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.
Personal websites. People have them for different reasons. For instance, you could use yours to grapple with the conflict between corrosive skepticism and the longing for meaning in a world you never made. Someone else could become famous by insulting a popular brand of breakfast meats, or sell t-shirts with quotes from Plato’s Meno printed on them. “Indeed, Socrates, I do not know,” one might read, in cursive, beside a two-color picture of a donkey on a steam train.
For the Bobby Goalkeepers and Anton McSoccerstars of the world, the personal website offers a way to stay “close to the fans” without exposing their chauffeurs to the temptations of a plebian street scene. The player with outspoken opinions can treat his site as a blank page onto which those opinions can be typed, through a cell phone, at 3 AM, from the cool blue glow of the private nightclub table, while Destiny and Cherise are in the bathroom. The player with a love of early-2000s animated splash screens can offer his site as a canvas where a dying breed of programmer can practice his art outside the restrictive confines of mid-shelf liquor ads. Everybody wins except efficiency.
In the first of what I hope will be a recurring and much-loved series, I’d like to take you on a voyage through a few of my favorite player sites. Let’s go!
A spotlight shines out in the midst of a black infinity. A throbbing bass rhythm begins to pound as a soccer ball, as if from nowhere, rolls into view. Suddenly, Leo Messi strides into the center of the spotlight. Kicking the ball in incredible, moon-boot-slow motion—is he underwater?—Leo does tricks, casually, for something like twenty-seven minutes. Occasionally, he transforms into a cloud of dust. Finally, a message appears: “WEBSITE LOADING.”
Beams and bars begin shooting in from all directions, making cartoon Star Trek sounds: whoosh! ping! zap! The music continues to play. At last, something like a website takes shape before your eyes. Having seen it created, atom by atom, from nothingness, you cherish it all the more. The music continues to play, but now, when your cursor touches a link, a dry metallic plink! alerts you, like a click with steel-toed boots.
You want to read Leo’s biography: that’s why you’re here. You click “About Leo.” Without warning, the entire site flies apart, spinning and whooshing, and reconfigures itself with everything in a different place. Trailer parks in tornadoes do the same thing. A tiny square of text appears in the center of the screen. It’s surrounded by tabs, flashing graphics, registration options, and a page full of legal notices.
The link called “Shop On-Line, Dress Like Leo” takes you to a page featuring two women’s shirts and some baseball caps.
The purpose of most players’ websites is pretty obviously to reinforce the player’s brand identity and to maintain what we can only call consumer loyalty. That’s why the sites so often resemble the corporate web-lairs of fast food chains, candies, and other consumer products that aren’t sold online. The glitzy graphics, the perfunctory written content, the giveaways, and the noisy Flash games are meant to give you enough to do to keep you from leaving the site till you’ve absorbed the marketing, even though there’s no more reason to spend time on most players’ websites than there is to hang out on the horrible alien planet that doubles as the Skittles home page. (The best potential reason to look at a player page—video from games—is almost never available.)
Given those limitations, though, and given the evident fact that most players haven’t had a thing to do with the creation of their own sites, it’s surprising how often something on the site will capture the quality of the player’s personality and present him with a sort of reverse intimacy. That’s why DidierDrogba.com is my favorite player homepage. It says nothing and offers no useful or interesting content, but its effortful, imperfectly translated English, its quivery insistence on its own success, and its theatrically scowling approach toward a popularity it anxiously covets all seem to call up the real Drogba and hold him up through the window of HTML. For instance:
TRY YOUR LUCK! After the success of the last quizz, here’s a fourth quizz with a chance to win my signed shoes.
The last quizz on my website was a real success. I thought we’d do it again considering how popular it was. This time, you could win my signed shoes!
Can’t you imagine Drogba talking like that if he was trying to be welcoming and friendly? I’m convinced that he actually says “quizz” with two z’s.
It’s slick, MichaelOwen.com. I kept expecting it to break down without warning—I’d click a link, Firefox would stall, and the little character in the welcome video (“Hi, I’m Michael Owen. Keep surfin’, and keep checkin’ out my latest news on my website”) would crumple with a cry of pain—but it never happened. The menu bar subtly follows your mouse, elements of the page rearrange themselves, but it all happens swiftly and quietly, with a minimalist stealth that even the Domino’s Pizza ads can’t quite undermine. If it were a striker, it would slip past its man, control the through ball, and score with lethal efficiency. This is the page, I realized, for Michael Owen playing at his best, for Michael Owen as he wants to be.
Also: I feel like “Mo” never really caught on as a nickname for Michael Owen, but you’d never know that from Mo’s website. Mo’s website wants you to get comfortable with the name Mo, and maybe to parlay that comfort into a purchase from Mo’s clothing line, “Ten by Mo.” How much does Mo know? Does Mo know about this?
It’s everything you knew it would be: smooth, polished, outsize, flashy but unobtrusive, corporately flawless, full of photos that make you want to punch and/or kiss someone. There are some tractor beams and photons when it first loads, but for the most part it stays out of your way and lets Beckham’s paid representatives do the talking.
That said, did you know Beckham has a blog? I didn’t! Surely he doesn’t write it himself, but either he’s dictating it to someone or he’s hired a writer who knows his way around bland, improbably endearing media-speak as well as Beckham does.
Tuesday, April 22
Good luck to Manchester United, who play Barcelona in the champions league semi-final tonight. The matches between the two teams in the past have always produced great football and I was lucky enough to play in a couple, when United won the Champions League in 1999. I think that United will feel they can win this over the two legs, but Barcelona are also a great team, so both games should be amazing. I’m going to go for United though as they’re the team I support.
That’s all for now.
Wednesday, Mar 26
It was a very special feeling to be out on that pitch tonight. Not only was it great to start the game and get my 100th cap, more importantly it was great to be out playing for England again. There wasn’t any shirt swapping from me, even though France’s William Gallas went to swap at the end, I had to tell him I wanted to keep this one, in fact I’m keeping all of my England kit from this special match.
I would love to continue to play for England beyond this game. I don’t want to just play this match, get my 100th cap and then retire, if I’m fit, working hard and playing well I think I can still bring something to the squad.
Finally, I would like to thank everybody for their congratulatory messages as I’ve reached this amazing landmark, I wouldn’t be here without the incredible love and support of my family and friends, and of course all of you that have supported me. Thank you very much.
I’m fighting every skeptical instinct I possess just to be typing these words, but couldn’t that…really, couldn’t that almost be him?
Anyway, it’s going on my blogroll.
by Brian Phillips · April 25, 2008