HOLY CRAP. Thank Richarlison The Premier League is BACK.
Thank the Old Gods and the New, the Premier League is back. The meagre gruel served up by the FA Cup will be shunted aside by big boy football. Kick off cannot come fast enough. I am still wracked with pain by the double-doink agony that was the Chicago Bears loss (about which this short film - sent to me by gleeful Eagles fan @DarthDanny - is must-watch). A defeat that was an eerie echo of December’s double-doink Derby disaster, in which a flailing Pickford and Origi’s shoulder conspired to make me feel lonelier than a Bezos. Thankfully, sport is the last safe place in the world to experience self-destruction and disaster. One of its many beauties.
2. The big match of the weekend will be Sunday’s tilt between Tottenham and Manchester United [11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN] in which honeymooner Ole Gunnar Solksjaer seeks to snap the legendary Sir Matt Busby’s 73-year-old record by winning his first six games as United manager. His return has been a magical fairytale to witness. The United Swagger is back, as are the players’ smiles, in equal part because of the fresh air the United icon has breathed into the place, and the fact that Wicked Witch of the West, Jose Mourinho, has been vanquished. Not to diminish Ole’s achievements, but third place Spurs punch in a different weight-class than his previous opponents and are the first true test he will face. They thrashed Jose’s bewildered United 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season and have Harry Kane in peak potent form, having just become the first player in Tottenham history to score 20 goals in five straight campaigns, and the first “One Season Wonder” to do that at any club in the world.
3. In other biggies, Arsenal fans’ weekend will be made, or broken, by which West Ham side turns up for their 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday Torture game. Alliteration lovers League leaders Liverpool face an intriguing test in Brighton’s Fighting Pits of Meereen: The AmEx Stadium [10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN]. And Manchester City face a Monday [3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN] Trap Game against a Wolves outfit who only bother to try against the massive clubs, having extracted points from Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal this season, and drew the reverse fixture 1-1 back in August.
4. Everton play world’s most tactically savvy Everton fan Eddie Howe and his Bournemouth side [9:15 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN] in a game which feels oddly, desperately must win for Marco Silva, if he's to prove this season still has a pulse. In the other game that all of America will be following after THIS PODCAST with Gillingham Town Super Fan (and the production driver from our trip to London with VisitBritain) Chris Willis: The Gills away fixture against a reeling Burton Albion. Saturday at 10 a.m. ET. Up the Gills. Top, Top, Club.
5. The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW is back LIVE Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, leaning heavy on Hoodigan jokes after Pep is shocked by Papa Smurf Nuno. “Game of Thrones’” Viserys Targaryen/Harry Lloyd guests. It might not surprise you that a man last seen being crowned with molten gold is a Chelsea fan. Brace yourself for the Chelsea-"Game of Thrones" converter you never knew you needed.
6. We have just dropped a NEW EPISODE of our digital travel series with VisitBritain. I am really proud of this project. To shoot at places which mean so much to me, like the Churchill War Rooms, was an honor. It is even better to hear from hundreds of you who either love them too, or are now planning your own trip to England to take in a Premier League Weekend of your own. To life! To making memories! You can catch up on all our previous episodes HERE.
7. THIS VIDEO has given me a lot of strength this week. Tracy Chapman performing “Fast Car” live at Wembley’s Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute. Tracy, then an unknown, walks onto the stage armed only with her acoustic guitar. The crowd, fairly hammered at that point, initially ignore her, preferring to do what English people do in a stadium after downing a few lagers, which is sing football songs. Tracy, in her black roll-neck, ignores them, and with a mesmerizing version of “Fast Car” silences the crowd and captivates the global television audience of 600 million. The performance made her career. I’ve watched it a couple of dozen times this week when I needed a dose of courage.
8. I wanted to thank GFOP Michael Hines for this Raven, received in the wake of my recent Pod revelation that I’d eaten Guinea Pig, or "Cuy" as it is called in Ecuador, during the winter break.
Michael Writes: I tutor an Ecuadorian student at an English Second Language center in Chicago. Soraya and I have a good time during our lessons and she's whip smart but we haven't been able to make a personal connection until I brought up “cuy” after listening to your podcast. Just by dropping that one word, I learned so much about her past -- that she grew up near the beach and that her favorite type of seafood is octopus. It was a relief to engage with her on a more personal level, and it was all made possible by your discovery of cuy. I hope she one day has a command of English that allows her to realize just how crap your Pod truly is.
9. I have been watching a ton of the first season of "Moonlighting" this week. That groundbreaking detective drama/romantic comedy was Bruce Willis’ breakthrough role. I remember being blown away by him as a kid. That raspy-accent, scruff and unflappable wit was like a new archetype -- the cocksure yet chatty macho man, whose desire to talk and talk and talk did not come from neurosis. Watch some of it HERE. And as a bonus, here is a pair of remarkable Seagram Wine Cooler commercials that illustrate both the voice and the lewk and dance moves. If this show gave you definitive memories in your formative years, I would love to hear about them. EMAIL US.
P.S. GFOPs, we want to know how we can make our newsletter better (less crap). Please send us what you want more of, less of, different, other, etc. EMAIL any suggestions.
#PatchAtThePark from Levi's Stadium during the College Football Playoff National Championship, via GFOP David Mathis. I’ll always have soft spot for Clemson because of William Perry whose poster loomed down from my bedroom wall. One of the big drivers that inspired me to move to Chicago at first opportunity, along with Walter Payton, Studs Terkel, Sid Luckman, Gwendolyn Brooks, Cameron Frye. #ALLIN
For Christian Pulisic and Dortmund, Chelsea Transfer Was a Team Effort. By Andrew Keh for The New York Times. READ HERE
Emmy Award Winning host of "Last Week Tonight" John Oliver stops by the Panic Room for his annual holiday appearance to talk Liverpool's season of wonder, Maurizio Sarri's sideline style, and what he himself is like as a player. LISTEN HERE