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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The Love Song of J. Anthony Barton

Let us go then, the reserves and I,Editor’s Note: The following lines were found in a battered notebook tucked between two dog-eared copies of Nietzsche on a Victorian standing-desk in the Newcastle flat vacated by Joey Barton last week. They appear to have been composed in the weeks preceding the poet’s transfer to Queens Park Rangers, when the force of impending change first began to disrupt what had previously been the comfortable certitude of his intellectual life.
When the afternoon is spread out against the sky
Like Newcastle etherised upon the league table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted stands,
The muttering fans
Of Amsterdam,
To restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And headlines about who our owner sells:
Tweets from followers like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . .
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.

In the changing rooms the players wander to and fro
Considering whether to stay or go.

The Tyneside fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke of a cigarette that rubs it muzzle against my name,
Licked its tongue as it denied me a visa,
Lingered upon me as I stood in chains,
And in my cell I woke with a sudden leap,
Upon dreaming of a soft July night,
Of curling frees into the box, then once more fell asleep.Other articles Barton apparently left behind in his haste: notes toward a system of devising Twitter passwords based on Bertrand Russell’s lectures on Logical Atomism, several dried roses pressed in an antique copy of Swinburne, a pack of Arrow collars, Amanda Harrington.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke of every agents’ meet,
Rubbing its back upon the Mirror’s leak;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the chairmen that we meet;
There will be a time for podcast and debate,
And time for all the drills and pre-season plans,
The careful low-carb meals upon our plates;
Time for them and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred rumours and revisions,
Before the taking of a player from our team.

In the changing rooms the players wander to and fro
Considering whether to stay or go.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Watching Shearer descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of his hair—
[I shall say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’]
King Kev in his morning coat, collar mounted firmly to the chin,
His necktie rich and modest, giving opinions to ESPN—
[He will say: ’But how the squad is growing thin!’]
Do I dare
Disturb St. James’ Park?
In a minute there is time
For a whispered destination where a player may embark.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the Carrolls, Nolans, sold too soon,
I have measured out my life among the Toon;
I know the voices crying with the last kick of the ball
Beneath the music of the Geordie tunes.
And how should we resume?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the stripes that glimmer on the shirts
Of lonely men in replica kits, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have bargained for a transfer clause
And scuttled elsewhere with a silent ease.

And the players rest so peacefully!
Injuries smoothed by the masseuse’s fingers,
Cramp…tightness…while some malinger,
Stretched on the floor, here beside Danny Guthrie.
Should I, after halftime rubs and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my lip (grown slightly bald) moved to speak and flatter
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of our greatness flicker,
And I have seen Mike Ashley grab his coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
To smash some teacups, demoralise the team,
Among the talk of Arsenal, of Manchester United and me,
Would it have been worthwhile,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed my frustration into a ball,
To loft it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Barton, whose career was once dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, upon opening the paper the next day and reading the line upon the head,
Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.’

And would it have been worth it after all,
Would it have been worthwhile,
After promotion and Hughton and the damning tweets,
After Sunderland, after Villa, after scoring five or more—
To follow Kev and Andy out the door?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean
In 140 characters on a computer screen!
Would it have been worth while
If a new player, settling in and kicking around the ball,
Should bring up the transfer window and say:
‘This is not it at all,
This is not what I wanted, at all.’

No! I am not Clown Prince Shackleton, nor was meant to be;
Am an English midfielder, one that will do
To fight the hero, end a scene or two,
Control midfield; no doubt, a useful tool,
Temperamental, easy to provoke,
A headstrong but manipulable bloke
To get sent off some Wednesday night in Stoke,
At times, indeed, almost a sort of joke—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Shall I leave this club behind? Do I dare to go for free?
I shall wear an England shirt, and walk out at Wembley.
I have heard the Geordies singing “Drunk and Disorderly.”

I do not think they will sing to me.

I have seen them in the stands forming waves,
Combing the body hair on their bare backs,
When the wind blows the rains white and black.

We have risen from the chambers of the league,
Away from the Eagles, Sky Blues and Ipswich Towns,
Till Ashley’s choices break us, and we go down.

Peter Smith takes inspiration from Vicente Del Bosque’s moustache to write about football at The Wisdom of Tache and can be followed on Twitter @TacheyDelBosque.


The Love Song of J. Anthony Barton

by Peter Smith · August 29, 2011

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