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 woke up Saturday morning with two thoughts already in my mind. First, Vandal-prone was supposed to cover the Crew-Revolution game that night. Second, Tropical Storm Kyle was expected to reach hurricane strength that afternoon and was bearing down on the New England coast. All morning I was haunted by the image of my MLS correspondent going down under a tidal wave like the hero of some Japanese myth, rain hammering the foam as ethereal orange fish circled around him. Random families of seven and pieces of stadium wreckage sinking into the bubbling oblivion below.
This was Vandal-prone, after all. For those of you who don’t know his work for this site, let’s just say he’s had his share of mishaps. I didn’t think I could trust the universe to let this go smoothly for him, especially since he just got out of prison (he’ll explain). Also, there’s no sugar-coating the fact that the kid has a tendency not to come through with posts he’s promised me. By early afternoon I’d made up my mind to pack up the car and drive out to Foxboro with him to keep an eye on things. That way I could at least write something myself if he wound up joining the merchant marine or dying in a tattoo parlor, two events which I would rate at “improbable but not implausible” at this point.
We (Vandal-prone, my wife, and me) made it to the stadium about 20 minutes before kick-off. It was already dark. The rain was coming down just hard enough that you couldn’t ever lose sight of the fact that you were being rained on, not hard enough to be really worrying. You could see the streaks diagonalling down in front of the flashbulb stadium lights. We were off at an angle to the pitch, about twenty rows up from the corner flag. Hardly anyone around us, just a few people in their parkas and weird bright-blue plastic Patriots hooded garbage bags. Vandal-prone kept talking about wanting to go get French fries together, which was weird, because I thought one of us could go get French fries for all three of us. Anyway, the match was about to start, so we stayed where we were. Siobhan, ingenious as ever, had brought brownies, but the security guards who searched her bag wouldn’t let us bring the brownies in.
Almost immediately a family of about eighteen people came into our nearly-empty section and squeezed into the row directly behind us. This was fine, except that they had dozens of thundersticks and a sad, buzzed, blaring ex-athlete of a 34-year-old uncle who kept up a running commentary about how his promising career as a fullback had been cut short by his freshman soccer coach after he injured his ankle. “If I’da known then what I know now,” he kept telling the back of my head, “I’da played through it. But they told me I needed physical therapy, so. Guy cut me. Guy just friggin’ cut me. I was fast, too. I would so love to be out there right now.”
The players were running around on the pitch, which had that daylight-midnight-green look of a big stadium at night, like phosphorescent algae. I hadn’t really followed the MLS closely enough to get much out of the game. I knew it was a huge match—the Revs five points behind the Crew at the top of the conference with four games left to play—but I could only name about a third of the players. I’d taken my coat off and put it over my legs to soak up the rainfall, but the wool was starting to get saturated and spongy. Siobhan was intently watching Taylor Twellman, trying to figure out why everyone cheered so loudly when he was introduced. I noticed Vandal-prone getting kind of agitated next to me, but I assumed he was just annoyed at the rain. The dude behind me kept up the barrage.
DUDE: Are you guys, like, real soccer players and stuff? Cause I will play with you. I will totally come and play with you. I’m not a soccer player or nothin, but I will totally come out.
DUDE’S NEPHEW: I mean, it’s just for fun. Some of the guys from the team…
DUDE: You know who should play with you—my buddy Tommy. Guy runs half-marathons competitively. He is in such friggin’ great shape. He could play. He did a uh……uh……uh……he did a three-mile race last weekend. Guess how uh……guess how fast he went.
DUDE’S NEWPHEW: Twenty minutes.
DUDE: Uh…….it was twenty-two fifteen. That is like a eight minute mile. Freakin’ ridiculous. Thirty-six years old. Guy used to weigh 246, but he had that stomach stapling done. Only way he could get his wife to go to Bermuda with him. She said it made her feel like going to the beach with a school principal. Shitty thing to say, cause he really is a school principal. HOLY— Did you see how far he kicked that?
DUDE’S NEPHEW: They get a lot of air under those goal kicks.
DUDE: You know who can kick the ball—my friend Blake.
It was kind of a weird game. Columbus had most of the possession even though they were also playing more long balls; New England kept trying to build up patient attacks from the back, but couldn’t ever get the ball past midfield. This meant that the vast majority of the play was nowhere near where we were sitting. Finally Vandal-prone stood up.
“If neither of you will go with me to get French fries,” he said, “I’m going by myself.”
He was gone for…well, I started this post with the intention of being diplomatic. He was gone for what seemed like a long time, and missed the only goal of the game, a header from a corner that put Columbus up 1-0. Finally he came back with this little cardboard cup of French fries, which the rain immediately busied itself with.
“Do you think I could go to Ibiza?” he asked, looking unaccountably forlorn. “They play beach soccer there, I could do a thing…”
We changed seats for the second half, which meant we had better people behind us (a row of 14-year-old girls and a mom, all of whom thought it was hilarious that they were at the game—this demographic seemed to make up about 40% of the crowd, actually) but just as much water to contend with. Nothing much happened on the pitch. McDonald’s signs half-superimposed on Heineken signs floated all over the night sky; vendors hawking hot chocolate trudged up and down the steps. The scoreboard kept showing the times for the late shows playing at the movie theater connected to the stadium.
The Revs blew a few good chances on goal. Whenever someone took a shot, thousands of families gasped, then resumed their damp conversations.
Nobody drowned, nobody got hurt. After the match, we walked around the side of the stadium mall to find our car, then drove back to the highway, through the rain, in the middle of a fleet of minivans.
[Vandal-prone's report is here.]
by Brian Phillips · September 29, 2008