I write with fingers attached to a body which is similar to a bald Dennis Rodman, if Dennis Rodman was bereft of rebounding abilities. It’s Monday. The start of a new week. Let us note that by adding a mark of chalk to our cave walls. A lot of us are feeling the absence of things especially hard over the weekend. Sports. Premier League. Life. I have tried to grapple with that by remembering the highs as well of the lows of the last six weeks. Life is very much an up and down internal battle for all of us right now. I am very much focussed on giving myself and those around me plenty of room to articulate the downs, even whilst reliving the great moments too.
One high I thought a lot about over the weekend is that just over a year ago I took my daughter Zion to her first Everton game. Everton 4 Manchester United 0. To watch that ebullient rampage with my four kids and my Dad. Three generations of long-suffering blues together. Proof football is a story of generations. Of memories passed from parents to children. Every time Everton scored, Goodison Park rocked as if it was a can of soda shaken and shotgunned. My daughter would leap into my arms, and I would look over at my boys and my Dad, who is in his eighties, and the way he was pogoing around made him seem the biggest kid of all. The memories this rekindled of my own childhood, mixed with her passion and excitement, made this one of great days of my life. You all have your own memories of life like that. These are the ones we must tap into and draw strength from right now.
2. We have a gigantic week of football at Men In Blazers this week.
i. Today sees us launch our team-by-team weekly NWSL season previews, presented by Budweiser. Starting with your defending Champions, the best-named team in professional sports (Sorry, Toledo Mud Hens), the North Carolina Courage. That drops around noon on all our social channels.
ii. Mark your Datebook: This week’s Wednesday Budweiser Happy Hour features GFOP and Two-Time World Cup Winner KELLEY O’HARA. Going to be a slice of magic. We all need a little KOH Energy in our lives. Join us on Insta Live at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday.
ii. We loved raising a Bud and a Jagermeister with teachers across America on Friday to close the week in our now weekly GFOP Zoom Happy Hour. News of the next happy hour will go out exclusively via this newsletter. If you know someone who may be interested, forward this to them.
iii. “Men in Blazers on Ice” - our collaboration with Jagermeister and the NHL - continues with more Ryan O’Reilly. THIS CLIP features Ryan talking about the way his parents filled his home with foster children, the source of the Stanley Cup MVP’s empathy and commitment to the collective. Watch our entire interview with Ryan HERE. And binge our entire NHL Series HERE. Coming up this week: Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman and MASSIVE Manchester United fan, Victor Hedman.
3. To the Football: Over the weekend, the British Government stepped in to begin coordinating meetings amongst the nation’s sports bodies in an attempt to unify their efforts to return and lift the national mood. Great news. But I would be more excited if it was Churchill’s government and not this current clown car.
The Premier League itself is floating the notion of a June 8 return with the players locking themselves into isolation in hotels for the entire period (an awful but wonderful reality TV concept if I have ever heard of one.) Plans have also begun to leak hinting at what football could look like, Ghost Game-style, setting out the minimum 300 human beings it would take to make balls be kicked, safely, in anger once again: 40 players, 32 coaching and medical staff from the two teams, 12 match officials, between six and eight doctors and medical personnel, three Premier League officials and 130 or more media personnel.
b. As Arsenal become the first team to return to training, this piece offers fascinating insight into the details of their training plan, which brings the team together without having them touch each other. Pretty much how they defended in the pre-pandemic world.
One interesting newslet: FIFA are floating the notion of FIVE substitutes when football returns and the games come fast and furious, to ease the pressure on teams’ fitness post COVID-break.
One note of caution on all this. Jamie Carragher was a sage voice amidst the torrent of detail flushing out football’s glorious return. On Sky News, he said “I don’t think the Premier League will decide, I think the virus will decide.” Words of caution. Words of truth.
c. Italy’s Serie A edges towards return behind closed doors as the country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, gave the go-ahead for professional sports teams to resume training in May. The football teams have inked in a May 18 resumption of team training. I loved this Conte quote: “I’m passionate for football.” Peak Italian has been achieved and it is wonderful.
d. Bad news in Spain though as La Liga’s plans to return have stalled. Health minister, Salvador Illa, said elite sports are unlikely to return until the summer. The league has also advised clubs that player testing has been put on hold because, “the resumption of training sessions is going to be delayed.” The article hints at the level of detail the Spanish are grappling with: “Rafa Ramos, president of the association of Spanish football club doctors, has said that footballs and playing surfaces will have to be sterilised if matches are to resume. ‘All the material, even the pitches, will have to be sterilised before a match, at half-time and afterwards,’ Ramos told El Pais. ‘It’s possible to be infected by the ball, but when you are struck by a sterilised ball it’s very hard to get infected.’
e. Bundesliga clubs have begun to debate if relegation should be scrapped, even if the season is played to a conclusion. The Telegraph reported many believe there should be no relegation at the end of this season because the sporting integrity has already been lost. Premier League teams will be watching, right Villa fans?
Interesting wrinkle in the Dutch league, which voided its season last week: ”The Eredivisie could now reverse that decision in the face of a mounting threat of legal action from clubs such as Cambuur, who are 11 points clear in the second-tier and seemingly strolling towards promotion. Dutch Leeds.
f.Chelseacannot come to terms with their players on pay reductions. The club have asked for 30%. The players, led by Dave Azpilicueta, have responded with 10%. Gary Neville predicts the longer this goes on, the less money Frank Lampard will have for transfers, which means the Chelsea youth academy-era will continue. Expect Billy Gilmour’s child to be the club’s starting defensive midfielder next season.
i. Take the day off work today because it is the sixth year anniversary of Steven Gerrard’s Slip. A national holiday on the blue side of Merseyside. One of the most anguish-filled, searingly-human, non-scripted moments in sport. This deep dive relives every moment of it. Scorsese needs to buy the rights to it and have Ray Liotta play Stevie G.
ii. The lived experience of Reading’s matchday mascot. Destroyer of sadness. A lovely fleeting return to the old days of normalcy.
iii. Players in Isolation posting their workout stats lifts the lid on their superhuman abilities and offers insight into what informs team selections in the modern era.
5. A little dash of Non-Football? OK. You twisted my arm
a. Jason Isbell is a great American. His songs are remarkable and have helped me through life so many times. (I love his lyric, “I used to want to be a real man/I don't know what that even means” and have written it into the beginning of my book.) This GQ profile is a wonderful read. Isbell explains his approach to life as “the similarities between the teachings of Ram Dass and the coaching of Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide. It's always about the process. You're playing the game; you're not playing an opponent. You're doing the work in order to do the work.”
e. I adore Angie McMahon. I adore ABBA. Her version of Knowing Me Knowing You is the best crossover since Kyrie Irving. Stick with it because after mumbling the front half, she goes for it on the back nine and it is magic. (Bonus Angie: Killing Time with its lyric, “I want someone who's funny looking when they dance, I wanna dance with them, I wanna dance with them.”)
I will close today with a Raven from Josh Miller, a Gunner who signs his email “Victoria Concordia Crescit.”
Josh Writes: I’ve been finding so much joy in your Pods and Ravens and I wanted to let you know this. A friend of mine, who most likely has never watched a full 90 minutes of a football match has just ordered a new coffee machine. She mentioned this to me last week and today it arrived. SHE NAMED IT NIGEL!!!!!!”
Josh Miller. I cannot tell you how much pleasure your email gave me. As I said at the top of this letter, it is the little things which fill us with joy that we must grasp onto. And right now, my world feels a little more hope-filled. A future of meaning feels like it will soon be touchable. All because you took a minute to draw our attention to the existence of a Coffee Maker in Traverse City, Mich., that is named NIGEL. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.