Soccer spotting: 14/20 English Premier League clubs represented at three Disney theme parks

A researcher should never become wedded to a specific outcome. You shouldn’t focus on data that supports your goal or bolsters your hypothesis. That sort of serious bias clouds your judgment, influences your research and torpedoes the validity of your study. Even if you secure funding, survive peer-review and then get published, some skeptic will eventually investigate your methods and uncover your improprieties. The publisher’s ensuing retraction will ruin your reputation. Good luck getting tenure now, bud.

I know all this. And yet, as I squeezed in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Magic Kingdom, my heart raced when I spotted a familiar mix of claret and blue trudging a few switchbacks ahead of me. I aimed to document every English Premier League club I saw represented by fans wearing merchandise over four days at Disney World. I wanted to see them all.

Thus, I was excited to potentially discover the Aston Villa blouse for which I had quested throughout the Kingdom. I had summited two of the three peaks of Disney (Mountains Thunder and Splash; mighty Space was broken), surveyed the park from atop the Swiss Family Robinson tree mansion, outmaneuvered vendors hocking Mickey hats and other wares at Aladdin’s Agrabah Bazaar Sunglass Hut and didn’t kill myself at Animal Kingdom. Suddenly, while wedged among pilgrims paying homage to Jack Sparrow, I had spotted a Villan!

Wait — Is that an Umbro logo?

Oh no. Where is the lion on the crest?

Shit! — I realized — That sponsor is Betway!

Alas, the guy was just another West Ham fan, the fifth one I had seen on my trip.

Why are certain uniforms so similar? I know we treasure century-old kit-swapping legends, but come on. Sunderland, Southampton and Stoke look EXACTLY the same. The similarities really complicated my project (see Table 1).

Screen shot 2015-11-09 at 10.25.35 PM

What started as a quirky way to pass the time in awful Animal Kingdom transformed into a personal mission. Thirty minutes after entering the park, I had encountered a man in a Southampton jersey, a young guy in a West Brom t-shirt and kid in a full Crystal Palace kit. After several hours without seeing a Manchester club, I realized I had a cool opportunity to chart EPL shirts and, perhaps, gain insight into American soccer fandom.

No Surprise: Although I didn’t see any the first day, Manchester United represented 24% of the total shirts I saw (13/54). I didn’t even count the rack of  jerseys in the gift shop at Epcot’s Chevy Test Track — three corporate behemoths united to teach kids about capitalism. Nor did I include the guy in a black Man U bucket hat and the kid in a white Man U t-shirt who shared my plane back to JFK.

Manchester United + Chevy + Disney = Capitalist Orgy
Manchester United + Chevy + Disney = Capitalist Orgy

I also learned that Orlando attracts a ton of Britons. I saw a lot of slim pasty limbs poking out of Arsenal and West Ham jerseys.

In the end, I missed out on that elusive Aston Villa as well as Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford, Sunderland and, surprisingly, Everton. But I did see 14 out of 20 EPL clubs represented in the Disney parks I visited. I also saw an Ipswich, a Barnsley and a Wigan (and I thought they had no fans).

Here are a few highlights:

On Day One, I tried to explain my nascent project to my fiancée’s brother. He was kind enough to humor me when I pointed out a striped Newcastle United fan. By Day Four, he actively participated by alerting me to shirts I might have missed. Good bonding time.

On Day Two, I spied a rare Leicester City supporter sitting down to eat on the other side of Tomorrowland’s Starlight Café near the Buzz Lightyear experience. Under the guise of getting napkins, I left my fiancée and headed his way. I stopped by his table, interrupted his family’s meal and asked to take his photo. Flying high on his club’s success (3rd place!), he obliged.

Nick, a proud Leicester City supporter, dines at Disney
Nick, a proud Leicester City supporter, dines at Disney

On Day Three, I spotted a Xherdan Shaqiri Stoke City jersey in Epcot. Bliss. I celebrated with more fervor than my fiancée’s five-year-old nephew did when he met Mickey. In my defense, I had just slurped a margarita at Mexico, downed a beer in Germany and topped it off with a special coffee at the Ireland kiosk.

“STOOOOOOOOOKE!!!!!!!” I texted my brother. This must be how bird watchers feel when they search for black swifts. I never understood the allure of patient gazing before this trip.

By Day Four, my mission had turned into a bizarre fixation. I was a meerkat perpetually scanning my surroundings for new jerseys in the distance. Every flash of blue in my periphery prompted a rush of adrenaline. Everton!? Is that Everton? Oh God, please be Everton

It was, inevitably, just another Kansas City Royals fan.


  1. According to your table, you didn’t see Norwich (in addition to Everton, Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, & Sunderland), so that should be 14/20.
    That aside, that’s definitely a fun game one could play with any number of possible targets. Definitely need to keep it in mind for future trips to similar locales with diverse attendance.

    • You’re right. Good catch. For some reason, I kept considering Wigan a Premiership club. Every time I’d think about this project, I’d think 15/20. See — I really did experience some researcher bias! Thanks for pointing that out.

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