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Hail! GFOP


I write, still aquiver after Liverpool’s deliriously dramatic 4-3 victory over an initially electric Dortmund. “Football was invented for nights like these,” proclaimed German daily Bild. Ballads will be written about this game, played before a stirring Anfield crowd. The Germans start explosively, charging on the counter into a 2-0 lead within the first 11 minutes. A shellshocked Liverpool limp towards the half time whistle. Yet Jurgen Klopp never gives up, cutting a remarkable spectacle on the sideline. His team, needing three goals, can barely summon the ability to clear the first man with a corner. But the Teutonic Care Bear never lost hope, givin’ it Bifters in his technical area, driving his players forward.  

In the second half, Origi, Coutinho, and, fittingly, Sakho and Lovren, two of the more maligned players of this erratic Liverpool season, come good. Within 45 minutes, Klopp, in full public view, in front of his old team’s diehard fans, goes from humiliation to exaltation. All by sheer force of will. What a human being.  

If you did not catch the game, the highlights are a must-watch. It is worth savoring the magic of the last minutes as broadcast on local Liverpool radio. And noting the class of Dortmund after the agony of the final whistle. A reminder of why we watch football. A no-doubt hungover Liverpool now travel to Bournemouth [8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBC Live Extra] in the midst of a Premier League schedule in which free will is poised to be suffocated by pre-determined fate. League leading Leicester host West Ham [8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN]. A game which will be heralded as their latest test. They will inevitably win without conceding. Andy Carroll’s battle against Wes Morgan and Robert Huth may be as close as we may come to witnessing Godzilla battle Mothra and King Ghidorah in human flesh.  

Fast-running-out-of-games-to-make-a-difference’s Spurs do not play until Monday afternoon against vacation’s Stoke [3 p.m. ET on NBCSN]. On paper, Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne’s trip to Chelsea is the biggest clash of the weekend [12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on Network NBC]. In reality, the most seismic, meaningful game takes place straight off the bat as fellow wobblers, Norwich City and Sunderland battle over the wide open Moon Door of relegation [7:45 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN].

Though the Premier League die looks ever more cast, it has been a season of magic. It was an honor to celebrate the miracle-packed narrative in a sold-out room full of GFOPs last week at the Night of the Golden Blazer. More on that below. For now, know we never take it for granted. To more.

LTN (Livin’ The Nightmare),
Rog @rogbennett

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

In this newsletter, a first hand account of a life lived delivering NBC’s Premier League coverage from Kyle Martino. Ginger King Alexi Lalas’ talks about scoring the very first English language interview with new FIFA President Gianni Infantino. And two words: Scottish. Twitter.
 

I. Commemorating the Hillsborough Disaster, 27 Years Ago Today #JFT96

Today is the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. Ninety six people went to a football match and never came home. This article by the remarkable David Conn is a must read. A reminder that we must never take anything in life for granted. Our thoughts today are with those families who lost their loved ones. #JFT96


II. The Longest Day(s) with Kyle Martino

When Allied Forces parachuted into Normandy, each soldier carried a compass, a cricket noise maker, and an M1 rifle. Covering the Premier League isn’t exactly an invasion to save the Free World. But when Kyle Martino steps on the flight from his home in Southern California to NBCSN’s Stamford, Conn. studio, he is prepared. Alarm clock (check). A 500GB hard drive brimming with every single Premier League game this season (check). Top secret hair product that he refuses to reveal despite absolutely no threat of Rog or Davo using it (check).   

In this issue of The Raven, Kyle walks us through a weekend on set, and gives us insight into his transcontinental commute, 4:30 a.m. call times, and Robbie Mustoe's  “Breakfast Delays.”

FRIDAY
Pacific Time
5:30 a.m. - Wake up. Tiptoe in the dark to our bathroom, where, hopefully, I laid out my clothes so I can get dressed without waking wifey. I forgot to lay out underwear. I blindly stumble back through the bedroom and look for the sock drawer, knocking things over along the way. Woke up the wife. Damn.

6 a.m. - Get in car to airport while simultaneously calling into our NBC format call on which the entire staff talks through the plan for the weekend ahead. This is where the top of Saturday’s show starts to take shape. It’s also where I say my very first words of the day, which usually come out hoarse and scratchy.

7 a.m. - Flight delayed. Wait for crew. I have a love-hate relationship with my six-hour, 3,000-mile commute. Flight delays fall in the hate column.

8:30 a.m. - Board plane and hold up the line while I take out laptop, hard drive, chargers, snacks (trail mix with M&M's). I know. I know. Get out of the aisle. The actual flight is the “love” (maybe “like”) part of my commute. It is six uninterrupted hours during which I prepare for the weekend ahead. I spend a majority of that time watching games. When I travel, I carry a hard drive with every single Premier League game played this season on it. I’m looking for themes, tactics and little nuances only seen with isolated attention. Like watching "Old School" for the 10th time and noticing a quote you didn't the first nine. The flight passes quickly. The frequent flier miles are also a plus. Pretty soon, I’ll be flying the plane.

Eastern Time
5:45 p.m. - 9 p.m. - Car to Greenwich. Hit the gym (Arms day, but what's the use? We've seen my arms.). Order room service (NY Strip with spinach and potatoes). Eat, drink, read. FaceTime with wifey and daughter to say goodnight.

9:30 p.m. - Advil PM. Falling asleep Friday nights can be difficult because I’m still on West Coast time. As a result, I’ve watched some of the best/worst/most addictive television available. Plenty of “Antiques Roadshow”.

SATURDAY
4 a.m. - Wake up. Struggle for first two minutes to remember where I am. Shower. Listen to some talkSPORT. Read some early morning articles.

5 a.m. - Meet a Robbie in the lobby and head to the studio. Robbie Earle is Batman in the morning. He can operate on almost no sleep. I’ve never seen someone appear so professional and put together at 5 a.m. Mustoe and I, on the other hand, do not wear lack of sleep well. Although, having a young daughter has helped me get used it.

5:15 a.m. - Arrive at the studio. Realize at security I've forgotten my badge. Again. At which point I tell whichever Robbie I'm with to go ahead and I get a guest pass. Get within 50 yards of the makeup room and hear Rebecca's laugh. Lack of sleep isn’t a factor for Rebecca, who claims to go to sleep at 6:30 Friday evenings. As a result, her laugh is like a double espresso at 5:00 a.m. Topics of conversation in the makeup room: current events, pop culture, embarrassing moments, Rebecca's cats. And the open of the show.

6 - 6:30 a.m. - Grab gear. Cement hair to head. Tie obnoxiously large tie-knot. Hit the set. My traditional studio entrance line: "HEEELLOOOO MAAAATES!!!"
 

7 a.m. - 4 p.m. - Make TV magic and watch the games. The way we watch depends on the number of games on at the time. If multiple games are on at once, we monitor all of them on that massive screen behind us. We have a rule. If you’re focused on a game in which there’s about to be a goal, or important play, you have to shout out what’s happening and where on the big screen that game is. For example: “Top row, second from the left.” If you shout out a false alarm (goal that ends up not being a goal, etc.), you get fined. If we actually collected fines, Rebecca might be in trouble. Another rule. If you’re watching the game via the tactical camera, on which the video feed is typically a second or two ahead of the other feed, you must remain silent.

If it sounds like a lot going on. It is. Often times, during the 10 a.m. slate of games, I’ll excuse myself to the Match of the Day II set, or as I refer to it, the kids’ table, so that I can focus on one game.  
 

We get a lot of questions about what and when we eat throughout the day. It starts with coffee, first thing in the morning. All of us. Across the board. I take my coffee black. At that hour I need a punch in the face to get going. We get breakfast at 7:45 a.m., when the first game kicks off. There is one exception. Occasionally, Mustoe will be so excited about a game, he’ll call what’s become known as a “BD.” Breakfast Delay. He wants to watch the first 15 minutes of the game without food distracting him. All food comes from NBC’s onsite cafe. Throughout the day, we make the switch from coffee to tea (English breakfast for Rebecca and the Robbies, green for me) as we decaffeinate. Lunch also comes from the NBC cafe and also involves acronyms. CRV (chicken, rice, vegetables) is the go to.
 
4 p.m. - Change and head to the hotel. Contemplate working out. Usually decide not to.

6 p.m. - Meet one of the Robbies in the lobby and head to an area restaurant for the early bird special. Our favorite spot changes season to season. Last year, it was Barcelona in Stamford. This year, we’ve been eating a lot of meals at Eastend in Greenwich. Mac and cheese. Always. And pork chops. Sometime we class it up with a Malbec, but mostly a pint of pale ale to drink.

9 p.m. - Read articles. Watch manager interviews. FaceTime wifey and daughter. Call it a night. While I fight to fall asleep Friday nights, Saturdays are a struggle to stay awake. I’m typically out before my head hits the pillow.  

SUNDAY
Repeat Sat 4 a.m.- 4 p.m. - Call time is an hour later Sundays and, because it’s typically only two games, getting up is much easier. It also helps that I’ve had more sleep than Friday’s Power Nap’s worth.

5 p.m. - Hightail it to the airport.

7:30 p.m. - Fly to LAX. The day is done, but the sun never really sets on the Premier League narrative, so I’ll review any games I wasn’t able to watch in their entirety over the weekend, read any articles I wasn’t able to, and generally just try and digest what happened over the weekend. Buffalo Trace bourbon helps.  

Pacific Time
11:30 p.m. - Land. Sleepwalk to car.

12:30 a.m. - Startle wifey awake only to tell her to go back to sleep.

12:45 a.m. - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


III. This Week in Blazers

Night of the Golden Blazer Pod Special -  LISTEN HERE
This Week’s Podcast - LISTEN HERE
The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW, featuring American Hero, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch -  WATCH HERE
MLS Pod Special with Gyasi Zardes - LISTEN HERE


IV. Scottish Twitter, Likesay

For Irvine Welsh lovers who cannot get enough, a Twitter feed which retweets the best of lives lived Up North. Get 10 seconds through this slice of magic and you will appreciate the tone of tough love, grim misery and indefatigable pride found in the oddest of places: Scottish Tweets  


V. Three Questions With Alexi Lalas

This week, Gianni Infantino granted his first English language interview since taking the reigns as FIFA President in February. The interviewer: none other than former denim-clad USMNT star and FOX Sports analyst Alexi Lalas. Over the course of 20 minutes, Alexi asked Gianni about the Panama Papers, gender equity, Qatar and the 2026 World Cup bidding process. You can watch the five-part interview on FOX Soccer’s YouTube channel. In this edition of Three Questions, we ask Alexi about his prep for the interview what Infantino was like off camera, and whether the experience made him more confident in FIFA moving forward.
 

MiB: Describe how you prepared for the interview. Walk us through your process.

AL: We didn’t find out about the interview until a few days before it happened. I read anything and everything I possibly could about Infantino leading up to it. My preparation for the more than 10 straight hours I spent on-air covering FIFA’s presidential election in February certainly helped. The fact is, when it comes to FIFA and potential questions, there is plenty of meat on that bone. We had 20 minutes for this interview, and it’s impossible to satisfy everyone with a line of questioning. But I wanted to get to the core questions that appeal to as many people as possible. Topics like transparency and change, what is happening in the women’s game, Qatar. I should add that I had a tremendous amount of help from the research team here at FOX Sports. They made me look good, and I need all the help I can get.

MiB: Infantino, as one would expect, appears relatively convivial throughout the interview. Can you describe what he was like when the cameras were off? Did you get a sense of how he travels? Was he with an entourage?

AL: It was just him and one person. He was on time. He was pleasant, cordial and relaxed. But I did sense that the stakes of this job are starting to dawn on him. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. He’s traveled around quite a bit since taking over. I got the impression he’s beginning to realize the road ahead is filled with pressure and potential in equal measure.

MiB: You pressed Infantino on several important issues, including equal World Cup prize money for men and women. You asked him three times before he told you, "There's not a straightforward answer to this." As an interviewer, when do you come to the realization that he is just not going to answer this question and decide to move on? Were you frustrated by what he did not say?

AL: I’m still new to these types of interviews. But it is my responsibility to ask the questions that people want answered. I had no control over whether he would answer my questions or not. In instances that he did not answer, it was my responsibility to follow up. In the end, if he didn’t answer, it wasn’t because I did not give him the opportunity to.

MiB: Last month, you told your FOX Sports colleague Colin Cowherd that while this year's presidential election was a seminal moment for FIFA, the organization remained ripe for corruption. Did this interview change that view in any way, shape or form? Did it change your perception of Infantino? What was your one big takeaway from this interview?

AL: In Wednesday’s Champions League post-show, I said that the President of FIFA doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof of change is squarely on FIFA. It is up to them to prove there has been change and actual transparency at the organization. Mr. Infantino is a smart man. But that doesn’t make me feel any more confident that change is inevitable. At this point, we can only take solace when concrete change is made. Until then, I will reserve judgement.


VI. Davo’s Dance Grooves/A Cry For Help

If any GFOPs have video or photos of Davo dancing to Enter Sandman at the Golden Blazer, please, please send them in. We would be forever indebted. #DaddyWants
 


VII. A License Plate Sure to Cause Road Rage

Last week, on the Pod, Rog spoke about how blown away we were by GFOP Mark Allen. The Virginia-based Chelsea supporter actually drives around with a “SUBOPT” license plate. We asked him to about his decision to get the plates and the reaction from fellow drivers, which we assumed was road rage.

Mark Writes: I found out "GFOP" was taken (you're always a step ahead Virginia DMV User78940), so my final picks were SUB OPT, SAD NAP, VON TRP and USA MNT. I decided SUB OPT was the ideal mix of arcane reference and asinine reality. When I ordered the plates the DMV worker was slightly confused, but mostly apathetic to my request. When I received the plates, I received texts ranging from "cool plate" to "what does that mean" to "did you change your plates?" The MiB twitter picture of the license plate did flush out a few friends and colleagues as fellow podcasters, so that gave me all any man could ask for, the envy of his work friends and casual acquaintances.

In a cruel twist of irony that even the Premier League scriptwriters would appreciate. Mark received THIS CITATION when he came to our GFOP meet-up two weeks ago in DC.
 


VIII. Hope For The Warriors Blazer Drive Results

Massive thanks to GFOPs from around the nation who participated in our first ever Blazer Drive at this year’s Golden Blazer. We collected more than 100 blazers, suits and sport coats, all of which will go to Hope For The Warriors' Transition Services Program, supporting the goals of service members, veterans and their families, as they move from military careers into professional roles. For those who could not attend the Golden Blazer, but still want to make a donation, you can send it directly to Hope for the Warriors:

Attention: Jennifer Friedel
Hope for the Warriors
55 Water Street, Concourse Level
New York, NY 10041


IX. #PatchAtThePark

A very SubOptimal #PatchAtThePark from the one and only Kyle Martino all the way from London… “For the friends left behind. #NotInvited.” And as Rog said: Kyle, someone has to stay behind and deliver the baby.
 


X. An Unsung Beer Hero

Today, we honor an unsung hero. The mathematician-turned-brewer who brought nitrogen to beer and paved the way for Guinness Draught. The GFOPs at Guinness have made a short film on the one and only, Michael Ash. WATCH IT HERE


XI. A Playmaking Poet from America SCORES

Fresh off his appearance at America SCORES’ annual National Poetry SLAM! this week, budding footballing poet Jalen from PS 125 here in NYC stopped by the Panic Room to perform his original poem, “The Life of a Problem.” WATCH HERE

America SCORES is an after-school nonprofit that promotes football and poetry among students at more than 175 public and charter schools across the country. You can get involved by visiting their website. To read more America SCORES poems, check out the organization’s annual magazine, Kicker!. This summer, they will host the 10th Annual America Scores New York Corporate Cup. For more information on entering a team and helping a terrific cause, check out America SCORES CUP’s website.


XII. "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.

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 talk Andy Carroll's hat trick against Arsenal, Leicester's 2 - 0 win at Sunderland and Tottenham's thrashing of Manchester United. LISTEN HERE
 
GOOD READS
 
Why I’m Fighting For Equal Pay. Carli Lloyd for The New York Times. READ HERE

How “You’ll Never Walk Alone” Became A Terrace Classic. Adam Shergold for Mail Online. READ HERE

Football For Social Good. Dr. Dan Parnell for The Football Collective. READ HERE

Major Equality Differences Women's Soccer Teams Face From Around The World. Molly Hensley-Clancy for Buzzfeed. READ HERE

Learn the intricacies of various British accents with this incredible Korean instructional video. H/T MashableWATCH 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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