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.
I’m writing this from an abandoned tower high up in the Alps, by the light of a paraffin candle and the glare of the moon on the snow. It’s been an…interesting few days. You may recall that I’d been challenged to a duel by the Arsenal email autoreply system after I sent it a letter that it perceived as an insult. Well, I tried to lie low for a while, break off contact with scheduled email routines in general, and let the whole thing blow over. I guess the fact that I’m typing this in a room where the skeleton chained to the wall may or may not be the bastard son of Niccolò Paganini will tell you how well that went.
What got me, in the end, was that I didn’t want to be afraid of a computer. It just felt so craven and low. I kept having these dreams where I’d be applying thermal paste to a motherboard heat sink, routine stuff (true story: my graphics card is currently being held together by a broken pencil, design © 2008, by me), when suddenly a giant boxing glove attached to a spindly cartoon robot arm would come around from the other side of the case and wallop me on the ear. Was I a man or a budget overrun from a Terry Gilliam movie? It had to stop.
So I emailed LeClerq-9000 and officially accepted his challenge. We appointed our seconds. He named Theo Walcott. I named a promotional copy of H&R Block TurboTax software that I got that day in the mail. They found a time to meet (apparently no one notices when Theo skips training, and I wouldn’t be doing my taxes for weeks) and hammer out the details. Pistols. One shot each. 15 paces.
We met in a clearing, on a misty morning, where the bare branches were overhung with gloom. H&R Block TurboTax 2008 (“eFile at no extra cost”) and I arrived first. A moment later we heard a rumble of hooves, and two black horses rode into view, their riders concealed by the trees. They drew nearer. Steam shot from the nostrils of the horses. Theo Walcott’s dark cloak flourished in the wind as he expertly dismounted his steed.
“You have the pistols?” he asked TurboTax. We were terse. There was no need for gentlemen to say more.
When the weapons had been inspected and agreed upon, we took our places, and for the first time I got a good look at my adversary. Before me on the grass there stood what appeared to be a normal-sized desktop computer, with a black outer case. Its haughty appearance was enhanced by the cape which it wore around its shoulders, and by the small bicorne hat which had somehow been fitted over its top. A miniature rapier hung from a belt which was fastened into one of its USB ports. I regarded it with an inquisitive eye.
“How on Earth are you able to ride a horse?” I asked.
“I have an iPhone,” it said proudly.
Before we began, LeClerq recited a brief speech in which he asserted that I was a cur and a rogue, and declared his intention to cut me down in the sight of God before I could further besmirch my own family. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening. My thoughts were with a small piece of paper which I had only an hour before folded and put in my pocket. It was a printout of an email that had come the previous day.
Subject: Re: Attn Club Chairman No to Game 39
From: Tottenham eHandler
Date: 2/18/2008 4:15 PM
Thank you for your interest in Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The high volume of messages we receive makes it impossible for us to respond to each message individually; however, your comments have been forwarded to the appropriate parties. Thank you for contacting Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
PS. Aim for the red light.
We counted out fifteen paces. In the fog I found it difficult to make out LeClerq; all I could see was the vague silhouette of his hat and cape, and—there it was—the faint red twinkle of his Power On light. Theo said to fire. The next few seconds seemed to last an eternity. A thunderclap came from the direction of LeClerq. Something whistled past my ear. A puff of white smoke stood out over the barrel of his pistol. I steadied my weapon and shot at the red power light. There was a crunching sound and someone—Theo, maybe one of the horses—gave a terrible, high-pitched scream.
When time resumed its normal flow, I was crouched beside LeClerq, who reclined on his cape, the front of his chassis shattered, his hat upside down where it had fallen on the ground. We tried opening his side panel, but it was no use. The hard drive had been blown apart, and the power supply was a smear of gunpowder and melted cable sheathing. I held him in my arms and we praised each other’s courage. “I shall never paint…like Michelangelo,” he said as he expired. “But my honour, Montano! My honour is my own.”
Then Theo and TurboTax, murmuring something about gendarmes and Bastille dungeons, hurried me onto a horse and bustled me off to this place, where I’m supposed to hide out until the danger from the police has passed. It’s an incredible landscape, breathtaking and pitiless, like the hostility of God. I’m just glad I get a wireless signal. I’ll be passing my time trying to keep the fire going long enough for me to get to the bottom of this mysterious note from Tottenham. I’ve begun to suspect that I’ve been manipulated by the Tottenham Hotspur email autoreply system into killing LeClerq-9000. I’ll have an explanation, or I’ll have vengeance. My God, now I even write like him.
Not sure who’s checking the email at Arsenal now. Maybe I’ll start with that.
by Brian Phillips · February 20, 2008