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HAIL! GFOP
 
I type with fingers overwhelmed with adrenaline-fuelled tingling. We back. Forty-eight days after a Premier League ball was last kicked, and just 20 after the Champions League wrapped up, the league we love roars to life once again. The players barely had time to catch anything on ill-advised jaunts abroad. I could not be more elated. The more chaotic and disorienting our real world becomes, the more the need to marvel at the likes of those transcendent giants of the game, KDB, Virgil Van Dijk and Mike Dean. Even fanless, Football remains the balm to the anguish of our existence.  

On the first day of the season, our cup overfloweth with questions: Can Liverpool defend their title or does a new 30-year wait start now? Will Pep mount a surging season-long counterattack? Which of Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal will have new managers build on first year honeymoons? Can Everton build success by playing Career Mode? Who of Phil Foden, Kalvin Phillips, Eberechi Eze and Mason Greenwood will assert the dominance of youth? Can Leeds United, Fulham or West Brom be this season’s Sheffield United? What will be bigger…Auba’s Goal Haul or Adama Traore’s Pecs? The joy of Season Eve is the one night of the year in which we can all dream sweet, powerful, borderline hallucinatory dreams and make believe it is all going to be ok.  

One note: There is no certainty the league will hold up in the face of any winter-fuelled COVID resurgence. Let's pledge to savor every second while we can. Savor football with love and empathy in place of hate and Skip Bayless-negativity. 

PS: You can win replicas of Rog’s Home and Away Everton kits provided by our friends at Hummel. Read down to find out how to land them. 
 

2. Men In Blazers returns for Season 7
 
We back like Phil Foden. Early from an England tour and in shame. It is incredible to believe that our Crap has reached a seventh season. Humblingly Surreal. We air this Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on Peacock with a magical season preview show featuring interviews with Jurgen Norbert Klopp and Liverpool superfan Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, who is the man I wish I could be. Save the Date. Episode 2 is Monday, Sep. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET, also on Peacock. It features a magical pair of inspirational interviews with Leeds United’s Jack Harrison, an English player who moved to America to make his Premier League dreams come true, and Manchester City’s Sam Mewis, an American who has moved to England to fuel her Olympic challenge. 

ii. MiB Big Season Preview Pod is here. It will tell you all you need to know about the season ahead, including, Spoiler Alert, our predictions for Top Four and Bottom Three.  

iii. A new episode of WGFOP: The Bald drops later today. Send us your burning questions ahead of the season. You know the Bobby Digitals, 646-450-9472


3. To the Football
 
Let’s kick off the season with some big picture think-pieces:

i. Barney Ronay poetically captures the mood in England ahead of kick-off. A beautiful piece which ends, “Is there still a place for this overblown show when death stalks the land and the nation is in a de facto state of emergency? Will it still feel like sport midway through a full nine-month season of ersatz, TV-piped, zoom-call bubble-football? Happily it seems likely the answer to both of these is already yes.

ii. I loved this piece by the Guardian’s masterful Marina Hyde. Too much perspective? Bring on the trivial luxury of the Premier League, which includes this life truth about the role the game plays in our life: “I can’t WAIT to get really exercised by something that doesn’t matter. I can’t wait to simply LAVISH way too much of my concern on some frippery. I LONG to obsess over some obvious irrelevance like my life depended on it. I yearn to be mildly put out by being seated next to the loos in a restaurant, or appalled at a TV show, or outraged by any other nonsense. I can’t wait to be monumentally pissed off about a borderline questionable red card.”

iii. Miguel Delaney breaks down the season’s biggest storylines. His lament at the absence of fans is heartbreaking.  “A season has never at once felt so full and so empty.”


4. The Weekend’s Big Game: Liverpool v Leeds 

A titillating headliner [Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on Network NBC] ripped from great decades past is a phenomenal way to salute Leeds United’s romantic return to the top flight. The one-time feared powerhouse who became a cautionary tale, plummeting as far as the third tier after reckless financial spending in the early 2000s, return to the Premier League after 16 years in exile and a revolving door of owners, managers and cursed hope. It is magnificent to see them back. I cannot wait to witness the managerial match-up between the Hug-soaked passion of Jurgen Klopp and the Mystical brilliance of Marcelo Bielsa (whose obsessive approach is well-described here, and also here.) How Bielsa adapts his fearless, pressing, buccaneering approach to the Premier League will be the story of Leeds' season.  

I found this Leeds profile interesting. A look at the behind the scenes work of Director of Football, Victor Orta, who has brilliantly scouted and recruited talent to power Leeds’ resurgence in a style that mixes analytics with pure footballing passion.


5. Other Games are available

Full schedule here, beginning with “Third Time’s a Charm” Fulhamerica against newly resolute Arsenal [Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN], who have given Mikel Areta a promotion. The stealth tastiest game may between Tottenham and Everton [Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET on Peacock]. For Spurs, "All or Nothing’s" new cast members Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Matt Doherty are more pragmatic signings. But pragmatic in the Mourinho leitmotif.  Here’s one of hundreds of pieces on “Everton’s Coup” signing of James Rodriguez. I am counting down the seconds to kick-off. Yes, I remember the false hope of the summer we signed Gylfi, Danny Klaassen, and Sandro, which deadened me to the notion of extreme makeovers, but in football, the adage “Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on you, you tricky bastard” rings true. The prospect of Jimmy Lad Rodriguez, Big All, and The Duke across an Everton midfield under Carlo Ancelloti. Inject that into my veins.  

TALKING OF EVERTON…WE ARE GIVING AWAY TWO OF THE TEAM’S JERSEYS, DESIGNED BY Hummel. Anyone who watched the Danish Dynamite Euro 92 team obliterate all comers in one of the tastiest jerseys I have ever seen will understand the source of my joy. I snapped up the home and away jerseys, with the legend NIGEL on one (auguring towards a season of glory) and the traditional Tony Hibbert tribute on the other. Hummel have been kind enough to send a replica set of the jerseys I will be wearing all season. We have one of each home and away to give away to you, dear Raven Subscriber. The Second and Twenty First person to respond to THIS LINK with their name and mailing address will each be gifted one. Now I need to get a third jersey with the legend, JIMMY LAD 19 on the back…

Chelsea wrap up the first day of games by traveling to Brighton [Saturday at 3:15 p.m. ET on Peacock] with all the pressure of raised expectation on Frank Lampard, after having $256m-worth of new players lavished on him over the summer. Injuries mean we will have to wait to see Ziyech, Thiago Silva and Chilwell. But Christian Pulisic, Chelsea’s new No. 10, has rebounded from that hammy he pulled in the FA Cup and is in contention to make the squad. His fitness is going to be the American storyline of the season. 


6. Women’s Super League

Week 2 in the English Women’s Super League. Good news. Rose Lavelle is out of quarantine. Tobin Heath and Christen Press must wait to emerge. Their arrival en masse is less a reflection on NWSL and more about where America is from an athlete’s perspective right now. Elite Women footballers want to play the game they love. The pandemic reality means they can't do that safely and regularly here. With the 2021 Olympics on the horizon, they have no choice but to move to other countries where they can play the game they love. This is how the influx is being experienced in England. 


7. From the GFOPs at DC Scores

The organization that pairs poetry and football in underserved communities around this nation is teaming up with Premier League supporters clubs in the Nation’s Capital to help raise money for children learning remotely during the Pandemic. More on the initiative HERE. You’ll note DC Spurs and Toffees are top of the table at the moment.  


8. More Football can never be enough

i. Why Arsenal's Hector Bellerin is planting 58,617 Trees In The Amazon: "It's The Earth's Lungs." I could not love Hector more and pray he does not leave the Premier League.

ii. Ghana’s Village of 1,000 Aston Villa fans. What football is all about. A magnificent short film. Thanks to GFOP @dpwac for the tip.

iii. Premier League jerseys have replaced Black Lives Matter with their own slogan this season.


9. September 11th

Today is September 11th. The 19th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history. Our thoughts today are with the families of the 2,977 who lost their lives. May their memories be a blessing to them in times of challenge and wonder. Here are a couple of pieces we found deeply meaningful on this day of remembrance. 

i. Six 9/11 victims had birthdays that day. For all, a single white rose.

ii. Tuesday, and After. The New Yorker piece from the week after the attacks in 2001. 


10. More Real Life to lift your spirits and heighten your senses

i. Chess is Now a Streaming Obsession. This makes me so happy. In difficult times over the past six months, the game of chess has made me feel nourished and connected in ways I could never have imagined when I mastered the game on Liverpool College’s Under-6 Team.  

ii. Athletes are Human (reminder number 87,734). All Hail Dak Prescott. Must Read. Must contemplate. 

iii. Facts v feelings: how to stop our emotions misleading us. Not saying this is an important read for me ahead of Everton's season, but.... 

iv. The Real Reason there Was a Beer, Hand Sanitizer, Yeast, and Pasta Shortage. It was not my fault.

v. The surprising traits of good remote leaders: Strong in-person leadership skills don’t necessarily translate to being a good virtual leader. Instead, organisation and competency reign supreme. AKA be a Nuno, not a Brodge. 

vi. David Byrne plus Spike Lee = Yes, Please.

vii. How to Escape From an Erupting Volcano. You can thank me later for including this.

viii. If you are looking for a GREAT BOOK. This is it: We Germans (A Novel) by Alexander Starritt. A vivid, haunting, morally riveting conversation between grandchild and grandfather. Immense. 

That is it for this week. I will end by repeating how excited I am for this season’s journey that lies ahead of it and how we at Men In Blazers are so grateful to be able to walk it with all of you. To experience all of the emotions, thoughts, wonders, and letdowns WITH EACH OTHER. It is not only an honor -- it is honestly keeping our crap together right now. We love you all and never take your reciprocal love for granted. Keep inundating us with your emails, tweets, phone messages, insights and ideas. I wish all of you, no matter what team you support, a season of joy in which you make memories with you friends, family and fellow supporters that can last a lifetime.  
 
I end with some words from Ashlyn Harris. The World Cup winner joined me on Wednesday along with her wife and Orlando Pride co-captain, Ali Krieger for the return of our Budweiser Happy Hour. I finished by asking Ashlyn for words of optimism for the future. She embarked on a taught, wisdom-filled speech, filled with words to live by: “My hope is that people don't just sleep through this pandemic, but that they dig in and learn."  
 
You can watch the entire conversation here, and I encourage you to do so, as it was life-affirming in its depths and emotional honesty.

Courage, 
Rog: @rogbennett 

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly

Please Consider Supporting: 
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NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Equal Justice Initiative
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“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Philip Larkin
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