JW's Odion Ighalo-esque Journey from GFOP to Producer

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When people find out I work at Men in Blazers, the first question I get:

What is that?

The second:

How did you get that job?

Like so many of you, I started off as a GFOP, listening back in the halcyon Grantland days when Rog still called Davo, “Mickey,” the beer was Boddingtons and the pies were… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I began listening while working in local television news in DC, a job on which I eventually burnt out, and catapulted me into graduate school (really a thinly-veiled excuse to move to New York). While in school, I wrote my final project - a 30-page piece of reportage - on how global football fans use NYC supporters as a cultural and community connection back home (The now-defunct website “A Football Report” published it in five parts).

Approaching graduation, I had a staggering amount of debt, managed with all the erudition of Mike Ashley. And worse. No job prospects. At all. So I took a shot from Xhaka range and emailed my essay unsolicited to meninblazers@gmail.com.

I just finished my thesis about footy supporters clubs in NYC. I like to think of it as the American "Fever Pitch" minus Hornby's eloquence, wisdom or experience. So, actually, it's nothing like "Fever Pitch," but it does mention Arsenal! And it was written not far from the crap part of Soho.

Maybe something to read whilst having a pie, some Boddingtons and listening to the Match of the Day theme song.

That is the actual, cringeworthy email. It received a very polite, encouraging email from Rog, playing the role of a gracious Ronaldo to my desperate fan grasping for his shirt before being hauled off by security.

Graduation came and went. I managed to land a gig transcribing hours of interviews for a former professor. Sure he couldn’t pay me actual money, but he was gracious enough to buy me lunch daily. Num Pang Vietnamese sandwiches, while delicious, don’t pay the rent.

After a day of transcribing, I sat on the floor of my overheated apartment (wasn’t spending money to turn AC on) and opened my computer to find an email from my friend, linking to this Tweet.

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 9.08.14 AM

Knowing my first email was so ineffectual it probably didn’t even register (the Xhaka metaphor finally bears fruit!), I set any shame aside and swung a second time, drafting an email that listed my meager qualifications, followed by:

Most importantly, I'm a huge footy fan AND an Ipswich Town supporter. I lived in England for four years growing up and made countless trips to Portman Road. An American Ipswich supporter is something every workplace needs.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Jonathan Williamson

To my surprise, not only did I hear from someone, but after a brief interview with then Producer Greg (just two Gs!), I was offered a job working on “Premier League Download.” The Embassy Row-produced clip show introduced Americans to NBCSN’s Premier League Coverage, which began that year. It featured a number of pundits, players and personalities, including Rebecca Lowe, Jack Wilshere, Trevor Noah and Rog and Davo.

They say never meet your heroes. And I took that advice. Mostly because I was tinkle-my-pants nervous and hoping to go largely unnoticed on set. During the MiB recording session, I cowered behind a laptop, pretending to furiously take notes so I could watch from inside the studio, as opposed to a monitor in the green room where I’d watched the others.

Looking back on that recording - during which the guys uncorked all the hits (smalls and talls; red vs. blue; “you can change your underwear, but you cannot change your team”). I had witnessed what was essentially the pilot, or at very least the screen test, for the Men in Blazers Television Show. And while I didn’t grasp the magnitude of it at the time, I left on an absolute high. Stuffing free craft services granola bars into my jeans while listening to Trevor Noah wax poetic about Juan Mata, I thought… “Damn. I’ve peaked.”

That initial gig on Premier League Download led to full-time work on Men in Blazers, and seven years later I watch the guys in-studio every single week. It’s a post that’s allowed me to meet my heroes (Noel Gallagher, Sam Kerr, Ed Burns). One that has brought me to places I never imagined I’d ever go (Moscow, Pamplona, San Jose). And turned countless GFOPs into bonafide friends (fighter pilot extraordinaire Graham Scarbro, San Francisco’s finest Tom Pellack, and many, many more).

More than anything it has allowed me the opportunity to play a part in what Rog and Davo have created.

As a writer/editor/producer/whatever, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is make things that foster the same feeling with people that I feel when I consume my favorite books, television, music. That feeling of shelter from the everyday life’s storm. And an unbridled excitement that I’ve been able to connect to something. And so when I see GFOP emails come into our inbox proclaiming their love of a joke, or when I meet someone at a live show who tells me the modicum of solace Rog and Davo provide them, it makes me eternally grateful. Now, in these tough times, more than ever.