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.
The Boxing Day tradition in my wife’s family is that the women all go out to lunch, leaving us menfolk to fend for ourselves while simultaneously trying to come to terms with the fact that the word “menfolk” has suddenly veered into the same tonal range as our experience. This year, we decided to go to a sports bar, and without my saying anything about it, my father- and brothers-in-law, none of whom are soccer fans, found one that carried FSC and took me out to watch the Aston Villa-Arsenal game.
So here was an American scene: a washed-out, faux-pubby bar on the outskirts of town, kind of upscale dank—on the one hand a microbrewery, on the other hand a place where a guy was strangled to death in a bar fight not long ago, as everyone remembered. Behind the bar, a heavyset dude with an air of wary responsibility dishing up soapy lagers for a couple of amateur pundits who had decided to spend the day after Christmas slouch-blogging baseball for an audience of each other. (“It was always gonna be the Yankees…it’s a frickin’ Christmas present.”) In came the six of us, and commandeered a TV in the corner, pushed around some knee-high pleather stools, and ate pure cheeseburgers while watching the Zebulon fleet emerge from hyperspace and colonize the asteroids of Xlaaxlu. Which I’m guessing was Aston Villa-Arsenal from the perspective of everyone else in the place.
Luckily the game itself was terrific, with Sagna’s stunning defensive bicycle kick and Arsenal’s brilliant second goal adding an entertainment factor that Tottenham-Fulham just might have lacked. Even with the sound off, everyone followed the back-and-forth, Villa making a rhino charge out of the first half, then Arsenal pinging science in the second, until the penalty and the weird dynamite at the end evened things out in style. (Draws can be exciting! I kept half-apologetically announcing.) We enjoyed Wenger’s repertoire of sideline expressions (from “I have eaten a pickle, and I am too gentlemanly to allude to it” to “My idea for a device to supplant the zipper has had terrible consequences that have only just now dawned on me!”) and Martin O’Neill’s little god-of-pogo hops. I had a fantastic time. The guys at the bar never even looked at us.
Read More: Christmas Comes But Once a Year
by Brian Phillips · December 28, 2008