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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Morning in America

I have always been an early riser, but for a long time that meant only, or mostly, work: wake up, shower and dress, ingest the life-giving caffeinated fluids, and get some writing done before the rest of the world can start plucking at my sleeve. It’s an M.O. that has served me well. The more I get done in the rising day, the earlier I can ease off the gas pedal, and the more completely I can relax in the evenings: sit back with a drink and watch some basketball or baseball—whatever sport happens to be on—with a wholly vacuous, nearly flatlining brain.

You build up these habits for a long time and they eventually become not second nature so much as Nature 1.5: they simply constitute the way you function. So even on Saturday mornings I’m up with the lark, or whatever that bird is I hear outside my window; it’s been many years since I’ve been able to sleep in, even when up late the night before. I read the morning RSS feeds with a worker’s attentiveness: Gotta get through, gotta keep plugging, don’t skip anything, move right along. The mental equivalent of shoveling snow. Then, once the vigilant sectors of my brain have been satisfied or at least well-deceived, relaxation gradually becomes possible. There’s a football game this afternoon: I can lie on the couch and doze my way through it, catching up on some of the sleep my internal alarm won’t let me take in the morning. And then we’ll see what the evening brings.

All well and good. But then ESPN3 came along, and, and a world of little grainy P2P streams, and my tidy world went all lopsided. For so many years my love of soccer was largely literary, fed textually, accompanied by limited and intermittent visual confirmation—usually via Spanish-language TV—and then all of a sudden, or almost of a sudden, I could watch European soccer live. Regularly. Predictably.

And so my weekend mornings changed. Now I arise, get some coffee going, and fire up the laptop. It’s understood that I am not to be disturbed—but then, I’m usually pretty quiet and focused when going through my RSS feeds, so maybe this is nothing new. I’m not good at reading-and-talking or watching-soccer-and-talking. It’s true that the soccer-watching is the more intense encounter for me: I rarely twitch in my seat and shout exclamations when reading the New York Times, except when Thomas Friedman is saying something especially idiotic. But still, it’s a weekend morning spent doing something I delight in.

It’s when the match is over that things get a little strange. I close up the laptop and look about me, blinking a bit in the morning sun. I’ve had the experience—at once mental, emotional, and physiological—that sports fans have when watching their favorite game, and it’s still two hours until lunchtime. More troubling, those “vigilant sectors of my brain” that usually get early-Saturday-morning feeding still await attention. They’re surprised and more than a little annoyed that they have been neglected. I feel the need to do something manifestly productive, but simultaneously resent that feeling: it’s Saturday, dammit. I should be looking forward to that early afternoon sports nap. But wait: isn’t there a La Liga game at 2? I’ll want to be awake for that. . . . And by the time evening rolls around the last thing I feel I should be doing is watching more sports.

I sometimes wonder whether I will ever quite recover from these temporal dislocations. The old system fit with my work week: I could have, generally speaking, the same rhythm of attention and relaxation each day of the seven. But now the time is out of joint, and I spend much of the weekend slightly addled.

Ah well. It’s worth it—more than worth it. And now that Andy Gray’s fabled cold Wednesday nights at Stoke are televised, I have some weekday scheduling to worry about too: for when it’s evening in England it’s mid-afternoon here in Chicagoland, and I’m holding office hours, with students likely to come in any moment. If Leo Messi ever proves that he can handle hard tackles and Staffordshire muck, I had damned well better not be explaining comma splices when it happens.

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Morning in America

by Alan Jacobs · February 13, 2011

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