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.
There are several things to do in a city at night. Sleep is typically the most judicious, but in a culture that disproportionately rewards crime, overtime and dance parties, it takes a conscious effort to honour your dreaming life.
To reject these blandishments is hard. To do so for football is patently ridiculous. When you have to wake up the next day and go to work with nineteen million other people? When you already live in a city with the worst life expectancy of any Indian metropolitan region? The morning after a nerve-shattering tournament final you are apt to pause on the railway overbridge at the local station and think, not very smartly, my god. No wonder people keep falling off the trains.
There is foolish, and there is spending the hours between one-fifteen and three-fifteen on a weeknight watching a UEFA tournament. When you have done this for a couple of years you begin to take the political and economic mistakes of Europe’s first body of football a little personally. Sometimes I wonder if the “muscular explosion” Alessandro del Piero experienced around the time of the Juve creatine scandal made the same muffled boom! your heart does when your alarm goes to wake you at one-ten on a Wednesday night. If you sandwich a match between deadlines, you might even be able to stare at the ticker that flashes how many kilometres Gennaro Gattuso has run on his decimated knees and feel a dull twinge of kinship.
But this is a very mild form of adventure, even by bourgeois standards. You could be drinking yourself into a lonely stupor; you could be eating a long-refrigerated pizza at midnight; you could be the person framed in a lit-up office window, trying to meet a blown deadline. Watching the Champions League live is even less likely to form part of a Chuck Palahniukian weltschmerz than these things. The Champions’ League is a dash of circus that goes with everyone’s bread. You choose it. At one-fifteen in the night, of course you are Jack’s fragile sense of individual agency.
This is why it’s fun—not every week, not every year, but when it is.
There is something even starrier about the air of Europe after dusk when you watch it on a small, muted screen, trying not to wake the others in the house. You know that other people—your uncles in Kerala, huddled around their TV screen; your friends in other cities (with better life expectancy rates), texting back and forth with you—are watching the same feed as you are, down to the second.
And yet, it can be like going to the movies on your own: the darkness, the silence. It seems alright to respond as though you were in one, drinking in the foreign, stylised tempo of a parallel dimension. You can cry when something wonderful happens, as though Clarence Seedorf just broke out into E’ lucevan le stelle, instead of setting up an equaliser.
It would be unimaginable during late-afternoon Premier League, or primetime Serie A. If you are watching the football World Cup at two in the morning, you get the feeling that you are remotely attending a gigantic, nerve-wracking party in the town square of the world; if you are watching your club play an indifferent match in the pouring rain, even the sound of the rude singing from the stands can be unutterably distant.
The experience of that singularity is rare in the daylight. It is a blanket of silence over the commentary, a lack of willingness to shout directions at the players, a progression into a wakefulness that has no other purpose but to keep the match going.
On red-eye flights to Bombay, descending past the clouds, your first indication of the city will be the flashes of an interrupted trail of mustard yellow light, flickering in and out of sight until it resolves into a giant grid of blazing electricity. It seems like it has sucked in every bit of life from the surrounding blackness of the Arabian Sea, like a photo negative of Mordor.
It is only closer to gravity that the relatively unconscious business districts, the slumbering government offices, the empty schools and the sightless bedroom windows become apparent. In these patches of the night, the world can seem very big. Even as a fellow Milan tragic in, say, Tokyo, is stirring awake, half-wondering how to get through the day without encountering match results until they have a chance to watch their recording, even as someone in Karachi is trying not to boggle about how she stayed up until two forty-five in the morning to watch a stupid match, even as the Pato fans in São Paolo have given up on ending their workday as long as no one at work changes the channel, being alone at this hour can make you feel like the last person in the world. In this soft city, the parts obscured in the time-lapse rhythms of daytime, the light flickering from an LED screen maroons you on a very small island. In the end, regardless of the game’s outcome, you are left with a sensation not unlike waking up in the moment before dawn. Someone somewhere must be dreaming this.
Inspired by Alan’s Morning in America.
It’s 56.8 years. I know.
(Perhaps the great Indian cricket revolution will have its wellsprings in the population of men and women who are struggling to watch this World Cup on their pixellated screens well after midnight.)
by Supriya Nair · March 7, 2011