an interview with professional goal guardian kofi sarkodie

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Kofi Sarkodie Career ProgressionWhen it comes to interviews, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty clear that I’ll talk to just about anyone from the game of football.

And while I’m more than happy to talk to any player from the professional ranks about their experiences, I have a soft spot in particular for players who hail from the state of Ohio. After all, I’m from Ohio myself. And on top of that, a substantial number of my readers and followers call Ohio home, too. So helping to shed some more light on the lives of those who come from my own backyard seems as much a duty as it does a privilege.

Luckily, Ohio has a pretty deep pool of players that populate MLS rosters. And one of the brightest among those that call the Buckeye state home is Houston Dynamo right back, Kofi Sarkodie. A product of Huber Heights — a suburb of Dayton — Kofi has represented the US at the youth level, won a national championship with the Akron Zips and established himself as one of the league’s best up and coming young defenders.

So with the Dynamo off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, this seemed like the perfect time to talk with Kofi to talk about his younger days here in Ohio, the importance of his close relationships with his soccer-playing brothers, and his career to this point.

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an interview with professional supporter massive city ffc

Massive City FFC (Photo Courtesy Manuel Zambrano)

Over the years, I’ve managed to arrange and conduct interviews with nearly the entire spectrum of people in the world of American soccer. From a number of players that entertain us on the pitch — including an Olympic gold medalist — to the club executives who run things behind the scenes to a guy who enables our social watching by running one of the country’s most recognizable soccer bars. These talks and discussions have given me lots of unique perspectives, shedding light on aspects of the game that I would have never thought about otherwise.

But as I was contemplating my next interviewee, I felt there was a glaring omission from across the spectrum of the American soccer experience: the fan.

Like all of the other important parties we’ve talked to above, the supporter is omnipresent within the sport. Soccer is dependent on its supporters to fuel its economy, whether directly through ticket or merchandise purchases or indirectly through television deals. We — myself included — are a vital cog in the world of football. And just like if you were to remove the players, the front offices or means by which we watched our teams play, if you removed the fans, the sport would quickly die.

But I knew I couldn’t interview just any supporter. It had to be someone who his peers could look up to, be inspired by, or strive to emulate. This fan would need to be a supporter that adds to and improves the experience of those who have the privilege of taking in the match with him.

Luckily, I just so happen to know one.

Allow me to introduce you to Justin Bell, better known by his online pseudonym @MassiveCityFFC. The founder of Massive City Football Fan Corps, Justin is hands down one of the most vocal supporters of the Columbus Crew. From writing and talking on the Massive Report, to leading cheers in Crew Stadium’s Nordecke to designing supporter gear, popular club imagery and tifos — including the spectacular “HOME” banner at the last Dos A Cero – Justin has played a significant role in creating the pop culture that surrounds and supports the Crew in Columbus and beyond.

And even more lucky, Justin was so kind to sit down with me to talk about his work, his time supporting the Crew, and his thoughts on the club’s future.

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pic of the week 2/3-2/9

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A pitch invader gets a very Brazilian celebration

Like the increasing trend of students rushing the court in college basketball, invading the pitch is becoming incredibly cliché. It used to be a unique event, but it happens so often anymore it hardly warrants attention. No longer reserved for just the obnoxiously inebriated supporter — though those guys still show up on occasion — we’ve seen pitch invaders ranging from political activists to thrill seeking streakers in recent years. And when it comes to celebrating supporters rushing out en masse, it sure seems like the standard for justifying the rushing the playing surface has diluted tremendously. The television cameras at the stadium have even been instructed to ignore them, so as to not promote more banal tomfoolery.

But last week, one pitch invader managed to transcend the cliché nature of the action and captured the world’s attention in the process. Seven year old Ayo Dosumu slipped away from his father and down onto the field in the immediate aftermath of the Brazil’s 5-0 dismantling of hosts South Africa. But before security was able to whisk him away, hat-trick hero Neymar scooped up the youngster, carried him over to his teammates who then proceeded to hoist the youngster up on their shoulders. And the world ate it up, despite the fact that little guy totally broke a bunch of rules in the process.

Cuteness counts for something, right? Let’s just hope this doesn’t provoke a rash of pitch invasions this summer with fans from around the world trying to recreate Ayo’s picturesque moment for themselves.

one small step for man, one giant leap for WSOTP

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Wrong Side of the Pond... commentating a game near you.

Looking back over what has become a nearly been a five year endeavor, Wrong Side of the Pond has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Originally, it was nothing more than a way for me to pass the time while living in a new town. And I can easily say that I would have never imagined at the time that my blog would grow to have well over a thousand Twitter followers or nearly five hundred Facebook likes. And to see it evolve to become a resource for people to find a place to watch and share beers with fellow supporters, have it gain me media credentials at MLS stadiums around the country, or co-host a weekly podcast? Well, that’s just mind-blowing.

However I’d also be lying if I said that, deep down, I didn’t have dreams of it some day becoming more.

I’ve always had a desire to somehow stay involved with the game I grew up with and that gave so much to me. Yeah, I still play regularly. But as my fitness and athleticism fade with age, sharing all of the knowledge I’ve picked up over the years of playing and studying soccer seemed like the logical next step. There have definitely been some lucky breaks here and there, too. Bundle all of that with a desire to create and share, and maybe the blog and its growth makes a bit more sense after all.

So with all of that in mind, today, I’m pleased to announce the next very exciting stage in the site’s evolution…

WSOTP - Blog - Cincy Saints Announcement 2.fw

Wrong Side of the Pond will be partnering with the Cincinnati Saints for the upcoming National Premier Soccer League season and beyond!

Specifically, my fellow WSOTP Podcast co-host Jeremy Lance and I will provide the official live match commentary for all home broadcasts for the Saints’ 2014 NPSL campaign. In addition to calling the matches at Over-the-Rhine’s Stargel Stadium, we’ll also provide pre-game, half time and post-match analysis and content alongside sideline reporter Amy Hellkamp. More information about broadcast availability will be forthcoming, but for the time being, every home match will at least be available via a free live stream on YouTube — which I’ll be adding as a link in the sidebar prior to the season.

Furthermore, we will also be working together on a number of marketing endeavors to help further exposure of both the Saints and WSOTP. Exciting things are already in the works, so keep your eyes on this space for further updates in the weeks to come.

In short, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity and I know we’re all excited to see where things go from here. Many thanks to everyone who’s supported us along the way, and we look forward to cheering on the Saints with you in the summer!

MORE ABOUT THE CINCINNATI SAINTS
The Saints will be embarking on their inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), a semi-professional soccer league in the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid. Founded in 2009, the Saints organization also features a men’s indoor side — competing tomorrow in the Professional American Soccer League (PASL) playoffs — as well as women’s indoor and outdoor sides, too. For outdoor matches, the black and blue will call Taft High School’s Stargel Stadium near downtown Cincinnati home. The first home match of the season will kick off at 7:30pm on Friday, May 23rd. Click here to see a schedule of matches.

If you want to read the full press announcement on the Cincinnati Saints’ website, feel free to click here.

i want: adidas samba primeknit

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adidas Samba primeknit

Every so often, a new type of boot comes along an blows the lid off of the way everyone thinks about soccer boots. And the adidas Samba primeknit is just that type of boot. Billed as the “world’s first knitted football boot” — though I recall a pair of woven-Kevlar Fila’s back in the late 1990′s that might object to that claim — the primeknit is said to offer unparalleled comfort, fit and flexibility thanks to the specially coated knit yarn design. Adidas even went as far as to say that it offers a “bespoke” fit; impressive if true, though that likely means they’ll be a bit pricey. And given that the new boot will be dawned by stars such as Luis Suárez, you can imagine they must be worth the added expense.

Whether these boots will be able to stand the average wear and tear of a normal player’s weekly football routine, that’s a question for another day. But in the mean time, I’ll just admire them for their sexy aesthetic.

CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT  |  adidas.com/football

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Columbus Crew Cincinnati Cleveland

while the crew would do well to make sure their new crest represents columbus, there are other cities the club can look to connect with potential fans, too.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Columbus, Ohio. Despite years of near anonymity and near afterthought status, the city’s soccer franchise may finally be entering a renaissance of sorts. Under the guidance of new owner Anthony Precourt, the Crew are slowly starting to show signs of life after years of stagnation under the former ownership of the Hunt Sports Group.

Long-needed improvements to the stadium — including an updated jumbotron, speakers and upgraded “premier seating” on the stadium’s east side — should help to improve a match day experience that’s grown stale.

A partnership with USLPRO side Dayton Dutch Lions brings them in line with the league-wide development requirement and may pay dividends down the road.

Plus, the technical and playing staff assembled under the newly installed head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter are making some intriguing moves to improve the team’s on-pitch results in the near future.

But the work of Precourt’s making the most waves, at least in the press and on social media, is the Crew’s intentions to revamp their outdated branding. The now quasi-iconic crest featuring three helmeted construction workers — the only untouched original logo to survive since MLS’ inception in 1996 — will finally get an overhaul. And the following quote in a recent interview on mlssoccer.com on the subject was particularly interesting.

“We want to be representative. We don’t see Columbus in the [current] crest. There are many things we can do to represent the capital city better. It’s not a blue-collar, manufacturing, industrial town. It’s a smart, young, progressive university… town. We want it to represent the Columbus we’ve come to know.”

- ANTHONY PRECOURT, COLUMBUS CREW INVESTOR-OPERATOR

And he’s right: their current logo doesn’t even feature the name of the city they call home. That seems almost traitorous. But it’s not just about where their from, but also representing their existing and potential fans.

When I think of Columbus, I think of a city rejuvenated, reborn. Think of the German Village and Short North areas, each seeing an influx of new restaurants, shops and galleries over the last five to ten years. These redevelopments have helped to attract new residents back to the city, which in itself helps to spurn further investment.

And though it shouldn’t matter as much as it does, the Crew conveying themselves as something that many of the city’s young residents are trying to separate themselves from — the proletariat blue-collar workers staring cross-armed from the Crew’s logo — might well be enough to turn off potential fans. So alongside the improvements to the stadium and playing staff mentioned above, Precourt and president Mark McCullers believe that aligning the brand with Columbus and it’s growing young professional demographic will help to put more butts in Crew Stadium seats.

the old “blue collar” logo won’t be phased out until 2015.

Personally, I can’t believe it took the Crew so long to focus on this segment of the fan base. Even under the prior regime of the Hunts, it seemed fairly obvious. All you had to do was look at those packing the house each time the national team came to town. Though the traditionally-targeted “soccer mom” and “entertaining professional” segments were still represented, most of those in attendance were 20 and 30 somethings. The same can be said of the growing crowds filling American pubs for Premier League fixtures each weekend.

And while I agree that putting emphasis on the “Columbus” in Columbus Crew is rightly needed, I think the Precourt and company would be wise to not limit their thoughts to just Ohio’s capital city when trying to reach new fans.

Mr. Precourt: please don’t forget about Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and the rest of Ohio when trying to grow the club’s support.

As much as the Hunts neglected to invest in the club and it’s infrastructure, efforts to market the team outside the city have received just as little attention. Columbus isn’t an island after all; a good chunk of Ohio’s population is within a reasonable drive.

But driving distance alone isn’t the only reason why the rest of Ohio is important to the Crew. Cincinnati and Cleveland in particular have seen similar revivals to Columbus, especially when looking at their near-downtown districts of Over-the-Rhine and Ohio City. Already existing pockets of Crew supporters at the opposite ends of the state are there to build upon. You’ll find young professionals packing their bars Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch the European football, too. The traditional youth soccer target markets in those and other large Ohio cities are bountiful as well. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that much of the state is already pre-disposed to driving to Columbus to support some other sport’s team.

And yet outside of youth clubs partnering with the academy or the occasional Frankie Hejduk sighting, there have been practically zero attempts by the Crew to reach out to the rest of Ohio.

I live directly off of and commute on the I-71 corridor here in Cincinnati — a highway that literally leads directly to Crew Stadium — every single day. And yet in all my time living in this city, I can’t recall ever seeing a Columbus Crew billboard or advert. Three years spent living in Dayton went the same way. And friends in Cleveland and Toledo confirmed a similar dearth of Crew presence in their cities.

Perhaps we’ll see them reaching out to those of us outside Columbus, but signs of that kind of that haven’t really yet appeared as the upcoming MLS season fast-approaches. The closest I’ve seen to any hints of this kind of effort was in the announcement of the partnership with the Dayton Dutch Lions, which included a few vague statements on marketing cooperation.

Talk of the Crew investigating putting their own USLPRO side in either Cincinnati or Cleveland also shows they’re at least thinking about this subject, but they needn’t go that far to recruit fans to the capital. A cheaper option might be to throw some extra marketing dollars at a few strategically placed billboards and/or commercials in the state’s bigger cities. Additional club outreach — whether the popular “Find Frankie”, player appearances or just further TV/radio spots — might help to remind fans a little further from home base that there’s a professional team just a few hours away. Or if they’re feeling particularly benevolent, maybe throw the entire state a bone in the design of the new crest. That may be a bit much to ask for, but I’d think there’s merit to at least consider it.

It may take some experimentation to find out what’s effective, but it’s a risk worth taking. Just like there are fans that already supporters that come from all across Ohio, the Crew would be wise to attempt to speak to those that they’ve missed in pockets outside of Columbus.

So as Precourt, McCullers and the rest of the Crew front office look to choose a new image to make themselves in, let’s just hope they don’t forget that while Columbus should remain the primary inspiration, taking into account those on the outer fringes of their market deserve and need attention too.

i want: FOSU premier league cap

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FOSU Premier League Caps

As a bit of a cap connoisseur, I’ve always been disappointed with the dearth of hat options for soccer fans. Outside of the standard hats offered in most club shops and online retailers, the selection of premium Premier League caps is dire. I’m talking about stylish caps, like the ones popular here in the States for MLB and NFL. But the folks over at FOSU are trying to change that with their new line of snapbacks and beanies. And they’re certainly checking all the right boxes with designs reminiscent of the Starter and Sof Bill script hats that were popular in the 90′s and now making a retro return.

FOSU’s current offering provides hats for Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and United in a wide array of colors. And with Spurs and other club’s designs promised to be in the works, I’m anxiously looking forward to ordering one of my own.

FOSU have provided you WSOTP readers an exclusive 10% discount if you use the code “wsotp10″ at checkout… so hit the link below to order your’s now!

CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT   |   fosuwear.it

in review: campo retro’s stadio no team colors shirt

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Campo Stadio No Team Colors Collar

campo: marrying the old with the new.

One of the most visible, though well-liked aspects of the inevitable march towards the corporatization of modern football is the ritual of clubs and countries providing their fans with new kits each and every season. Though a reliable revenue stream for both gear producers and clubs alike, it often pushes both to offer increasingly crazy — and often downright ugly — options in order to convince consumers it’s worth it to fork out for a new kit year after year.

Undoubtedly, some fans really dig the wild and crazy designs. But there also remains a sizable contingent that want clubs to stick to their traditional looks and keep things simple. Likewise, many want their club to maintain an appearance that hearkens to their favorite memories of the team and its their greatest achievements. They hold on to the hope that imitating how that side looked in their greatest moments might to help inspire similar results on the pitch.

Perhaps it’s these types of feelings that can explain the recent spike in popularity football retro kits.

The retro kit trend has not only seen clubs increasingly looking to their pasts for inspiration for their new kits, but also it’s also one that’s seen a similar boom in the demand for recreations of classic kits. After all, there are few ways better to pay homage to one of one of your side’s greatest moments than sporting the shirt they wore while writing that historic event.

we remember much of football’s past in black and white.

But in the realm of retro shirts itself, there are few ways to truly differentiate yourself from the competition. You can only get so exact in your replication efforts. So the question becomes, how does one innovate when your goal is to emulate the past?

Enter Campo Retro, a purveyor of retro replica apparel based out of the UK.

Campo offer an assortment of classic kits from British sides, all of stellar quality and near exact replicas of the famous shirts they’re meant to recreate. From the simple colored cottons of the 50′s and 60′s to the laminate polyester patterns of the 90′s, the attention to detail of Campo’s Score Draw line of official shirts and tracksuits are well worth the expenditures.

But, in my humble opinion at least, it’s their Stadio line that deserve special attention.

The Stadio collection of shirts are a complete re-imagining of the retro shirt. Unlike most throwbacks that look to recreate a team’s jersey for a specific season or memorable match, Campo Stadio shirts aim to provide a modernized spin on classic looks from various eras and styles of the game. Take five different collar styles, apply one of a wide variety of basic templates free of logos or crests of any kind, and marry that all together with modern fit and construction techniques? Add that all up and you’ll find an extremely fresh take on the retro shirt.

There are two basic flavors of the collection, the first of which is the Stadio Team Colors line. It features shirts in a wide array of vibrant team colors templates — hoops, sashes, solids, stripes, and bars — meaning you can likely find one to represent any club’s shirt.

The second flavor is the Stadio No Team Colours line, which features most of those same attributes. Minus color. And it’s freaking brilliant.

WSOTP - Blog - Campo FrontPicture a moment of football from the distant past — the early half of the century through the 70′s. Though we know those matches were kicked out in full color, the way we captured most of the early great moments of the beautiful game was in simple black and white. That’s what the Campo No Team Colours line looks to capture: that spirit that color isn’t needed to convey. And it does, with a modern twist.

So when the good folks over at Campo shot me over an Azteca NTC shirt to review, you can imagine my elation.

The shirt takes its design queues from Liverpool’s triumphant 1963/64 season plus historic Chelsea, Italy, Hungary, Yugoslavia and even Accrington Stanley shirts.  I was immediately drawn to it’s clean, simplistic silhouette. A modern, slim fit coupled with a classic grey with an off white v-neck collar makes for a look that can be easily paired with denim to khaki and pants to shorts… if not a pair of all white match shorts, anyway.

However, it was the little details on the shirt that really caught my eye. There’s the gorgeous hand zig-zag stitched, cotton number on the back, adding a truly retro element to a shirt with a plethora of modern design queues. Triangular panels sewn into underarms provide the extra range of motion that many slim fitting shirts restrict. The raised ribbing on the collar and cuffs adds some much needed extra depth. And small accents  like the bottom brass rivet and QR code on the reverse, or the Campo insignia on the sleeve, round out an overall gorgeous piece of clothing.

To be honest, I’d be half tempted to frame it and hang it up at WSOTP World HQ if I wasn’t so set on wearing it.

For those curious about the fit of the shirt, the Medium/Large size was perfect for my 5’11″ and 175 pound frame. I found the fit to be very similar to many other modern football jerseys, in particular this season’s home Spurs kit by UnderArmour: tighter around the upper torso, and a bit more lose as it approaches the waist.

So if you’re in the market for a proper retro shirt, but don’t want to sacrifice a style for that old-time look, a Stadio shirt from either the Team Colours or No Team Colours lines seem like a great ways of marrying the best of both worlds.

As Campo puts it, “every shirt tells a story”. And with a shirt from the Stadio collections, you’re free to decide the story it tells.

the road not taken

RoadNotTakenIf you’re reading this and you’re from the United States, odds are you’re familiar with Robert Frost’s quintessential American poem, “The Road Not Taken”.

It’s pretty much law here that you are to memorize it at dome point during your schooling. Ask your average American their favorite poem, and if they can produce one, odds are its Frost’s most famous work. The poem resonates with many of us because it meshes so well with our treasured ideals of Manifest Destiny and the American Dream. We all like the idea that, in this country, you can follow your own path and chase your own dreams.

But for whatever reason, many of us tend to forget that the dreams and aspirations we have for others don’t always mesh with their own personal goals. Especially for those in the spotlight, the backlash to carving a path different to what the masses desire can be quite severe.

And if there’s one person in US Soccer who knows that better than anyone, its former men’s national team boss Bob Bradley.

Bradley is a man who often divides opinion. For a long time he received quite a lot of stick in this space and elsewhere, particularly during his time in charge of the red, white and blue. Many felt he was overly reliant on a set crowd of players, and at times came off a bit one-dimensional and tactically unaware. The calls for his head were persistent throughout his reign, despite the lack of legit managerial alternatives to replace him for most of that stretch.

Others have cited him as an opportunist, leaving one for a new challenge with a bigger payday. Despite being the most successful manager in Chicago Fire history, he angered many fans by picking up shop and heading to New Jersey to coach the then MetroStars. Never mind the fact that Bradley wanted to coach a side in his home state, or that he relished the challenge of turning around a franchise that had always struggled to live up to expectations.

And now this week, Bradley has faced stick from a number of American fans for bypassing a return to MLS to take a job in a so-called “lesser league”.

Having impressed during a spell as boss of the Egypt national team, many had speculated that Bradley would be aiming for a job in Europe next. But with rumors of West Brom considering him inflating expectations but ultimately not panning out, a public courting from the Vancouver Whitecaps seemed to convince everyone the balded one would be making a return North American shores.

Until he shot those down, too.

Stebaek Manager Bob Bradley

bob choosing to go to norway wasn’t conventional, but it was his choice.

Instead, Bradley chose this week to take on newly promoted Norwegian first division side Stabæk. If you’ve never heard of them, you’re not alone: a good many on this side of the pond had to Google them too. And for whatever reason, that seems to have many frowning upon the move.

He should have gone to the Premier League or Championship.
Why not a bigger league?
What, he couldn’t get a job in Holland or Belgium?
Is he too good to manage in his own country?
He took a job far below his level.
It’s below MLS level! 

These were actual reactions I found on social media and forums.

Perhaps when folks are saying stuff like that they’re ignoring the fact that Bob taking the Stabæk job makes him the first American to ever take charge of a European first division side. And let’s hope they’re also forgetting that Bradley hasn’t managed a club side in nearly eight years. Similarities exist between the club and international management jobs, but they entail vastly different responsibilities. So larger clubs might have been a little more hesitant to take a punt on him for those reasons.

Never mind too that a job like West Brom — a club in the thick of a relegation battle in a league with a far higher profile — would be an infinitely more pressure filled position. That’s not to say that Stabæk aren’t ambitious or that Bradley won’t have pressure on him in Norway. But failure in the Premier League would likely mean a swift axing and a far larger dent to his managerial reputation. Remember too that the legacy that Bradley leaves behind in Europe will likely also be used to judge future American managers hoping to make the jump across the pond. So it’s more than just his career trajectory at stake here.

In fact, if Bradley can find success in Stabæk and the Norwegian Tippeligaen, it might just provide a natural stepping stone to a bigger and more prestigious job. Take a look at recently appointed Cardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær; the former Manchester United legend and youth team coach earned his call up by guiding former Norwegian minnows Molde FK to two straight Tippeligaen crowns. Again, it’s not a guarantee it will, but at least the precedent is there.

So when the entire picture is considered, maybe all of those harsh criticisms of Bradley’s move to Norway were quick rushes to judgement.

Sure, the path Bradley is taking is a little unorthodox. But for those blazing new trails in uncharted territory — the road less traveled — taking a path of lesser resistance can make a lot more sense than trying to scale the direct but more treacherous route up the mountain.

And by choosing Stabæk, Bob is probably making the most American decision possible: not mine, not your’s, not anyone else’s but his own.

pic of the week 12/22-12/29

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WSOTP - Blog - Babies

So I normally try to get my “Pic of the Week” posts up on Mondays, and I had high hopes to do so this week as well. But I’m bending the rules on this one, and for good reason. You see, last week was a very special week at the WSOTP world headquarters…

Pictured above on the left: me and my wife Amie’s very first child, a 5 pound 4 ounce little girl who we named Lennon (being held by your’s truly)! And on the right is my very first niece — the daughter of my little sister Amy — a 5 pound 3 ounce little girl named Stella (held by my brother-in-law, Nic)! Both our little girls came into this world a tad earlier than expected — Lennon had originally been due on January 11th, while Stella was due January 15th. But Stella sprung out first on 12/22, and Lennon followed shortly after on 12/27.

As you can see from this week’s picture, both daughters are already well on their way to being indoctrinated by their fathers. Lennon already has a plethora of Spurs gear, much to my delight. And Stella will often be draped in Red, as her dad Nic is a massive Liverpool supporter. Whether the cousins will be able to get over this point of contention remains to be seen, but I couldn’t be more happy right now.