Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Men in Blazers: Offbeat and quirky, they love their football

Downtown Abbey meets Men in Blazers / Michael Davies (L) and
 Roger Bennett (R) share a visit from "Mr. Barrow", Rob James-Collier
during this week's show.

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett like to discuss football -- the "beautiful game" not the American gladiator version played in the NFL -- and they wear blazers. Usually at the same time. Their little media empire "Men in Blazers", which includes a podcast, a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed (@MeninBlazers) and a weekly TV show on NBC Sports Network, is driven by the belief that "soccer is America's sport of the future. As it has been since 1972."

Very simply, Davies and Bennett, both balding English blokes -- the former (nicknamed "Davo") is an American TV game show producer while the latter is a bespectacled-but-serious documentary journalist -- are funny and articulate. And, thanks to their small but passionate following with "Men in Blazers", they are taking advantage of a growing American fascination with international football, specifically the English Premier League. It's the kind of show you can equally enjoy with your choice of morning stimulant, be it a cup of coffee or a pint of Guinness.

Beginning in 2011, "Men in Blazers" started as a weekly podcast on Grantland.com, the ESPN-owned sports and pop culture website, and Davies and Bennett offered their quirky and off-beat analysis of recent Premier League matches as well as coverage of the UEFA Champions League and other international fixtures. Davies roots for Chelsea while Bennett holds a dear spot for Everton. The popularity of their podcast has carried over nicely to television, where the British duo were regularly featured on ESPN's coverage of the FIFA World Cup tournament from Brazil last summer. In September, "Men in Blazers" became a lovely complement to NBCSN's weekly Premier League coverage and the show originates from cozy confines in New York City.

According to their website, the aim of "Men in Blazers" is "nothing less than to enlighten the masses to the wildly entertaining world of soccer and the English Premier League in particular. Immersed in the high and low culture of the beautiful game, the program mixes analysis and guest appearances in equal measure, with the aim of providing an intelligent yet often humorous, and always passionate, soccer broadcast."

On the air, the "Men in Blazers" analysis is filled with similes, World War I poetry and lots of pop culture references and inside jokes -- so listen and watch with a keen ear and eye. They love to answer fan e-mail and acknowledge their favorite fan Tweets on placards. And, they're obsessed by PBS Masterpiece Theater's "Downton Abbey". So, it's not surprising that they invited Rob James-Collier, who plays Mr. Barrow, the reviled "Downton Abbey" character everyone loves to loathe from the wildly-popular British drama, to be a guest on a recent show. Needless to say, it was highly-entertaining television.


"We've tried to revel in the narrative of football, which for us, is like an elite athletic competition fused with the storylines of a telenovela," Bennett told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. "Albert Camus had a great quote, 'Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.' We agree with that. For us, football is life, like it was for Camus, I guess. Never met the bloke. Would've loved him to come on the show."

Note: The weekly "Men in Blazers" TV show airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network with repeats on Saturday mornings.

Photo: Courtesy of Men in Blazers website.

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