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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Not Without Its Stabbings, But Not Without Its Charm

Poet contemplating skull.So. One thing led to another, and now here we are. The Premier League season, which once seemed so endless, is over. People have been stabbed, and champions have been crowned. We’ve had arrests, protests, lawsuits, assaults, class conflicts, scandals, accusations, media brawls, affairs, divorces, funerals, break-ins, international diplomatic crises, and unplanned encounters between the bumpers of Bentley convertibles and the heads of 10-year-old boys. Nothing, however, could interrupt the powerful machinery of Bolton playing Wigan at one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.

I’d write something about the meaning of the Man Utd-Chelsea title race, and why it took on such a weird twinned existence as simultaneously thrilling and predictable, but in the end I’m not sure what more there is to say than that the best team, which had a player churning up toward world-historic greatness and a manager who knows how things work, won the title. People talk too much about who deserves what in soccer, but it would have been strange to see Man Utd lose. Not bad, necessarily, but at least demanding a more complicated and probably compromised narrative to explain. As it is, professional commentators doing their year-in-review/was-it-good-for-you pieces seem genuinely perplexed about how to account for a season in which the races were close (which is good) but in a way that was clearly determined by economics (which is bad, or something). Just imagine if they had to make sense of an underdog story starring the Tycoon XI of Chelsea, or to dream up prose for the glory of Avram Grant.

Personally, I’ll take thrills where I find them, and I tend to see this league—it’s one of the things I love about it, odd as that might sound—as a drama being played out on ruins. I might venture a theory here and there, but I’m not out to rebuild the morality of football, or even to lament the immorality too much, since it’s as much a window onto crazy human nature as any other part of the game. If you buy a beautiful team, I’ll love the beauty of their game, even as I laugh at the backroom chaos you bring with you, sympathize with the fans you’ve exploited, and find you sinister and fantastic and terrible all at the same time. (You’re a one-eyed Mongolian billionaire! Come on!) I can’t see any reason to limit the kinds of human engagement I can find in this sport; maybe that’s an attitude that only works when you’re watching from another continent, but here I am, and I’ll take it.

Poet as skull.So it’s never been high death to me to see Manchester United and Chelsea do well, as long as they do it with some flair and catastrophe, and I thought the season was great. The Mourinho blowup, the ninja politics around Martin Jol’s exit at Tottenham, the brilliance and tragedy of Arsenal, the Eduardo tackle, Stephen Ireland’s metronomic meltdowns, Everton fighting for fourth, Man City sweeping the derby, the redemption and probable martyrdom of Sven-Göran Eriksson, Harry Redknapp fighting the police, the “Geordie messiah” press release, the transparent genius of Fernando Torres, the Avram Grant press conference, Spurs crushing Arsenal, the Berbatov sneer in the Carling Cup final, the Mascherano sending-off, Fulham staying up, Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo [printer: repeat till the page is full]—you have to have a pretty Nietzschean will to indifference not to have found one interesting spark on the bonfire; and in the end, we got to see Tevez dancing in an Argentina cape in front of the ugliest trophy in the universe and Sir Alex Ferguson singing along to Queen. I guess you’d know the lyrics, too, if you’d been the champions as many times as he has.

Anyway, I started this post partly because I wanted to talk about what lies ahead for The Run of Play in the close season. There are schemes brewing and wheels within wheels. But the main thing I want to promise you, and I will keep this promise, is that WE WILL NOT PUBLISH TRANSFER GOSSIP. Are you in the mood to see a space with no transfer gossip written on it? This site has the goods you need. Transfers will be covered on a reality basis, when they actually happen, and not at the moment when an agent has an idea. You have to have a code to live by, and life’s too short to spend time telling lies about fantasies.

Other than that, we’re excited to bring you:

  • Hard-hitting LIVE coverage from the Champions League final. Vandal-prone is on a plane for Moscow as we speak, and will be posting regular dispatches from the city in the buildup to the game. Then he’ll be at the game, live-blogging from the middle of the stands. That’s right, we’re doing this. Pray, pray, that it doesn’t end in disaster.
  • Explosive coverage of Euro 2008. My plan is to focus on a single team, and follow them closely until they go out, at which point, like a dog whose owner never came back to the park, I’ll probably whimper, turn in circles three or four times, and take a more generalist perspective. Which team will it be? Clues around the site will reveal that information in the days before the tournament. Will you be the first to guess?
  • The vague beginnings of an interest in MLS. It’s been slow to come, but I’m getting it. Thursday nights on ESPN2 are starting to seem like a thing. The phone rings; it’s my dad, calling with a thought about Beckham’s first half. I’m not making any promises, but in a couple of months I’ll be moving to a city that isn’t a million miles from a team. The prospect of a Columbus Crew-related post has never looked likelier. [NOTE: I am not moving to Columbus. Columbus would not be my team.]

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Not Without Its Stabbings, But Not Without Its Charm

by Brian Phillips · May 15, 2008

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