Hello from Liverpool, where I have spent the last week on a “Secret Mission.” When the sun shines, and the wind drives the smell of the sea over the city, there is no place finer. I have been here at a poignant time. Tuesday morning, a jury found that the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed. A finding which took 27 years of campaigning by the victims’ families, who had to battle police, government, and tabloid media smears against their loved ones. To understand the seismic nature of the moment, I would encourage you read THIS searing David Conn article right now.
The jury announced their decision as I was driving to Manchester. When the news broke, I had to pull over to the side of the road and pull myself together. The notion of 96 loved ones going to a football match and never coming home is gut-wrenching enough. Yet, what followed in the wake of the tragedy -- a systematic attempt to destroy the reputations of the deceased, their families, football fans, and the entire city of Liverpool -- laid truth to the callous disregard with which both football and swaths of the North of England were treated for much of the 70s and 80s.
On the day of the judgement, church bells in the city rang out 96 times to mark the memory of the deceased. That night, landmarks in the city were bathed in red light and the names of the deceased were projected upon them, and the day after, over 20,000 Merseysiders -- Liverpudlians and Evertonians both -- held a candlelight vigil in the city center to grieve and celebrate their vindication together and sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Lead campaigner, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year old son James died in the crush, talked of “27 years of sleepless nights.”
Football has come so far so fast over the past 27 years that it is hard for many Americans to even conceive of how such a tragedy could have unfurled. It did. And it took too long, far too long, for justice to be done. Yet to be here on this momentous occasion, as a son of this city, and a gent who lives for football was truly humbling. Justice For The 96. Their memory will never be forgotten.
We will talk more about the Hillsborough news on The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW Monday night at 11:30 ET on NBCSN. Special Guest, Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin comes in to talk Premier League managers. We will also hopefully witness the miracle of Leicester City clinching the title if they win against the flatulent Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Until then, remember this:
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark
To The Football,
P.S. For those of you coming to Liverpool to watch Premier League games -- and Everton tell me there are loads of you -- make sure you eat at Camp and Furnace, especially on a Sunday for The Roast. One of the best meals I have eaten in a long, long time.
On behalf of
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @tannneal
Producer Zip: @notorious_Z_I_P
In this newsletter, we talk with the only American to ever score for Arsenal, the Wall Street Journal's Matt Futterman discusses the USWNT in Three Questions, and an EA Access one-month trial giveaway to celebrate EA SPORTS FIFA 16's inclusion in the system.
I. Men in Blazers Goal of the Season Competition
On Monday’s The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW [WATCH HERE], we unveiled 10 nominees for the Men in Blazers Goal of the Season. A GFOP vote chooses the winner. You can watch all the goals and vote for your favorite HERE. As of this writing, Jamie Vardy’s wonderstrike against Liverpool is beating out Dele Alli’s slice of magic at Palace. We will reveal the winner on The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW season finale, Monday, May 16. #MiBGOTS
II. Andrew Luck Book Club
It is very rare that anything optimal comes from The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW. But last year, when we interviewed Indianapolis Colts quarterback and massive soccer fan Andrew Luck [WATCH HERE], we joked that his passion for books was so infectious, he should start “The Andrew Luck Book Club.” Fast-forward more than a year, and he has done just that, launching his club with two recommendations: “The Boys in the Boat” and, for rookies, “Maniac Magee.” All of the details on how to participate are on AndrewLuckBookClub.com. No one has taken us seriously before. This might be both a first and a last.
III. Q & A With The Only American To Ever Score for Arsenal
Danny Karbassiyoon is the only American to ever score for Arsenal Football Club. In addition to the North London outfit, his career included stops at Ipswich Town and Burnley Football Clubs, far cries from his home in the bucolic mountains of Southwest Virginia. When injury forced his retirement at age 22, he transitioned into a scouting role at Arsenal, overseeing the club's entire North American network. He is the man responsible for bringing USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem and Costa Rica international Joel Campbell to Arsene Wenger. His new book, The Arsenal Yankee, chronicles his meteoric rise from pickup games in Roanoke to playing alongside Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and The Invincibles. We caught up with Danny earlier this week to talk about his book, his goal against Manchester City and the life of a Premier League scout.
MiB: Danny Karbassiyoon, from the great state of Virginia.
Danny: Thanks for having me, guys. Awesome to be chatting with you.
MiB: Where are you joining us from, Danny? Set the scene.
Danny: I'm living back in London now, so I'm currently sat at the desk in my flat in Covent Garden; slightly concerned with why it’s snowing outside in the middle of April.
MiB: A nice summer's day in England.
Danny: Anyone that's been here knows you're lucky when you get all four seasons in one day, because it means the sun actually came out.
MiB: We may be borrowing that line. Let's talk about your story. An Arsenal scout spotted you at a camp for elite high school players in the U.S. You earned a trial, a contract, and ultimately, a first team spot. Your book goes into detail on all these things. It all culminates in one great realization right before you start a League Cup game against Everton in 2004 at Highbury. You write ... "About a year and half before that night, I was playing for the Roanoke Valley Youth Soccer Association in the Virginia Club Champions League at Berglund Soccer Complex in Vinton, Virginia." Berglund Soccer Complex, a beautiful place, but not quite Highbury.
Danny: It all happened so fast. I was really focused on getting a college scholarship when I went to that camp and ended up on trial at Arsenal two weeks later. I was 20 when I made my first team debut at the club, and I distinctly remember thinking how much things had changed in such a short period of time - from driving myself to weekend games in front of parents and girlfriends to cruising down Avenell Road in the Arsenal team coach with fans screaming on both sides of us.
MiB: The Everton game was your first start. But you'd already scored for the club. Against Manchester City in a League Cup tie several weeks prior. Let's talk about the goal. Set the scene for us.
Danny: I came on in the 82nd minute. In injury time, as the game was quite open, we broke, and Cesc Fabregas ended up with the ball at the top of box. He slipped me in behind Danny Mills. Robin Van Persie was open in the middle of the area, but I didn't have any intention to pass after taking my first touch. I took a shot far post, as I'd done so many times in my youth career and waited until I saw it go in before running off like a bit of an idiot.
MiB: Your injury forced your retirement at age 22 and, again, Arsenal came calling. This time for a scouting position, overseeing the club’s North American network. You discovered both Gedion Zelalem and Joel Campbell. Do you remember the first time you saw them? Did you immediately know you wanted to bring them to the club?
Danny: Both definitely excited me the first time I saw them. With Gedion, I hadn't seen a 13-year-old in the States like him. He had that technical ability, that intelligence, and extreme awareness. He never gave the ball away. He showed a level of maturity on and off the ball that I wasn't accustomed to seeing around the States and I knew I wanted to bring him over.
Joel was 18 when I saw him, playing at the U20 World Cup Qualifiers with Costa Rica, so it was a bit of a different situation. As he was already contracted to Saprissa, it was a much bigger decision. There was obviously no trial there. I had to be super confident in my decision with him, and I'm glad I was.
MiB: How emotionally invested is a scout in his or her prospect's success? How much pressure do YOU feel when you recommend a player trial at Arsenal?
Danny: Lot's of pressure. As a scout, you can't make a bunch of recommendations and hope one of them sticks. If you make enough recommendations that aren't good enough, your job is on the line. Clubs want scouts that know what they are looking for, so having both Gedion and Joel sign and push on to make their debuts in the first team was hugely satisfying. So much work goes on behind the scenes in the scouting world and to see all those flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and everything in between pay off by watching a player you spotted put an Arsenal shirt on and make an impact in the first team is certainly rewarding. It doesn’t happen often.
MiB: Danny's book, The Arsenal Yankee, is out now. We don't have time to get into it today because we need to let Danny go watch Manchester City vs. Real Madrid, but there is a GREAT story that involves Danny, Cesc, a black Mercedes and a North London Derby. Buy the book and check it out. Especially if you are an Arsenal fan, or you relish stories of American footballers made good.
This Q&A was condensed. The complete transcript, in which Danny talks more about Arsenal, the evolving attitude toward American players in the Premier League and Burnley's own Dave Fishwick, is available HERE.
On our March 19 Pod, the winner of the Guinness Men in Blazers Poet, Philosopher, Soccer Scribe, Raven O’ The Week was an active duty Naval Aviator, callsign “HEED.” He requested a patch for his flight jacket and we were humbled to provide him with one. A few weeks after putting HEED’s patch in the mail, we received a video that can only be described as “Unbelievable” (Arlo White voice). We present to you, video of an MiB patch flying in an FA-18F Super Hornet WATCH HERE. Thank you, HEED, for this video and for your service to this great country.
V. Tony Hale’s Favorite Bible Passage
We asked “Arrested Development” and “VEEP’s” Tony Hale his favorite Biblical passage.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
VI. Three Questions With the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Futterman
Matt Futterman is the Aaron Ramsey of sports writers. A box-to-box type who isn’t afraid to get stuck in, but has the ability to stop you in your tracks with his natural skill. In the last month alone, Matt’s written about everything from a potential breakthrough in ACL surgery to Jurgen Klinsmann to the Golden State Warriors basketball revolution. Matt’s new book, “Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution” chronicles the rise of sports as big business. In this edition of Three Questions, we ask Matt how the idea for the book was born, advice for aspiring sports scribes, and which stadium has the best media food.
MiB: Talk about the evolution of this book. From the initial idea, to identifying and then choosing the stories you use to illustrate sports’ transformation into the industry we know today.
MF: Modern sport has a clear narrative. I wanted to tell the story of how sports went from essentially a mom-and-pop operation, where most professional athletes had to hold down off-season jobs in hardware stores or hawking cars or real estate, into a $150 billion behemoth that is irresistible and captivating and crass and over-commercialized and still sucks us in. The more I asked that question, the more it became apparent that the story began with Mark McCormack, the founder of IMG, who started his business in 1959 trying to book golfers in exhibitions at country clubs for $500 a day. He failed miserably at this endeavor, but at the end of it he had one client, Arnold Palmer, and together they freed Palmer from the shackles of an incredibly exploitative deal with Wilson Sporting Goods and turned him into the first modern sports entrepreneur. Palmer built an empire -- everything from a dry cleaners to instructional videos to a course design business -- and he became the model for every athlete that came after him.
McCormack’s brilliance was understanding that making athletes wealthier was about creating an environment where, with more money and freedom, athletes could work harder and train more, which would improve the quality of competition, which would make sport more appealing and valuable as a form of live and televised entertainment. That would make more people want to pay to watch it, which would drive more money into the system, money that could flow back to the players, which would make their jobs more desirable, stoking competition all the way down to the youth level. That would improve the development of the next generation of stars and allow the whole system to snowball.
Once I understood that, the task became tracing how this pattern spread, from individual sports to team sport and identifying key players, like Stan Smith, the Wimbledon champion who abdicated in 1973 to protest an unfair suspension of a fellow player, or Catfish Hunter, the great pitcher who was baseball’s first free agent and taught a very skeptical group of players in all team sports how free market economics work. The money came with a tradeoff. Eventually sport becomes corrupted by a Nike-inspired fascination with turning athletes into legends built on fabrications. That’s how we end up with Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods and a host of others. There’s a real narrative arc to it all.
MiB: The epilogue contains several lines that we love: “I have covered World Series and Super Bowls, Olympics and World Cups, the Masters and the US Open (both golf and tennis), interviewed modern legends like LeBron James and Masters of the Universe like Red Sox and Liverpool owner John Henry. Through all this, the US Women’s National Soccer Team has always been my favorite.” Why are people so drawn to this team?
MF: These women never forget the reason why they are playing soccer. They want to make money, and they should get paid every dollar they deserve and more, but their love of the game is always so apparent. They never seem weighed down by the training, the games, the attention, the adulation. Maybe down the road that will change, but there seems to be a psychology among this group that gets passed down from one team to the next to behave a certain way.
Also, for any parent with a daughter who plays, watching these women play is incredibly familiar. They wear the same headbands made of pre-wrap our kids do and seem to relate to each other in the way teenage girls on the same team do. For now, they also sort of exist outside the sports-money ecosystem in weird ways. They fly coach. You run into them in random cafes and they are sitting alone reading magazines. It reminds me of stories people who grew up in Brooklyn tell about running into members of the Dodgers on the subways and busses. They’re just normal. And they’re really, really good at soccer.
MiB: Your favorite interview subject throughout your career? The toughest?
MF: These days, there is no athlete more precociously poised or more articulate about the artistry of her profession than the skier Mikaela Shiffrin. At 19-years old she delivered this incredible, extemporaneous soliloquy comparing slalom skiing to dancing. She came into the Wall Street Journal for a lunch last year with a half dozen other people. We had ordered platters of sandwiches that I carried into the room in two big bags, as I enter, she gets up and offers to help. Then when it was over she starts clearing the plates from the table, not just hers, but everyone’s. She’s an Olympic gold medalist and whatever the opposite of a diva is, that’s what she is. She’s also slightly neurotic and does word searches before races to stimulate her mind. She’s apparently not Jewish, with a name like Shiffrin, that’s close enough for me.
Toughest interview is Serena Williams. Once, back in the summer of 2009, she sat in a room with me and stared at her phone and giving me one word answers. I had 20 minutes. The clock was ticking. So after 10 minutes I started telling her I thought she was old and out of shape. That got her to stop looking at her phone. It probably also nearly cost me my life.
MiB: What event/press box has the best media food in all of sports?
MF: There’s a brunch spread before Jets and Giants games at the Meadowlands when they’re in the 1 PM time slot on Sundays. It’s impressive. Mountains of bagels and eggs and bacon and sausage
(hopefully Ansche Chesed Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky isn’t reading this).
MiB: Piece of advice for young sports writers and journalists starting out?
MF: It’s all about the reporting. Resist the urge to pontificate. If your work day is 8 hours long, spend 7 hours on the phone and one hour writing. It’s a cliche but good reporting makes for good writing and nothing sells a story like being able to break news.
VII. EA SPORTS FIFA Available on EA Access
A big announcement from the GFOPs at EA SPORTS FIFA this week. The silent hand that's led to America's love affair with football is now part of EA Access’ stable of games. For the uninitiated, think of EA Access as Netflix for gaming. In honor of EA SPORTS FIFA’s addition, we have 25 EA Access one-month trial codes to give away. They will go to the first 25 people who CLICK HERE and send us an email. Courage!
VIII. Passing Time in the CPOS
VICE explains how GFOP, author, movie producer, nerdfighter John Green transformed his love for EA SPORTS FIFA into getting a stand named after him at AFC Wimbledon. Warning: video shot at BlazerCon and contains some Rog. WATCH HERE
The first episode of “Huang’s World,” Eddie Huang’s new VICELAND show. WATCH HERE
Another cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” This one from Birdy. #Optimal LISTEN HERE
IX. This Week in Blazers
The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW Goal of the Season Spectacular - WATCH FULL EPISODE HERE
After the Pies with Jamie Bell - WATCH HERE
Men in Blazers The Musical Pod Special (ft. Aaron Dessner, Chris Baio & Nat Motte) - LISTEN HERE
Loretta Lynch Pod Special (full interview) - LISTEN HERE
Christian Fuchs Pod Special - LISTEN HERE
X. Another Sign of The Premier League’s Eye on America
Arsenal has announced it’s establishing a year-round soccer school in New Jersey. This is the first permanent Premier League-affiliated academy in the U.S., according to Arsenal. The AFC Soccer Schools Academy will be based out of Centercourt Sports in Mt. Olive, N.J., and is scheduled to open in September. More information on tryouts is available HERE.
XI. "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.”