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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El Infierno de los Blanquillos

For those of us Real fans, Madrid is more than a club—it is a way of life. The past few months have kept us up at night, sleepless, restless, and searching for answers. One fundamental question plagues us: what went wrong? I sifted through ancient runes, believing the past holds the key to the future, but no silver bullet flashed into my cerebrum. One night, a strange dream offered me a fresh perspective.

I passed out on my bed from exhaustion, and soon entered a familiar yet uneasy world. I was at the Bernabeu Stadium, in the bleachers, at night, alone, and it was freezing cold. The ominous silence pressed against my face; I reflected. Here was the sight of La Quinta del Butre, of Hugol’s torrid tackles and Champions league victories! A hand grasped my shoulder, bringing me back from thought. It was Raul Gonzalez.

Without saying a word, I stood up, he motioned for me to follow him, and I did. We left the bleachers and entered cavernous hallways, with hints of moonlight reflecting on trophy cases replete with gold and silver. We walked past the hall of fame and the Madrid tienda, until we came to a strong oak door, above which a crest read Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate. Raul opened his mouth and spoke: “Only the damned may enter here, but feel no mercy for those you see. I will take you as far as I can.”

Raul opened the door and we entered a dark tunnel. A warm breeze caressed my face, growing stronger with each step. We soon came to a clearing, a dense forest, and in the distance I saw four men sitting around a table and playing cards. I was shocked to recognize them as Alfredo Di Stefano, Santiago Bernabeu Yeste, Ferenc Puskas, and Emilio Brutageno! Raul sensed my discomfort and put a hand on my shoulder: “The damned cannot hear you, but fear not, these men played before the Angels fell from the sky in 1995. They did not know sin, nor could they have known it.”

Raul then again started to walk and I again followed, terrified as we entered the dense forest. I swore the trees had eyes and the pitch black sky had swallowed the stars and moon. I soon heard shouts of agony, and then, suspended in the air, I saw none other than Cristiano Ronaldo! Branches pierced his eyes and held him in the air. Small, beautiful, and blonde valkyries flew about and tickled him incessantly. If he suppressed his laughter, he shook and suffered, but if he opened his mouth, the valkyrie turned into a crow and picked his flesh! Raul again spoke: “God’s wrath is reserved for those who waste his gifts, regardless of material success. A wandering eye can do no man good.”

I was sick to my stomach, but followed Raul as we continued on. The trees gave way to a desert, and in the distance a tower loomed. I saw an elderly man running up and down the stone staircase which wrapped around the outside of the tower. Closer, I recognized him as Ramon Calderon! I also saw a single-file stack of pesetas, at least two stories tall. Ramon ran into the tower, came outside, a coin in hand, climbed the staircase, and carefully played the peseta on top. Surely this was no severe punishment, I thought. Then, lightning cracked and the wind grew fierce; Raul grabbed my arm. A vicious sandstorm clouded all sight, but I could hear Ramon’s cries. When it cleared, I saw Ramon on his knees, bleeding all over. Pesetas littered the ground. Raul felt no need to speak, and instead nudged me forward.

We traversed the desert until coming to a stream that soon turned into a river. I saw a fairy docked at the other side, with a long-bearded man onboard clutching a pole, and a long line of people on the shore. Raul grabbed my arm, forcing me to walk closely alongside him so as to obstruct the man’s view.

I followed his lead, and we eventually came to a dense marsh. I saw a man, half-submerged, feverishly washing a white cloth. As we got closer, I recognized him as Florentino Perez, and he was washing a Madrid jersey. Such a light punishment, I thought. Then, Perez turned over the jersey and bit into the last name sewn on back. Blood soaked the white cloth, but he could not peel off the name. He sobbed and cried. I saw his mouth, toothless and covered in blood. A demon surfaced and violently lashed Perez with his pointed tail. The demon then submerged, and Perez returned to washing the blood red jersey. Raul again motioned for us to continue.

We trudged along the marsh, and mountains rose in the distance. The temperature dropped as we descended through caverns and peaks. We came to a valley, with a large frozen lake in center. Lucifer, with his enormous wings and three heads, sat center. Each head chewed on a person. The left head chewed on Samuel Eto’o, the right head chewed on Nicolas Anelka, and in the center, Lucifer’s sharp teeth feasted on Luis Figo as the devil’s claws plunged into his back. I was shocked. Figo had left Barcelona for Madrid! Raul spoke. “When the Angels fell in 1995, some chose wealth, some chose sides, but others chose only themselves. To betray a friend for an enemy is wrong, but to betray an ideal for anything, friend or foe, is damnation. Eternal damnation.”

Raul then began to scale the steep slope, and I followed. About twenty feet from the summit, he stopped and spoke. “I can take you no further. My sin is not to see clearly to the end—I could walk over a ledge with no knowledge. Do not worry, though, another has come for you.” A light appeared in the sky and grew intense, blinding me. When my sight returned, standing at my side was none other than Bernd Schuster! He extended his hand and I took it, tempted by the path to paradise…

Elliott is the editor of

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El Infierno de los Blanquillos

by Elliott · June 11, 2009

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