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.
PRO VERCELLI v. PISA — MINUTE-BY-MINUTE REPORT
by MATTIA GIACOMINI | 24.03.14
Here we go
Hello and welcome, everyone, to the biggest match in the modern history of Pro Vercelli. If you hear incontinent shrieks issuing from the upper floors of VSE Towers during periods of protracted silence here, don’t be alarmed; it’s just my brain liquefying.
The best bit of brain-preserving news on hand so far is that Fabrizio Barone, who’s missed the last two matches with a heel injury, has been ruled fit to start. He’s a quick healer—either that or he’s being forced to endure an excruciatingly painful bit of dress-up so that Brian Phillips can delude his Pisan counterpart into thinking all is well with the team. Trying not to scream…
Tonight’s non-screaming lineups
Pro Vercelli: Larsen; José, Servais, Cassano, Jovanovic; Sammarco; Tuma, Rubino; Akassou, David; Barone
Subs: Diaz, Rinaldi, Vignau, Iacopino, Zano, Cabezas, Guida
Pisa: Salvi; Pellegrini, Migliore, Musu, Al-Zaabi; Gori, Calabrese, Greco, Cadenazzi; Tavares, Devlin
Subs: Franco, Busi, Costa, Forini, Bertini, Romano, Stefani
I know this is the biggest match in the modern history of Pro Vercelli, but first, your Mrs. Akassou Fragrance Update
I’m sacrificing three flocks of Dr. Thaddeus Weissmueller’s Patented Anti-Jinxing Sheep as I type this, but Chosen by Vivette is a good omen for our promotion chances, no? Not only has our captain managed to marry himself to a French television presenter, but he’s done it at the precise moment when society began to wonder how she would like it to smell. That’s a Serie A-grade WAG, surely?
And now, a word from our readers
“Would you say his heel healed?” emails longtime MBM correspondent and subhuman ass-creature Paolo Montevideo on the subject of Barone’s recovery. “How did his heel heal?” By murdering anyone who sent it puns electronically, Paolo.
“Could you explain the blasted math one more time?” asks the far wiser and more presentable Joanna Barba. “I try to keep it straight, but fathoming the Serie B tiebreakers is like reading the Critique of Pure Reason on a tricycle in the rain. Help?”
Never fear, Joanna. After this explanation, it will be no more difficult than reading the Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Morals while riding backsies on a tandem bike through a fog. To wit: Ascoli have won the league and promotion with 80-plus points; they can’t be caught, so forget about them. Pro Vercelli are fighting for the second of two guaranteed promotion spots, which is also within reach for Pisa and Treviso. Pisa have 78 points, while Pro Vercelli and Treviso are tied on 75. Pro Vercelli are playing Pisa in a 2nd-vs.-3rd matchup at the Silvio Piola tonight, while Treviso travel to 19th-placed Cagliari.
Because of the points difference, any points for Pisa will result in their winning the promotion spot; Pro Vercelli have to beat them in order to give both P-V and Treviso a chance at equaling them on points and forcing a decision via tiebreaker. The good news is that the first tiebreaker in Serie B is results between teams. As we’ve already beaten Pisa once this season, a win against them tonight automatically vaults us over them in the table, even though we’d finish tied on 78 points and behind them on goal differential. Now, if Treviso win tonight, they’ll also finish on 78 points, at which point we can only sort out the three-way tie by creating a micro-table recording each team’s results against the other two teams. In other words, again assuming we beat Pisa tonight (excuse me while I wipe the blood of this Anti-Jinxing Sheep from my blade):
This would eliminate Pisa, but Pro Vercelli and Treviso would still be tied, so we have to resort to the second tiebreaker, goal differential, to determine who wins the promotion spot. Pro Vercelli currently enjoy a +4 goal differential advantage over Treviso, so the thing to keep in mind is that if we win, then barring some 6-0 outburst by Treviso at Cagliari, we stand an excellent chance of beating them to second. But again, if we lose or draw, we have no chance of ending in second. This is as close to must-win as any sporting event not actually starring Arnold Schwarzenegger can be. Still not screaming…
And the name for that is science
“As any intelligent Biellese fan would know,” pompously opines reader Gianluca Anda, “it would be impossible to read Kant’s Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of the Morals while riding on a tandem bike in the fog. Principally, this is because there is no such work, you having mistakenly conflated the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics with the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. However, it is also common knowledge that the amount of wind shear generated by carrying any work of Kant in transit over open country would be sufficient to tear you off the seat of your bicycle and deposit you in a bush, where you could, indeed, read the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.” Intelligent Biellese fan?
1 min: Pro Vercelli kick off. Barone makes a short run forward as Tuma knocks the ball back to Miguel José. He’s covered maybe seven yards so far, the Baron, but he doesn’t look like he’s miserably gritting through an elaborate ruse concocted by Brian Phillips to somehow compensate for his still very serious injury. (Note: Not even Dr. Thaddeus Weissmueller himself intended his Patented Anti-Jinxing Sheep to be slaughtered at a such a clip.)
2 min: A real chance for Pro Vercelli, so early in the match! Landry Akassou takes the ball down the right flank, then slides it in to Barone. Barone lays it back for Luka Tuma, who plays it in for the cutting David, who finds himself alone in the box, only to miss the shot by inches. A beautiful bit of passing, with just a slight let-down on the shot.
6 min: “Tell Gianluca Anda to learn the first thing about meteorology before he runs off at the mouth again,” advises a furious Matteo Montana. “‘Wind shear’ isn’t the force that would rip you off your bike. That would be wind resistance. And of course the real reason you couldn’t read the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals on a tandem bike in the fog is that it would be foggy.” In tonight’s less fascinating contest, neither Pro Vercelli nor Pisa can get a grip on the match.
8 min: Pisa win a free kick after Cassano hacks down Tavares outside the box. But the delivery is sloppier than Vivette the morning after her launch party. It has to be said that despite Serie B footballers being men of iron and stone, both teams look very nervous out there so far.
12 min: Now it’s Pro Vercelli’s turn to win a free kick after Pellegrini clatters David. Jovanovic passes down the line for the Spanish teenager, who this time beats Pellegrini down the left and forces a spell of defensive panic. The ball finds its way back to Sammarco, who shoots from distance…right into the hands of Salvi.
15 min: The early stages are being played at a wicked clip, with both teams flying forward at every opportunity. If this keeps up, the fullbacks are going to need Red Bull intravenously at halftime.
18 min: A nasty piece of business, this. Migliore wins the ball from Rubino in the air and plays a long pass to Obi Tavares, who’s welcomed to the Province of Vercelli by the committee of studs on the bottoms of Matthias Cassano’s feet. Both of them. Cassano can count himself lucky that he only sees yellow for that.
20 min: “Do either Gianluca Anda or Matteo Montana understand that the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals is less than 100 pages long?” enquires Marco Hustad. “I hardly think the wind resistance generated by a work of that size would be sufficient to dislodge a fully grown man from the rear seat of a tandem bike, particularly when you account for the slipstream effect created by the rider in front. Furthermore, the presence of low-lying fog in the area suggests very little surface wind velocity. Unless perhaps they’re riding at five thousand miles an hour?” he helpfully concludes.
20 min: While I’m copying and pasting the above, Pisa nearly score as Sevais trips Devlin on the bleeding edge of the box, only for Tavares to fire in a vicious-looking free kick about a quarter of a centimeter wide. Too, too, too, too close.
22 min: Pro Vercelli instantly answer back with an identical meaningless near-miss of their own. Tuma is tripped by Greco on the bleeding edge of the box, David fires in a vicious-looking free kick, it goes wide by about a quarter of a centimeter, etc. Too, too, too, too far.
25 min: “Presuming sufficient ambient daylight,” pessimistically begins Mauro Catallino, “I see no reason why it should be difficult to read Kant in a fog. The book would be too close to your face for the atmospheric vapors to impinge on your line of sight. However do you put up with so many morons in your inbox?” I’m still stewing over “healed heel,” me.
27 min: David, who’s been toying with Pellegrini all night, finally forces a hard foul and lands his opponent with a yellow card.
31 min: This has been a great spell of dominance for Pro Vercelli. The manager has been yelling at them to work the flanks and exploit the mismatches between their wingers and Pisa’s fullbacks, and it’s been playing havoc with the Pisan back four. Akassou churns up huge ribbons of mud as he blows past his man, perhaps mistaking him for the sense memory of Chosen by Vivette.
GOAL! Pro Vercelli 1 – 0 Pisa (Barone 33): And it finally pays dividends! Akassou gallops down the right and slides in the cross to Barone, who’s slipped into the box unmarked. A simple header past the keeper and the Red Baron has put Pro Vercelli within an hour of Serie A football. Fields of Anti-Jinxing Sheep are felled like ripe corn before my gaze, but Barone’s run was certainly not that of a man suffering indescribable pain in order to conform to his boss’s mad delusion that he’s healthy.
34 min: Pisa kick off.
35 min: “Moron, am I?” thunders thin-skinned basement-dweller Paolo Montevideo. “Well, tell Mauro Catallino that I Kant be bothered to answer that accusation.”
36 min: Akassou nearly makes it 2-0! He loses the ball to Stefano Musu, but Rubino collects it and sends it forward ahead of his run. Akassou strikes on the half-volley but just can’t quite keep it down. Salvi would have had no chance. Pro Vercelli’s wingers have been sensational tonight.
42 min: Akassou again: He intercepts the ball, cuts inside like the title of an unexplored prospectus for a Trent Reznor video, and finds Barone for a header that only just supernavigates the crossbar. I’m furiously Googling bulk-discount rates on Chosen for my next Sunday league match…
44 min: More of the same: David leaves Pellegrini for dead, darts inside and sends the ball across the goalmouth from the left edge of the box. Akassou gets his head to it, and only a sensational save by Salvi keeps the scoreline at one-nil.
45 min: That’ll be a yellow card for Migliore. With Barone charging toward the box, he panicked and dove in with two feet. Pisa are looking thoroughly out of sorts at the moment.
Halftime: And the curtain falls on a cracking first half of football. With satisfaction I dwell upon the image of the MBM reporter for the Pisa Soccer Times as his brain turns to soup and he’s prodded into a padded cell by a hulking orderly called Kevin. Elsewhere: Treviso are down to 10 men, but still lead Cagliari 1-0.
“Moron?” calls Giacomo Pasquale to no one in particular. “Surely Mauro Catallino would be prepared to admit that the pH balance of the acetone treatment used in printing the text of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics could force it to react adversely to the pollution trapped in the water droplets, thus causing the fog to render it illegible? Or has he perchance never withdrawn his head from his own nether regions long enough to take a basic topomystography course?”
46 min: Pisa kick off, and immediately string together a series of 8-10 unchallenged passes as Pro Vercelli hang back. The Leoni look very cautious defensively, but it pays off as Akassou intercepts the ball and sends it forward to Rubino, who’s almost able to ship it to Barone in the box before Musu gets in and clears.
47 min: With Pro Vercelli’s defenders out of position, the ball breaks for Tavares just outside the area, but he hits it on the volley and fires it wastefully wide of the goal. Should have tried to control the ball, perhaps. Still, the VSE Mainframe is telling me that it’s Pisa’s first real shot on goal.
49 min: Alpico Yabnar is having none of Giacomo Pasquale’s claims. “In Fiji, where I live,” he writes, “my house is currently under a heavy blanket of fog. I have transported my entire collection of the works of Kant—the standard Akademie edition—out onto our terrace, where apart from being rendered slightly damp they show no sign of being detrimentally affected by a pea soup far thicker than any you might attempt to ride a tandem bike in. I can only conclude that Mr. Pasquale has no idea what he is talking about.”
50 min: Carlo Palma is even less forgiving: “If Giacomo Pasquale doesn’t admit that his entire argument about the ‘pH balance’ of ‘acetone treatment’ and ‘topomystography’ is a lot of made-up nonsense, I will personally cut him down like Ezra Pound cut down the Waste Land.” Big words, Carlo. Big words.
52 min: Yet another chance for Pro Vercelli! And again it comes through the wingers. David, despite the lack of (known) women in his life who mist themselves with Chosen thrice daily, plays a brilliant first-time ball for Barone, who leaves Gori for dead and smacks a hard shot off the crossbar. Salvi never moved.
53 min: Perhaps I can save the lives of a few thousand DTWPA-J Sheep by noting my creeping fear that Pro Vercelli are failing to turn their dominance into goals? We’re up 1-0, but should be up by two or three at least.
56 min: “As a practicing topomystographer,” promisingly begins Vittore Corso, “I can assure Mr. Palma that the discipline does exist and that I have the necklace of leprechaun teeth to prove it.”
58 min: Brain feeling a bit melty again following the realization that we can’t seem to put the game away. Pisa are one cheeky goal from advancing to Serie A and knocking us down to a playoff that Brian Phillips has been publicly skeptical about our winning. I don’t think I’m the only one having these thoughts; the manager himself is up pacing in the technical area, wearing a stylish Pro Vercelli pullover that looks like something someone might have given him for his birthday.
60 min: Pisa make a double substitution: Gori comes off for Romano, and Devlin is replaced by Fiorini. Fiorini is only 18, but he’s a quicker and more technically polished striker than Devlin. The atmosphere at the Silvio Piola is getting decidedly nervous.
63 min: Fiorini immediately takes a pass from Calabrese, slices into the area, and sends in a hard shot that Larsen barely holds. Pisa’s best opportunity of the night.
64 min: Pro Vercelli win a corner as Musu beats Barone to a long pass and clears it behind the goal. Sammarco whips in a high, fast ball…Miguel José beats Migliore in the air…he gets his head to the ball…and snaps it back off the crossbar! Another agonizing near miss for Pro Vercelli.
65 min: And another: Barone beats his man and strolls onto a suave through ball from Tuma. He tries to place his shot into the top corner of the net. Wide.
66 min: “No such thing as topomystography?” heaves an appalled Carlo Palma. “Then why is it a known fact that the free radicals in high-pH acid rain made an entire page of the Vercelli Book crump to negative four chromas when it toured New York in the 70s? I begin to suspect that most of your ‘educated’ readers are unfamiliar with Brandicott’s Scale of Crumping, the Basicity Theory of Lead-Type Adjustment, or, indeed, Middleton’s Whiter Paper, Greener Us, the founding text of topomystography (now sadly obscured by severe basalt-gringe after being left outside in a low-pressure area overnight). They should be killed with an axe.” Not now, Carlo. I need that axe for the Anti-Jinxing Sheep.
67 min: Akassou single-handedly (-footedly?) wins a corner after taking the ball over the halfway line, skipping past two defenders, and knocking it off the unchosen thigh of Al-Zaarabi. It comes to nothing, and so 45 seconds later the Ivorian does it again. Again nothing.
71 min: Pisa bring on Stefani to replace Manuel Greco. Phillips should be thinking about replacing Jovanovic with Crucitti, surely? No move yet from the Pro Vercelli dugout.
74 min: Another minute, another narrow Pro Vercelli miss. This time David takes the ball from Tuma, dances past two defenders, and puts his shot high and wide of the goal.
78 min: A lovely bit of passing from Pro Vercelli! Sammarco, Jovanovic, David, and Rubino exchange the ball in a rapid-fire, forward-moving pattern. Finally Tuma rifles it to Barone behind the defense. He hits it brilliantly and provokes a spectactular save from Salvi.
79 min: I’m now poisoning the food supply of Dr. Thaddeus Weissmueller’s Patented Anti-Jinxing Sheep in order to lay waste to them in greater numbers, but it has to be said that Pisa aren’t doing much to capitalize on Pro Vercelli’s inability to score. 10-man Treviso are now up 3-0 at Cagliari, but will need to score three in eight minutes in order to move ahead of us in the tiebreaker. There’s still a hint of trepidation in the songs of the Pro Vercelli faithful, but—good night, woolly—Pisa are just awful at the moment.
81 min: Musu trips Barone, surely in order to keep him from striking a clever ball just wide of the goal, and receives a yellow card for his trouble.
84 min: “This debate about topomystography is entirely beside the point,” asserts the all-seeing, all-knowing Gabriele Mattei. “The point is that as the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals would require two hands to read, the only way our hypothetical Kantian could stay on the back of the tandem bike is through a degree of fine-muscle buttocks control unheard of in the history of German philosophy.” I’ll note that you didn’t add Greek philosophy to that list, Gabriele.
87 min: “Every single one of your readers except me is a fool,” declares the almost-correct Arturo Piccio. “I alone recognize that the topomystographic spectrum could not possibly be expected to apply to a paperback printed in the last 30 years under fog conditions suitable for tandem-bike riding. Further, on the subject of ‘fine-muscle buttocks control,’ I alone appear to realize that the most basic principles of cardiohesiological therapoid mean there is no such thing.” Fine-muscle buttocks control? Is this really the argument we’re going to have with Pro Vercelli three minutes from Serie A?
89 min: Brain melting, killing sheep, orderlies named Kevin, etc.
90 min: We’re facing four minutes of stoppage time. Four minutes? There were no inuries!
90 + 1 min: That was too close! Al-Zaabi wins the ball from Barone and plays an immaculate 60-yard pass to Fiorini, who cuts in on goal, shoots, and…is blocked by the diving Jacob Larsen, who could not have picked a better moment to come up with a brilliant save.
90 + 2 min: “I was going to argue against Arturo Piccio,” transmits soulless hagspawn Paolo Montevideo, “but this match is Art-stopping enough as it is.” You monster.
90 + 3 min: The crowd have entered a state of near-ecstatic transport…songs twice as loud as and three octaves higher than usual…
90 + 3 min: The Pro Vercelli substitutes are on their feet…Brian Phillips is theatrically checking his watch…
90 + 4 min: Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! And that’s it! The referee calls time on a famous match as Pro Vercelli secure a season in Serie A for the first time since 1935. A magnificent accomplishment for a group of players who were picked 18th in Serie B this year and who were in Serie C just two seasons ago. Pro Vercelli will be thanking their January signings after turning the season around at midyear. We could well be sent straight back down again, but there’s celebrating to do before then!
How the league finishes: Treviso have won 3-0 at Cagliari, so Pro Vercelli, Treviso, and Pisa all conclude the season tied on 78 points. Pisa finish fourth in the league due to the three-way micro-table tiebreaker I printed earlier, while we tie (again) with Treviso in the micro-table and beat them into second only on goal differential (+25 to +23)…even though if Pisa hadn’t been in the tiebreaker Treviso would have finished ahead of us due to our head-to-head results. It’s about as small a needle’s eye into Serie A as you could ever hope to thread, but it gets us there all the same. And now Treviso and Pisa will have to join Lecce and Atalanta in the playoff.
The scene at the Silvio Piola: The crowd are surging forward and celebrating with the players, who are resisting the attempts of security personnel to remove them into the dressing room. David and Davide Rubino are doing some kind of dance in the center circle. The Baron, who scored the winner tonight, is grasping hands with supporters and basking in the throng. Seven or eight other players are in an enormous pile near the White Lions’ end of the stadium. Paolo Ganci, the chairman, has made his way to the front of the stands and is leaning over excitedly shaking hands with Brian Phillips. This won’t be over soon. I’m already starting to dream of the press buffet at the Olimpico next year…
Thanks for your emails, everyone. I’ll see you in Serie A!
by Brian Phillips · March 27, 2009