This weekend, fans around the country will stream into Premier League grounds, each man, women and child a ready mess of excitement, nerves and fears. The opening day of the season is bewitching for so many because of the promise bestowed upon it: it is the moment that decides whether their club’s pre-season form translates onto the pitch; whether the new signing makes an impact; or, especially with Louis Van Gaal featuring, it might be the time for a grand reveal of a new formation. Yet for some this weekend, many of these concerns will be replaced with a different expectation altogether: how will their newly picked fantasy football team do?
In an age where all top-level football is recorded, analysed and scrutinised in minute detail, even the most partisan fan knows who to look out for and what to expect. How can all this knowledge be utilised? Many turn to gambling in an effort to test their wits, but for others, fantasy football has become a favoured outlet. Three million people take part in the Premier League’s ‘Official’ game and many more play other variations.
It seems, at least to the outside observer, that fantasy football has almost become more important than football itself. Players are discussed in offices and pubs in turns of their point scoring ability over any other feature: OPTA metrics, Football Manager potential and FIFA statistics have become the standard rule. The question has to be asked though: are fans turning to virtual sources to sublimate their desire for live football, or are the virtual versions of the game themselves now preferred?
It may seem like a strange question, yet a quick glance at last week’s football headlines shows the parity that virtual football has achieved with its real-life source. The BBC ran an article on ‘How to be a Fantasy Football champion’, a post about ‘The Millenial Sim – 1000 years of Football Manager’ flew to the top of Reddit, and an advert featuring Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville trying out the new FIFA 16 has already shot around Facebook.
Football became omnipresent a while ago, the internet and Sky Sports made sure of that. Now, we seem to have found ourselves on a higher plane; our discussions, influenced by the virtual side of the sport, have lead us unwittingly into a new, invented reality. When Jean Baudrillard coined the phrase ‘hyper-reality’ in 1981, he based his ideas on celebrity culture, film, and unforgettably, Disneyland. It seems now though, in 2015, the football side-show has morphed into the new fantasy land.
Welcome to the ‘Barclay’s Premier League World’, a hyper-reality supplemented by video games and fantasy, now streaming in 3-D straight into your living room.
These are undoubtedly the complaints of a Luddite. Some reader’s among you will have recognised the title of this article from a Queen song. Funnily enough, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ sound-tracked the opening to the first ever football game I bought on the PlayStation, Pro Evolution Soccer 2. To finish on the sentiment that Freddie Mercury closes ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with:
‘Anyway the wind blows.’
The problem with Baudrillard was, like many postmodernists, he was never able to move outside his epoch. He knew how to label things as ‘hyper-real’, but never really considered how the resulting simulacra would play out. Everything about modern football is fantastical: the game moves at light-speed, the players look like models and the sums are astronomical.
Arguably, fantasy football (and its gaming associates) just helps to complete the ‘hyper-real’ picture; the 360 degree, 365 days a year Mobius strip of football information.
Given the huge expectation (once again) for the forthcoming season, it doesn’t seem like anybody is complaining.