WHO: Roger Bennett (right) and Michael Davies (left)
WHAT: MEN IN BLAZERS PRESENT
A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America’s
‘Sport of the Future’ Since 1972
WHEN: Published by Knopf May 16, 2018
WHERE: The authors were born in the UK but now live in New York
WHY: “It’s like a behind-the-scenes tell-all, gene-spliced with memoir, encyclopedia, lexicon, and humorous bathroom reading.
“Podcasters, proud balds, and TV pundits Rog and Davo, whose comically low-budget TV show debuted during the 2014 World Cup, have parlayed their offbeat and self-deprecating humor into a broad cult following that includes a convention (BlazerCon), a surprisingly extensive line of merchandise, and even product endorsements (BaldMart)—so why not an encyclopedia?
“This funny, browsable compendium expounds on in-jokes, frequent guests, personal obsessions, recurring punchlines, and occasionally even the sport of soccer. Kidding aside, soccer permeates this book, but only the uninitiated would expect straight-faced analysis. Instead, you’ll find the etymology of Davo’s fave exclamation ‘joink!’ and discussion of players’ hairstyles (from baldness deniers to mullet wearers) alongside satirical player and team profiles and entertainingly offbeat lists (e.g., the top 28 penalty-kick misses).
“The final result is funnier than a 3-3 draw featuring six own goals. Fans of the show and Americans who think the sport sounds best in a wry English accent will find this a very tasty pie, indeed.” –Keir Graff, BOOKLIST
. . . . .
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHORS
How did you meet? What led you to start the Men in Blazers podcast?
Rog: When France played Italy in the 2006 World Cup final—a game largely remembered for Zinadine Zidane’s moment of madness in which he head butted an Italian defender—I had to leave for a wedding the moment the match went into overtime. The wedding was for my wife’s friend, and I told her it would have to wait, but she explained it was on a boat and if we did not depart immediately, it would leave dock without us.
Dumbstruck, I let her click off the television broadcast of the 2006 World Cup final and followed her with a seething obedience out of the apartment into the street. By the time we had reached South Ferry and boarded the wedding boat, I was in a very, very dark place, surrounded by Americans who were unaware we had all missed one of the most psychologically fascinating finals the World Cup had ever seen. I attacked the bar with the fury Zidane had propelled his cranium into his opponent’s midriff and vented by skulking around the periphery of the celebration, scowling, and avoiding human contact.
It was at the bar that I encountered a man whose countenance was different to all the others. Indeed, his curt dismissiveness and body language, which seemed to indicate he had no interest in being on a wedding boat on the Hudson, had the effect of making me feel like I was looking in the mirror. As he ordered a glass of Malbec, I heard his English accent. Though it was the plummy tone of a Southerner, I still warmed to his general disregard.
“Are you furious not to be watching the World Cup final?” I ventured.
“Furious enough to have contemplated sinking this boat,” he replied.
“I’m Rog,” I said, holding out my hand.
“Michael Davies,” he replied.
And this is how I met Davo. The man my wife calls “my other wife.” We spent the night talking about football, then talking about how we would start a podcast in which we talked about football. The moral of the story is pretty obvious: If you are ever forced to leave a World Cup final to witness a wedding you could not give two craps about but which happens to be taking place on a boat, make every opportunity to drag yourself up that gangplank before the vessel departs. It might just change your life.
Davo: I don’t remember many details about that wedding. And only a little bit about meeting Rog. Though I do remember being astounded at what a spectacular dancer he was. And when I say spectacular, I mean a gifted physical comedian.
When you first arrived in the US, was there much soccer culture or coverage? How did you watch games?
Davo: I watched the 1990 World Cup Finals on Univision or Telemundo. I used to go to English pubs in Orlando and then Santa Monica and Hollywood when I moved west and watched games that they brought in on those enormous satellite dishes that people used to think were perfectly normal. I would watch anything back then, even Wolves, even Arsenal. Starting around 1991, I became a fixture at the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum for Mexican, Latin American and occasionally ill-advised USMNT games. It was a side of the city, of football, that I had never experienced and I lived for it. I was probably the only person in LA who was disappointed when the World Cup came because it homogenized and gentrified the atmosphere in the stadiums.
Rog: Exhibit A of how football was lived before the Internet. In 1995, Everton played Tottenham in the FA Cup semifinal. The game was not televised in the United States. To follow the action, I had to call my father from my apartment in Chicago and have him hold the receiver against a radio broadcasting game commentary for ninety minutes. In those days, transatlantic phone calls were a prohibitive luxury. Though I had to take a second job to pay off that phone bill, Everton’s 4–1 victory made it worth every cent.
How has that changed over the decades?
Rog: Slow and steady wins the race. We have watched with wonder, World Cup to World Cup as the profile of the Premier League, Major League Soccer and United States Men’s and Women’s Team has risen to the point that the sport’s profile has taken its place alongside Seersucker, cheesesteaks, and the collected works of Raymond Carver as a symbol of our nation’s freedom and democracy.
There is now more global football broadcast live in America than there is in England. With my New York cable service, I can watch English, Spanish, German, Italian, Brazilian, Colombian, Argentinian, and Mexican games as well as the domestic MLS. America has become World Soccer Heaven.
You say soccer has been “America’s Sport of the Future” since 1972. Why 1972? Where do things stand now?
Rog: I have a pennant that hangs over my desk which proclaims “Soccer: Sport of Future, Sport of the Eighties” and it has always cracked me up. A symbol of the perpetual hype that fueled the boom and bust history of American soccer for much of the 20th century. Irrelevant for so long. At best, like Rubik’s cubes and pogo sticks, always a fad.
That has changed since the 1994 World Cup which was held in the United States, and triggered an inexorable rise in the game’s popularity. The one difference being that rise has been slow and steady, World Cup to World Cup, instead of the overnight success that was so often predicted.
Davo: It was a joke that made me laugh the first time Rog said it on Sirius Radio circa 2011. It has always been 1972. 1973 wouldn’t have been nearly as funny.
Soccer has seen an exponential growth in the US over the past several years. To what do you attribute this?
Rog: Just as baseball thrived in “the Golden Age of Radio,” and the NFL was the perfect televisual sport, soccer’s rise has been driven by Al Gore’s invention of the Internet. That has empowered American fans to follow breaking news from the teams they love as closely and quickly as supporters that live right next to that club’s home stadium. There has also been a serious investment in the quality of US football broadcasting and the explosive popularity of EA Sports FIFA, which has been the silent hand which has grown the game. But above all, we Americans love additional excuses to day-time drink. If an American is in a bar, drinking a pint at 7:30 in the morning, they are seen to have a drinking problem. If an American is in a bar drinking that same beer at 7:30 in the morning, and Chelsea are playing Everton on the television, they are revered as true football fans.
Davo: I think the advent of social media has also played a part. Twitter and Instagram are global platforms and there’s a lot of soccer stuff on there, way more than any of the conventional American sports. Also, we’re living in an era where the gaps between content, commercials, have less value. Audiences want to watch content straight through. Soccer has no commercial breaks naturally. And suddenly that’s gone from being a negative to a positive.
There’s much love for the Premier League here, but America’s own MLS hasn’t quite reached those levels as yet. Why do you think that is, and what do you think the future holds?
Rog: It will. The Premier League has its roots in English football which stretches back to the 1880s. MLS is just 23. It has come so far so fast. The balance of power between leagues changes. Italy’s Serie A used to be the gold standard but the plate tectonics shifted to the Premier League. We both have watched MLS since its start in 1996, and it is light years from where is was then. With increased investment, and a modicum of patience, growth will come.
Davo: You look at what’s going on with the new franchises like Atlanta with 72,000 plus packing the stadium, and the young talent at clubs like LAFC and NYCFC and you realize how inevitable and electric the growth and potential is.
What threat do you think soccer—the Premier League now, and the MLS, if it takes off—poses to the NFL and NBA?
Rog: We adore all sports. Soccer’s growth, particularly in Americans below the age of 30, has been one of the thrills of our life to witness. But coming to America, partly under the thrall of the Super Bowl winning Chicago Bears, and falling in with every American ball sport, we believe in a future in which the Lion shall lay with the lamb, and all will rise together.
Davo: I think Field Hockey’s got some problems.
The US, Mexico, and Canada have made a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup—what do you think their chances are of landing it, and what will that do for the sport here?
Rog: The race will be much closer than many imagine. We are up against Morocco. FIFA is a political machine in which regions often vote strategically in block and the Africans and Europeans will lean towards the Moroccans. We may win our region and South America. Asia is going to be the swing vote and in FIFA, anything can happen—see World Cup 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar. The thing that terrifies me is this: The vote is being held in Russia with Putin in attendance. So don’t be shocked if the World Cup is awarded to three joint hosts, but they are Abhaziya, South Ossetia and Crimea.
Davo: Frankly, I will be insulted if America is awarded any part of the World Cup. This country, even now, surely isn’t nearly screwed up enough to be appealing to the blowhards at FIFA.
The American National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Do you think Americans will still care about the tournament?
Rog: Of course they will. Americans love a circus. And even more, they love having permission to cut work and day time drink en masse. The World Cup is going to be massive.
Davo: Sometimes it’s a relief when your team aren’t actually in the tournament. You can sit back and just enjoy the football.
What teams do you suggest Americans root for in the absence of our own team? Why?
Rog: You don’t choose a team, the team chooses you. Having said that, Iceland are a remarkable story. Their population of 334,000 is roughly as big as Corpus Christi Texas, and they will be the smallest nation ever to compete in the sport’s signature global tournament. The tiny island stranded in the North Atlantic has traditionally been a footballing backwater, ranked 131st in the world as recently as 2012. Its rise to 21st place and establishment as global football’s mightiest micro-power has not happened by chance. It is a sporting revolution, the result of careful thought, planning, and youth development that we Americans can learn from.
Davo: England. We are known for our remarkable ability to export comedy.
What is it about soccer that you love so much?
Rog: To watch football is to glimpse life itself unfold before your eyes. The legendary Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger once articulated this best when he said: “Football is like real life but in a more condensed way, more intense. At some moments it catches you suddenly and it can be very cruel.” Trust us, that man knows suffering more than most.
We are two men who could not be more different. One of us is an optimistic Southerner who believes everything is possible. The other, a negative Northerner who sees Cossacks lurking behind every door. Yet we are bonded by a mutual understanding that soccer in all of its forms—men’s or women’s, international or club—as long as it is played by bipeds, is the key
to understanding human existence. As George Elliot once said:
“Art is the nearest thing to life
it is a mode of amplifying experience
and extending our contact
with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”
If you substitute the word “Football” for “art” here, and it could not be better said.
Davo: The key in that is the bipeds thing. I may be a southerner and a bit posh but I loathe polo.
Which American sports have captured your interest?
Rog: All of them. From baseball, which is chess with chewing tobacco, to the NBA, which is like watching Demi-Gods do battle.
Davo: Professional basketball, which means the NBA and Kentucky.
Did either of you play as kids or in adult leagues/pickup games?
Rog: I have just become an American citizen and am now waiting for my US International Call Up. I am ready.
Davo: I did until recently. I would describe myself as an agricultural center back with the goal scoring ability of Gary Cahill. I do get my head on the ball a lot though.
Rog: Everton and the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams
Davo: Chelsea and England.
Favorite player of all time?
Rog: Lionel Messi. It is an honor to be alive to watch that man play. We should never take it for granted. Bob Latchford. A goal machine for Everton in the 1970s. I had posters of him with his beard and his perm, surrounding my bed as a kid. I also revere Heather O’Reilly. I admire footballing tenacity more than anything.
Davo: Frank Lampard, Gianfranco Zola and Geoff Merrick. You’re going to have to read the book to figure out who Geoff Merrick is. But he also had a perm.
Most ridiculous player of all time?
Rog: Alexi Lalas. Who else would play the national anthem on his guitar before a game he was actually playing in, then tour in support of Hootie and the Blowfish?
Davo: Former premier league player Joey Barton. When he was transferred to Marseille in France despite speaking no French at all, he started answering questions at his press conferences in English with a heavy French accent.
Least favorite player of all time?
Rog: I love them all. Football is a soap opera. Filled with heroes and villains, all of whom play their part in the human drama.
Davo: Luis Suarez. I can just never forgive him for all the biting.
Best game of your life?
Rog: Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0, November 29, 2010. My first trip to the Camp Nou. One of the greatest performances ever. The stadium felt like a cathedral with a direct line to the Gods.
Davo: Colfe’s School U15 2-1 Brentwood U15. I scored the winner with my knee in injury time.
Rog: Ballads were written and still sung about that game
Most insane play/moment of any game?
Rog: The quiet moment of hush right before kick off. Where every fan has hope, and everything is still possible.
Davo: Anything that happens when West Ham play at the London Stadium.
Player who has best grappled with his receding hairline?
Rog: Baldness is Truth. There is no way to “grapple” with it. The English rain proves even the best intended attempts to be futile.
Davo: Zidane. He owned it.
What move—or which player’s dramatics—do you most admire?
Rog: Gigi Buffon, the Italian Goalkeeper, singing the National anthem, with such brazen passion and pride. A gladiator, willing to give his all in the 90 minutes that are to come.
Davo: Arjen Robben’s dodgy flapper wave and inside cut. Everyone knows he’s going inside. He waves his dodgy flapper to signal it. Defenders always look right into the eye of the vortex and become momentarily hypnotized every time.
Knopf. With 364 illustrations.
224 pages. $27.95 ISBN 978-1-101-87598-8
To interview the authors, contact:
Erinn Hartman | 212-572-2345 | firstname.lastname@example.org