Never the most talented at actual football, Andrew Boulton turned to fantasy football in the hope of achieving a level of success he could never dream of on the pitch. Little did he know it would become an all-consuming obsession…
Playing football was never my thing. Low points of my junior playing career include being chased off the field by a goose, being hit in the face by a flying carrier bag mid-dribble and (most spectacularly) getting simultaneous cramp in four different muscles.
But while my playing days were marred with aggressive fowl and unreliable limbs, my participation in the game I adore took the shape of fantasy football.
Fear not, you have not been transported back to the halcyon days of 1994 when the thoughts and feelings of Andy Townsend were mercifully kept securely in his head.
The popularity of fantasy football remains vast, with players of the many games numbering in their millions. Football transitioned from sport to entertainment many years ago, the catalyst being the inception of the Premier League and one of the most impressive global branding exercises in world sport.
Naturally then, fans seize any opportunity afforded to them to become a participant in the game. Like every consumer sphere, the football fan has abandoned their passivity. They are now active, engaged and challenging in their demands from the football ‘product’. Just look at the huge (and incredibly lucrative) popularity enjoyed by the Football (née Championship) Manager series of games.
Personally I find fantasy football all consuming. I find myself having lengthy conversations with people, after which all I can remember is my own internal monologue about the merits of buying Rickie Lambert for £7 million.
While people of my age are out in the world doing marvellous things (actually, most of them are just looking at other people’s marvellous things on Facebook) I am sat at a desk working out any possible permutation that will allow me to have both Leighton Baines and Rio Ferdinand in defence.
I often wonder if I will one day be discovered as a mathematical boy-genius, in the vein of ‘Good Will Hunting’, as I sit and frantically bash together a fiendishly complicated equation that lets me buy a decent goalkeeper and a goal-scoring midfielder.
All of this effort and dedication would be somewhat more justifiable if I wasn’t universally terrible at the damn game. One particular sequence of events went something like this. Don’t buy Gareth Bale. Gareth Bale is brilliant. Gareth Bale continues to be brilliant. Gareth Bale looks like he quite possibly may be the greatest footballer ever to have lived. Buy Gareth Bale. Gareth Bale gets injured. Sob.
Fantasy football also dissolves any sense of moral decency you may have. Luis Suarez biting Branislav Ivanovic last Sunday was a horrific act that degraded football and exposed the fundamental hypocrisy and degeneracy of the modern game. But he also scored a goal, and last week I’d made him captain… so double points for old Boulty. I can’t even say I had mixed feelings, I was thoroughly delighted (coupled with a self-loathing that fantasy football devotees quickly learn to bury deep within).
To my eternal credit I did subsequently remove Suarez from my team. Partly because I was afraid my internal moral system was crumbling and I’d find myself in a situation where Suarez has kicked a blind puppy to death, but also got two assists and a ‘star man’ point. Mostly though I removed him because he was facing a massive ban for being a lunatic.
The true crisis for the fantasy footballer is when the interests of your fantasy team run directly against those of your real life team. At one point last season my team, Newcastle, were cruelly defeated 1-0 by Everton thanks to a Victor Anichebe goal. Unfortunately, Mr Anichebe has been a particularly thoroughly well-researched acquisition for my fantasy team and I found it very hard not to find some semblance of pride in my efforts. Thoroughly ashamed of this I spent the next twenty minutes giving myself ferocious Chinese burns.
But despite the conflictions, the intensity and the irreparable damage to one’s own humanity, fantasy football remains an enduring and evolving part of the fabric of modern fandom. And to be honest, it’s never given me cramp once.