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.
Editor’s Note: Richard Whittall will be known to most of you as a regular commenter and as the author of the excellent A More Splendid Life. He’s also a well-known commenter on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast. In his first post for The Run of Play, he writes about why he’s retiring from the podcast, how it led him to blogging, and what it’s like to ask Guardian writers to remind you to take out the trash.
I started writing about football for two reasons: Brian Glanville, and the Guardian Football Weekly podcast.
I don’t recall when I first listened to the show. I’d known for a long time how popular it was—Football Weekly was ranked number one on iTunes in the soccer category—but I avoided it in favour of BBC’s Five Live phone-in. I assumed that socially awkward print journalists, dragged from the cozy isolation of their ratty London cubicles into a posh recording studio, would talk about football in halting, declarative lisps. Much better to chuckle at irate partisans calling in to the BBC in late August demanding Ferguson’s sacking after a one-all draw.
When I finally capitulated and gave the Guardian podcast a listen, I remember feeling as if I’d stumbled on the sort of conversation I’d always wanted to have about football, but, lacking the critical mass of soccer-loving friends in a hockey-loving town, never could. Hosted by Italophile pun-spinner James Richardson and side-kicked by Irish buzz-kill Barry Glendenning, featuring a rotating cast of international scribes like Rafa Honigstein and Fernando Duarte, the show regarded football both as a matter of life and death and a mere trifle, in other words, as it is. And, contrary to my expectations, everyone was as funny as hell—I would be often caught sniggering like a schoolboy while listening to the pod on the streetcar in my Toronto neighbourhood.
But it was after three or four episodes that I noticed Richardson making reference to ‘posts,’ reeling off questions, bad jokes and often-perceptive observations from a series of characters with names like something out of the The Warriors, and that’s when the trouble began. Soon I’d discovered there was an active comments section on the Guardian site where listeners were encouraged to ‘react’ to the show, with the ignoble possibility of having your comment read out and made-fun-of. Of course, I dived in headfirst.
My moniker was ‘villasupportgroup,’ crafted in haste weeks earlier when I’d come home drunk and read some blog digging into the Big Four. I don’t remember my first post on the Football Weekly board, nor my first on-air mention. But I do remember the high—me, an office wonk in a cold Canadian city indirectly participating in a proper debate half a world away on the sport that I loved. Pathetic? Probably. But when your friends care more about scoring Final Fantasy tickets than whether Leeds will ever get out of League One, you’re stuck with few options.
It wasn’t long before I was mentioned on the podcast so often that regular posters thought I was a Guardian staffer, a cheat and a fraud. I made off-colour jokes (e.g. Liverpool is like a one-armed prostitute—it only has one specialty = Big Cup), I wrote alternate words to Jerusalem, I wrote a minute-by-minute report directly on the comments page. I even forged a bond with fellow posters (the ones who didn’t think I was a Guardian staffer), and I met one recently on a visit to New York where we shared a beer over a Euro quarterfinal. The high point was single-handedly getting Toronto FC mentioned on the show. The low point came when I asked Richardson to remind me to take out the trash during the pod because it nicely coincided with garbage day. I was an FW junkie and I needed help.
So I started a weblog. I figured if my one-off wheezings on the one sport I followed were worthy of repeated mention by seasoned journalists, they would at least be worthy of an anonymous, generically designed website on Blog*spot.
And now it is with a mixture of sadness and relief that I announce my retirement, undefeated, from Football Weekly. Over the past few weeks I’ve had less and less to say about the podcast that I haven’t already said, and you can only go on writing letters to the editor for so long before you start pining for an op-ed column. A More Splendid Life is but a sapling and it needs my help. I will still listen to the show, but I will leave my comments to myself. It was a great run, and I’m thankful to Sean Ingle’s Guardian for giving a schmuck like me and countless other unwashed readers a spot at the table.
Richard sings countertenor and writes in Toronto.
Read More: Guardian
by Richard Whittall · November 13, 2008