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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Jimmy Reilly was angry. He knew he was angry, because every few seconds, he reminded himself he was angry. To be angry—furious—was the official position of the team, and Jimmy was a member of the team, wasn’t he? Who else had played left fullback for the last twelve minutes against Kelly Foundation Garments? And didn’t he have the black eye to prove it? So Jimmy was angry, and if anyone had asked how he was, he would have said as much, or better; he would have said incensed, unappeasable, enraged. He would have! But then, no one asked. And as he stumbled through the party in the Rose Room of the Faircliff Hotel, the hot blaze of his wrath somehow failed to prevent a big, crooked smile from spreading across his face.

Jimmy loved to travel. Or, well, he hadn’t really traveled, not exactly; he’d been on away trips with the team, of course, and he rode the subway to work every day at the warehouse, a journey he variously imagined as an expedition beneath the surface of some uncharted alien world, a plunging into fathomless dark seas, and a desperate race in the manner of Phileas Fogg. Other than that, he’d technically never left New York. And since the warehouse was technically in New York, or at least the Bronx, that left a few overnight trips to places like Hartford, New Bedford and Harrison as the sum total of his experience and knowledge of the wide, mysterious world.

Nevertheless, he loved to travel. It was one of the things he knew about himself, as surely as he knew he preferred Jules Verne to H.G. Wells, Rice to Fawcett, and Weird Tales to Black Mask. The most dilapidated drawer in his dilapidated desk at home was stuffed full of schemes for voyages and the bold itineraries of dangerous tours—the Sahara, the Amazon, the Orient—that he would one day undertake. For now, though, being inside the Faircliff was the closest he’d come to a real exotic escape; the hotel with its gold elevators was as rare and as foreign as the palace of the maharajah or the white caves of the moon. And irate as Jimmy was in one sense, in another, much more actual sense, he was practically giddy with enjoyment.

This place made you feel like a king! There were waiters, punch-bowls, chandeliers, crazy shapes in the carpet, tiny Chinese delicate flowers on the plates: so much to see! Just over there, as Jimmy moved through the crowds of women in dizzying dresses and men with monocles and teeth, was Mr. Beauclair, who owned the team, standing there as plain as day in a humming knot of laughter and patent leather near the piano. And just behind him, arms folded by the wall, was Mr. Odyssey, who paid Jimmy every week and who’d negotiated with Mr. Blasing at the warehouse to let him skip work for practice, just as if he were used to men like Mr. Blasing jumping when he told them what to do. Jimmy had of course imagined being rich, fantasies which generally revolved around the purchase of either an airplane or a submarine and a suite of equipment with which to chart the darkest jungles of Africa, and he had frequently read about the lives of millionaires in Argosy All-Story Weekly, where by some coincidence the millionaires’ aims were frequently in line with his own. But he had never imagined anything quite like the mild cheerful off-hand presumption of pleasure that seemed to pervade this party, and while it made him self-conscious in an impersonal way about the shabbiness of his own suit (bought second-hand from another worker at Blasing’s, and fraying in the back) and his inexpertly slicked-back straw hair (he thought not at all about his black eye, by a wide margin his single most out-of-place feature), it was welcoming, too. It suggested that everyone here would be taken seriously. Everyone mattered here. Everyone could relax.

Jimmy strolled over to one of the twelve identical large windows that looked out from the Rose Room across Fifth Avenue over the park. There it was, there was New York! From up here on the seventeenth floor, it looked like it had been made just for Jimmy. Agreeably muted and miniaturized, the city unfolded the endless improvisation of itself as if it were aiming a conspiratorial wink right at the windows of the Faircliff. The tall towers rose to a companionable height, as if, from up here, you were finally privy to their secrets; in the dark chasm between them, the park twinkled with lamps. Far below, the traffic blazing quietly down Fifth just caught the edge of your attention, like a medal pinned to your chest. Jimmy took a sip of his punch and grinned, first at the Arsenal, and then at his own reflection.

But you’re angry, he told himself. Don’t forget that you’re angry. And just then he turned away from the window and stepped right into the chest of Conrad Grose, the big Kelly Foundation Garments forward who’d given him the black eye and scored twice after Jimmy was subbed into the game.

Grose was with Alastair Arnold, the inside left, who’d scored once after Jimmy was subbed into the game. They were both brutal and English. Arnold rubbed the side of his thumb along his pencil mustache. “Why, look, Conrad, my mate,” he said with a sneer. “It’s that little mosquito type bloke which you placed in the mud during the course of us winning today.”

“Why, so it is, Alastair, chum.” Conrad leered down at Jimmy. “Good of him to turn out in celebration of our league position, ain’t it?”

“You know, I think it is rather good,” Alastair said, peering intently at his thumbnail. “Shows a proper respect for authority, it does. Beyond that, I think he wants to thank you for his eye.”

Jimmy’s happiness faded like a ghost during this exchange, and for the first time that night, he felt an actual flash of rage. He balled up his fists. “Say,” he said. “This party’s for us. What’s the big idea with you being here, anyway? It was rotten, how you played today. I’m pretty mad right now, anyhow. I doubt you want to talk to me.”

“No, I do; you see,” Conrad purred, “I did quite enjoy our little chat of earlier today.”

Jimmy recognized impossible odds when he saw them. “You’ll hear from me,” he said. “Oh, you’ll hear from me.” And he went in search of his teammates.

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by Brian Phillips · May 10, 2010

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