2014. The year in which soccer in America has had a better summer than Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. What a couple of months it has been, starting with the US Gents emerging from the Group of Death in Brazil, and whipping even the most casual sports fans into a football frenzy, the likes of which had not been seen since Alexis Lalas’ “Ginger” album
dropped in 1998.
While the World Cup was certainly the apex of soccer’s Wet Hot American Summer, several supporting acts cranked the volume to 11. 19,000 fans packed Providence Park to watch the NWSL’s Portland Thorns defeat the Houston Dash 1-0. 109,000 jammed University of Michigan’s Big House to watch Manchester United defeat Real Madrid 3-1 in the Guinness International Champions Cup. It was the largest ever crowd to watch a live football match in the U.S. and a significant moment in America’s relationship with the game we love.
(photo via GFOP Andrew Laubmeier)
These types of crowds have caught the attention of Europe’s elite clubs, and has prompted them to keep one eye on this side of the Atlantic as they hope to colonize a growing American fanbase. Bayern Munich has opened offices in Midtown Manhattan (Though the club’s approach to the All-Star game culminating in Pep Guardiola’s boorish behavior was an ill-judged self-inflicted wound). La Liga has stated its intentions to fight for a slice of the American footballing pie. Surely, the Tippeligaen can’t be too far behind.
Our summer ended in Portland, Oregon. American Soccer’s New Jerusalem. The city was as advertised and did not disappoint. We had a blast with 3,000 GFOP’s at our live MLS All-Star show Monday. Thank you to all our guests, the Timbers Army, American Outlaws and every GFOP who turned up to celebrate with us. We were blown away by the Rose City where passion for the game is as ubiquitous as air and water. Within 10 years, we believe the rest of America will be as soccer-mad as Portland. (And, yes, Seattle listeners, we would really love to visit your city soon.)
As for the All-Star game itself: MLS 2 Bayern Munich 1. Resist the urge to read too much into it. One team is an All-Star line-up who have barely trained together. The other is mentally focussed on the Bundesliga and the Champions League. It is no litmus test for American soccer when Roma smash the All-Stars and it does not become one when they win. However, Germany, do the right thing and hand over your World Cup to us now. That thing works like a Championship belt.
As lovers of both football and America, this has been a very special summer. Like the ancient Greek runner Phidippides or the tiny Mathieu Valbuena, the game has covered an unprecedented amount of ground in a remarkably short time. And now, the English Premier League kick-off is just nine days away and counting...
In this newsletter:
- A remarkable #GFOP writes about his pro-soccer playing father’s dementia
- News of Men in Blazers First Premier League Enhancement Kit
- 3 questions for Paul “Blows Your Mind” Carr
- News of MiB Premier League Fantasy League and our remarkable Prize Belt
More on what’s next for Men in Blazers coming VERY SOON.
Kung Fu Fighting,
On behalf of:
"Positive" Davo: @embassydavies
P.S. Landon Donovan's retirement was done in suitably Landon style. Most men would announce it before the All-Star game and make the event all about him. Landon chose to score the winner and then make his intentions clear. We wish St. Landon well. His was a peerless American career which will be appreciated all the more with time.
The big question is...who will play Landon in his biopic. You suggested: Pete Campbell from Mad Men (@kobe42085), Andrew Shue (@rmiriam), and Peter Dinklage (@ikoolykedat).
I. Men in Blazers Premier League Enhancement Kit
This Men In Blazers Premier League Enhancement Kit is designed to intensify your season of football viewing pleasure. A limited run of 1000 have emerged from the kiln and are being dispatched by Ravens at a rapid clip. The kit contains a Men in Blazers patch and four sturdy drinking vessels purpose-built to contain the morning stimulant of your choice. Be it coffee, Guinness or both.
The cups have been ergonomically designed by #GFOP Ian Hutchison
so the second you see Rebecca Lowe on the screen, break out the mugs, raise them to the old gods and the new, and beseech them to guide (Insert your team’s name here) to victory.
BUY YOURS FOR A GFOP YOU LOVE HERE
II. An Important Note From A Remarkable #GFOP
GFOP Paul Conway of Daniel Island, South Carolina writes: My father (ex pro soccer player) Jimmy Conway, is suffering from trauma induced dementia, which is the likely result of a 16 year playing career that included stops at Bohemians, Fulham, Manchester City, Portland Timbers and the Republic of Ireland. I wanted to share this article about the battle against dementia he now fights with the help of some of his ex-teammates.
The purpose of this note is my effort to continue to increase the level of awareness of head injuries and the effect they can play on individuals and their loved ones later in life. I am not an advocate of dramatically changing the game (i.e., eliminating heading), I know better than most heading is an intricate part of the game. Nevertheless, the game’s treatment of suspected head injuries is somewhat barbaric and FIFA and its many subordinates could really do a better job addressing the issue. As American soccer continues to work hard towards developing the next Messi or Ronaldo – which we will eventually do – maybe one significant near-term contribution to the global game from the US could be the development of adequate policy and procedures concerning on field head injuries.
Rog and Davo write:
We could not agree more. Your father is a footballing hero. Every #GFOP should read this article
which is beautifully written by Jason Quick of the Oregonian. To Life!
III. The Best Shoes We Have Bought This Week
One of the non-footballing triumphs of our time in Portland was stumbling across the Danner brand. Their taste filter was as fine as DeAndre Yedlin’s. The store has a shoe for every gent, even those with an affinity for raspberry trousers.
IV. A Raven From a #GFOP In Need Of Relationship Advice
GFOP Justin Sands writes: Dear Rog and Davo, Greetings from Leuven, Belgium. I'm in need of some relationship advice. Three years ago I decided to support Newcastle because my girlfriend at the time was half Geordie and half Flemish, and bonkers for the Magpies. We've since broken up but I still pull for Newcastle. My current girlfriend of 1 1/2 years hates Newcastle because of my ex and she says I should pull for Ajax, her brother's team, or any other team than Newcastle (though she could probably not even name 5 teams in the Premiership...) So what am I to do? I've only pulled for the Magpies for a short while but I like their grit and Krul and Coloccini are fun to watch and support. I think she might be “The One,” but does that mean I need to sell my Newcastle jersey?
Rog writes: Justin. The core to love is self-love. You have to pick your OWN team. We are with Jung on this, when he wrote “the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” Accepting your Newcastle-ness may indeed be terrifying. Yet, if you cave on this, lord knows what comes next. How do you say, “bend but don’t break” in Flemish?
V. A Book For Your Library, If You Still Read
We are not always lovers of short story collections, but Booker Prize winner Graham Swift’s “England and Other Stories” was fascinating to grapple with on the flight to Portland. 25 stories are set from the 1600s to contemporary England, taking in the civil war, the First World War and Afghanistan. The collection plums the nation’s social changes over the past century but is also a dark examination of life, relationships, and love.
VI. Timbers Army WE SALUTE YOU
One of the highlights of our trip to Portland was meeting the members of the Timbers Army. They are a remarkable suporters’ organization whose fervor for football makes our nipples tingle. As Rog said Monday, football is to the Timbers Army as Drakkar Noir is to the Portuguese National Team.
During the show, we were honored to be presented with a framed fragment of their original Sunshine Trailer. It will get get pride of place in our recreation of the Rio Panic Room in New York City. As a show of our appreciation for what they are doing for football in America, we gifted them the first and only Men in Blazers Army Jacket. We were honored to see this picture of our gift hanging in pride of place in their clubhouse. Dominate.
VII. Three Questions With Paul Carr: The Man Who Blows Your Mind
He’s the inspiration for the foot-tapping, hand-clapping tune that took America by storm this summer. Davo can’t even hear his name without breaking into song, though the memory is still so raw, it tends to move Rog to tears. Forget Pit Bull and J. Lo. Mr. Paul Carr was the undisputed musical star of Brazil 2014 (“Paul Carr Blows Your Mind” even spawned a remix).
In addition to our musical muse, Paul Carr also happens to be our favorite football researcher/statistician. Mostly because his parents are two of our 12 listeners. Kidding aside, his contributions to our World Cup coverage should not be underestimated. And in this edition of our “Three Questions” interview series (we couldn’t help but ask a fourth), we asked Paul Carr how he became the mind-blowing man and researcher he is today.
MiB: When did you decide that being a researcher/statistician was what you wanted to do with your life?
Carr: I wanted to work in sports media ever since I realized I wouldn't be a pro athlete (around age 12). After five years in radio/TV/newspaper in Topeka, I found ESPN's research opening, and I knew that was what I wanted to do next. After some quick re-programming to focus on telling stories with numbers, here I am.
MiB: What skill sets do you need to excel in your role (apart from no emotions)?
Carr: An understanding of the stories at play in a game/season/tournament, and a knowledge of what available stats can best capture those stories. And as you said, minimal emotion.
MiB: What English Premier League team do you support? Do you weight their stats accordingly?
Carr: I learned the English game during Manchester United's treble-winning season of 1998-99, so I root for United, but I don't know that I'd call myself a supporter. If you saw all the negative stats I tweeted about United last year, you'd know there's no weighting of stats in their favor.
MiB: Being a statistician, can you describe how you watch the game differently to a commentator or analyst? What are you looking for?
Carr: I watch with a blend of commentator and analyst mindsets. Like a commentator, I'm looking for patterns (or their absence), to tell stories of streaks and slumps, dominance and struggles. Like an analyst, I'm trying to figure out what's happening on the field, and then I want to find a number that helps explain it.
VIII. Men in Blazers Sub-Optimal Fantasy Football League
It has arrived. The Men in Blazers Championship Belt is now safely in the Crap Part of Soho. It will be awarded to this year's winner of our Men in Blazers Sub-Optimal Fantasy Football League
. Thousands of you have joined up under team names including "Kops and Rodgers," "50 Shades of Shea," and "Hairy Potters." There is still time to join...click “join private league” and enter league code 422932-110181.
SIZE THE DAY
IX. I Do...Fancy A Kick About
X. This Week's Poem To Gird Your Loins
We thought the World Cup final was a high stakes affair until we watched this New York Times video that GFOP Gifford Miller sent us. A soon to be married couple Martha West and Tanya Kalivas could not decide on their last name, and decided to settle the debate by playing a game of football. According to Miller, who played in the game, Kalivas is a former member of the Greek Olympic team and a Princeton alum. Meanwhile, West played professionally in Sweden after a college career at Stanford.
We wholeheartedly support the idea of settling all marital debates, disputes, and conflicts with football. Unless you’re married to a box-to-box midfield dynamo like Super Julie Foudy in which case there could only be one winner.
In honor of August 4th’s centenary of the First World War, Philip Larkin's meditation on the changes it wrought for England. "Never such innocence again." Nominated by GFOP Gregory Teran.
By Philip Larkin
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day--
And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
"Plumb Our Annals"
The Premier League may still be more than a week away, but League football begins THIS WEEKEND. And, as you know, no Football League side gives us The Thickening like Leyton Orient. In this week’s Pod From the Past, we revisit a special live show with former chairman of the Mighty Orient, Barry Hearn. If the gent from the Dos Equis ads ever retires his post as The Most Interesting Man in the World, we expect Barry to slide seamlessly into the role.
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" on iTunes and Amazon. It's the least objectionable of our football "analysis," Ravens and interviews from the first four years.
And all of our sub-optimal work from this extremely optimal World Cup is still available on our ESPNFC.com blog.
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.”