One Of Us Speaks: An Altogether More Splendid Life
Big Al doesn’t suffer fools gladly…
The time is right for it! Everybody wants their say. But football management up to now hasn’t been a democratic process. That’s about to change.
Welcome to Football4U. The year is 2016. As the founder of sports entrepreneurs Bragging Rights Inc. explains, he saw a niche:
We had hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people around the world following one club, and a sizeable portion wanted a voice about what was happening on the pitch.
You can imagine their frustration; constantly invited to participate and offer an opinion in their jobs, by the other brands in their daily lives – especially online – but their football clubs largely ignored them. It’s only natural to want to be heard. And when you’re made to feel like your opinion is important, you feel more confident in expressing it.
What’s worse is that many of these people considered themselves a success. How degrading to associate themselves with football clubs that they thought were underachieving or being mismanaged.
These are winners we’re talking about, and these are the people that Football4U caters to; those who couldn’t reconcile supporting a club with difficult periods and fallow spells. It was making them all a bit confused; they had a perfectly merited sense of superiority, but could never hope to take the smallest technical decision at the clubs they held dear. Well we feel that we came to their rescue.
If you look at the climate at Arsenal in 2011 – we had supporters groups and movements burgeoning, getting more mainstream publicity by the day. Boldly moving away from practical issues like atmosphere, ticket prices and in-stadium facilities, they started speaking up about team selection, recruitment and coaching. We admired the moxie of them all.
Undeterred by their impotence, they started making television appearances; their blogs got coverage in the national press; they started manufacturing t-shirts and scarves…
And all of that’s absolutely great. We don’t believe any special expertise is needed if you want to criticise one of football’s greatest managers without having the inside track; it’s your right.
Still, some people must have felt the clamour of authoritative voices and culture of negativity would cause more harm than good?
That’s certainly the case. I believe Rinus Michels said that passionate support and faith from the fans were crucial ingredients for success in his Ajax and Netherlands sides.
And then there was Helenio Herrera, who counted on Inter’s fans in the 60s. And to give his team every chance, helped establish what would later become the Ultras – the most fervent and supportive of all. He recognised the need to bolster player morale, posting motivational catchphrases around the training ground and dressing room. It’s most likely that he wouldn’t have approved of a black billboard with “Forward?” on it, but we can’t be sure.
The top clubs wanted a break as well. It was at that point that we decided our product was needed – it would benefit many different parties.
It really started to take shape when the prisons were privatised. We came forward with a proposal to reduce the incarcerated population of 17 to 35 year-olds by turning them into 4UFootballers.
Initially it was all very haphazard and experimental; with A.I. chips and a lot of anti-rejection drugs. We approached a down at heel young offender’s institution and fitted up two XIs. It was like playing out a video game in demo mode.
We couldn’t believe what we saw. Apart from a few vomiting fits and the occasional seizure, it actually resembled a real football match. We adjusted team tactics; we gave individuals special instructions and were amazed to see that it all started to take. Slowly the players responded and began to do as they were told.
We’d invented a new game. Or a new code of football. Shadow 4U teams for every league club were set up, pretty much overnight.
Of course there were questions about morality; there still are today. But to the critics I say this – isn’t it every young man’s dream to become a famous footballer?
And doesn’t every football fan secretly desire to be a manager?
Because, most importantly, the aspiring managers finally got the power they needed. Football4U is completely interactive. We encourage participants to form associations to decide on technical and strategic matters. Delegations are required to visit their team’s online training facility during downtime to calibrate the players’ instructions.
Your average punter can also influence performance. Matches are streamed live from our complex and viewers can send instructions to the players’ chips via 140-character messages. Usually it’s only the most strongly worded directives that get absorbed. It’s also good to use lots of capital letters – they tend to get through to players as well.
Meanwhile there’s no risk of hanging your team’s dirty laundry in public or upsetting the harmony around the side. Nobody cares about all that.
And we discovered that membership of supporters’ groups began to dwindle; the talking heads, previously so ready to offer their views about their club, disappeared, too busy handling key decisions for their 4U teams. It seems their former proclamations of custodianship and ‘values’ were forgotten once they finally got to taste the control they craved.
So, football had to divide once more to survive. And both codes flourished.
In late October 2016 I met the starting striker for Arsenal 4U at an open day, and was invited to shout abuse at him. I wasn’t allowed to know who the player had been in his previous life, or where he was from; managers are discouraged from having any feelings either way towards these criminals. It’s all about results, you see. There’s no room for sentiment in this world. Not to mention the word, “luck” – that’s a foreign concept here.
On a grey, drizzly morning at the Caswell Technology Park, a Bragging Rights Inc. representative shouts harsh Midlands-inflected instructions at a player who blankly complies, controlling a football on his chest and smashing it through a netless goal from 40 yards. The young man stands motionless, watching the ball roll off into the car park.