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 pondered. I agonised. I meditated. I looked deep into my soul. I consulted a rabbi, and I’m not even Jewish. I paced up and down outside the delivery room, anxiously waiting for Mrs. Cosmos to give birth to little baby Wisdom.
In a way, it’s not surprising that the decision to take up Richard Whittall’s open challenge—to abstain from the Premier League for a month and devote oneself to another league for the period—was difficult. The English league has been at the centre of my football universe for the guts of two decades, and I’m a creature of habit: I insist that my servants have my dressing gown pre-warmed each morning, and that my croissants au chocolat belge are served at 7.43 precisely. It’s almost a reflex. The first thing I do every day—apart from the dressing-gown and pastry things—is usually to check page 302 of (the sadly soon-to-meet-its-demise) Ceefax, followed by page 301, followed by page 101. That is to say: on some level, I am more interested in finding out about an unsubstantiated transfer rumour involving a football team I really don’t care about than whether there have been any earthquakes, terrorist attacks or massive haemorrhages in the global banking system. You could say I’ve got it bad.
In another way, though, it was quite easy to forgo the Prem.
One of the pleasures of concentrating more keenly on the Spanish league these past few weeks has been watching it on a GOL TV feed. My Spanish is just about sharp enough to understand what “Si, señor” and “corrrrrrrrnerrrrrrr” mean, but beyond that and the players’ names, I have practically no idea what the commentators are saying.
And it’s wonderful. You want to know which player is in possession of the ball, and perhaps for the pitch of the commentator’s voice to rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the game. And it’s all you really need, is it not? You switch off after a match feeling cleansed. You also feel a strange urge to join the US army, for some reason. (One for the GOL TV viewers, there).
This is in contrast to the normal Premier League experience, which is like trying to watch a film while someone is unceasingly bellowing “THIS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE IN THE WORLD!!!!!” in your ear throughout. Or, to borrow TV critic Charlie Brooker’s description of watching the box in a multichannel era, “trying to retain the actual sense of what you’ve seen is like trying to read a book at an idiots’ party”. Perhaps I should be smarter than this: I am a modern human being, and as such should have acquired all the media savvy required to tune out the white noise before I was able to walk. But it’s a struggle sometimes.
You can, of course, in these wondrous days of tubes and laziness, seek a presentation in a strange tongue, all the better not to distract you with. But then you’re left with the football. It’s all too often akin to twenty-two monkeys loaded on their favourite brand of sugary energy beverage and smashing into each other for an hour and a half. I’m not saying that can’t be entertaining, but like the apes’ caffeine high, it can be quite empty.
Now, it was my immense good fortune that La Liga had a particularly delicious series of courses to serve up in the last few weeks. I didn’t get to see as many games as I would have liked: sometimes for reasons beyond my control (Villarreal 3-3 Getafe), sometimes because of a failure to take those pesky time zones into account (the first half of Real Madrid-Sevilla—damn you, rotation of the earth!). What I did get to see was, by and large, excellent. I did manage to shoo away the outside world for long enough to take in three-and-a-half of Barcelona’s games. I doubt that you need me to tell you how good they are right now. (I will say this: they are almost as exquisite as Kilkenny’s hurlers.) Even aside from Barça’s special kind of current awesomeness, the football in Spain is of a type which is a good deal more appealling than in the self-styled Pinnacle Of All Human Achievement™.
Despite my bellyaching, however, the Premier League is not going away. Despite its signal-to-noise ratio being of the odds-against-Lord-Lucan-riding-Shergar-to-victory-in-the-Martian-Derby-twice sort, it’s compelling. It’s maddening because almost all of the peripheral, off-the-field stuff is just nonsense. But it’s like a soap opera you’ve followed for years: you may not always have been enthralled by it, but damn you, you’ve still watched every episode, and you know more about the characters than you do about most of the people you actually know. And even though you’re slightly disgusted at yourself for all this, you’ll keep watching in future.
And, to be fair, the football isn’t always bad to watch.
My cynica oblongata is telling me to forget the English League and look towards the sun. (I have a hankering for some Bundesliga, too.) The Premier League is waving that pact I signed in years of dutiful consumption. I may become a Primera División disciple and wait for the time to roll around when the league is fashionable again so I can moan at the Juani-come-latelys thinking they know what they’re talking about. I may find myself locked into the narcotic stranglehold of the Eee Pee El. (The latter has some immediately persuasive bait in the form of the not very civilised, but tremendously fun, bumper Christmas fixture list.) I may just end up as someone desperate for the Pretty Move. Right now, I’m confused and curious. What better way to be?
Fredorrarci writes the ingenious Sport Is A TV Show.
by Fredorrarci · December 23, 2008