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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While Beauclair was holding up the paper, Odyssey slipped onto the dais. He whispered a word in Beauclair’s ear, then smiled faintly and gestured to someone below. A big man whom Jimmy hadn’t seen before stepped out of the crowd and came up beside Odyssey, who maneuvered him to a spot a few feet behind Beauclair. The two men stood there, side by side. The big man had a battered face, Jimmy noticed, and was wearing a slept-in-looking suit. Part of his hair was sticking up the wrong way. He frowned blearily and staring into the crowd, toward a woman in a slightly bedraggled fur stole who was fidgeting on her feet—a little nervously, Jimmy thought.

“We have the publicity, gentlemen,” Beauclair continued, “and the good men of Kelly have the talent. And that is why the plan for this tour possesses such an extraordinary excellence. It will redound to the credit of soccer football, gentlemen, it will redound, believe it!”

Jimmy looked around the table at his teammates. He couldn’t make sense of most of what Beauclair was saying, and he didn’t want to miss Tap Taggart’s signal, whatever it was going to be. He felt a little peculiar at the thought of walking out on Beauclair’s speech, but he thought that the speech was almost over, and Tap Taggart still hadn’t signaled him. Maybe he’d changed his mind?

“Hey, Tap,” Jimmy whispered uneasily. “What’s this tour this guy keeps talking about?”

But Tap Taggart only shushed him. The other players were staring, arms folded, at the big man who’d come in with Odyssey. Kinnaird and Lacy had their heads together and were whispering furiously. Lacy kept jabbing the stub of his finger against the tablecloth. The mood was very grim. What was happening?

“And so I am indubitably pleased, gentlemen,” Beauclair continued, “to announce this tour—our tour, a summer tour of the Southern States to be undertaken by our two teams, who will play a series of exhibition matches against one another for the benefit of soccer football. We shall march in like a Yankee army, gentlemen, and we shall take Dixie, as our forefathers took it before us!”

Beaming, Beauclair began to relate a comic song about General Sherman and ladies of Atlanta that he had once heard performed by the Horace Blaze, the Virginian Vaudevillian. Jimmy was thunderstruck. So the tour was—a trip, a trip for them? They were going on a trip? He was going on one—or was supposed to, if Beauclair got his way? But that was wonderful! Why, that was the best news Jimmy had ever had! All right, sure, the South wasn’t Persia, it wasn’t the gaudy Orient, it wasn’t where his heroes went on their adventures, but it was someplace, wasn’t it? It was Dixieland, old battlefields, haunted plantation houses with colossal pillars in front, rusted cannons, men with wooden arms; it was deep, dark, moon-struck, vine-wracked swamp with voodoo chants echoing off the…oaks, or anyway Jimmy didn’t know what the trees would be called. It was girls with dark ringlets and silk bows and crinoline and curls. It was the South, and you couldn’t say you’d seen the world if you hadn’t seen the South, could you? In the corner of his eye Jimmy saw Tap Taggart scowling, and he realized that this was what they wanted him to give up; this was what his walkout was supposed to knock off. It must be why Wilcox had quit, too! They didn’t want to go! It was crazy, impossible, but there it was, plain as day. His teammates didn’t want to take the trip. And he’d promised to help them ruin it.

Jimmy sank down in his chair. He couldn’t—couldn’t—go back on his word to Tap Taggart. He was part of the team, wasn’t he? When he got the signal, he was going to have to get up and walk. But how could he give up the tour? His mind reeled and he remembered a Tarzan story he’d read in which the lord of the apes voyaged on elephant-back to the kingdom of the leopard-men, whose capital city was at the base of an enormous, undiscovered waterfall that powered the astonishing inventions of the leopard-men scientists. Under the endless pounding of the mist-shrouded water they had devised a form of bamboo glider that allowed them to sail over the trees, where they hunted birds and monkeys with javelins that their craftsmen forged from the bones of the dead. Tarzan, who had come to seek their aid against a vague and nameless nemesis that was threatening Kala and the ape-tribe, encountered a young warrior who had been exiled to the jungle as punishment for having mated with the daughter of the War Minister without the War Minister’s consent. Now Grashtok (this was the young warrior’s name) had snuck back into the city to take revenge on his enemies. The curious thing, he told Tarzan, was that he could no longer remember the leopard-girl with whom he had supposedly mated. He remembered nothing except the exile: the sentence handed down by the magistrate in the emu headdress, the jeering galleries at the Palace of Might, the long guarded march through the streets of the city to the dark gates where he thrust, at javelin-point, into the jungle. He could remember every ring and spot on the face of the War Minister, a fearsome, red-robed man who had stood beneath the open sky in the court at the Palace of Might, the towering, mist-billowing waterfall rising up infinitely far behind him, and condemned Grashtok before the people. But the girl, the night, his whole life before the trial, was a blank, replaced by endless savage days spent hunting on foot, by tooth and claw, on the floor of the jungle in his exile. I am innocent, Tarzan, Grashtok said, because I am not the man who did those things; if I ever was, not any longer. And Tarzan agreed to help him, because Tarzan was a warrior too and had hunted on foot in the jungle. When at last they confronted the War Minister on the balcony of his vast mansion, Tarzan had—Tarzan had—Jimmy thought he was going to cry.

He felt Tap Taggart’s hand on his arm. He looked at Tap Taggart, who firmly held his gaze. “It’s time, Jimmy,” Tap Taggart whispered. “We’ll be right behind you. Now go.”

With a deep breath, feeling his hopes slipping away from him, Jimmy got to his feet. He had to think of something, he had to. Tarzan tipped his javelin with the potion of frog’s blood and honey that acted as a drug on the minds of the leopard-men and forced them to tell the truth. He made the War Minister confess that Grashtok had never committed the crime for which he had been exiled, but had himself been drugged and sent to die because, unknown to anyone but the War Minister, he was the true son of the leopard-men’s golden king. But nothing like that came into Jimmy’s mind. The seconds were passing too swiftly.

He sensed the crowd turning to watch him as he made his way toward the door, followed, one by one, by his teammates. He saw Beauclair come to a choking halt in his anecdote and peer in bewilderment at the team. He saw Odyssey frowning and edging toward the opposite door.

The last table before the door, the view of which had been blocked from Jimmy’s table, was full of players from Kelly. There was Alastair Arnold, sitting with his legs crossed, an insolent grin on his face. There was Neville Blase, cupping a glass of red wine. Something stirred in Jimmy’s thoughts…

He glanced nervously toward Beauclair, but his eye was somehow caught by the man in the battered suit, who peered down at him with a sharpness of which Jimmy wouldn’t have thought him capable. There was something urgent—a plea, a warning—in his face.

There was Conrad Grose, leaning by the door and smirking. “What’s this then, precious?” he sneered at Jimmy. “Absconding?”

And there it was. Jimmy grinned in delight. “Thanks, Conrad,” he said, and with a happy sigh, he slugged Conrad Grose in the face.

The last thing he saw, as the brawl broke out between the teams, was Beauclair practically hopping in place and gesturing to the big man standing behind him. “And thus, without further ado,” he shrieked, “I give you Mr. Samuel Abernathy—the new manager of the Brooklyn Asylum Football Club!”

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by Brian Phillips · June 9, 2010

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