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HAIL! GFOP

I type with fingers fueled by a Pfizer-Moderna surge of optimism. Two hundred and seventy two days after fans were last able to watch English football in person, they are back! The Emirates was allowed to permit 2,000 of the most masochistic Arsenal faithful to sit like perps in Guess Who. Yes, it’s slightly dystopian. Yes, the arrangement depends on medical science that suggests COVID only travels horizontally, not vertically. Yes, Arsenal fans carried their “Bring Back Mesut” signs. But, in this newsletter, I like to be optimistic when I can: it is a step towards normality and wonder. And one that makes me ache in my heart just a little bit as I recognize just how much I have missed the sound, the spectacle, and the creativity of fans at the game. Especially when they immediately started chanting, "There's only one Gunnersaurus" 🦖.

GFOPs, we are thrilled to announce our GFOP Holiday Happy Hour, Presented by Jagermeister. Thursday, Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m. ET. Normally we would do a LIVE holiday show, celebrating the season with GFOPs from across the nation. Since we cannot do that in person, we will unleash the suboptimal festive spirit via Zoom. Davo and I will commune with you, take your biggest and best questions and toast you with a shot of Jagermeister - that shot of emotion in a glass - all while reviewing the year that was. We only have room for 100 GFOPs. The first 100 people to RSVP to THIS LINK with their name, their hometown and their favorite team will receive an invitation. The invitations will go out today with initial instructions ahead of next Thursday. We cannot wait to be with you. 


2. Men In Blazers. Football’s Quibi 
 
i. The Men in Blazers TV Show returns Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with special guest, John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks. John is one of a growing number of NBA stars who is football mad, and he happens to be proper, proper Chelsea. His human story - a military brat who fell in love with the game while his mum was stationed in Turkey - is also remarkable. Love that bloke. 
 
ii. Our Draft Kings Premier League Preview of the Weekend Video has so many Spoiler Alerts! We are so grateful for our partnership with those bookmaking monarchs at DraftKings, which has allowed us to grow our coverage. They are the Best King since King Sunny Adé. Access its Sportsbook here. For a limited time, all new users can get a sign-up bonus up to $1,000. Just enter code MIB when you sign up.
 
iii. Pod with Davo HERE. I have not seen him in 11 months in person now. But I feel closer to him, and you, than ever.  
 
iv. One of the joys of our podcast is the Jagermeister Toast at the end. Partially because, for you, our crap is nearly over. For me. I just love that human shot of emotion in a glass. We toasted the USWNT Glory and Equal Pay this week. And we big boy taped it! Video HERE.
 
v. Carlo Magnifico Pod Special HERE. WHAT A HUMAN ANCELOTTI IS. Also, in case you were still on the Yams, Big Boi Pod special from last week HERE
 

3. To The Football

i. Tottenham vs. Arsenal. (Sunday 11.30 AM ET P’Cock)
A North London Derby after a Europa League matchday in which Arsenal played like potential champions… of the Österreichische Fußball-Bundesliga, and True Life Top of the Table (sic) Spurs looked sloppy and sluggish in their 3-3 tie at Austrian outfit LASK. The bad news for Arsenal, though, is Joe Hart will not be in goal on Sunday after a performance in which he appeared to retire mid-save.

This has the feeling of a massive game for both North London teams and the projects of their respective managers. The optimism has burned off the Arteta tenure. Mourinho, though, has rehabilitated his reputation at Spurs and then some.  

Arsenal fans, let me leave you with something lovely. A Lacazette Wolf Blitzer wonder goal that will give you false hope.

ii. Chelsea vs. Leeds (Saturday 3 PM ET NBCSN)
This is a fixture with *assumes deep Cockney accent* “a litt-el bit of ‘istory.” Close your eyes, go back in time to the early 1970’s when hatchet men with names like Ron “Chopper” Harris and Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter would GO AT IT as the hooligan firms of both clubs clashed in and out of the stadiums. Toxic games so violent it was always faintly ridiculous they went through the motions of putting a ball on the field. No one touched it. The 1970 FA Cup Final was The Classic.

This modern version though will be a battle of the mind, between the football philosophies of Frank Lampard and that giant brain on a bucket Marcelo Bielsa -- Spygate part III! Most intriguing about this one -- for two teams who are viewed as being imbalanced in favor of their attacks, both Chelsea and Leeds United have been clean sheet merchants of late. A classic in the making. 

Here’s a heartwarming tale going into this one: Oliver Giroud netted four goals in Champions League action and will give Frank Lampard a handsome selection headache. Daniel Storey charts the career of a man who has always been doubted, late developing, and second-choice. But keeps scoring. Arise Giroud, King of the outsiders. 

iii. Liverpool vs. Wolves (Sunday 2.15 PM ET P’Cock)
The Diogo Jota Memorial Derby will be marked more by who won’t be playing. Wolves lack CONCACAF’s finest Raúl Jiménez who is recovering well from a horrific skull fracture last weekend. Standby for the creative beauty that is Fábio Silva to make its mark.  

Half of Liverpool will also be absent. Handsome rock goalkeeper Alisson is the latest to be out with a muscle strain. His replacement is regrettably not Adrian, my current favorite Red. No, Liverpool have unsportingly unearthed a keeper who is very good at football. Caoimhín Kelleher. It is pronounced “Quave-een.” You can thank me later.

iv. West Ham vs. Manchester United (Saturday 12.30 PM ET NBC Proper)
Hell hath no fury like a Moyse-y scorned. Will 5th place West Ham gain revenge for their fearless leader? 

v. Burnley vs. Everton (Saturday 7.30 AM ET NBCSN)
Bite your arm off for the chance to have my weekend ruined super early. Bottom-dwelling Burnley have injuries too, do you say? Exactly the kind of gimmee Everton historically cock up. I am genuinely crapping myself.

Do you want an incredible Everton achievement no team can match? Thank you, @Oilysailor.

vi. Rest of the schedule can be found here. Let’s do this, Baby!

vii. Best European games
  1. Bayern vs. RB Leipzig (Saturday 12.30 PM, ESPN+) So many Americans it is hard to know who to cheer for. 
  2. Sevilla vs. Real Madrid (Saturday 10.15 AM, beIN) Come for Ray Hudson, stick around for a top of the table clash. 

4. A Brand I Love: Reyn Spooner

Making Hawaiian heritage style with an East Coast aesthetic since 1949? Count me in. Reyn Spooner is an American Classic. Don’t let the Proud Boys prevent you from savoring the tradition of these designs. I own a couple of these beauties and the fabrics they use are so beautiful I could frame them. Their Dodgers collab is gorgeous. I can’t live with that smoke.


5. DIEGO RIP

I find myself still mourning the loss of Diego Maradona. Hit me hard. Here are the best pieces I have read this week:

a. Sid Lowe on Maradona and Messi’s cycle of life.

b. I admire the simplicity of this beautiful cartoon life biopic tribute by David Squires.

c. Miguel Delaney spoke to four of Maradona’s teammates and Boca’s psychologist about what it was like to be Diego’s teammate. It wasn’t anything like Michael Jordan.

d. Maradona as viewed through Argentinian Tattoos.


6. More Football

i. All Hail the USWNT who won “long overdue” equal work conditions with male counterparts. The fight now turns to equal pay. 

ii. Big Women’s Football Games this Weekend:
Chelsea v. West Ham (Sunday 7.30 AM ET NBCSN)
Everton v. Manchester City  (Sunday 9.30 AM ET NBCSN) 
Paris Saint-Germain v. Paris FC (Sunday 8.45 AM ET ESPN+)

iii. Huge respect to one of favorite footballing pilgrimages in England: The National Football Museum in Manchester. They pledged to increase women’s representation to 50% by 2022 by emphasizing the “Hidden Stories” of the women’s game. Incredible this.

iv. This map of American football fandom as told by football shirt sales is hilariously bonkers. So much to unpack. Need Kornacki to break this down. Dele to Vermont rumors! United strikers huge in Alaska and Hawaii! Mane owns Oregon. 
 
v. The world needs Ben Foster's YouTube channel, on which you can watch him ride a foldable bike to a Watford game.  
 
 
7. Non-Football and all the better for it… 

i. How Francis Ford Coppola Got Pulled Back In to Make “The Godfather, Coda.” The director and cast, including Al Pacino, Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia, look back at making “Part III,” which has been re-edited (and retitled) for its 30th anniversary.

ii. The Ancestral Burden of Being a Detroit Lions Fan by Taylor Plimpton.
“The thrill of sport, and of life, where there are no guarantees, anything can happen, and there is always room for hope. It’s good for a child to know that.” Sent by GFOP @markjohnson0208

iii. Always been fascinated by the architecture of the former Soviet Union. The big swings and bold ideas executed in the name of progress. Many of those modernist buildings from the Soviet period are being destroyed, but Russian photographer Arseniy Kotov preserves their memory with these shots of sloping cinemas and rooms under surveillance.

iv. A couple December silver linings to get us through to 2021. The Best Things About the Worst Year Ever.

v. If you're looking for a little escapism this weekend, great piece from the New Yorker about the people who renovate apartments for billionaires. The Art of Building the Impossible.

vi. Lovely reminder that all the best things find a way to endure. This Japanese Shop Is 1,020 Years Old. It Knows a Bit About Surviving Crises.

vii. In normal years, Best Movies of the Year lists are just three movies you enjoyed, two you hated, and ten you didn't get around to seeing but probably wouldn't have liked that much anyway. This year, a lot of great movies slipped under the radar without theatrical releases. Richard Brody on the best films of the year.

viii. A Con second only to BlazerCon in our hearts. SopranosCon and the Enduring Afterlife of Tony Soprano.

ix. Good news (or so I'm told). The 2000s boarding school drama Wild Child is on the verge of cult status. This means nothing to me, but Producer Miranda swears it to be an all-time classic.

x. The McRib is the McDonalds Mourinho equivalent. Goes out in a blaze of glory every three years. But ALWAYS regenerates.

xi. Weekly dose of niche sport inspo. Beirut’s skate scene is rebuilding from the rubble.

xii. On James Beard, the man who shaped the nation’s culinary identity. Best beard since Pulisic's?

xiii. Vindicating interview with romcom legend Richard Curtis, where he finally admits what we've all long suspected. Andie MacDowell’s character in Four Weddings makes no sense, and he'd rather be rewatching Elf. 

xiv. A beautiful podcast. My Albion. A British DJ of Carribean descent immerses herself in British folk music history, the notion of “Albion” and the complexities of British national identity.

xv. Looking for a stunning book to close the year? Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan. A group of working class Scottish friends charge down to big city Manchester for the music festival of their dreams. Thirty years later they reconnect in shattering and stunning fashion. This book is so well written it will lift your senses and make you so very jealous you don’t have the ability to write that well yourself. Magic. More here.

xvi. Here were my Top 5 Most played Songs of 2020. Two actually make my best tracks of the year list. No. 1 is the permanent No. 1 in all of our Hearts.


I end with sad news. South Carolina Spurs tweeted this week that one of their most active members, Brenton McCaskill, died aged 32. He lost his life defending his girlfriend and family during a robbery. A heroic act which is searing. South Carolina Spurs are asking all fans to raise a glass to Brenton’s memory in the 32nd minute of Sunday’s Derby and send it to them at @scarolinaspurs. Please do.  

We send our love to Brenton’s family and all members of South Carolina Spurs. We cannot imagine what you are going through right now. May Brenton’s memory be a pillar for you in good times and bad. And may all of us savor what we have, while we have it, and never, ever take a second for granted. Only Love to you all.
 
Courage, 
Rog: @rogbennett 

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

Please Consider Supporting: 
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NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Equal Justice Initiative
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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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