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HAIL! GFOP
 
I write with fingers filled with a sense of accomplishment that we have made it to the end of another week. For me, it has been one of grind, of occasionally feeling overwhelmed by a sense that we are all just treading water, and then lifted by fleeting moments of inspiration and human wonder, most of which were shared with you GFOPs: hearing Carli Lloyd break down her “just keep powering through” approach to life,” rocking it with Weston McKennie (midfield bowling ball for the greatest German football club that ever played, Schalke) and listening to him talk about the excitement he feels at the prospect of “cracking people” again on the field, or communing with Jason Isbell and having my spirits raised, by a man I have greatly admired for a decade, who, in conversation, proved to be everything I had projected and more. (Jason: Sweet Pitchfork review, Bro.)

We should also note: Live Elite Football Returns Tomorrow!!! The Bundesliga is back. I feel a genuine thrill at the prospect. Not only to see the likes of Jadon Sancho, Timo Werner and Erling Haaland take to the field again. But to have the unspooling narrative of active sports wash over our arid lives once again. Let’s be honest, since sports paused a month and a half ago, it has been slim pickings. We did not become sports fans to analyze the minutiae of training protocols, corner flag sanitizing and player contract extensions. It is the long range exclamation point of that strike that sears into the top corner, the physics-defying fingertip save, or the pass-and-move kaleidoscopic teamplay to unlock an opponent’s backline that makes our hearts soar. Welcome back. And God Bless you, Schalke. My “Wir Leben Dich” stomach tattoo is now surely just weeks away.


2. The Endless Men In Blazers Fyre Festival Continues

i. To prep for the Bundesliga, listen to Raphael Honigstein, GFOP and The Athletic Senior Writer, break down the storylines ahead of this first week of play

ii. Today, WGFOP: The Bald answers your questions. Remember this, next week, Rog will be calling back the person who asks the best question and taping the conversation. So call us NOW (646) 450-9472 and give us your worst.  

iii. This Sunday, our #PLLookALike Contest, Presented by Jagermeister comes to an end. If you or someone you know looks like one of our favorite footballers, you have just about 48 more hours to send it to us HERE, or via social. Winners will receive one of the limited-edition “Livin’ The Nightmare” Mugs I use on our crap TV show. We have genuinely been blown away by the number and quality of entries to this contest, including this Mattéo Guendouzi


3. To the Fußball. All you need to know about this weekend in German Football!

All the eyes of the sporting world will be on Germany tomorrow as the Bundesliga returns. As the outbreak of the virus that has grounded Dynamo Dresden has shown, the straight line path to completion is no surefire thing. But as Toni Kroos proudly told the Spanish press, “If the Bundesliga cannot finish the season, nobody can.”

From a sporting and commercial perspective: This is highwire walking without a safety net, with no live crowds yes, but the world watching.

Brace yourself. This will not be football as we know it. More like elite athletics in hazmat suits. A league which has branded its core identity on fan passion will play Ghost Games behind closed doors, with local television giving viewers the option of piping in fan chanting and crowd noise if desired.   

German football though is magnificent and worthy of this solo moment in the spotlight. The clubs are soaked with a blend of young talent (Kai Havertz! Rabbi Matondo! Alphonso Davies!) and experience. The football is played at hyper-warp speed, and although the players will not be match-fit, with some sports scientists suggesting the games will be played at 60-percent pace, the young starlets know every Premier League team will be watching with austerity-era budget buys front of mind. 

The big game of the weekend is Jadon Sancho’s Dortmund against my beloved Schalke (FS1 9:30 a.m. ET) in the Revierderby, a Ruhr-region clash which has been spicy since in 1969, when visiting Schalke players were bitten by a pitch-invading dog. Those Bastards. American young gun destroyer Weston McKennie will charge around the middle for Schalke.  Baby 17-year-old Gio Reyna might also feature for Dortmund. A full guide to the weekend’s fixtures is here.

One final note to remember: German football is back because Germany, as a nation, has battled the virus so strategically, keeping the death count low, testing high and unleashing a contact tracing system. Sports is always a mirror of the society that surrounds it. As much as we all crave the return of live sports, it is impossible to separate the nation’s response to this crisis, and the ability to give us what we yearn for. 

In that regard, look how serious the Germans have been about the hygienic bubble surrounding their clubs: Augsburg’s coach, Heiko Herrlich, left the team quarantine to sneak out and buy a tube of toothpaste. He will be absent from the sidelines for his team’s first game as a result. Hardcore. 


4. Premier League. Do you remember that one? Or are we all Bundesliga fans now?

The British government opened the door for competitive football to return safely in June! Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden declared “This (step) should include widening access for fans to view live coverage and ensure finances from the game’s resumption supports the wider football family.” i.e. make sure games which are typically on premium cable are on freely available network TV, and cough up some money to support the lower leagues, then GO FOR IT, BABY…

Now that they have government sign off, it is full speed ahead for the Premier League to plow into one hurdle after another. The first challenge is that of signing off on health protocols that will empower a full-on return to non-contact training. The Premier League hopes to convince its 20 shareholder clubs to give their assent in a vote on Monday. It is no Larry Nance Jr. Slam Dunk.  

The players’ fears over a return to training are real, despite the Premier League showing them a landmark study that proves the average close-contact interaction between players in training lasts just over three seconds (AKA shorter even than your average Pogba Brother Tik Tok), which is far lower than the threshold to contract Coronavirus.  That Watford-Drake in a Fatsuit, Troy Deeney, is the latest to speak honestly, “I won't put my family at risk,” he said, adding defiantly that a loss of wages will not change things because “I’ve been broke before.” That refers to a very real threat of contracts torn up and furlough which hangs over the players if they resist. As one anonymous sporting director briefed the Independent, “Football is a business like any other. Unlike any other, it is not being bailed out. And if we’re not producing our product – which is games – we’re not earning money. You can’t keep paying people indefinitely.”


5. More Football?  Holy Crap Yessssssss…

i. Harry Kane is a total mensch. In a remarkably thoughtful gesture, the Spurs star stepped in to support his ailing local club where he was on loan as a 17-year-old, paying to sponsor their shirt and then donating the space to three charities. 

ii. Christian Pulisic is back and raring to go, but admits his injury was much worse than he first thought.

iii. Manchester United starlet Brandon Williams takes cameras back to his parents’ market stall to meet his Mum. Really beautiful reminder of a truth that is more important than ever: Footballers are human too.

iv. American Ajax starlet Sergino Dest to Barcelona? Rumor is out there. Immediately knocked back by his agent.

  
6. Non-Football?  We know it is the only reason you read this newsletter

i. This Guy Got Hit By Lightning And Became A Concert Pianist. Before being struck, he barely listened to music.

ii. A meditation on one of the most threatening of pandemic objects, the Door Handle, and how coronavirus will change design.
 
iii. This will make you feel better about your own life and worse about America at the same time: A surreal tour of Papa John's house. Worst, most garlicky episode of MTV cribs ever.
 
iv. Inside Radiohead’s mission to archive everything. Peak Radiohead has been achieved. 
 
v. The Secret Lives of Fungi and what it can tell us about our lives too.
 
vi. Every Call Sign From ‘Top Gun,’ Ranked. Always loved Merlin's helmet. 
 
vii. This is the catchiest song I have heard whilst in lockdown. Fold Laundry Together by Heaps Good Friends. I throw this in here to counter the bleakness of the next item.


7.  Saddest songs evah

Perhaps unsurprisingly, response to our all-out for your saddest song of all-time has been bonkers. We will continue the search for A Song for our Age: The Fast Car Memorial Trophy. Send your nominations here and we will build a playlist out of your recommendations that is so sad, it can only make you feel better about your own life. 

Best entry so far, from my old mate John Hock, who recommended Don McClean’s “Crossroads” and told us that his 86-year-old mother-in-law came off a ventilator yesterday after a hospital record-setting 26 days, to a standing ovation from medical staff. To Life! To Love!


8. Last word for the Week from a GFOP Jay Clark, an Arsenal and Dortmund fan from Phoenix who is also a captain at Southwest Airlines. Jay writes: “In my job as a pilot, I have a tremendous opportunity to appreciate airport carpet. Imagine my surprise, turned quickly to delight, as this morning's shuffle through the Sacramento airport brought my sleepy gaze to a hard synthetic surface featuring birds common to the region. While it wasn't as stunning as your white napkin soaring freely, I took the time to drink in the grounded, two-dimensional silhouettes of the red-tailed hawk, the robin, the bald eagle and such-like, thankful for the beauty inherent in ordinary life.” 
 

Jay, your email made my heart soar. I miss the feeling of that first sight of airport carpet, as JW and I charge into another great American city with adventure and burnt ends front of mind. If those hawks had chess pieces in their beaks and banjos around their necks, I would uproot and move to Sacramento right now.  

In all seriousness, I love your concept of “looking for the beauty inherent in ordinary life.” May we all find it, even for just a moment, this weekend. 

I’m Couraging. 
Rog: @rogbennett 

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