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 Tuesday Portrait: Andy Gray

You probably imagine the voice of God as an awesome, floor-shaking baritone, resonant with majesty and wisdom, like ten million History Channel narrators speaking at once. I’m not so sure. It’s easy enough while watching, say, a tree tossing in the wind, or the space shuttle taking off, to think that God is deeply in the world and guiding its every movement. But when I think about, say, the life of a city, comprising sudden starts and stops, lights going on and off, senseless patterns, intentions colliding like weather fronts, hidden tunnels, secret doors, invisible signals, roaring trains, chandeliers, alleys, telephones, desires, commercial networks, clocks set to different times, and individuals set to different ideas, I imagine a different sort of God, and his voice is something like Andy Gray’s.

Andy Gray talks about football as though he created it thousands of years ago, but then somehow became disconnected from it and is now powerless to shape its destiny. He still cares deeply about his creation, you sense, and he regards it with a hugely affectionate, easily frustrated curiosity, but it’s spiralled out of control and no longer reveals any sign of a benevolent governing presence. His love for it becomes poignant when, as often happens, he watches it betray his intentions in a way he’s helpless to prevent. Just as often, however, it does something to fill him with pride, and for the millionth time he longs to pierce the veil and commune with it directly again.

The snowman removed from the snow.

He pronounces on the game from on high, with an easygoing, proprietary certainty that seems to come from having designed the systems he’s describing. But cut off as he is, his knowledge is no longer infallible, and his proclamations are frequently proved wrong. When that happens, he simply steadies himself and moves on, for the simple reason that describing the game is his only means of actively participating in it. In the same way, a God reduced to watching the Earth from heaven might subject the angels to a running commentary in his slightly hoarse, slightly disorderly Scottish accent:

…if he can just drive past the liquor store on the corner, I think he’ll be okay. The most important thing now—the thing he’s gotta keep in mind—is just staying sober till lunchtime. I really think, as soon as the light changes, we’re gonna see him drive right past this liquor store. Whatever you do, lad, just stay sober till lunchtime. Oh, no. Oh, why are you doing it, lad? Why go in there? Why not just drive on past? I just… I don’t understand this at all.

…watching that new father hold his little new baby for the first time, I’m just so envious of what he’s experiencing right now. I’d just give anything to be able to share that with him right now. Enjoy it, son. Enjoy every single moment. It won’t get better than this.

…no. No. That’s not how you perform the tracheotomy. The paramedic is just having one of those nights. Pure and simple. This paramedic… I don’t even know what to say. It’s absurd. That’s all there is to it. It is not so difficult to make a curvilinear skin incision and divide the strap muscles. I know the lad is under pressure, but for goodness’ sake. You’ve got people dyin’ on the highway. Just having one of those nights.

…oooh! He’s done it! The little accountant…what can you say about a thing like this? The little accountant has got his girl to say yes. I said he’d do it. I always thought he would. If you want to play a chip, lad, you’d best have a swing at roulette! The little accountant has done it!

Now, I think it’s safe to say that the major difference between Andy Gray and God is that Andy Gray played at most a secondary role in creating the universe, dividing the waters, sending forth the birds and the mammals, and numbering the stars. The kind of broken, semi-transcendent connection with football he appears to have devised for himself is entirely a product of his own mind. However, in a way, that almost makes it more endearing: it’s as if he’s promoted himself into an outsized role largely because he realized that his love for the game was great enough to bear the responsibility of it, without really stopping to ask whether the responsibility made any sense.

You have two choices with Andy Gray, essentially. You can resent him, as many people do, for inflating his ego to divine proportions, or you can appreciate the fact that, underneath the square-jawed posturing, he’s basically done so as an act of devotion, even if it’s one that’s completely bewildering to everyone but himself. Anyway, I’m taking the second option. It’s more interesting, and it’s not as though I’m running low on other announcers to hate. God’s supposed to be love, after all, and I think that’s true even when you don’t know what he’s talking about.


The Tuesday Portrait: Andy Gray

by Brian Phillips · July 8, 2008

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