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HAIL! GFOP

I type with numbed fingers devastated by a true sense of the fragility of everything we hold dear. The idea of America has animated my own life in such profound ways when I have needed it. The culmination of that came Nov. 3, when I voted in my first Presidential election. Stumbling through the chilled early morning gloom of late fall Manhattan to participate as a citizen in the American democratic system was one of the proudest and most thrilling moments of my life. To watch that idea of America be undermined and threatened from within this week has been devastating. 

I have spent most of lockdown finishing a memoir about my love of America. It comes out this June. I will admit, it has been a jarring contrast to write a book on those themes against a backdrop of the ravages of COVID; George Floyd’s murder, continued racial injustice, and The BLM Marches; The Election; and now, the attempt to buckle a peaceful transfer of power. What I will say is this: The idea of America has given me courage in my life, I now hope America itself -- that we Americans -- have that same courage to grapple with what we are, and what we have become.   

In a small way, I do draw strength from football. That wave of young American talents arriving in Europe. The male side of the game that has lagged for so long is now peaking. Watching 21-Year-Old Bronx-born, Delaware-bred U.S. International Mark McKenzie make his dream move to Belgian football yesterday and open up his welcome press conference at Genk by addressing chaos at The Capitol with such amazing poise made me realize our nation’s footballers are some of the best global ambassadors we have right now. As McKenzie spoke, I was reminded of the words of Bayern Munich’s sensational star Leon Goretzka after he visited Dachau over the holidays, met with a Holocaust survivor and then spoke out agaisnt the rise of the German Far Right. Goretzka quoted the iconic captain of Germany’s 1954 World Cup winning team, Fritz Walter, who said, “Every German footballer is a foreign minister in shorts.” So it is with McKenzie, Gio, Weston and the rest. 

Let’s choose empathy, love and kindness. 

Want a moment of Joy? Watch Arsenal legend Ian Wright be reunited with all of the memorabilia from his career, including his golden boot. A human wonder.


2. Men In Blazers. Still the worst of America

i. Our DraftKings FA Cup 3rd Round Weekend Preview is here. We remain incredibly grateful for our partnership with those bookmaking monarchs at DraftKings which has allowed us to grow our coverage. They are the Best King since B.B. 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.

ii. Men in Blazers returns to Television Tuesday Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN to break down Liverpool vs. Manchester United. Plus, special guests Christian Pulisic and Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring (proper Everton).

iii. Thank you for your support of our crap over the holidays. The response has been remarkable. Our John Oliver and Arsene Wenger specials are available on P’cock, along with every other show this season. 

iv. Pod with Davo is here. So good to be back. WGFOP Weekend Preview returns today.Call in your questions at (646) 450-9472.


3. CALL OUT FOR YOUR BEST BALD STORIES

I know this sounds bonkers, but I am deadly serious: GFOPs who are bald or balding. Or were once and have Wayne Rooney’d themselves back to hair-life. I want to hear your best stories. Over the holidays, I have thought a lot about how much balding shapes our world. Angst. Fear. Self-loathing. Acceptance. Yet, we rarely talk about it. If you have poignant, traumatic, warm, surprising, oddly joyous, rip roaringly funny -- whatever -- stories, I would genuinely love to hear them. Will read the best ones out -- with no attribution if that helps -- but am genuinely serious. Send me your best stories about life and hair loss here. #TheBaldening


4. To The FA Cup Football!

Behold the FA Cup Third Round. The pandemic means the thin patina of magic the FA Cup has been frantically clinging onto has been dulled further. Covid has forced a number of games to be called off. Miguel Delaney sums up the degradation of the spectacle with his lede: “For a weekend that uniquely brings all levels of English football together, the 2020/21 FA Cup third round may just serve to emphasise its chasms.

There are still great stories in the guise of a Middle Earth’s worth of tiny teams named Boreham Wood, Chorley and Arsenal. But as a football spectacle, with fatigue-ravaged Premier League squads barely hanging on, expect this to feel more like a box ticking exercise than any kind of romantic spectacle.  

i. Marine AFC facing Tottenham (Sunday 7 AM ET ESPN+) is a game which will miss fans the most. Marine, the 8th tier Merseyside club. The visit of insta-influencer Jose Mourinho and his big boys should have been one of the most thrilling in the history of the part-time non-league club. Their tiny stadium, Rossett Park, would have been packed to the gills, a crucial boost for a team whose finances have been hit so hard by COVID. Instead, it will be empty, although the global response to the campaign to sell thousands of “virtual match tickets” has been heartening. Read more here.

ii. Among teams hardest hit are Aston Villa, who travel today to the scene of their 7-2 crime against Liverpool, in name but not in body (Friday 2.45 PM ET ESPN+). In dark news, COVID has overrun Villa’s training facility. The entire first team, including manager Dean Smith, is in isolation. Villa will field a starting eleven of pledges from the U-18 and U-23 teams. Hazing.

Good Read: Jordan Henderson: I was in a dark place but using a sports psychologist made me stronger.

iii. The most intriguing game is Chelsea facing League 2 Morecambe (Sunday, 8.30 AM ET ESPN+), in which Frank Lampard will balance his desire to rest players against the fear of a dip in Roman’s shark tank if there is any kind of wobble. The Mighty Shrimps will look at Chelsea’s four losses in six form and come and “have a go.”

Good Read: Werner’s Struggles at Chelsea: A tactical thread

iv. Manchester United host old friend Watford (Saturday 3 PM ET ESPN+) Good read here on United and Penalties


5. Women’s Football

i. USWNT Assemble! The January camp roster: What to expect in the upcoming friendlies against Colombia (Subscription required).
 
ii. Why the stars who went to play in England during the pandemic do not expect a larger drain of American talent to follow them.
 
iii. Big game this weekend: Mighty Everton vs. Tobin Heath’s Manchester United (Sunday 7 AM ET NBCSN). 


6. I know you Love a Bargain

I have just snapped up a bunch of these Sebagos from Todd Snyder. Sucker for pink chukkas. Thank me later.


7. More Football

Here are some of the pieces I enjoyed reading the most over the holiday period: 

i. The magical story of the rise of Cadiz. Spain’s Crazy Gang, from the wonderfully vibrant, party-loving city that is Cadiz, are back in the top flight. A team from for whom “ La Lucha no se negocia” -- “The Fight is Non-Negotiable”

ii. The incredible story of the possibly real, possibly fake Fiorentina-Nintendo Cult Jersey, the Holy Grail for collectors.

iii. How Football Tactics are reverting to old styles because of COVID schedule.

iv. The immense, luxe, cultural challenge facing Pochettino at PSG: The ultimate collective builder walking into the land of the individual.

v. What is Footballing Intelligence and can players develop it? “Top players watch one another and pick up little clues that others can’t see, while amateurs just watch the ball.”

vi. I COULD NOT LOVE THIS MORE: In 1975, the BBC visited Addiscombe Boys Club, who simply could not stop losing football matches. It's surprisingly uplifting stuff. Trust us.


8. Non-Football and All The Better For It

i. The History of MTV’s ‘Lost Weekend With Van Halen’ Contest: In 1984, a couple of college dudes won an MTV contest to tour with Van Halen. Then all hell broke loose.

ii. What the hole is going on? The very real, totally bizarre bucatini shortage of 2020.

iii. How the Soviet Union's end sparked a grand rewilding. After thousands of people left the steppes of Kazakhstan, nature began to reclaim it on a huge scale.
 
iv. Denmark launches children's TV show about man with giant penis. AKA Wallace and Gromit on the Roman.

v. MF Doom: a hip hop genius who built his own universe of poetry.

vi. Why 'Notes’ Is the iPhone’s Killer App. Yes, Really. Bite yer arm off for a look at what Brodge has written on his Notes app.
 
vii. We all need a little soothing wind music right now. 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Flute.
 
viii. Well-deserved recognition for an incredibly talented artist. Rapper Pa Salieu wins BBC Sound of 2021: 'I am the voice of the voiceless'.
 
ix. Praise the old gods and the new. We now have more women — and more women of color — in Congress than ever before: Meet The Freshwomen Of Congress.
 
x. Great news if you like bright sides, bad news if you believe in Murphy's Law: 2020 was only the eighth most stressful year in U.S. history.
 
xi. The Hidden Depths of Alex Trebek’s Banter with “Jeopardy!” Contestants. A lovely ode to Alex Trebek on the airing of his final episode, and his gift for strange, ordinary small talk.
 
xii. Heartbreaking elegy to a beautiful species. The Last Two Northern White Rhinos On Earth.
 
xiii. 2021 is upon us, it's time to start asking the question again: How on Earth Are They Going to Pull Off the Olympics?
 
xiv. Something to look forward to while we weather the rest of the storm: 28 Albums We Can’t Wait to Hear in 2021.

xv. My Journey to Scotland's Most Remote Pub only reachable via a three day walk, via boat, or through the wilderness.


That is it for today. I am going to leave you with a song I have been listening to on repeat that is giving me strength and I hope it does the same for you. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Elvis has Liverpool roots, is a mad Red.  And the opening lyrics are the poetry we need to live by right now. Play the song loud and dance in the mirror as you do so. I am not saying I have. But I highly, highly recommend it. 

“As I walk through this wicked world
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside
There's one thing I want to know
What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?
Oh, what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?”

To better days ahead for all of us.
Big Love.
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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