Not to sound too Byrd-sy, but to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted; a time for Stevie G to star, and a time for Stevie G to slink off to California. And that time is right about now.
Brace yourself, America. The football this weekend may be grubby, with the most significant games taking place in the table's nether regions, but we can promise you this: for the second week in a row, the Guard of Honour during Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace [12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN] should not be missed.
There will be lots of men trying not to cry, then submitting to tears. And sob they might. We may never see the like of Steven Gerrard again. A one-badge man who has reciprocated the passion of his team’s fans by staying at his hometown club for 17 swashbuckling years, 11 of which he has been captain. You can read a tribute to the Liverpool legend written by a former teammate HERE, or experience his career through stickers, if you prefer photographs to words HERE.
We will break down this weekend’s tributes to the Liverpool talisman Monday on The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW. Our penultimate episode of the season airs Monday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (or whenever Jeremy Roenick tells us we can come on). Mumford and Sons' Marcus Mumford and Winston Marshall stop by the Panic Room to talk football, England and all things Mumfordy. We hear Marcus supports AFC Wimbledon, while Winston prefers the slightly lesser-known Manchester United.
In this newsletter:
Lean to Linen,
- The first look at our World Cup Enhancement Kits, a collaboration with the GFOPs at Mitchell & Ness.
- A GFOP asks for advice about pairing socks with sneakers.
- A very important piece of data journalism examines the most played artists and songs on jukeboxes across NYC.
On behalf of
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @tannneal
I. AMERICAN STATES UNITED: Our Mitchell & Ness Collaboration for the Big One
THE World Cup begins in less than a month. The occasion has afforded us an opportunity to work with Mitchell & Ness, the premier purveyor of throwback sports gear and a brand we’ve long admired. Together, we've created Enhancement Kits for the Big One that pay homage to the USWNT, American States United. Each Enhancement Kit includes include a snapback hat and scarf (have a look below). They are a limited-edition collaboration of just 1,400, and will be available next week. Stay tuned to our social media for details.
II. Kelley O’Hara, American Strifender
Kelley O’Hara is a fascinating footballer. Her youth career can be summed up in one word: goals. She struck a remarkable 24 times in 35 U-20 appearances for the U.S. But after moving to the full USWNT, she made the unorthodox switch to defender. It’s a change that’s suited the Stanford grad very well. She played every minute of the U.S. Olympic Team’s gold medal-winning campaign in London, and is poised to head to her second World Cup this summer. Tuesday, we released a USWNT Pod Special with Kelley, who called from a van outside Wahoo’s in Newport Beach, Calif. Kelley discussed her switch to defense, the team’s mindset as they prepare to invade the Great White North, and, naturally, Settlers of Catan.
Thanks to all Kansas City GFOPs who came out to eat BBQ with us at Joe’s Kansas City. We love the football culture you are building in your city. We also loved the Z-Man. The trip was packed with highlights -- including a chance to hang out with Super Julie Foudy.
There are so many places we would love to travel to in the United States this year. The South, Civil War Battlefields, The Grand Canyon, The Midwest, California, and wherever Ray Hudson lives are all on our dream list.
IV. Mad Men in Blazers
Sunday night, we say goodbye to “Mad Men.” For seven serially-seductive seasons, the show has served as a road trip through a fascinating period of modern American history, with complex, well-drawn characters as our tour guides. It was British transplant Lane Pryce who ensnared us, but make no mistake about it, we stayed for Don, Pete, Peggy and, of course, Roger. Recently, the show’s creator and showrunner, Matt Weiner joined us in the Panic Room to talk about the generation that inspired the show, and give some remarkable behind-the-scenes insight into his creative process. Matt is a tremendous bloke, and we are grateful for his candor. In honor of “Mad Men’s” series finale, we’ve released our interview with him as a Pod special. LISTEN HERE.
In more good news for "Mad Men" fans. Jared Harris (aka Lane Pryce) joins us on the Pod next week to talk about the series, and his beloved Manchester United.
V. A Question about Kicks
GFOP Sean McNeeley Writes: I avidly follow your various style conversations and have internalized, if not entirely adopted, your admonition that one shouldn't wear EPL jerseys after 40. Could you comment, what is the proper sort of sock for a man of a certain age to pair with his Stan Smiths or Rod Lavers - color, material, length? Do you only wear sneakers with jeans or also with other sorts of pants (trousers), and if the latter does the answer change?
Rog Writes: I have been enjoying a couple pairs of Happy Socks, a Swedish company that has crafted some summer magic. Their cloud socks are a favorite.
We have been blown away by all of the amazing #PatchAtThePark photos GFOPs have sent us via social media. We received them from the New York Derby, from a Detroit City FC game, and even the below from GFOP Adam Keck’s University of Tennessee graduation ceremony. #RockyTop
VII. Dissecting City with NG
Noel Gallagher is a rock star responsible for some of the biggest hits of the last 20 years. His songs are celebrated as a soundtrack for the era during which the Premier League evolved into the narrative-laden behemoth it is today. But when you strip away the 70 million albums Noel's sold, he’s a man who loves football. Especially Manchester City. Noel visited the Panic Room while in NYC on support of his new album, “Chasing Yesterday,” to dissect City’s season and discuss Joe Hart’s tunnel behavior. We released the conversation as a Pod Special [LISTEN HERE] and a half-hour digital episode [WATCH HERE]. #Supersonic
VIII. Jukebox Heroes
This week, the Wall Street Journal released one of our favorite pieces of data journalism ever. It’s a map detailing the most played artists and songs from jukeboxes in every New York City neighborhood. VIEW HERE. If they narrowed the neighborhoods further, we are confident “Fast Car” would reign supreme in the Crap Part of SoHo.
And, in case you missed it, we recently released our favorite Juke Box songs in a Men in Blazers’ Spotify playlist. LISTEN HERE.
IX. #MiBXI FUT Competition
As the season winds down, and we look back and some of the lessons we’ve learned, we need your help. We’re putting together a MiB XI FIFA ULTIMATE TEAM, which we'll unveil at the end of the season. It will be comprised of players who have entertained us most over the course of the year, partially because of their play, and partially because of the well-written scripts the EPL writers have lovingly crafted for them. We are asking you to nominate the ONE player and tell us why they should make the cut. Send entries via Twitter or email using the hashtag #MiBXI. Our favorite receives an end of the season FIFA Ultimate Team prize, our biggest giveaway yet, courtesy of the GFOPs at EA SPORTS FIFA. More soon.
X. Three Questions
Few people’s stories are woven into the tapestry of American soccer the way Charlie Stillitano’s is. He’s served in myriad posts across the U.S. soccer landscape, starting in 1973 as a ballboy during a friendly between Lazio and Santos in Jersey City, N.J. He went on to earn All-American honors as a player at Princeton University, organize games for the 1994 World Cup as venture director for NY/NJ, and serve as New York/New Jersey MetroStars’ general manager. Presently, he hosts “The Football Show” on SiriusXM FC radio along with Ray Hudson and Neil Barnett. He is also chairman of Relevant Sports, the group responsible for organizing the Guinness International Champions Cup, and bringing some of the world’s biggest football clubs to American shores. In this edition of Three Questions, we get some insight into the work it takes to make those summer matches happen.
MiB: You have worked in U.S. Soccer in so many capacities, but you have burst through as a visionary and an entrepreneur. So many of your early efforts struggled to break through, but you just kept dusting yourself off and getting back on the horse. What is the greatest lesson you have learned in the process?
Charlie: For decades, establishing soccer in the U.S. has felt like pushing a boulder up a hill. Now, however, I really feel as though we’re beginning to get to the top of the hill and see the growth of the sport here in America. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is trusting in your vision. Everyone will think you’re crazy until your vision actually starts to come true, and before long, (hopefully!) they’ll jump on the bandwagon with you. What we’re seeing now is a lot of people gearing up to make the leap - and I will be there to welcome them with open arms and a big “I told you so!”
Not only that, but persistence as well - you always want to achieve what you set out to do. I’ve been lucky enough to work across every part of this great sport from the Metrostars to the International Champions Cup. The ability to not only learn from all these different experiences, but persevere and apply these small lessons to the growth of soccer in the United States has been important in this adventure. To everyone involved with this sport I love so much, football or soccer has reached its seminal moment and I couldn’t be more proud.
MiB: EPL teams are high maintenance. What are the three essentials you have mastered that have allowed you to earn their trust so successfully?
Charlie: I can’t stress how important a strong staff is. It’s impossible for one person to manage all these people and interests, so having an amazing team you can trust is integral to pulling it off, especially with the requests of the teams. Further, here in America we have some really amazing training facilities. Teams want to come to these places because they know how great the facilities are and that they will have access to truly outstanding training grounds. Oh, and not being recognized as much as in the UK or Italy is always a huge plus for the players. Personally, I am so lucky to not only call these teams colleagues but friends. From commercial departments to physios to communications directors to managers, I've met them all and I'm mostly better for it!
MiB: America is falling in love with soccer. The big brands - Chelsea, Arsenal, United, City - are breaking through along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus. If you were advising the chairman of second-tier clubs like Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke about how to make noise in the United States, what would you tell them?
Charlie: One answer and one answer only, Everton should sign more bald Americans. As a proud member of the club, I can honestly say Tim Howard (who I drafted) has helped the bald movement like no other player in our lifetimes. Just kidding, the best example for these clubs is to look at what Chelsea did. A decade ago, Chelsea was not the massive brand that it is today. They knew how important the US was to their international success and said no activity was too small for them. They hit the ground running hard, hosting youth camps and started grassroots campaign to drum up support here in America. Those teams should make sure that every kid that goes to see them is wearing the club’s jersey and is given a flag, scarf or whatever swag they can get their hands on. You can't turn a city Red or a Blue overnight, but if you make the effort than you can see the effect like when 40,000 Chelsea fans came out to support the team in Indianapolis or when 70,000 came out to support Liverpool in Charlotte. U.S. fans love soccer, but as you guys know more than anyone, many of them don’t have a team to love yet. There is a huge opportunity for clubs to position themselves as a fan favorite, or even as their second favorite team. Just having a fan identify with a team is a crucial part of creating a brand that resonates and there are tremendous possibilities.
MiB: The NFL, NBA and MLB all play games abroad. Do you think we'll get to the point where European football leagues play one or two regular season games in the U.S.?
Charlie: We’re always having conversations about this and we have active dialogues going with leagues around the world. They might be even more excited than we are, if that’s possible, about the growth of soccer in the United States. For us, it’s great to see our domestic leagues cross over into international markets. Fans are the same all over - they love their teams, but more importantly, they love the game. More importantly, fans want to see competitive games and that's what we try to do with the International Champions Cup. They want to see Barcelona and Manchester United facing each other or Manchester United taking on Real Madrid - exciting, top-tier matches.
MiB: When 110,000 people filled the Big House last season and you looked up at the stadia packed with fans eager to cheer on United and Real Madrid, can you describe the emotions you experienced?
Charlie: It was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. For decades, I’ve been saying soccer would be big in America. On that day, I felt validated and that 110,000 people agreed with me for the first time in my life. Usually it's just my partner Jon Sheiman in my camp. It wasn’t just the size of the crowd that was impressive either, but how excited and into the game the entire crowd was. Both players and managers said the same thing - they would have never expected a crowd like this in the United States. The amount of people, the passion - it was remarkable to hear these players who have been in countless amazing atmospheres leave with such a great impression of the experience. I really will think about that game my whole life; I’m not sure I’ve been a part of something like it before and I can only hope I can experience something like it again.
XI. A Book for Your Library, If You Still Read
Recently, Rog has been thinking a lot recently about Machismo, adrenalin and the need for recklessness and risk in life. Not necessarily in his life, but in the lives of others. He’s been reading The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s first novel about a gaggle of Bohemians lost and found amidst the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Read it if you are wondering if your life needs more brutality, drink and song.
XII. A Poem To Gird Your Loins
In honor of our Burnley, a small town that’s spawned a proud football team, our favorite minibus rental service (and occasional lease broker) on the planet, and Chumbawamba.
Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whiskey drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times
Oh, Danny Boy
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
XIII. "Plumb our Annals”
In this week’s pod from the past, we hop into The George Michael Sports Machine and travel back to 2012, a time when Arsenal's jerseys may have been looser, but the team's play was equally as Arsenally. We talked with Nick Hornby, a devoted Gooner, about the 20th anniversary of his first book Fever Pitch, which chronicles his football fandom from childhood. We wish Nick the opposite of a #SadNap in the race for second place this weekend. You can listen to the Pod HERE.
Our entire pod archive is available HERE. If you prefer the Cliffs Notes version, check out "Men in Blazers. Unbuttoned: Now That's What I Call Sub-Optimal,” Vol. I (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play) and Vol. II - The Best of 2014 (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play). The albums are the least objectionable of our football "analysis," Ravens and interviews.
You can access all MiB-related content (videos, pods and articles) by visiting www.nbcsports.com/mib.
Please forward this to your football curious friends. Let's see if we can bring them over to the dark side. The Ian Darke Side.
“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”