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.

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The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Spirit That Stalks the Earth

The terrified girl is a statue.

I’m just going to come out and say this, as simply as I know how. Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia moved into a house that was built on the site of an abandoned psychiatric hospital, and now his wife is being haunted by the ghost of “a monk-like figure with a candle in his hand.” Almunia himself has heard chains rattling around corners. Stereo equipment is turning on at full volume in the middle of the night. Arsène Wenger has given Almunia permission to go home from training at lunchtime, to give his wife a reprieve from the terror of being alone in the house with a potentially hostile, potentially music-loving spirit.

This is not a metaphor. The news says this is happening. The ravaged spectre of a long-dead monk is moaning after dark at the top of Manuel Almunia’s stairs. The house was built on the ruins of an asylum called Leavesden Hospital. A hunched, dark figure is slipping back into the woods. All over Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, the rooks are flying up out of the trees. This is the fear that knows how to work a CD changer, but can’t come to grips with the operation of a contemporary flashlight.

Have you ever encountered something so great that it left you speechless? That’s how I feel about this story. On the one hand, it’s obviously the whole reason The Run of Play ever came into existence. Some things are meant to be, and the convergence of Wilkie Collins, Monk Lewis, the Emirates Stadium, the Daily Mail, the hidden grave visible only by summer moonlight, Arsène Wenger’s dietary strategy, the Black Friar from Don Juan, lunchtime traffic on the M1, and Melmoth the Wanderer is clearly the destination toward which this site’s complex destiny has pointed all along.

On the other hand, what is there to say? Someone is going to think of some jokes involving Jens Lehmann and a borrowed Jedi robe, but no. No. This is not a laughing matter. Can you try to understand that. This is football at the maw of the impossible.

I’d like to venture, tentatively, the idea that this is really good news for Arsenal. For you or me, it would be a cold thing for our spouses to wake us up in the middle of the night with their screams. It would be a hard chill to hear their stories of the semitransparent monk at the foot of the bed. But isn’t that the kind of pressure you want your goalkeeper to face every day? Being a goalkeeper is essentially the process of managing levels of panic, and I can’t help but think that a bending free kick is going to seem a lot less horrifying to a man who is already living in a movie that would do $30 million on its opening weekend based on its power to make teenagers spill their gargantuan buckets of popcorn.

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The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Spirit That Stalks the Earth

by Brian Phillips · February 28, 2008

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