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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On Restraint

Man with air raid siren

LeBron James was going to sign with the Clippers. I was sure of it. Living in a city that prided itself on its basketball knowledge, I could not have been happier to defend my foolhardy (and completely non-researched) claim. I filled the microbreweries with my pomp and unbridled opinion, joyfully educating any local who dared to question my theory. Well-versed in the art of bullshit, I welcomed all challengers to my claim, eventually even digging up some token statistics that seemed to weigh in my favor.

My delight in this process came not only from the pleasure of getting lost in conversation, but also the more elementary fact that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I hadn’t spent hours watching Mike Dunleavy destroy the Clippers piece by piece to facilitate LeBron’s signing with the team. Like Vitale and Twain, I rarely confined my basketball-related opinions to the facts, so there was no pride of knowledge to defend. Many of these Bill Simmons inspired barroom debates revolve around the participants proving their knowledge by spouting every Chris Broussard tweet that crosses their mind. Because I was drawing from a smaller knowledge base, I could have fun getting creative with my answers, doing everything I could to make my antagonists believe I wasn’t completely misinformed when it comes to the topic of choice. Really, the topic can be anything from basketball to music to North Korean foreign policy. Rarely will I punt on a conversation just because I know nothing about it.

That is, except the one topic that I know the most about.

I have a very odd reaction when soccer comes up in casual conversation. Primarily, I keep my mouth shut, indicating awareness only by nodding or chuckling at jokes (attempted or successful, doesn’t matter). If someone asks me directly for my thoughts, I respond in vanilla fashion. Maybe it will be the surface level of something I actually believe, but then again, maybe not. Maybe it will just be something to keep the conversation moving. I’m not sure that I’m particularly embarrassed by what I know about the game. It’s more that I suffer from a very specific fear, one that I’d guess a lot of longtime American soccer fans are getting to know as the game grows more popular here. I’m afraid that if I come on too strong, people won’t want to talk to me about soccer anymore.

There are instances when I do bubble over, but only when provoked. Granted, these provocations are often not directed at me at all—but I’m only one man, and there are boundaries. The latest of these incidents occurred over a normally mundane Saturday breakfast. The unknowing culprits: two men, sitting in a booth behind me. I had not even noticed them until they began to chat about their clubs’ (Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively) potential January signings. I cannot help but overhear, and smile at their enthusiasm. The two go through all the names the Daily Mail has offered, until suddenly Chelsea mentions Miloš Krasić.

As a Juventus fan, my mind instantly leaves my orange juice for dead, and I focus unequivocally on their conversation. I’m looking at my omelet, but I’m also looking through the back of my skull, watching for their next move. At the same time, my mind begins to race: “Is Krasić going to be sold? Already? Surely not. But Abromovich doesn’t play by the rules. What about Man City?! Azwersxetdcyutfgvbinhjompk.” While all that’s going on, Arsenal, completely blind to the fact that I’m even in the same universe, pops back with: “Krasić? No way. He’s garbage. His dribbling is okay, but he sucks otherwise.”

And that’s when I scoff. Audibly. A piece of sausage lodges in my throat, but my effort to turn the scoff into a cough, a sneeze, anything, are beyond futile. My cover is blown. I turn slowly to face my assailants, imagining one of those scenes in every action movie where the heroes go to the hidden gun room and start stocking up on BFGs. But when I open my mouth, I can only muster up a feeble “no.” Arsenal and Chelsea stare at me, unsatisfied. I continue, stammering out, “No, no he’s good, trust me.” Trust me? Really? This is going terribly. Not only am I incoherent in both volume and content, I’m doing Krasić himself a disservice by failing to make these two knuckleheads understand the greatness he possesses. I wrap it up as quickly as possible with a note that I’m a Juventus fan, so I’m biased. And that was that.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what other options I had. I’m not sure how well they would have reacted had I spilled over with:

“Well, actually, while Krasić’s skill-set does limit him to an outside wing position, his attributes align perfectly with Del Neri’s 4-4-2 system. When coupled with a right back that has little attacking interest, he doesn’t have to worry about his defensive work load, and thus can focus on beating players on the dribble, putting dangerous balls in the box, and making efforts on goal himself. Fans of the English game should know this as well as anyone, as he has already single-handedly toppled one of the pillars of your national footballing consciousness.”

A bit stronger than what it would have been, maybe, but the point remains the same. You can’t, in the art of conversation, just blind-side someone and expect things to go on swimmingly. So what do you do, if you’re passionate? Restrain yourself, and hope that the conversation goes away. And yet, you don’t want it to go away, because it’s the thing you know best. Funny how that works.

Follow Sean Rubio on Twitter.

And really, what better sign of obsession is there than worrying about the effect your passion will have on the health of a conversation? As if once the conversation disintegrates, so does all hope for your passion’s success in the future.

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On Restraint

by Andy Streets · January 4, 2011

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