Setting the scene in South Wales ahead of Cardiff vs. Swansea

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As I headed towards the Welsh Capital on the train this morning, the sleepy foothills of the valleys to my right acted as a juxtaposed precursor to the atmosphere brewing in Cardiff.

Excitement, bedlam and anticipation all neatly packed into the first-ever South Wales derby being played in the Premier League on Sunday. Wales and its biggest city has come alive to a soccer rivalry that promises to produce fireworks, fervor and passion on and off the field.

To help set the scene, it’s worth nothing that a massive police presence is evident as I pull into Cardiff Central station. Heddlu (meaning Police in Welsh) are everywhere, mounted on horses, dressed in riot gear and no doubt these guys have been up since the crack of dawn helping to escort the 2,000 plus Swansea fans along the M4 and into Cardiff safely in the revolutionary tactic known as ‘the Bubble.’

(MORE: Rivalry and passion define soccer’s heyday in South Wales – Part I)

As I got off the train at Cardiff, it was evident that the party had been going on around here for most of the morning already. Outside many of the pubs lining the city center streets were groups of middle-aged men who already seemed to be two or three beers deep… at least. Usually rivalry games likes this have earlier kick off times to stop fans drinking before the game… the South Wales derby begins at 4pm local time. The decibel levels should be through the roof with the inhibitions gone after a few pints and local bragging rights at stake.

Cardiff fans congregate in the local pubs ahead of the game.

Around the stadium men of a certain age are lingering around, with locals waiting for the Swans fans to arrive on buses but the whole ‘Bubble’ operation had averted any ugly scenes that have marred this fixture in the past.

(MORE: A tale of two cities in South Wales – Part II)

The pitch looks immaculate, the segregation is in place and the PA system is booming with music to liven things up. Fans from both teams are starting to filter into the stadium, as Cardiff and Swansea will kick off the first-ever game in the Premier League that will not have an English team in action…

At last, South Wales has arrived in the PL. The stage is set for Cymru to show it’s true identity as a soccer nation.

We’re ready here at the Cardiff City Stadium… are you?

Men In Blazers podcast: Mohamed Salah continues to shine

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo marvel at Mo Salah’s four goal, one dime haul in Liverpool’s 5-0 beatdown of Watford, analyze Jose Mourinho’s recent rants about football heritage at Manchester United, and recap Rog’s family trip to Stoke vs. Everton.

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1912 FA Cup winner’s medal stolen

South Yorkshire Police
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A 106-year-old footballing relic has been snatched from a house in England.

The home of the 82-year-old grandson of former Barnsley player Philip Bratley was burglarized last weekend according to the BBC and other reports, and among the items stolen was an “invaluable” FA Cup winner’s medal from 1912.

That year, Barnsley defeated West Bromwich Albion in the finals of the 41st FA Cup, with Bratley scoring the winning goal in the semifinal replay over Swindon Town. He went on to make over 100 appearances for Barnsley between 1910 and 1014 before moving transferring to Liverpool, where he spent one season before he left during the first World War.

“This item is of great sentimental value to the family and belonged to the 82-year-old victim’s grandfather who, at the time, played for Barnsley,” the South Yorkshire police said. “The family is extremely upset that this, along with many of their belongings, have been stolen. If you have any information please get in touch so we can try and reunite this invaluable item with its rightful owner.”

Barnsley has offered to assist the South Yorkshire police in their search for the stolen artifact, as those with any information are encouraged to contact either entity to share what they may know.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

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Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.