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.

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The End of the Affair: An Arsenal Fan Remembers Aliaksandr Hleb

Dear Aliaksandr,

It seems like just yesterday I took the tube to Heathrow to give a grand welcome to our new signing from Stuttgart. Sitting among friends, slightly intoxicated, we hummed along the Piccadilly line, our heads clouded with excitement, Guinness, and anticipation. We shared the same curiosity: who was this boy from Belarus?

At first, the others derided your sloth steps. I, however, saw a thousand paper swans. Your plays built delicately, fold by fold. The others called you indecisive. Your intellectual prowess captivated me—you scanned the field before making a decision, never castling into a king’s Indian trap. The goals poured mercilessly down upon opponents; neither Middlesbrough nor Blackburn could build their arks fast enough.

My fondest moment will always be your goal against Reading, when you channeled the dormant spirit of Michael Flatley and lord of the danced Marcus Hahneman to death. If you were a Brazilian, people would have griped about showing off. But you are Belarusian, so it was okay.

Your panache brightened my Saturdays and Sundays for three years. An intimidating physical presence? Not at 140 pounds. You ate too much potato babka and not enough steak and potatoes. You were the slowest of greyhounds, a shining emblem of pure skill and grace. You were the lonely kid who dribbled by himself among the towering, leafless oaks in Bialowieza.

But now you’ve left the despondent English winter for vibrant Mediterranean nights. You’ve given up fish and chips for paella. You played a big role in my life, but now you are content to sit, and sit, and sit. You were the star, but now you’re a spectator. Still…I feel a twinge of jealousy when I see you wearing the Catalan crest. So I’ve written this letter because you did play a role in my life, but it is time to move on.

Oh, and there is someone else. I know, I know, another Eastern European. But you should hear the things he says. You should see the way he plays. In a way, it reminds me of you.

I wish you all the best, Aliaksander, but don’t expect any future correspondence. If you come back to Avenell Road, don’t expect me to sing your praises or remember you. If you get off at the Picadilly stop and meander around, don’t expect friendly faces. I cannot forgive and forget, but I will forget.


Disconsolate Gunner Fan

Elliott is the editor of

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The End of the Affair: An Arsenal Fan Remembers Aliaksandr Hleb

by Elliott · February 27, 2009

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