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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So…meet your new MLS correspondent. I genuinely have no idea how else to respond to this. I think it’s pretty clear that the kid needs to come back to America.
So…sorry it’s been so long since I wrote. You probably think it’s all because I was stewing in fury over the fact that you published my “secret confession,” but actually that had nothing to do with it. I’ve accidentally TiVo’d enough Facts of Life episodes to recognize poetic justice when it logs in with my username and bites me in the ass. I wreck your Champions League coverage by making it all about my private emotions, I emotionally beg you to let me come back to the site, you plaster my private letter all over the front page, thus getting revenge on me 1) via the same means I used to wrong you and 2) by doing exactly what I was asking you to do in the first place. That is screenplay-quality vengeance, right there. Are you writing a screenplay manual? Are you teaching workshops in LA about what font to use for the “third act”? Are you charging $29.95 a session and taking a fat Church of Scientology bonus under the table for letting them hang recruiting posters in the vestibule?
You are, aren’t you? Is that why you’ve barely written anything in July? Are you totally out of ideas in this business and just hoping the Scientology gravy train keeps rolling in until somebody named Brad takes out an option on that sequel you hired your now-Scientology-affiliated former lover/student to ghostwrite for you nine years ago? Hey, dreams can come true in Los Angeles. I’m sure if you just finagle an invite to the big black-tie fundraiser where Brad will in no way be looking to humiliate you if you ask him “where things are at with our baby” you’ll have a good chance to talk to him and work everything out. Heart to heart, for real. Anyway, nice revenge.
So anyway…the main reason I’m writing is that I’m in Glasgow now and I can’t tell whether the IRA is trying to recruit me or not. And I don’t know, I thought maybe you’d have some advice. Basically, after the last scene on the Ibiza ferry (which I’m not telling you about, since I assume you’re going to put this up on the site in lieu of actually thinking up worthwhile content) I made my way north hoping to pick up some local Old Firm color and write a Rangers/Celtic feature that would make you give me my password back. I didn’t have a lot of cash left at that point, but I was able to wrangle an off-the-books job doing some ground maintenance in the cemetery next to Celtic Park. (By the way, did you know there’s a huge cemetery right next to Celtic Park? I’m guessing that’s been convenient for the rivalry.)
Anyway, this was great, both because working with hedge clippers really helped get N****** out of my head and also because the grounds crew from the stadium would come over and drink with us in the tool shed behind the mausoleums, so I had a way to forge some contacts and secure promises about all the places they’d be able to sneak me into once the season started up. To hear these dudes talk, being a groundsman at Parkhead is like being Bart in that Simpsons episode where Ralph stole the skeleton key.
So anyway, one day we’re out there with a few beers and I start to notice that this guy Colin is looking a little white around the gills. Kind of laughing a little breathlessly and holding his can with a hand that was way too shaky for the moment, if that makes sense. I asked him what was wrong and he was like, nothing, just some trouble with my mates. And the other guys were like really quiet and wouldn’t say anything (obviously) around the American. So I just made a crack about how Dick Cheney would have them arrested for this and let the whole thing kind of slide. Somebody brought up Cristiano Ronaldo, and we got some opinions going. Pretty much stat, as afternoons go.
Only, a little while later these other guys came up to us—three of them, kind of meaningfully big and wearing newsboy caps and dark, menacingly functional leather jackets. And Colin looks like he’s about three seconds from the grave, which is fine, because we’re totally surrounded by graves anyway. And so the front guy, we’ll call him Roithridh, puts an arm around Colin and leads him off a little way while the rest of us kind of mill around awkwardly with the other two toughs. We can’t hear the conversation, but every now and again Colin pops out with a little squeal like, “They fookin’ banned it, mate!” and “Sectarian crackdown, ye hard of it?” and “Oi could lose me tickets!” I still don’t know what they were talking about. Then, all of a sudden, Roithridh grabs this shovel that’s leaning against a gravestone and kind of sweeps Colin’s legs out from under him, then looms over him threateningly. (A move he seemed to have practiced.)
“There’s ne so much for the IRA ta do these days, laddie,” he snarls, “that we’re gon’ ta let ’em take awey our banner’n.”
Then he just massively starts kicking the huddled form of Colin while one of the other toughs sort of smiles at the rest of us apologetically and repeatedly checks his watch (obviously sheepish, but for incomprehensible reasons).
I don’t know, for some reason this got to me. Colin always seemed like a decent guy, a little thick, but the sort of person who wouldn’t blame the crushing peer pressure he’d given into Friday for the hangover he woke up with on Saturday, if you know what I’m saying. Also, I may have been struggling with some pent-up anger since getting slapped on the pier at Ibiza. For whatever reason, I yelled at the other groundsmen that there were eight of us and only three of them, and then I just madly sprinted over and tackled Roithridh.
I think the other groundsmen were more surprised than anything, but there’s (apparently) a point at which a fight stops being a personal thing between two people and becomes like a general condition, and my tackling Roithridh was that moment. So my drinking buddies kind of overwhelmed the thugs/Republican footsoldiers (let’s call them Eachainn and Gilleasp), and I may or may not have knocked Roithridh temporarily unconscious with the shovel. I don’t really remember getting away, but apparently we all made it over the wall and no one was really injured or anything (Colin lost two teeth, didn’t seem to mind).
Great story—except for the fact that for the last two days I’ve been stopped on the way to work by a long black car sliding up next to me and the mirrored-glass back window rolling down to reveal an old man in a white suit and fedora who asks me how I feel about 900 years of English oppression before suggesting that “he could use leaders like me back in Belfast.” Then, in exactly the same tone of voice, he asks whether I can get him Celtic tickets. After a hopeful, but ultimately disappointed second, he slips me a card with an address written on it where I’m supposed to meet him that night. It’s an opportunity for a bright young man like me to get ahead in life, he says. Think of it as a fresh start. Then he taps the driver’s shoulder and they just calmly cruise away.
Look, I didn’t ask for any of this. I just wanted to find something out about the essence of the Old Firm derby, and here I am being recruited into the upper echelons of an apparently not totally disbanded IRA? Or else—and this is what really scares me—maybe what happens is, I show my face at whatever abandoned warehouse they’ve put aside for the meeting, and the last thing I hear is a gunshot followed by a rapidly fading voice telling me not to hit Gerry Adams’s nephew with a gravedigger’s shovel in paradise.
Philosophically, I’m all over the map on this one. On the one hand, I never really paid any attention to the “Troubles” and never especially looked at militant Irish Republicanism as a viable career option. (Are they the good side or the bad side?) On the other hand, maybe this is my destiny? I could get into the idea of being the George Washington of Ireland, even though one part of my brain can’t help but register the unlikelihood of that role being played by someone who also kind of wants a Nintendo Wii. Should I go? Should I mention that I’m Lutheran? They’re probably just going to kill me, right? Still, I mean, two of the three guys in the cemetery seemed relatively decent, and one of them, I think it was Gilleasp, even said he was mainly an AC Milan fan.
I think maybe it’s too bad that I didn’t try to write for a blog about baseball.
Read More: Foreign Correspondence
by Brian Phillips · July 20, 2008[contact-form 5 'Email form']