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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London Calling

I wouldn’t say that my hearing is shot, but it’s not what it once was—too much Clash, in too many enclosed spaces, at too young an age—so I can’t turn up the TV as loud as I would like. Or rather, I could, but I don’t want to disturb my neighbors, if they happen to be around. The walls of this rather cheap and rather shabby (but, I must say, scrupulously clean) Bloomsbury hotel are quite thin, and like almost all Americans, I have a visceral anxiety about being, even potentially, cast in the role of Ugly American. So I keep the volume rather low, which means that I’ve only caught the name of one of these guys—it’s Charlie—and can’t understand much of what any of them are saying. (Is Charlie a Scot?)

There’s no logical reason for me to be in this room. I want to watch Arsenal play Porto in the second leg of their Champions League set-to (the first having been taken by Porto), and there are probably twenty pubs within a stone’s throw of this hotel where I could watch the match. But I’ve watched plenty of soccer in pubs, while I’ve never watched people who are themselves watching soccer and trying to describe what they see. Talking heads, shouting heads, stuttering heads. I feel sorry for the young fellow who’s updating us on the Bayern Munich-Fiorentina match but keeps getting interrupted by Charlie’s hoots and squawks. He tries to keep going, glances over at Charlie—they’re sitting next to each other, with a third fellow tracking Bolton-Sunderland and a host who occasionally cuts away to off-site commenters, some of whom appear via video linkup while others are audio-only —but it’s no good. He falters; he stops.

As I say, I’ve never seen this before, and at least for now I’m finding it compelling, especially Charlie’s unpredictable sound-effects. (There are other sound-effects too, stadium noises heard beneath the commentary—surely from stock, not live.) Charlie is especially excited because it’s Nicklas Bendtner scoring twice in the first half-hour, after having missed, what, seventeen chances in front of net in Arsenal’s last match? I may be exaggerating, but only a bit: the sports reports here have showed each of those misses every half-hour since they occurred.

The host, I note, does a better job of ignoring Charlie and just keeping on with his sentence. Also, I don’t know who the bald guy is who has the (perhaps unenviable) job of covering West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday, but he is confident, precise, and evocative. He deserves a promotion.

This ought to be done for American football: Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Boomer Esiason, Tom Jackson, Marshall Faulk—all of them, from all networks, with headsets on, staring down at a screen we can’t see, groping for adequate words but never quite finding them. It would be better than watching an actual game, better even, maybe, than NFL Red Zone. But it will never happen, because the NFL, unlike the Premier League, seems to want its games to be widely seen.

Though I will say this: when halftime allowed Sky to cut briefly to the actual pitches, as the players walked off—Bendtner manifestly trying not to swagger, Arshavin looking unaccountably exhausted—I felt that the spell was broken, or at least weakened a bit. I would have preferred to see small plastic figures, or colorful flannel ones on a green flannel board. But Charlie’s shouts when, a few minutes later, Eboue put Arsenal up 4-nil compensated for much.

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London Calling

by Alan Jacobs · March 9, 2010

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