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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For a Break-Up [UPDATED]

I have heard the joyous news, and never have I been gladder not to be the type who rushes off to the tattoo remover’s at the first hint of trouble. Sometimes, you have to have a bit of faith when it comes to relationships. Why, Cheryl and Tony have had it out more times than I can count, but every time Tony slams the door on the way to the pub, does that mean Tony Jr. is facing a life of fatherless abandonment? Not by half. You’d have to drag Tony off in chains, he loves his family that much. It’s the same with Rooney. It’s the same with all of us at this great club. I’ll leave this here as I wrote it so we all remember the feelings of these past few days. 132 goals AND COUNTING. M.U.F.C. Legend.

I, personally, have never been the type who dwells on heartache and tragedy. Others may whinge, but it’s never been my way. When a thing goes pear-shaped, you can either throw a bin through a window and steal a pair of trainers, or you can lift a pint to the good times and set about refactoring your tattoo situation.

Players come and players go. It’s sad, but it’s the circle of life—to quote Mr Eric Cantona.

Oh, I’m well aware that others may view things differently. After the statement hit yesterday, we convened at my sister’s place to talk it out—take the pulse of section 2510, so to speak. Most of the crew was there: myself, Korkmaz, Tony, Dexy, Beans, Beans’s girl Helena, Jermain, Terry, and Frodo, and let me tell you, the mood was not half gloomy. It was a dark room to set foot in, not yet an hour after reading that hurtful document.

Tony was scowling at the table over an untouched glass of lager, absently tapping his foot. Dexy kept putting the telly on, then putting it off again, as if he couldn’t stand waiting for news. Frodo—well, I think Frodo was crying, although, good lad, he had his face turned away so that none of us could see. Frodo does a brisk trade in the small-appliance delivery business, subcontracting with local department stores.

For one reason or another, I was thinking about Nick Culkin. Now, as a true fan and supporter of my club, Manchester United, I am forced to admit that Nick Culkin is a daft comparison for Rooney, him having played a grand total of eighty seconds during his seven-year stint at the Theatre. But I always liked that Nick Culkin. I can’t say I ever enshrined that liking in ink, but had he started a match at any point, I just might have. Many’s the time I’d look down at the bench and say to my cousin Korkmaz, “Korkmaz, when do you reckon the gaffer’ll bring that man Nick Culkin along as a backup?”

Well, he finally did, and the whole world knows what happened. Nick Culkin only played eighty seconds, but during those eighty seconds he kept a clean sheet at Highbury. That’s not too far beneath Legend status in my book.

So I had a good feeling about Nick Culkin, and when he left the club, it gave me a very tremulous emotion, I confess. First when he left on loan to Hull City in 1999, then again when he left on loan to Bristol Rovers in 2000, then for a third time when he left on loan to Livingston in 2001, and finally when he made the permanent switch to Queens Park Rangers in 2002. It made me very depressed at the time. I even got a bit down around the close of the transfer window in 2003, out of habit.

Well, that was how I’d been feeling about Rooney, if I’m honest. Like a comet had hit me in the guts, and gone on burning all white-like. My sister’s boy, Tony Jr., has been watching some type of robot movie where the one cartoon robot changes into a missile and fires itself into the bowels of the other cartoon robot, and that was just about my situation, so stroppyTHE TATTOO SITUATION
Gutted as we all are over the news, I am fairly at peace with the tattoo situation. Yes, my entire neck is circumnavigated by “Wayne Rooney as Superman blasting through the sky,” but I’ve got “David Beckham engaging in a manly handclasp with Jaap Stam” on my shoulder, too, haven’t I? I believe that with time, artwork devoted to departed players is that much more likely to become classic. It’s all a matter of weathering the initial storm.
had I let myself become. One day, all’s right with the world, the best footballer on the planet is plying his trade at the Theatre for best gaffer on the planet, and you’re happy as an acorn in the forest. The next day, statements are released, relationships are torn apart, and the world transforms itself into a cartoon missile with its targeting reticule bent on your small intestine.

I tell you, and I don’t like to exaggerate, but some of those programs Tony Jr. watches are enough to make a bloke turn to Buddhism.

But still, I thought, there’s no use letting it get it to you. “Now, listen here, lads,” I said to the lads (and also Helena, and my sister, Cheryl, who had just come up with the laundry). “There’s one thing that transcends Wayne Rooney, and that is the club we know as Manchester United.”

“Agreed,” said Tony. “But it’s run by morons, innit?”

Now, I understand that a lot of so-called Manchester United supporters are of that opinion, but for myself, it’s always looked a bit dodgy. I don’t pretend to be an accountant, although Beans does a fair bit of business in that way, but as far as I’m concerned, if borrowing loads of cash is the best route to being three-times consecutive Champions, I hope Mr Avram Glazer will keep taking in the debt till the plug goes down the drain and the bathtub turns inside out. That’s just for me, personally, mind.

“That cunt,” said Terry, savagely. “That naff, good-for-nowt blighter. After everything Sir Alex has done for him. Score a goal, then, Wayne, why don’t you? Played all season like last year’s bloody tomatoes and thinks we lot are bound to clap him halfway to Dubai.”

There was a general murmur of agreement with this sentiment, which, if anything, caused my spirits to decline even further. “Listen here, lads,” I said quietly. “As of this moment, Mr Wayne Rooney is a striker for my club, Manchester United. And Mr Malcolm Glazer is the owner of my club, Manchester United. And Sir Alex Ferguson is the gaffer of that same club, Manchester United. And as long as that’s true, I intend to look upon them with decency and true respect.”

I wanted to tell them what else I had in my heart that day. How I still remembered him as a new signing, just a boy really, trampling down the grass like a stocky, balding hailstorm. How I could still picture him leaping into the arms of Cristiano Ronaldo, blood brothers in happier times. How each new manifestation of his distinctive rage-bellow would leave me thinking, “he’s putting the whole Premiership on notice: United will not be denied.” I knew there would be other strikers, other heroes to stride forth from the changing rooms, but I didn’t want to think about them. It’s like that book I used to read Tony Jr., Where the Red Fern Grows, about two American dogs who hunt raccoons while a boy comes of age nearby. At the end of that book, after the dogs get killed by a mountain lion and starve to death, the boy goes to visit their graves and sees that a red fern has grown over where they’re buried. And there’s an old legend, like, that says wherever a red fern grows, an angel planted the seeds. And it’s not about how he wants a new puppy, or about how his parents have mismanaged their finances so they can’t afford to get him a new puppy. It’s about that red fern, and mourning those two brave dogs that got killed by a mountain lion, and starved to death.

I didn’t know how to say any of that, I reckon, not being a children’s author myself, so I turned to Korkmaz for help. Korkmaz is normally the type of person around whom it’s impossible to slip in a word, but today he was uncharacteristically silent. He was gutted, I believe. The Rooney situation had gutted him. Emotions had overwhelmed Korkmaz.

I knew what I wanted, though. I wanted a red fern for Rooney. I walked into the kitchen, poured myself a lager, and took it back to the crew. Then I raised my glass.

“To Mr Wayne Rooney,” I said.

The lads looked like they didn’t know how to respond. Tony’s scowl deepened. Korkmaz stared into space. Finally Frodo turned around, and his eyes were red-rimmed with tears.

“To Mr Wayne Rooney,” Frodo proclaimed. “And to better times.”

And we all drank down our lagers.

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For a Break-Up [UPDATED]

by Brian Phillips · October 21, 2010

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