THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Do you dream of talking rubbish into three mobile phones at once while evading income tax and wearing a cheap-looking but expensive suit? Then Ian Plenderleith has the fantasy site for you

Every football fan once dreamed of being a player. Then, as we got too old for that, we dreamed of being a manager instead, and that’s when someone invented Fantasy Football. But how many of us have dreamed of making money at the top of the game simply by sending faxes and making the odd phone call?

Come on, admit it. There have been times when you realised that you had no actual football talent, either as a player or as a tactician, and so you yearned instead to get into professional football via the back door. You wanted to shake hands with big names, be seen in all the right nightclubs and ring up gullible journalists with a rumour you invented just five minutes before. You wanted to earn scads of money for doing fuck all. Yes, you wanted to be an agent.

Fantasy Football Agent, a new site, fulfils those thwarted desires to be a scorned but filthy rich parasite on the rougher edges of football’s scratched-raw arse. You choose as many players as you want, but with a limited entertainment budget because some players are higher maintenance than others, and the more press coverage your players get, the higher up the league you go. “FFA offers you the chance to enter the glamorous world of Professional Football representation,” says the site. “The object of the game is to get as many points as possible by collecting a portfolio of players and keeping them happy.” Can anyone think of a better way to spend their downtime at work?

Well, you could delve around at The Right Result instead, a site that purports to publish the Premiership table as it would look if referees made all the right decisions. Which is an odd thing indeed. You could also publish a table of what it would look like if your team made all the right passes and all their shots went in, but it wouldn’t be much fun after the first few minutes. “The Right Result concept was devised by people who’d had enough of seeing bad decisions affect the outcome of football matches, week in week out,” says the site’s intro, stamping its righteous foot. “Like many other fans we don’t buy into the old ‘luck evens itself out over the course of a season’ line” (God forbid). “We wanted to see just how different the league table would look if refs called it right more.” And how does it look? Pretty much the same actually, except Charlton are just above the relegation zone instead of just in it. At the time of writing, the site’s top seven are exactly as they are in the real world, where crazy refs supposedly get it all wrong. The rest are just one or two positions out. But any endeavour that keeps members of the Association of Football Statisticians (who make up The Right Result’s panel of justice) out of the pub and locked in their bedrooms is OK by me.

To be fair, if you discount the table, the site is passionately written by people who know their stuff on the game’s rules and it serves as a useful documentation of officials’ mistakes, as well as keeping track of which teams might possibly be favoured or hard done by. And I especially like the “Lame Ass Comment” logo for ill-considered contributions. But to say that “the right result” of Manchester United versus Sheffield United was 2-1 because Rob Styles failed to award a penalty when Gabriel Heinze tripped Luton Shelton is plain wrong, even if the site’s rules stipulate an assumption that all penalties awarded will be scored. Players as well as refs make mistakes and the penalty might have been missed. Or if it had been scored, maybe Wayne Rooney would have made it 3-1 with a 50-yard chip straight from the restart.

A final alternative to filling up your slow work day is a site long overdue a mention. The ever-expanding “soccer club encyclopedia” Albion Road is a work of love and devotion aimed at explaining the formats of every league in the world and slowly building up a history of the teams that play in them.

By reading just one example of the site’s erudition, Belgian Third Division B, you’ll be able to tell whether or not this is the kind of place where you could hang out for hours accruing the kind of knowledge you don’t necessarily need, but subconsciously want.

“The 16 teams play each other two times (home and away) for a total of 30 games,” explains the text in the pertinent section. “The season runs from July to May with a one month winter break.” So far, so good. In fact most useful if you’re planning a trip to Louviéroise, say, and are wondering if you’ll be able to take in a game. But that’s not all.

“The champion is automatically promoted,” it goes on. “The season is also divided into three stages of ten games each. The winners of each stage go into a promotion/relegation play-off with three teams from the Third Division A as well as the 16th team from the Second Division.”

That’s the stuff you’ll really need to know if, propping up a bar in La Louvière, you get talking to some locals and want to show them you’ve done your homework. Better still, you might even get to correct them. And all power to you if you can translate all that into French. Which makes me think, it’s high time someone invented an online game called Fantasy Groundhopper.

From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month

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