JJ Watt Announces He’s Un-Retiring and Returning to Football (But It’s Not What You Think)
JJ Watt is coming back to football after just a few months of retirement! Before NFL fans get too excited, though, it’s not what you think. The recently retired future Hall of Famer and his wife, USWL soccer player Kealia Ohai Watt, released a funny video on Twitter announcing Watt’s return to football. But the football he’s talking about is what we call soccer, and he’s heading to the owner’s box, not the sidelines, taking on the English football pyramid with a club called Burnley.
JJ Watt is investing in the English football club Burnley
In a video posted to social media on May 1, NFL legend JJ Watt and his wife, Kealia Watt, announced that he is “officially retiring from retirement.”
While JJ Watt is returning to football, it’s of the European variety that we in the States call soccer.
The funny video starts with JJ and Kealia joking about how he’s only been retired for a few months, but they both agree he “really needs something to do.”
JJ suggests renting an RV and following Taylor Swift on tour. However, the Watts have instead decided to invest in the English football club Burnley.
“We don’t have ‘buy an entire European football club’ kind of money. We’re more along the lines of minority investment but massive emotional investment,” Watt announced. “So, America, allow us to introduce you to Burnley. Buckle up, kids, because we’re about to go on a little journey known as the English football pyramid.”
The Watts are now the latest in the line of American athletes and celebrities to invest in soccer clubs around the world. LeBron James owns a piece of Liverpool in England, Will Farrell, Mathew McConaughey, and Drew Carey all have ownership stakes in MLS teams, and Eva Longoria and Kate Upton are part of a group that owns a Mexican soccer side.
Most famously, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the Welsh club Wrexham A.F.C and guided it to promotion from England’s fifth division to the fourth.
What is the English football pyramid?
At the end of the video, JJ and Kealia Watt joke about the English football pyramid. But what is the English football pyramid?
The English football pyramid is the interconnected system of all the professional and semi-professional soccer leagues in England (plus a few teams from Wales and the British Isles). The pyramid has 11 different levels, with the English Premier League at the top.
The EPL is one of the best football leagues in the world. It consists of 20 teams, including the ones you are likely familiar with if you know anything about European soccer. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur make up the EPL’s “Big 6” sides.
After the EPL ther is, in order of prestige, the 24-team EFL Championship, League One, and League Two. Collectively, these four divisions are known as “League football.”
Below that are “Non-league football” clubs. This includes the National League (5th division) and the 6th through 11th divisions of English football. These lower leagues run the gamut from full-time pro leagues to community-based and semi-pro leagues.
In addition to playing in their leagues, the majority of the English Football Pyramid — from the first to the 10th division — competes in the FA Cup tournament every season. The top four divisions also play for the English Football League (now Carabao) Cup.
The closest comparison in American sports is the Minor League Baseball system. However, in England, the clubs are not associated with each other. That’s because there is a promotion and relegation system in place.
That means the winningest clubs at each level move up to the higher division for the next season, while the bottom finishers move down to the level below.
So, sticking with the baseball analogy, let’s say the Single-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans were an independent team and not a Chicago Cubs farm club. If they won their Single-A (fourth division = League Two) league in 2023, they’d move up to High-A in 2024.
After that, if they finished at the bottom of the standings, they’d go back to Single-A. If they won their league in 2024, the Pelicans would move to Double-A the following season.
Hypothetically, this could go on until the Pelicans won their way into Major League Baseball.
What to know about Burnley
The team that JJ Watt and Kealia Watt are investing in is Burnley Football Club. Burnley FC is known as The Clarets due to their home shirts’ maroon (claret) color. The club is based in Burnley, Lancashire, England, on the country’s northeast coast.
Burnley was founded nearly a century and a half ago, in 1882, and it has become the champion of the top level of English football twice, in 1921 and 1960. The club plays its home games at Turf Moor Stadium.
Burnley last played in the Premier League during the 2021-22 season, when it finished 18th out of 20 and was relegated to the EFL Championship. In the 22-23 campaign, the team is in first place with three games to play and has already clinched promotion to the EPL next season.
Burnley’s resurgence in the 22-23 campaign is in large part thanks to its new manager, Vincent Kompany.
Kompany is a championship-winning legend who played 11 seasons for Manchester City in the EPL. The central defender was the team captain at the end of his career during one of the organization’s most successful periods under renowned manager Pep Guardiola.
After retiring in 2018, Kompany took over as manager for Anderlecht in his home country of Belgium before returning to England to manage Burnley in 2022.
Now, with the help of the Watt’s investment, Burnley will be able to buy players in the 2023 Summer transfer window to help them compete and hopefully stay up in the Premier League next season.