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HAIL! GFOP
 
I type with fingers still startled that they witnessed live football this weekend. A feast I will never, ever take for granted again.  

The magnificent return of Germany’s Bundesliga. AKA Football without handshakes, spitting, and… fans, was a boon for my sports-starved soul. Yes, I missed the pageant of game day. And without the roar of the crowd, the football most certainly dipped in intensity, lacking the hysteria-induced adrenaline that encourages players to snap into every tackle, add superhuman power to every shot, and throw the inexplicable but obligatory elbow when defending set pieces. But it was still football, and it felt gloriously life-affirming to have my Twitter timeline engaging with something more than Toilet Roll Keepie Uppie vids, news of Kyle Walker's latest Sex Party, or a thread on corner flag disinfection strategies. That alone was enough. 

There may have been a barrage of negativity about the eerie echoes and rusty match fitness but, let’s focus on what the new normal is, rather than what it is not. Engrossing, exhilarating, calming, and perhaps most important of all, for 90 minutes, we were all connected in a positive, human way that only sports can provide. As a newly-minted lifelong Schalke fan, I watched the team I now “proper hate,” Dortmund, smash four goals past us, playing exhilarating football, born of a true team idea, with movement, vision and bombast. When they opened the scoring with a backheel, a sweeping team move that was finished ruthlessly by Erling Haaland, I will put money on the fact that if you were watching, you peed in your pants just a little bit. 

At the final whistle, the Dortmund players walked up to their empty, famed Yellow Wall, which normally would have been packed with 25,000 delirious fans revelling in their team’s dominance. As they moved through their ritual of bowing, even whilst social distancing, it was an eerie and haunting moment filled with love and a sense of what has been lost.


2. This Week at Men in Blazers is filled with Creme De La Crap 

Sam Mewis joins us this Wednesday afternoon on INSTA LIVE for Budweiser Happy Hour. Send us your questions for the World Cup- and NWSL-winning champion.Talking of NWSL, our weekly team-by-team previews continue today with the Chicago Red Stars. Look for that video on our social around noon. 

WGFOP: The Bald returns today. This week, I will call one of you people back who leaves a message on our hotline (646) 450-9472. Leave us the best question and you could be besmirched. 

The MiB Conclave is currently sifting through the hundreds of magical #PLLookALike Contest, Presented by Jagermeister entries we received over the course of the last month. To those of you who entered, thank you very much for your creativity. Strong late entries for Egyptian King Mo Salah and Pep. Later this week, we will announce the winners, each of whom will receive one of the custom “Livin’ The Nightmare” mugs I use on the television show. 


3. To the Football: The Bundesliga’s success accelerated the Premier League’s hopes of the jump into the unknown that is a return to action. This morning, executives from all 20 clubs, no doubt emboldened  by this weekend’s spectacle in Germany (and the fact no fans turned up to jeopardize public safety) descended onto yet another a video conference hellbent on discussing the details of medical testing protocols which could empower group training to recommence, triggering a pathway to return.  

Those testing protocols were universally rubber stamped, which will lead to restricted socially distant training in small groups as further protocols will need to be devised to enable contact training and, ultimately, matches. Brace yourself though. The decision about a possible June 19 return date  threatens to make Carl Douglas’ kinetic poem of carnage, Kung Fu Fighting, come alive. Expect those kicks from such vocal leaders as Raheem Sterling and Troy Deeney to be fast as lightning. Raz - whose voice is an important one, as it cannot be dismissed as mere relegation-induced fear-mongering - declared over the weekend that a mid-June start date would be a non-starter because “you’d need a full four to five weeks” of training to regain fitness and prevent a spate of injuries after having been out of action since early March. 

Troy Deeney has also been vocal. “When people cannot answer very simple questions you do start to panic,” Drake’s stuntman said, whilst also pointing to a terrifying and important difference between Germany, where the curve was flattened with strategy, discipline, and testing, and Britain, where it has not been. “We have to try to believe [government] advice that we’re being given that we’ve reached the peak, but there’s still an incredible number of people losing their lives through this. The death toll in the UK is anything between 33,000 and 38,000. That’s filling our stadium and then filling it half again. It’s a sobering thought.”

b. While a number of players urged caution, others… not so much. This weekend’s assortment of Premier League players living recklessly included Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi who was arrested at 4 a.m. with a model, and Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette who allowed himself to be caught balloon huffing on social media. Both men etch their name onto the Kyle Walker Memorial Hall of Shame. What I do admire about footballers is they never seem to break lockdown for mundane reasons like picking up a packet of Pringles, laundry or anchovy pizza. It is always to make love to a supermodel on piles of cash in a room built of real gold. Dedication and commitment in its own way.

c. European news that would be major but in our nightmare reality, flies under the radar: UEFA plans conclusion to Champions League and Europa League in August and Scottish football cancelled its season. Celtic are champions! Brodge Did This! Sad news for Hearts, owned by American, Roman Roy (Succession fans united!), as they are relegated. 

d. If you need a smile after all that, please may we turn your attention to this masterpiece: South Korean football team apologises for using sex dolls to fill stands. “FC Seoul said the dolls, used to make stadiums look less empty, had been ordered inadvertently after a ‘misunderstanding.’”


4.More Football?  Ja. Ja. Ja.
 
i. Fears of a stop-start return to action has left many Women’s Super League players mentally “checked out” and desperate for the season to be ended, according to Sam Kerr’s agent. Alan Naigeon believes not knowing the future of the season and mixed messages from clubs have compounded the problems facing the game. “We’re getting to a point where a lot of players are just losing their motivation.”

ii. I loved this piece by Jonathan Wilson: Football has always adapted to hard times. Its return might help us feel less alone. Fantastic quote: “CS Lewis observed that literature exists to remind us we are not alone. Football fulfils a similar function.”

iii. Still looking for a German Football team to support?  This beautiful short film about Union Berlin’s idiosyncratic fan culture might woo you.
 
iv. Savor this brilliant Skodran Mustafi highlight reel. The Last Dance of Football


5. Non-Football? Ninety-nine red balloons. Floating in the summer sky

i. Have You Given Yourself a Tattoo Yet? Most read article New York Times has ever published amongst Premier League footballers (probably).

ii. Learning to Play Other People's Songs Is Weirdly Comforting Right Now. An article written for people struggling to master the clawhammer banjo rn.

iii. The Reason There’s Still a Pasta Shortage. Poor Patrick Cutrone.

iv. This 44.8 Gigapixel Scan of a Rembrandt Contains Staggering Detail. Next up for scanners, Brodge’s portrait of Brodge.


I will finish with a very powerful idea from Britain. “What is the last normal photograph on your cell phone?”  #LastNormalPhoto A haunting and beautiful exercise. Mine is actually a shot of me and the MiB staff in our office watching Manchester United’s final game smashing 5 goals past Austrian duffers, LASK, behind closed doors. When I look back at it, first of all, it feels like it was a year ago. Second, I remember the feeling of angst and fear that gripped us as we watched. Like a city under siege from an assailant we had underestimated and did not comprehend. So much has happened since then.   

I loved this related Raven from GFOP Daniele Clay, who wrote: “On your last podcast you mentioned a German word for COVID reopening talk (Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien). My son and I tried our hand at crafting a German word for COVID sad; that sad nostalgic feeling you get when you remember a time or moment pre-COVID where everyone was together, shaking hands, hugging and sitting next to each other; Ausgangsperrenseelenkrank. (Before-lockdown-soul-sickness).” That feeling. I have it every day. 

Clear eyes.
Full hearts.
Can't Lose.

I’m Couraging.
Rog: @rogbennett 

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