Saturday, July 10, 2021

EM 2020--Goodbyes and Championship Pick

Dearest Friends,

Time for the sentimental and affectionate address. Consider yourself forewarned. It's perfectly fine to get misty-eyed. 

Here we are my most valued chums. Nineteen years and 28 chapters strong. Another glorious Summer of international football. 

As always, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to spend these last few weeks with you. This time, in addition to having an absolutely brilliant tournament to enjoy together with friends across the globe, your friendly bookie had the privilege of visiting the locale where it all began. Once upon a time way back in 2002, there was lanky teenager and a college computer lab. 

Deprived of the chance to travel and interact with interesting internationals during the 2002 World Cup, this teenager made it happen anyway with a bunch of e-mail addresses and a listserv. Grounded in a place where "the greatest show on earth" barely qualified as an event, an idealistic young boy reconnected with as many far-flung friends as he could and traveled in his head. 

Taking around a drastically different version of the old collegiate stomping ground these past few weeks, it sometimes felt as if very little has changed. Of course, in reality, everything has. An exponential growth in technology radically altered the shape of our daily lives. The last 18 months turned practically everything we understood about our daily routine on its head. We've changed so much too. We've grown up.

Syndicate Member 23-M and I were recently discussing the remote controlled VW that delivered the match ball in this tournament's opening match. It returned for the semi-final. You'll see it again tomorrow. After some soundly reflective rumination, we agreed that the car perfectly embodied everything we love about this time of year. Cometh the Summer, cometh the chance to reestablish contact with that little boy in you. 

"How goes it inner-child?"

"It goes well now that you called. Thanks for checking in!" 

Each chapter of our syndicate carries with it a separate them, as does each farewell address. We've talked of love, careers, drive, dedication as so much else. The little kid in all of us seems an apt enough one to close out our 28th chapter. Your friendly bookie issues a friendly reminder that that person remains someone worth checking in with once in a while, even if most of us prefer the accumulated wisdom of a mature mind. 

Childhood should not be romanticized. So many (including your friendly bookie) stand eternally grateful that such a long, awkward, and difficult phase of their life lies behind them. Life undeniably improves with age. We discover better ways to cope with the world, more effective strategies for dealing with our own issues, and--in the process of becoming more comfortable in our own skin--settle into our own place after a great deal of brutally painful trial & error. 

That isn't to suggest that there isn't a value to nostalgia. On the contrary, one should make time for it. In the midst of life's more stressful and angst-ridden situations, revisiting a more playful and innocent time provides one with a much-needed momentary respite. When situational darkness weighs one down and the storm in one's head rages on ceaselessly, the old analgesic of "this too shall pass" works considerably better when one can capture a particular sensation. 

No matter how uncomfortable your childhood was, there should still be a simpler version of you capable of assisting you in clearing up your head. Visit with that kid sometimes. Listen to what that incarnation of you wants. Let its imagination run unrestricted and free. Above all, learn to be patient, tolerant, and kind to it. That's a hell of a trick to pull off if no one else ever treated the kid that way. One can nevertheless learn based on the important fact that someone might as well start. One can master the art of being a good parent to oneself without direct teaching. Hard to believe, but true. 

There's absolutely no shame in holding onto something from the past for sentimental reasons, provided that you're prepared to make enough room for the present and the future. Over the past 19 years of keeping this sportsbook, your friendly bookie has learned quite a bit about the nature of friendship. To reconnect with footballer friends across the globe who share my passion for the beautiful game is a most exhilarating annual experience. 

In addition to that, I've also learned a lot from those -Ms who have moved on. It's truly astounding how many wonderful people touch your life in a positive way then exit it forever. This is a perfectly natural and appreciably beautiful part of our existence. We often know full well which people we shall never see again, yet the inspiration they left us remains in our heart and our thoughts as we continue along our personal journey. Your friendly bookie highly recommends you make time for nostalgic visits with those who have left too. They can help you as well.

At some point, there will be a final Syndicate Chapter. The Terminus exists within your friendly bookie's line of sight. As much as the little boy inside me loves to ride the rails, there comes a time to step out onto the platform. Even the "Trans-Europe Express", following 42 years of service, has to pull into its final station one day. 


😎 Such a gorgeous mode of transport. Kraftwerk did her full justice. 😎


For those who care to hang around, there shall be a bit more international football to share on this space. Your friendly bookie can't emphasize enough his sincere hope that all of you continue to stay well-versed in the global game. Football remains your ticket to the world. If you speak football, consider yourself fluent in humanity's true version of "Esperanto". This holds true whether you speak with your mouth, hands, or feet. 

Humankind's highest art form kicks off everyday all around this spinning blue globe. The game's finest poets--Eduardo Galeano, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksandar Hemon, Laurent Dubois, Nick Hornsby, Arrigo Sacchi, Christian Bromberger, David Goldblatt, Christoph Biermann, Nick Holt, Jonathan Wilson, and oh so many more--hail from every country on Earth. 

They call out to you. Hundreds of thousands of collective voices chant in unison:


Straight from the heart and available to everyone. Football belongs to you. It is yours. To quote poet Dubois, "speak this precious human language." If your only tuning in for the World Cup and European Championship, you're missing out on so much more of the international splendor of the game.

We've covered practically all of it here on Shadow Scholar Syndicate. 

There might be time yet to cover some of it again. 

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 9th 2022. The bookie absolutely adores this tournament, covering it on the blog in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019. This is the competition for those who love everything about the football fan game. Africa cranks it up to the power of ten. 

Another chapter covering this glorious continental championship seems something worth striving for. 

Don't forget that next Summer the women once again get their turn! Don't feel glum about leaving England tomorrow. We're headed back to Isle next year for the UEFA Women's Euros. Lieke Martens and the Dutch Leuwinnen seek to defend their crown in a genuinely awesome tourney that kicks off July 6th, 2022. My German Mädels want the title back and the hosting Three Lionesses have a fantastic team. 

As all the syndicate -Ms know, the bookie has been a lifelong women's football advocate. We've covered the last three Women's World Cups on this blog and even did the Women's Euros in 2013. I still never miss a chance to write on the NWSL, WSL, Frauen-Bundesliga, and Women's Champions League whenever a website accords me a chance. I won't stop imploring all of you to watch this sport. I just won't

Insofar as the future of the syndicate is concerned, we near a final chapter in large part because many of you have urged me to take my work out of the shadows. I cannot thank my dearest mates for being persistent in this regard. Over the years, I've kept this blog going mostly because I loved sending you and your kids presents afterwards in the form of "schwag packs". Honestly neither wanted nor expected to get a gift myself. Somehow, it happened.

Wherever this next year takes us, know that your friendly bookie loves you very much. Football is yours. So is this sportsbook. From the very first Line on the very first day, it was dedicated to you. From my perspective, life doesn't get much better than sharing the beautiful game with you. 

Many have found their place in life. Some still struggle and seek. Hang in there. Don't give up. It has been better before and it will be better again. There's another match for you every day. Our motto here at the syndicate has always been "you'll never watch alone." You never will, not so long as I'm around. 

Don't forget that little kid inside you or all the people who were kind to you in your life. We've all experienced the sharp and jagged nature of existence. For those of us of a rather, how shall we say, "intense" disposition, thoughts can crush in the best times and outright destroy in the worst.

Slow down. Breathe. You will be okay. Even in the absence of other people, the kid and the memories of kind deeds can always be summoned. As soon as you encounter another live person, you'll have the opportunity to be kind to them. No drug in the world can compare to that feeling. Your next chance is never far away.

And with that we'll conclude our 28th syndicate chapter. Nothing much else to deal with other than.....oh right....A MONSTER FOOTBALL MATCH! 

Supreme Champion of the European Football Universe:

England vs. Italy


Football's greatest cathedral plays host to what should be one for the ages. I know some people insist on remaining upset about some of the Italian diving we saw in the quarterfinals and the chicanery of the English fans during the semis. Call me a "progress snob" if you must, but football fans have witnessed far greater degrees of shithousery over the years. This is tame stuff by historical standards. 

The Italians used to do little else other than try to cheat their way through matches. English hooligans used to redefine the bottom when it came to humanely acceptable norms. No one condones booing during Denmark's national anthem or flashing a laser pointer at Kasper Schmeichel. Pretty heinous stuff. Still not necessarily on the level of people losing their lives in post-match stampedes, eyes getting gouged out in beer bottle riots, or bags of urine/bananas being thrown on the pitch. 

We've a ways to go as a civilized species. For whatever reason, I happen to enjoy reflecting on how far we've come every so often. The beautiful game still has it's ugly side. So does just about everything. Progress doesn't equal perfection for the very good reason that they happen to be two different words with different meanings. The former ideal also happens to be constantly attainable while the latter rarely, if ever, lies within reach. 

I'll be sanguine and predict that we'll get a good straight football match here. Holland's Björn Kuipers is a solid referee who won't point to the spot easily. Germany's Bastian Dankert and Marco Fritz should do a good job in the VAR booth. They'll be looking for simulation in a fixture as big as this one. An early caution on the first flop should keep the players in line. 

All of the tactical analysis undertaken during this Summer's blog leads me to tip England as the winner. As I was saying in the Day 21 recap, Gareth Southgate has truly done a marvelous job managing his personnel throughout this competition. He's also employed a variety of tactical systems, all very well tailored to each individual opponent. In the case of Mancini's 4-3-3, Southgate can man match very well down the Italian left. 

At the end of the day, we should get a fantastic story either way. England capture their first ever Euros, not to mention first piece of silverware since 1966. If not, the Squadra Azzura atones for missing out on the 2018 World Cup with their first continental championship since 1968. All bets remain off for the Final. Just take the greatest possible pleasure from a great football match with whomever it best pleases you. 

Tomorrow should be a fabulous day. Next to the World Cup Final, the EM Climax may be the second greatest collective experience we share as human being. Adios to the Season of "friends and football". Adios from your friendly bookie, who just has that last customary set of advice for what to do after the match is finished.

THE PICK: England +1 Goal


Enjoy living your life. Enjoy it for its own sake. Dance to the music. Appreciate the painting. Delve deeper into that novel. Make laughter and love as often as you can. Live lionhearted or don’t bother living at all.


We’ll meet again. The Syndicate will return. For the time being……


“Go kick a ball with a stranger”


Seriously…go kick a ball with a stranger.  


--S.S. P.J.W.