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Hail! GFOP

 
Last week, ahead of the Premier League’s kickoff, I will admit, I was all aquiver, anticipating a glut of heavyweight games involving United-Leicester, Spurs-Chelsea and Klopp’s Kidz-Swansea. They all turned out to be damp squibs. Yet like Charlie Brown kicking a football with Lucy holding, I find myself charging towards the weekend’s fixtures with the enthusiasm Jurgen Klopp displays whilst hugging Nathaniel Clyne.  

The prospect of a ground-down, war-wounded Arsenal hosting Big Sam’s rejuvenated Sunderland is a Nipple Tingler. Arsene Wenger must face up to the thick and fast of the Premier League holiday schedule with the thinnest of squads, little ability to rotate, and more injuries a possibility as a result. Sunderland, out of the bottom three for the first time all season, will look to their adrenalin-filled right flank with throw-in expert DeAndre Yedlin and Ginger SuperSub Duncan Watmore, who's scored two goals in just three shots. Chelsea-Bournemouth, and Monday’s free-scoring digestif of Everton-Palace also suggest narrative may floweth over.

Hats off for MLS Cup this weekend. We were honored to host the trophy in the Panic Room earlier this week. It is one of the more functionally designed in World Football. The match-up between Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers [Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN] should be Creed-esque if the Conference Finals are anything to go by. I loved having the opportunity to talk through the season with Wilding International Nat Borchers and Man Bun’s Kei Kamara on this week’s MiB MLS Cup Pod Special [LISTEN HERE].  

And we are grateful Kei and Crew teammate, Marshfield, Wisc.’s own, Ethan Finlay stopped by the Panic Room Monday for The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW. The entire episode is available online HERE. It is also available on Apple TV and Roku via NBC Sports Live Extra under “Full Event Replays” for Tuesday.

We return to NBCSN this Monday, Dec. 7 at 11 p.m. ET with special guest Nick Kroll.

And we could not be more excited about the launch of our Men In Blazers National Team jerseys (see below) today. A massive step for us, a massive step back for global football.

To Tweed … Sashes,
Rog @rogbennett

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan

P.S. Happy Hanukkah
 


I. MiB National Team Jerseys

Because the fax machines at both the San Marino and Gibraltar Football Associations seem to be broken, we’ve taken further action in an attempt to coax at least one of the footballing giants into game with the Men in Blazers National Team. The next logical step was, naturally, to create a jersey with the GFOPs at Adidas.  
 

The shirt’s design inspiration: the Peruvian 1978 World Cup jersey, with its simple yet startling, crisp red diagonal band. Adidas was able to follow our exacting design specifications to create global football’s first high-performance, Tweed-inspired jersey. To finish it off, GFOP Enoch Morishima conquered all comers in our Jock Tag contest and created the Not In The Face-inspired piece of material at the bottom of the jersey.

An extremely limited-edition of the jersey went on sale today. Most sizes have sold out, but there are a few still available. ORDER HERE. We will have another limited run that we will release around Dec. 15. Stay tuned to our social channels for more information. #BeatSanMarino #DaddyWants


II. Three Questions With FOX's Julie Stewart-Binks

Our stars of these MLS playoffs: Kei Kamara. Nat Borchers. Julie Stewart-Binks. JSB (and the entire FOX team) have done a phenomenal job broadcasting the playoffs. In this edition of Three Questions, we talk with the former Fox Soccer Report anchor about the stress of sideline reporting, her hometown of Toronto, and, of course, Alexi Lalas.

MiB: Your Fox career started on one of the most legendary football programs of all-time: Fox Soccer Report, filmed in Winnipeg. For the uninitiated, describe the show and your experience working on it.

JSB: Fox Soccer Report was my first full-time gig in broadcasting, and I'll never forget it. It was a unique composition of people, sharing a studio with Global Winnipeg (a local news station), which looking back on it, was quite strange. We occupied one very small corner of the floor, but had some huge personalities. That's the first time I ever used "Fox Family" - from Michelle Lissel to Derek Taylor, Eoin O'Callaghan, Asa Rehman, and the man that tied it altogether, Luke Crofford, we were a bunch of Canadian soccer geeks (minus Eoin) working for an American network. I was hired as a reporter/anchor, but spent most of my days cutting highlites and writing scripts. Some of my favorite memories were cutting highlights of the early stages of Copa Libertadores and Copa America - that'll teach you to learn a new language quickly (or rather, Google translate).

MiB: Sideline reporting is one of the most stressful roles in sports broadcasting. Can you give us a sense of your mission and approach to the craft?

JSB: It's something I'm still very new to, but I've had a LOT of experience in one year. My goal is always to provide the booth and audience with information they can't see or don't know. That's the reason why I'm there, to be the eyes and ears of the broadcast. To start the year, we did more storytelling to help build these athletes as stars to the general public who might not know who David Accam or Shaun Maloney are. Like everyone on our crew, I over prepare beyond belief. You never want to get caught missing out on a story or nugget. We have meetings with about 3-4 players and the head coach of each team before we cover a game. I'll spend as much time as I can trying to come up with unique questions, but since our entire broadcast team is in those meetings, I'll usually pull other players aside, or call coaches midweek for exclusive information that John Strong or Alexi Lalas don't already know. MLS teams have been fantastic at letting me talk to assistant coaches during the game when substitutions are made (why they're made), which really adds another layer to the broadcast.

As for the Women's World Cup, THAT was an entirely different experience. At one point I sat down with a local German reporter to try and flash learn German so I could understand what Nadine Angerer was yelling. I would finagle my way to get a comment from the coaches at halftime even though I was not allowed to do that, and got "red carded" at one point in Edmonton (to which I asked, "does this mean I get to go home?" sadly, it didn't). I once ran down through the bleachers (when I wasn't allowed to walk along the sideline) to intercept Norwegian coach Even Pellerud coming off at halftime to get a comment about Trine Rønning's injury status (which he told me). I relied on my binoculars to read coaches’ body cues and injuries on the bench. I drank Pedialyte on the sideline so I had enough energy. I peppered international coaches with questions in press conferences because that was my only opportunity to talk with them. I had drinks at the pub with foreign press officers. I helped a Japanese newspaper with information on the United States so they would help me out with scoops on Japan. I pushed the boundary as far as I could, and then some. I became a (fantastic) monster.
 
MiB: Tell us one thing that would surprise us about Alexi Lalas.

JSB: Before this year, I really didn't know anything personal about Alexi Lalas. Now, I've been with him basically every weekend, he's my platonic road husband. He likes Orange Vodka - NOT orange and vodka. He's a big hockey fan, so we get on well about that. He's my bar partner - at the hotel lobby, airport, or Capital Grille. I found out he requests not to sit beside Fox people on the plane, but he reads my mom's articles, so that makes up for it. I guess that's not one, but all of Alexi's road secrets.

MiB: In a past life you were a tour guide on a double-decker bus in Toronto. If we were to make the pilgrimage to your city to watch a Toronto FC game, give us one restaurant we must visit.

JSB: If you could have seen how awkward I was trying to do pseudo-stand up comedy on a double decker bus with a fanny pack on, you'd never let me live it down. I would regularly just end up telling stories about my personal life, and where they happened, because traffic was so bad. There are SO many great restaurants in Toronto this is a tough one. Brunch before the game, in Liberty Village (not far from BMO) go to Mildred's Temple, then you can come back to Brazen Head for some post-match pints. I know this isn't very original but I love Real Sports - an MLSE bar too, fantastic wings, and you can watch the Leafs lose at the same time. Now you've made me miss Toronto.


III. BlazerCon Pod Specials

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will roll out additional BlazerCon panels as Pod specials, including Rog’s conversation with Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert and our opening night live show with Barry Hearn. Thus far, we’ve released the keynote conversation between the great Rebecca Lowe and Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore [LISTEN HERE], and Rog’s interview with Everton manager Roberto Martinez [LISTEN HERE]. You can watch our entire BlazerCon television special online HERE. It is also available on Apple TV and Roku via NBC Sports Live Extra. It is listed under “Full Event Replays” for Wednesday, Nov. 25.
 


IV. A GFOP’s Best Paul Carr Impression

This week, we received a Raven that blew our mind. It comes via GFOP Brent Benson, who was inspired to go all Paul Carr when he heard Davo say, “The variance between [Man City's] high points and their low points—it's just magnificent, and makes them an attractive team to follow,” on last week’s Pod. Brent explains his work far better than we ever could, and even included table to help statistical neophytes like ourselves.

Brent Writes: I put on my suboptimal statistics hat and after churning through the data I found that, indeed, Manchester City's performance this season has the most variance between their highs and lows. I measured this by using Elo scores (a measure of team strength) to predict a likely goal differential for each game, and then comparing the actual result of the match for every Premier League match this season.

Manchester City does have the largest standard deviation compared to their expected goal differential. Rog's similar thought about Liverpool was close to the mark, but Liverpool's variance is below that of lowly Newcastle and mid-level West Ham, with West Ham's surprising wins against Arsenal and Liverpool and major losses to Watford and the Spurs.

 


V. We Sully EA SPORTS FIFA 16

As some of you have noticed, we have partnered with the GFOPs at EA SPORTS FIFA to provide in-game weekly match previews. This week’s: the aforementioned clash between battle weary Arsenal and Big Sam’s reinvigorated Sunderland. We’ll do one video a week for the duration of the Premier League season, and on into the summer for the Copa America Centenario and Euro 2016. We’d love your feedback on this content. Send us a Raven and let us know what you think.  


VI. A Golfing Dilemma

GFOP Adam Reiskin Writes: I am a golfer, and, like Davo, one of the few reasons I wake myself from sadnaps is in order to hit the links. Several weeks ago I was ordering new wedges and asked a golf pro at my country club what words/initials I should get stamped on my clubs. Not expecting him to know what I was talking about, I told him I wanted "WARPIG" stamped on one wedge, and "GFOP" on the other one. His response brought the greatest joy to my heart when he said, "THE BELGIAN MANAGER??!!!" and an instant best friendship was formed as we gleefully ordered the Men In Blazers Edition golf clubs which I was so excited to begin gaming. But, I'm now faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to actually use them and get them messed up, or simply to hang them on my wall and admire them continually.

Davo Writes: No question, you have to use them. And not just because of the money you have invested. I believe your decision to brand your clubs with WARPIG and GFOP - this terrific nickname and acronym - could IMPROVE YOUR PITCHING AND CHIPPING GAME DRAMATICALLY. Years ago, an English friend of mine gave me the most effective, unorthodox and yet longest lasting tip of my golfing "career". We were playing on a beautiful parkland just outside London and around the turn we were talking about what I was working on. At that time, 1998 I think, I was working with the international supermodel Cindy Crawford - just like Rog, but a little bit more hair - on a series of specials called "Sex with Cindy Crawford". He asked me what she was like, and I told him that quite apart from being a lovely person, she looks like no other woman on the planet - otherworldly - and has this quality that whenever she enters the room, you immediately relax because YOU ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF A GOD. After watching me pull another drive 40 yards left (always my miss, along with the push that goes 80 yards right) he told me to slowly say the words "Cindy" as I took the club back and "Crawford" as I swung down and through. Immediately, with this slower and yet electric tempo, I was hitting the ball straight as an arrow and 50 yards further. I use that swing thought to this day. Now Rog and I are no Cindy Crawford, and yet, surely, these words and concepts you love, could surely help you to STAY AGGRESSIVE AND CALM on your chipping and pitching. This past weekend I tried this. Saying "Warpig" on my chips completely helped me keep my chipping action simple, compact and always ACCELERATING THROUGH THE BALL AT IMPACT. YOU CANNOT DECEL WHILE YOU YELL "WARPIG".  And "GFOP" is the perfect pitching companion, "G" gets you hinging your wrists, "FO" starts the downswing and the clearing of the hips, and the 'P" gets you accelerating through impact and getting the handle of your wedge in your left pocket as you finish. I was hitting the ball SO SOLIDLY. And I don't even have wedges (yet) with "Warpig" and "GFOP" engraved on them. Happy Golfing. "Cindy Crawford".
 


VII. This Issue's #GFOPArt

Courtesy of the scary talented @SeauxYvesToraun. For those artistically-inclined GFOPs, we’d love to see some of your work. It can be of Rog, Davo, your favorite (or least favorite) footballer. Send submissions via email or over social using the hashtag #GFOPArt. We plan to feature one in every Raven newsletter moving forward.
 


VIII. A Football Film from the Davies Family Tree

The surname Davies is not often associated with optimal soccer content. But that’s changing, courtesy of Davo’s 22-year-old nephew Luke Davies. Luke recently directed a film for Copa 90 on Liberi Nantes, an Italian football club composed of immigrants and refugees. Watch the film HERE. And a behind-the-scenes look at the film, featuring Luke, is HERE.


IX. #PatchAtThePark

This issue’s #PatchAtThePark submissions take us from the MLS Western Conference Final in Frisco to the Eastern Conference tilt in Columbus. We also head South of the Border for Liga MX and Club América vs. Club León at the Azteca. And two non-football-related #PatchAtThePark submissions we love come from the Happiest Place on Earth and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Crap Part of Midtown #SaddingtonBear.

But our favorite comes from GFOP Braden Davidson. Even though he didn’t get a patch, he did get up close and personal with Kayla the Eagle at Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle this past weekend.
 


X. Arthur Guinness Photo

A new addition to the Panic Room: a photo of Arthur Guinness, the founder of our favorite footballing nectar. We wonder what he and KB5 talk about when we’re not in there.

 

XI. Football Fansite Profile: ToffeeWeb

This issue of the Raven marks our first Football Fansite Profile, in which we will hear from those on the masthead of our favorite football sites around the globe. We start with ToffeeWeb, a site Rog has been reading since the days of dial-up modems. Lyndon Lloyd, who serves as the site’s chief writer, designer, developer and co-owner, as well as the editor and publisher of 1878 Magazine, provides us with insight.

MiB: Give us some background on ToffeeWeb. The who, what, when, where and why it began. And how's it's grown since its inception.

Lloyd: Bizarrely enough, the site was started by a Finn named Marko Poutiainen in 1994 at a time when there were hardly any football websites around, let alone ones devoted to Everton FC! He “met" Michael Kenrick, a Liverpudlian ex-pat living in Seattle, in one of the early chat rooms and recruited him to translate historical content related to the Toffees for publication on the Web and things grew from there. With the addition of match coverage, news and profiles, it became a fully-fledged online resource at a time when the club itself still didn’t have a proper online presence of its own.

Around that time, I founded Evertonia.com as a side-project while I was doing my Masters degree at Swansea University, one which developed over the next few years as a more editorially and design-focused alternative to ToffeeWeb (as Michael’s site had now come to be known). Eventually, though, we came to the mutual realization that there seemed to be little sense in the two of us running such similar sites separately and in late 2000 we agreed to merge the two behemoths into one. We elected to keep ToffeeWeb’s name and Evertonia’s design aesthetic and so began months of gruelling content migration! The rest, as they say, is history — ToffeeWeb remains the longest-running and most in-depth independent Everton site on the Web with a thriving community and a legion of readers.

MiB: This season's most surprising storyline at Everton is ...

LloydI would say the speed with which Gerard Deulofeu has become such a vital cog in our attacking machine. He has always had fantastic ability and was regarded as the hottest prospect of his generation in Barcelona’s youth academy, but questions have been raised over his consistency, his temperament and weaknesses in the defensive side of his game. Certainly during his first spell on loan at Goodison Park in 2013-14 and then at Sevilla last season it looked as though he might not fulfil his massive potential which is probably why Roberto Martinez was able to land him for just £4.2m this past summer.

I think many of us felt it would take him a while to settle back into the rigours of the Barclays Premier League but he has been a revelation for us so far. He still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly in terms of performing consistently week in, week out, but what we’re discovering is that he only needs to turn on the magic a few times a game to be hugely effective. Romelu Lukaku is certainly enjoying having him around — half of his goals so far have been created by Deulofeu!

MiB: The one thing I would change at Everton is ...

LloydIt’s common knowledge that Everton need new ownership or significant outside investment to enable it to compete with the huge resources of those clubs that were once our peers before the inception of the Premier League in 1992. If there was one thing I could make happen with the click of my fingers, it would be that. There have been rumblings of interest from America, with Kansas Sporting Group holding talks earlier this year, but nothing concrete appears to be on the horizon.

With the right backers in place, we could resolve our ongoing stadium problem —  Goodison Park is a wonderful sporting theatre dripping in history but it’s in dire need of renovation — and have the funds needed to build the team out into one capable of competing for and in the Champions League.

MiB: Look into your crystal ball. How does the rest of the season play out for Everton?

LloydThere’s a growing feeling that Roberto Martinez’s dynamic young side is really starting to gel and that there is opportunity to finally achieve this season. With Chelsea struggling, Arsenal hit by injuries and Manchester United still not finding their groove, the top four of the Premier League could be wide open this season. In the Capital One Cup, Everton are in the semi-finals and just three games from ending a 21-year trophy drought.

The question — as it was two seasons ago in his first season in charge — is whether Martinez’s team have the ruthlessness and the single-minded drive to keep grinding out victories or whether they will continue to drop silly points from winning positions and battle to beat the very top clubs in the division. My suspicion is that without the addition of a top-class attacking midfielder and, perhaps, a similar-caliber striker, in the January window we will fall just short of Champions League qualification in the League. But a cup final isn’t out of the question.


XII. Passing Time in the CPOS

A look at what we’re watching, viewing, and listening to when there’s no football on:
- The BBC's piece on FC Harlem and the football revolution in the United States WATCH HERE
- “Game of Thrones” Season 6 Tease, “The past is already written. The ink is dry.” #JonSnowLives! WATCH HERE
- “Downton Abbey’s” final Christmas episode trailer WATCH HERE
- GFOP John Green’s holiday book giving guide WATCH HERE
- Bill Murray and Phoenix cover the Beach Boys' "Alone on Christmas Day" LISTEN HERE


XIII. A Bond Forged at BlazerCon 

It warms our cockles to know that two of the inaugural BlazerCon activation stations - the aesthetically outstanding Eight by Eight magazine and protective soccer gear manufacturer Storelli - are now working together. Their first collaboration: a Priest and Grace (Eight by Eight's publisher)-designed Storelli ad. 
 


XIV. A Book for Your Library, If You Still Read

It was Rog’s Emporium pick this week on the Pod and his Thanksgiving read. “The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945” by Nicholas Stargardt is a magnum opus in which the Oxford don mines diaries and letters from ordinary Germans to build a complex narrative of their motivations and thinking from the very beginning of WWII to its culmination. It is a beautiful, horrific and subtle, 600-page journey from omnipotence and wonder to a widespread sense of victimhood. If you are fascinated by the history of the first half of the 20th century, it is a must read.


XV. A Poem To Gird Your Loins

This issue’s poem comes in video form via Legion Magazine. Leonard Cohen recites “In Flanders Fields” to commemorate Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s poem's 100th anniversary. WATCH HERE


XVI. "Plumb our Annals”

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. http://meninblazers.com/page/mib-merch

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.”
-Philip Larkin
 

    

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PODCAST
 
In this week's podcast, Rog and Davo revel in Jamie Vardy's record breaking goal against Manchester United, break down #Bibgate at Chelsea, and look ahead to the MLS Cup Final. LISTEN HERE
 
GOOD READS
 
America’s growing love of the Premier League and the league’s surging love for America. Matt Slater for the BBC. READ HERE (Disclaimer: some of the sources are suspect, at best.)

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy on his transformation from Stocksbridge Park Steel to Premier League record holder. Stuart James for The Guardian. READ HERE


Manchester City takes aim at China. How the club is balancing going global with keeping fans happy at home. David Conn for The Guardian. READ HERE

Philip Larkin’s former colleague James Booth reflects on the life of one of Britain’s most beloved and controversial poets for the BBC. READ HERE

GFOP David Simon on the drama of journalism. Jada Yuan reports for Vulture. READ HERE
ABOUT

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett believe that soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972. Visit MeninBlazers.com, “Like” us on Facebook, follow the show on Twitter and Instagram, or email us at MeninBlazers@gmail.com.
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