports Tourists’ Tips for Stoke City were to stay at North Stafford Hotel and eat a meat pie at The Birches Head.

“We built into our itinerary going to the local pub before or after a match, but as much as possible we walked the town and did some sightseeing so we could get a real feel for the flavor of the place,” Burden said.

Burden and Morse grew up four doors down from each other in a neighborhood located off Waugh Chapel Road in Gambrills. They are 1995 graduates of Arundel High and attended Salisbury University. Both journalists cut their teeth as freelance writers for The Capital with Burden still covering high school sports for the paper. Morse now works as an editor for a publishing company.

Burden played soccer at Arundel High and was initially a fan of the national level competition that culminates in the grand spectacle of the World Cup. He began regularly watching the English Premier League games on Saturday mornings about three years ago as a bonding experience with his son, who plays youth soccer.

“I’ve been thinking about this type of book for a period of about 10 years. It’s been marinating for a long time,” Burden said. “I looked all over the place and could not find a comprehensive book about the English Premier League that served as sort of a handy primer for fans, from an American perspective.”

Morse got into the English Premier League along with his brother Ryan, whose interest was sparked from taking a soccer class at UMBC that was taught by renowned coach Pete Caringi. They adopted Liverpool as a favorite club and began watching games at Slainte Sports Bar in south Baltimore.

“There used to be a handful of fans watching Liverpool on a Saturday morning at Slainte. Now you can’t get a seat in there,” said Morse, who ran cross country at Arundel. “It used to be a cool little cult thing to follow the Premier League. When I saw how much English soccer is blowing up in the states, I realized there really was a need for the kind of book Brian had been talking about.”

They envisioned the book as similar to a Fodors Travel Guide specific to the Premier League. Morse, who belongs to a Liverpool FC supporter’s club in Palm Beach, Florida, is constantly running into fledgling fans that have virtually zero depth of knowledge about the EPL.

“There are a lot of Americans that do not understand the English game or know anything about its history. Those are the people we are targeting with this book,” he said. “You don’t want to be the guy watching Premier League at the bar that doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This book gives you all the basic background you could possibly want.”

Burden and Morse traveled around England from late March through early June of 2017, catching the end of the 10-month English Premier League season. Their task of seeing all 20 clubs and stadiums required massive planning and the logistics were difficult at times in terms of arranging transportation, finding places to stay and obtaining tickets.

“We were confident that once we got boots on the ground we could really find the story,” Burden said. “Our goal was to spend time in these different towns of England and just soak in the atmosphere. When all was said and done, we filled in the initial hypothesis I had that English soccer was a religious experience.”

Burden got a surprise early on when he tried to carry a beer into the seating area of Vicarage Road, home of the football club Watford. That is a major violation at all English Premier League stadiums and will usually get you ejected immediately.

Morse particularly enjoyed his trip to research the Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. He spent considerable time on the fabulous Brighton Palace Pier and met numerous interesting characters, including one named Steve the DJ that provided invaluable help with the book.

Both writers were surprised to learn that much of the chanting and singing that goes on during an EPL match is generated by the visiting fans. If the home team is performing poorly, its supporters will sit on their hands.

“We wanted to allow the fan base’s opinions to color ours. At Arsenal, the vibe was pissed off. At Manchester City, it was a big party,” Morse said. “Every match and every stadium provided an amazing experience. You don’t get a feel for the true emotion and religious fervor of Premier League soccer until you see it in person.”

Burden agreed with that assessment and said the selection of song staples sets the various clubs apart.

“I think one of the coolest things about English soccer are the songs at each of the different stadiums,” he said. “Crystal Palace fans sing “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five at the beginning of every match and they pretty much sing for 90 minutes straight.”

Burden also marveled that most of the stadiums they visited were between 85 and 100 years old. Researching the history of the many renowned stadiums was a fun exercise in itself.

Burden and Morse, who created a Facebook page titled “EPL Road Trip” to chronicle their experiences along the way, were like proud papas when they met to open the first box of books delivered from the printer. The book can be purchased at thesportstourists.com.

“As soon as I saw the book and held it in my hand, the enormity of the effort we put into this really hit home,” Morse said. “This book is exactly what Brian and I envisioned from the start.”

If this introduction to the English Premier League is well received, the two writers are considering turning the idea into a franchise. They have established a company known as Silver Way Publishing, named after the street they grew up on. Who knows, the next edition could be A Sports Tourists’ Guide to the German Bundesliga.

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