The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
We love stories. We more than love them, actually: we have a natural need to hear them and to tell them; we use them to help us understand the world in ways we still can’t fully explain. Stories are driven by conflict, and sports, which is built on conflict in the abstract, is thus a ready-made maker of stories. Every football match is a drama, and so is every season, every era, every career. Follow a sport for any length of time and a narrative begins to emerge. You begin to find heroes, villains, tragedies and happy endings, and you want to keep watching to see what happens next.
It’s this fixation that the sports media manipulates when it hypes every match like a new Homeric war. The media’s trouble is that they think the only kind of story people will respond to is the heroic epic, when in fact sports seldom offers this, and the constant unfulfilled promise of it leaves fans feeling resentful and disappointed. In reality there are many more kinds of stories in sports and it’s so much better that there are. As I see it football is half comedy, and the other half is a mix of melodrama, court intrigue, exemplum and thriller, with the rarest (and thus most to be prized) appearance of the epic and the tragic.
Whatever the genre we’re in, we believe that we learn something about people when we see them in situations of conflict and duress, and sports gives us, rightly or wrongly, no shortage of characters to admire or despise. On our worst days as sports fans, after the most crushing defeats, our participation in the story nevertheless makes us feel that much more intensely alive. At the simplest level, a world away from media hype, there is something inescapably fascinating about placing a ball between two sides, one to try to score and the other to try to stop them, and watching what they do from the beginning to the end.
by Brian Phillips · October 29, 2007