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HAIL! GFOP

I type with fingers filled with love, as I type the final Raven of 2020. A savage, callous year in which I hope we have brought you joy. That is what we have tried to do with all our might. 
 
I can say you have for us. That has been the ethos of all of our lives since March. A time of incredible lows and occasional highs in which we have all tried to support each other when we need it. My favorite Van Morrison track is Comfort You.  

When it gets too much, much too much for me
I'll do the same thing that you do
And I'll put the weight on you.”

2020 has been a year when we have all had to live life by the spirit of that song.
 
In a time of chaos and darkness in the United States, football has been such a remarkable uplift. At the beginning of lockdown, Jurgen Klopp said that football is “the most important least important thing.” I have come to believe that during the pandemic, the game, which could have felt trivial without fans, has become an even more crucial part of my life, because it allows us to feel things -- emotions, joy, moments of human transcendence -- and above all, it connects us to millions around the globe marveling at a Mo Salah wonder goal, KDB’s visionary passing, or Jack Grealish’s beautiful buttocks. And that connection is the Most Important Most Important thing. Of not being alone, and feeling alive.
 
What follows is a list of our best moments of the year on and off the field. Football. Podcasts. Interviews. Music. Books. And Television. Send us yours HERE.
 

2. Men In Blazers. 2020’s Last Stand

i. TONIGHT: The Men in Blazers Show John Oliver Annual Holiday Special 5:30 PM ET on NBCSN. John’s ninth appearance on our crap show, and it is quite magnificent. That Liverpool-supporting, Zazu-playing, Pringles Fetishist is on spectacular form. Our production team have worked round the clock in their own homes to get this to air.  And it is worth every second.

ii. Wednesday, Dec. 30: Arsene Wenger Special. 5.30 PM ET NBCSN. Arsenal fans. This one is for you. I wanted to bring you joy and wonder. Arsene delivers it. Every human will benefit from his willingness to talk about life, success, failure, and death. It is transcendent.  

iii. We pod Tomorrow for the final time in 2020 on Tuesday. We are so 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.

iv. Call us at (646) 450-9472 whenever you have a question over the holiday period. WGFOP: The Bald returns first week in January 2021!!!
 

3. To the Football
 
We enter the Season of Wonder, in which games are falling, game on game. We need it. My life has come to revolve around football in 2020 more than ever. Do you remember that initial period without it? Of stale emptiness and Tiger King? Football’s return has been like that of a great friend who can lift your spirits when you need it, and talk forever about memories of nights on the lash past and adventures to come. That football has kept going, often against the odds, is something I will never take for granted. Football in 2020, in many ways, has saved me. 
 
Liverpool, ominously cruising and pantsing all-comers. Refusing to lose their focus and let neither complacency nor a calamitous set of injuries derail them in a title defense that, from a mental perspective, would be even more impressive than the drought-breaking original. Jose Mourinho, who has turned Harry Kane and Son into the most lethal yet lovable duo in football, and himself into a Sway House-worthy insta influencer in the process. Brendan has Leicester City purring. A James Maddison-handsome image of the vision Brodge sees when he looks in the mirror every morning. It just feels like Manchester United are in freefall implosion. It is the ultimate totem of a surreal pandemic season that Ole has his undoubtedly talented squad in 3rd place. Arsenal fans. I feel your pain. It is a terrible state of affairs when the passion of supporters is in stark contrast to the effort of the players on the field. I wish you the joy you deserve in 2021. Chelsea too. May the Germans click. Or is it Klick? Talking of joy. Everton Football Club. I love you more than I can say.  The last two decades have taught me that when we experience moments of wonder, we have to savor them as if we are dancing at one of our own kids’ weddings. Mr. Carlo has given us plenty. I have to note though. Sheffield United, you break my heart. To raise spirits after so long in exile. Then to plummet. A cautionary reminder of what can happen to all of us. In football and in life. 
 
All that, and Big Sam Back.
 
Here’s an extra Gift: Maradona came to New York City in 1984 and strutted around unnoticed…it is magnificent. Watch it Here
 

4. The Footballing story of the Year: America!
 
For me, the best part of 2020 (apart from surviving) has been watching a wave of young American male players thrive in Europe, individually and as a collective, revelling in every wonder goal, guile-filled assist and moment of awe. We used to be elated when one of our own would line up against the likes of Barcelona and Juventus. Now we have young American talents starting there week in week out and savoring every moment. I am a gent who adores America and Football, and lives for the growth of the game I love in the nation I adore. Since 1994, we have yearned for this. To be a normal footballing nation. In which our best talents play for the best teams, against the best teams, making massive moments happen with the world watching:
 
Tyler Adams from Wappingers Falls, NY scoring a massive goal to put Leipzig into the Champions League semi finals.
 
Gio Reyna, as a 17-year-old, boldly curling his first ever goal for Dortmund. It became the first of many for this magical mind who came of age in Bedford, NY.  
 
153 seconds after entering the game against Champion Liverpool. Christian Pulisic eviscerated four opponents with his first touch, balance, searing confidence and an impudent nutmeg to end a man. It is still jaw dropping to watch an American make Premier League look this easy.
 
Weston McKennie, 22, of Little Elm, Texas, stepping up in the Juventus-Barcelona Ronaldo vs Messi Showdown to drop this showstopper.
 
Weston was made U.S. Soccer’s player of the year over the weekend. To all my young readers. Have a look at this photograph from 2006 in which a seven-year-old Weston met Landon Donovan and the U.S. Soccer squad when his family were stationed at Ramstein Air Base. He's now one of the team's stars. That is inspiring to all of us. Proof you can live your dreams.
 
ii. The American women have also continued to thrill, heading to England’s FAWSL in search of game time with Olympic Gold at front of mind. Watching Tobin Heath bend time and space in a Manchester United shirt will never get old. The joy of my year has been seeing Sam Mewis dominate for Manchester City. She was just made U.S. Soccer’s player of the year. A correct decision. There are not many players who dominate a World Cup and immediately focus on the weaknesses in their game and determine to eliminate them. Sam’s relentless commitment to improvement is born of an unwillingness to settle which transcends sport and is an example to follow in Real Life. You can hear more Sam HERE

 
3. Favorite Interviews of the Year

We have been blessed to interview some remarkable human beings this year for show and pod. We are particularly indebted to Jagermeister for their partnership on our NHL work which has been a slice of magic. Countdown to the new season in January begins in earnest.
 
i. Alphonso Davies: One of the most effortless and surreal rises to glory I have witnessed in world football.
 
ii. Jason Isbell: I revere this human being. This pod is life-changing even though I am in it.
 
iii. Carlo Ancelotti: Other than my wife, the human I am most thankful for in 2020.
 
iv. Jon Cooper: Coach of your Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, who, until age 32, was a Public Defender in Michigan. He started coaching high school as a lark, felt alive, and made a midlife career change that was a leap into the unknown. It has ended up in glory and is an inspiration.
 
v. Big Boi: Joy. Wisdom. Owls. Kate Bush
 
vi. John Oliver: David Simon once called me Rainman during an interview for the random way my mind works. John Oliver though is next level. It is hard to describe the extent of this bloke’s genius. The way he computes ideas on the spot is gobsmacking. A human wonder. This is our interview from June. As we mentioned, he is back TONIGHT (5.30 PM ET on NBCSN).
 
vii. Kevin Hayes: of the Philadelphia Flyers is a human bolt of wonder. A glue-guy. The kind of player that makes everyone connect, click and excel. To watch him is to love him.
 
viii. Dominic Calvert-Lewin: His journey from a striker who does not score to a man who cannot miss is inspirational. 
 
ix. Jack Harrison: The Road Less Travelled to Premier League Glory. 
 
x. Heung Min-Son: A man who brings joy with everything he does.
 
xi. Virgil Van Dijk: A demigod talks to a bald who is all too human. 
 
xii. Jurgen Klopp: The real Time Man of the Year.
 
xiii. Rebecca Lowe: Best in the Business. Even better as a human being. 


4. Last Minute Holiday Gift For the Football Love? Icons.

What Holiday gift can you get for the football fan in your life that has already purchased this year’s home, away, and alternate jersey? Icons is a veritable house of treasures that can transport you to the pitch next to all of the greats. Jerseys and memorabilia signed by all the greats. Not just Messi and Maradona, but Thierry Henry, KDB, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Trent Alexander-Arnold and more. Finished Basements cry out for this stuff. I have just hung a signed Messi jersey, a Carlo Lloyd 2015, and an Everton 1984 FA Cup Final winners jersey in mine.  

Get 10% off your purchase! Go to ICONS.com and enter code “MIB10”

For more…watch this video!


5. Our Best Worst Bits

Making content in lockdown has been so grounding. Here are some of the pieces we have loved the most: 

i. Arsenal Fan Black Lives Matter: We spotted a demonstrator wearing an Auba jersey. This is his story.
 
ii. America’s High School Seniors: talk about a lost football season they will never get back.
 
iii. Mr. Bill: An 81-year-old widower and lifelong football fan - isolated from his family when COVID hit - mentioned he liked soccer as part of a pen pal program. The response was magic.
 
iv. Madison Hammond: A tribute to the first Native American to play in the NWSL, who spoke to us about her journey and how she plans to use her platform. 
 
v. First World War Football: A British WWI unit went Over The Top at The Battle of the Somme kicking two footballs. The footballs made it back home. The commanding officer who gave them to his men did not. 
 
vi. Olga: A 98-year-old Manchester City fan has followed the club since the 1930s. A pure story about fandom in dark times and glorious ones.
 
vii. Ferry cross the Mersey: One of the joys of my year was making this film with my Dad, Judge Ivor. Few people love the city of Liverpool more.  This genuinely captures my Dad in the purest way.


6. The Best Books of My Year

Reading, along with football, has saved me in 2020. Transported me to places and times I cannot go to. More than ever, having a great book in my life elevated it in remarkable ways. Luckily, I have had so many that have left me yearning to read them, even when I was away from the page. Here are my 10 favorites.
  
Tyll: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann. An incredible flight of the imagination. If we interviewed one author in 2021, it would be Kehlmann. Fascinated by how his mind works.
 
Breasts and Eggs by Kawaka Mimieko. Incredible storytelling about Japanese womanhood and working class-life that is as hilarious as it is searing. 
 
And Their Children After Them by Nicolas Mathieu. Many of you loved Ohio by Stephen Markley. This is the French version of that telling. And it is just as good. 
 
The Convert by Stefan Hertmans. The Author of one of my favorite books all time, War and Turpentine, returns with an incredibly researched and emotionally devastating work which seamlessly ricochets between past and present.

Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan and Love: A Novel by Roddy Doyle. These two books are both stunning meditations on friendship. In different ways, they capture the joys, longing, and love that connect us. If you ache to go to the pub with your mates and have a Night, these two books come close to being a substitute.  
 
I'm Staying Here by Marco Balzano. A slice of history I knew nothing about. The Northern-Italian Second World War experience in the German-speaking Tyrol. Trapped between Italian Facism and German Nazism. Trapped, doomed, tenacious and filled with love.   
 
Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum. A book which helped me understand the tectonic plates shifting in the world around us.

We Germans: A Novel by Alexander Starritt. A German grandfather seeks to explain his experiences on the Eastern Front to his grandson. Raw. Emotional. Profound. Band of Brothers meets the Upside Down. 
 
Cactus League by Emily Nemens. A beautifully crafted and empathetically observed set of interlocking baseball stories that transcends sports.
 
One more Book I Adore: Together in a Sudden Strangeness America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic edited by Alice Quinn.
 
And a visual treat: Best Book Covers of 2020


7. Television

i. HBO Succession Podcast. During lockdown, the opportunity to make the HBO Succession Podcast was one of the joys of my year. Partially because I miss that series more than I can say. And partially because talking to the different Emmy award-winning stars of the show like Brian Cox and the very intense Jeremy Strong was proof of just how well cast they are. I was blown away by the stories of their different journeys to the show, the depth of their insights into character, and the depth of their emotional connection to the whole series and each other. Stealth best episode? Matthew MacFadyen.

ii. My favorite television shows 2020 

Berlin Babylon Season 3 is like watching free-flowing Dortmund at their best.

Generation War on Amazon with Volker Bruch of Berlin Bab in it.

ZeroZeroZero on Amazon. My “How is everyone not talking about this?” Show of the Year.

Suburra Season 3 on Netflix. Which I started watching to scratch the Gomorrah itch but fell in love with in its own right. 

Dave Episode 6 “Talent Show” is the single most beautiful episode of television I watched this year. Everything about this show was brilliant. The tone. The emotional nuance. And GaTa.

Valley of Tears on HBO Max will make you understand Deni Avdija more.

I have also re-watched Band of Brothers twice in lockdown and will no doubt watch it again. What a magnificently humbling piece of television that is. In times of darkness, it is a reminder of the America I grew up admiring: a selfless global-leader in which every day heroism and tenacity was commonplace.


8. Best Music of 2020

Here is a Spotify Playlist with the 47 tracks that have gotten me through this hellscape year.

As I have written a few times, Australian music has carried me through the darkness. First thing I have done every morning is listen to an incredible daily radio show, Home and Hosed, which unleashes an hour of local music every night. The host, Declan Byrne, has an incredible taste filter. It is his sounds that power me through the day. If I had to pick four tunes that have truly carried me it would be these:

Knowing Me, Knowing You by Angie McMahon. Angie is the single greatest. So emotionally intelligent. So bloody enormously talented. 

I Think You’re Great by Alex The Astronaut
But you don't always have to smile You don't
Only have to cry at night When tears stain your face”

Goddam Lonely Love by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. A constant reminder in my lows that others are suffering far more than I am.

Perfection’s a Thing and You’re It by Maddy Jane. “I'm not that old but I'm too old for this shit”

That’s it for the year. It has been surreal. There have been moments of magic. Like when the Bundesliga returned to action in May, and Dortmund faced Schalke for the first time in lockdown, and when Erling Haaland opened the scoring, we felt that incredible sense of global connection through football.  

Above all, in this darkness, I do believe we have learned to make the most of all we have at our disposal. The pandemic has in so many ways heightened our senses. Think back to May, when, as a newly-minted bird enthusiast, I was walking in a park with my wife, marveling at the pluck of the American robins and yellow throated warblers who surrounded us. From a distance of about 200 yards, I spotted the most stunning, pure white bird I have ever seen leaping joyfully from branch to branch in a tree. I delighted in its choreography for about 10 minutes, spirits soaring as I experienced the kind of spiritual, natural high only communing with wildlife can create. As you may remember, I moved closer, eager to snap a photograph to upload to my iPhone Bird ID app. Despite the fact it can reliably compute over 6,000 species, the Cornell Lab Merlin ID tool was unable to enlighten me. An occurrence which only served to reinforce my fast-growing sense that we are privy to an incredibly rare, out-of-region, birding experience. I snapped off hundreds of photos whilst inching closer - which strangely did not seem to phase the bird at all. A brazen beast! It was only when the bird jumped out of the tree, transforming itself into a totally horizontal shape, before laying limply, flat out on the water’s surface, that I realized what I had been watching and fetishizing. A large discarded napkin which had been entangled in the tree branches.

To be clear: I still would not exchange those 10 minutes of exhilarating “bird” watching for anything. The fact we were looking at garbage does not diminish it at all. Let’s savor joy wherever and however we can find it. And know this: If we can survive this, we can survive anything and unleash a collective creative cacophony in 2021. 

Keep Couraging.
 
Courage, 
Rog: @rogbennett 

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

Please Consider Supporting: 
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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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