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 can’t lie to you people. I tangled with some nerves on my way into Crew Stadium. It was my first time in the ‘bus since the West Ham brawl went down and I started pegging Crew hooligans with my relentless mockery, and while I didn’t think any of the hardest-core firms would know what I looked like, still, you can’t be too careful in the age of Google Images.
It’s not like an assistant high-school wrestling coach who wants to wield his fists in defense of the local MLS team has a lot of outlets, you know? I’m probably their number-one enemy, so I kind of stared down into my French fries and did the concourse incognito. Didn’t SEEM like a rough crowd, but that’s the magic of the casuals, I thought. That is the rock-deep camouflage of Burberry.
Anyway, I wound up sitting in an area that felt pretty low-key. Every MLS game is basically a birthday party for an invisible 12-year-old, and Columbus is no different. Maybe there’s like Gary Oldman toughness in a couple of deep folds in the stadium, but where I was sitting, it looked three-to-one like Yeti would spring for your cotton candy if he saw you sitting alone. Which is what the family sitting by me did for me.
There were five of them, and I wound up paying more attention to them than to the game in the first few minutes of the match. A skinny, slightly sad-looking dad with a graying beard; a blond-ish mom with a sort of languidness and cosmopolitan wisdom in her eyes; a young daughter who was like a pudgy tomboy; a dark-haired middle daughter who was obviously some kind of fashion plate; and an energetic teenage son who was carrying a briefcase and wearing a business suit for some reason.
I squinted at them. Were they familiar? When McBride scored the opening header, the son nodded and said, “See Dad, that’s capitalism. You have to know the value of your resources, or they’ll come back and bite you in the ass.”
“Alex,” the dad said, wisely but a little mournfully. “Let’s just be happy that a player who’s meant so much to Columbus over the years is playing well.”
“Happy?” Alex gaped. “See, that’s the difference between you and me, Dad. You look down there and see a chance for everyone to get along. I look down there, and I see the law of the jungle.”
“The Law of the Jungle?” the fashion-plate daughter said. “I love that store! Nick bought me this great leopard-print purse there for our anniversary, but I can’t ever use it because the straps won’t fit over my shoulder pads.”
“Shut up, Mallory,” the rest of them moaned in unison.
I was genuinely starting to wonder where I was at this point.
“But Alex,” the mom said, “surely there must be some player you care about as a person?”
“See, now that’s why I’m glad we’ve got Reagan in the White House,” Alex said. “You start caring about them as people, you lose sight of the only thing that matters. Winning.”
“That’s terrible,” the mom tutted.
“No, Mom, that’s America,” said Alex.
The dad put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Don’t try to reason with him, Elyse. He’s talking about Reagan again.”
It doesn’t make any sense, but I swear I heard unbodied laughter floating on the air around me.
This went on for a while. Not long after halftime, just before the Crew leveled, I noticed that the pudgy tomboy daughter was trying to get my attention. “Help me,” she mouthed silently. “Please. Help me.”
“Are you Tina Yothers?” I mouthed back. But just then Mallory and Alex kind of closed in protectively around her, and I didn’t get another chance to find out what she wanted me to do.
After the Crew took the lead, Alex got very triumphalist and wound up in a debate with his parents about whether it was appropriate to feel pity for players on the opposing team. Mallory thought pity was a Calvin Klein fragrance. I kept trying to inch my hand closer in the hope of getting hold of that briefcase, but just when I was about to grab the handle somebody yelled the word “Gorbachev!”, and I sat back in a spasm of fear.
They were all really happy that the Crew won. The world was spinning, a little. I drove back to the Marriott down wide bright highways in the dark, shrubby masses blocking my view of the neighborhoods. I didn’t know how they did things in Columbus. I was primed with a confusion in my soul.
by Vandal-prone · November 14, 2008