Magazine article The New Yorker

Trailblazers

Magazine article The New Yorker

Trailblazers

Article excerpt

TRAILBLAZERS

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, better known to American soccer fans as Men in Blazers, spend their days in an almost comically cramped studio in lower Manhattan. There they produce a weekly podcast ostensibly about soccer and a half-hour highlight show for NBC Sports. But last weekend they ventured out to Brooklyn to meet their fans, who'd gathered for a celebration of soccer that the Men in Blazers had dubbed BlazerCon. The two often call soccer "America's sport of the future--as it has been since 1972"; BlazerCon was organized on the notion that this future had finally arrived.

More than a thousand people from sixteen states and across Europe showed up at the Brooklyn Expo Center, in Greenpoint, to hear Davies and Bennett interview players, TV commentators, club owners, and coaches, and to hear them make self-deprecating jokes about being bald or being English. Attendees could challenge professional soccer players (Dax McCarty and Shaun Wright-Phillips, of the New York Red Bulls) to a round of fiFA 16, a popular video game; get a haircut in the style of their favorite international footballer ("An Olivier Giroud, please!"); or have a "Men in Blazers" patch sewn on their own blazer. Topps, the baseball-card company, had a booth selling soccer cards.

When Bennett moved to the States, in 1993, soccer was, he said, "worse than irrelevant--it was reviled." Now the networks broadcast English Premier League matches. One fan arrived wearing the uniform of the Columbus Crew, the team he grew up supporting, back in Ohio: short-sleeved jersey, shorts, and knee socks, all yellow. He was a "full-kit wanker," a species rarely seen in the wild. "It's a real commitment," he said, patting his sides. "No pockets." He carried his phone and a coat in a shopping bag.

Another young man, Brett Harman, who'd travelled from Trenton, New Jersey, explained that he'd decided which team to support by playing FIFA, the video game. He often played as the legendary Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko, and when Shevchenko left A.C. Milan for Chelsea he followed. Now Harman is a Chelsea devotee and hopes one day to see the team play at Stamford Bridge, their stadium in London. …

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