The Future of Football

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Christmas was always an exciting time for any youngster and, back then, I was no different.

I distinctly remember Christmas morning waking up and grabbing my Santa Sack pulling out a pristine new copy of the Super Sports Annual digital pad. There, resplendent on the front of the screen were two of my heroes, Panther and Eagle.

The duo were World famous having won the Death Chase ten seasons in a row. The Death Chase was the most exciting sports entertainment there was, contestants racing through a series of obstacle courses in pairs, defying the deadly traps, to emerge victorious. For the less successful, well, best not to dwell on that.

Turning the annual on, I scanned the contents to see what was included. Profiles on the Death Chase entrants, technical specifications on the robotic and synthetic monstrosities that chased them, detailed course layouts, it was brilliant! There were also features on that seasons Hover Car Championships, virtual of course, and the ubiquitous League of Legends, still going strong all these years later.

In the niche sport’s section, I stumbled across something interesting. A feature on Football World. Apparently, between 1880 and 2020 this was the world’s most popular game. 22 players chasing a ball around a field trying to kick, or head, it in to two rectangular contraptions with nets attached to the back in order to register a point, or as they quaintly put it, a goal. People still watched this game apparently, you could see it on a couple of the hundred sports channels that we had on our Global TV Network, but few watched it in the flesh.

According to the feature, Football World was a theme park based in Australia. After the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, the game itself had started to change and, as no supporters could go and watch at the venue, matches were played behind closed doors. Imagine wanting to physically go to a stadium to watch a sporting event? It seemed alien to me and my friends. We consumed our sport via our built-in Entertainment Units in our homes, or via our 3D Headsets. How barbaric those ancient times must have been.

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There was still some call from the traditionalists to preserve the game as a spectator sport in some sort of form however, there’s always a few hanging on to the relics of the past, and so the authorities grouped together and purchased a huge swathe of land in Australia. The continent was least affected by the virus that swept the globe and, as an island with bags of space and great weather, was considered the ideal place for this venture.

This piqued by my curiosity and I asked my parents if I could visit this Football World as part of our holidays. My Dad, veteran sports fan that he is, vaguely remembered watching football on TV when he was a little boy with his Dad, my Grandad, who apparently told us that his Dad’s, Dad’s Dad, my Great-Great-Great-Grandad, actually attended a game live in 2019! So that’s how we found ourselves aboard the supersonic jetliner, Obesity Air, making our way to the land Down Under.

Getting to Football World was a doddle with the rocket-fuelled jets that we had. They seated 40 at a time and were the size of the old Airbus. People those days weighed in at roughly 600kg each, apart from of course the marvellous athletes on Death Chase. Those contestants were shot with boosters to keep their weight down, and augmented body parts to help fight, and were figures of health weighing in at around 150kg each. For the rest of society, we never left the house as everything was delivered, and with the threat of an airborne virus potentially in the air you needed to be careful. The fact no-one had been diagnosed with any virus for around a century was testament to the fact that staying at home was working.

Wrapped in our all-in-one Hazmat suits and travelling in our Motorised Access Remote Vehicle (or MARV for short) was how we got around when we needed to go outside. Everyone had a MARV, back then mine was a state-of-the art Hunter 3000. I had access to all sorts of snack food and drinks that could be digested through tubes attached to my suit to keep me sustained on the rare occasions that we did venture off on trips.

Arriving in the desert in Australia, it was amazing to see just what they had created in this park. Football World loomed large in front of us as I drove my MARV up to the entrance where, get this, a turnstile was in operation to enable you to scan your credit sheet and allow you entrance into FIFA Plaza. FIFA Plaza was a brick and chrome delight, the lights flanking the asphalt roadway in the shape of women holding a giant globe that my Information Data Sheet (IDS) told me were four metre tall replicas of what was called ‘The FIFA World Cup’.

That was a trophy that all the countries in the world played for and was once the best-known trophy in the sport. That honour these days apparently belonged to the Asterisk Cup. The Asterisk Cup was played for by the teams who featured in the Central Dome, the Premier Dome, that was the centrepiece of the park as laid out on our digitised map of the venue. Why the teams would play for a trophy called the Asterisk Cup had long been lost in the mists of time.

The main dome was surrounded by several smaller domes, with strange sounding names, The Bundesliga Dome, the La Liga Dome, the Ligue Un Dome and so on. There were about twenty of these smaller domes. One of them was called ‘The Others’ and apparently showed teams and players from what were some of the less attractive leagues back in the halcyon days, including a weirdly named A-League. I was later told, as my knowledge and appreciation matured, that no-one really went to that dome except the die-hards.

Taking a drive towards the Premier Dome, I scanned my Program of Events on my data-pad and saw that there were ten matches scheduled for the Dome today. All games would last one hour and would follow each other immediately once the preceding game had concluded. This got me a little excited to be fair, ten hours of sport if I wanted it. My pad showed that two oddly named teams, ManKaster Untied and Live-in-a-pool, would be starting in ten minutes, so that would do.

The dome itself was a massive superstructure, that allowed you to drive in and park your MARV in one of the designated spots high above the playing surface. Once you had parked up, an atmospheric bubble would pressurise around your vehicle allowing you to take off your Hazmat suit and eat and drink the delicacies on offer. As I would discover as I made my way around the park, these delicacies changed from dome to dome. In the Premier Dome for example I could have a beverage called a ‘lukewarm lager’ and could eat a semi-warm slab of gristle called a ‘burger’. I believe they were made from an extinct animal called a horse.

Later in my trip I would eat what looked like a giant phallus in the Bundesliga Dome whilst drinking a strong concoction called ‘beer’ and in Ligue Un Dome I would consume a plate of frogs and snails, and drink wine. That was a bit boring for me as I wasn’t really a fan of what the nutjob nutritionists would call ‘healthy food.’

I turned my attention to the field where the players were entering the arena, ManKaster Untied wearing red shirts, Live-in-a-pool in yellow. The holographic arena around us transformed into a virtual representation of a place called ‘Ye Olde Trafforde’ and virtual spectators popped up around me. It was like I was in a crowd, although everyone was spaced around 1.5-2 metres apart of course, I mean no one wants anyone to intrude in their space, do they?

Apart from my MARV, I had noticed a smattering of other MARVs parked around the arena before kick-off and I speculated whether these were tourists like me or supporters. The MARV parked directly opposite me must have been a supporter as their vehicle was festooned with decorative memorabilia showcasing their support of Live-in-a-pool. The supporter even had a moustache and was wearing what I later learned was called a shell-suit, which was apparently common attire for supporters of that club.

The players were, of course, all Artificial Intelligence Units (AIU), specifically built for the entertainment purposes of playing this game, their abilities cloned from players of the past. That meant that the line-ups included a player called Maybe GreenForest for Untied who had apparently scored over 8,550 goals for the club and for Live-in-a-pool a player called No Salad who had scored close to 10,000. Live-in-a-pool also had a talented player called Hairy Wilton who couldn’t get in the team and was on loan at a seaside club called Bore-Mouth where he had been for over a century.

The manager’s and staff were also clones, and I could see, checking my notes, that Gorgeous Klupp was doing exactly what his biography said he would, ‘watch for Klupp running up and down the sideline barking orders, alternating between smiling and snarling, showcasing a 21st century bi-polar attitude.’ There it was! Amazing! I looked to the other bench for Old Gonna Sold-Your-Kar. ‘Make sure you take time to look for Sold-Your-Kar,’ the biography wrote. ‘He can be hard to spot as he’s usually sat with his hand on his chin looking bemused.’ And lo, and behold, there he was! I made sure I snapped a couple of digi-pics of that pair!

While the action unfolded below me, I scanned my data pack for some indication of why this game was still played. Apparently, following the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 the game had continued behind closed doors and was watched only on television. Clubs were still paid millions of credits to play and the gambling industry still made huge amounts of credits from people willing to bet on the action, which is why the game had continued for so long.

There used to be many other Divisions outside of the top leagues I read, but these clubs were not profitable and followed by only a few, so were jettisoned when it became too hard for the associations who ran the competitions to keep them afloat. The official documents say that they weren’t missed by the top brass who continued to roll in what the document called ‘money’, the predecessor to worldwide credits.

After the first game finished, the match was a 3-3 draw which meant that nether side made a dent on the leaders of the Asterisk Cup, ManKaster Shitty, who were next up against Arse-Nil. Shitty apparently were owned by a gazillionaire who lived somewhere in Europe and continued to take the best AIU players from the other clubs for huge credits. It was all rather pointless as the club that sold the player just cloned a new one, which meant that Shitty’s strike-force against Arse-Nil contained GreenForest and Salad together, who I had already seen play for other teams, which was a bit confusing.

I was distracted after twenty minutes, Arse-Nil were incredibly boring to watch, and I thought to myself that they were better off named as ‘Boring Boring, Arse-Nil.’ Quite witty I thought. I decided to leave the Premier Dome and go and have a look around.

Reversing out of the Dome, after re-donning my Hazmat suit of course, I drive around the park a little coming across several of the memorabilia stands where you could buy replica kits of the teams you had just watched, size XXXXXXL was apparently the best seller, there were even a few XXXXL for the smaller-sized individual, skinny bastards, as well as loads of other club-themed merchandise. If you had enough credits you could also buy a full-sized AI replica of your favourite player! My parents wouldn’t let me though and to be fair I don’t know where I would have kept my life-size Kayvin Day Brylcreem. Cool name though.

After watching some of the other games on offer, BayWatch Mew-Nick v Bore-Russia Dorothy in the Bundesliga Dome, Bath-a-Lonesome v The Real Maydurd, in the La Liga Dome and Paris The Germans v Ma-Says in the Ligue Un Dome I had had enough of the game itself. I even went to watch a little bit in ‘The Others’ Dome but they were showing The Coastal Harbours against The Griffins from New Zealand and I was quickly bored.

We spent two days at Football World. I even visited some of the static exhibitions and took part in some of the interactive activities. My favourite was probably the World Cup Bid Room where I had to pretend that I was bidding to host a tournament called the ‘World Cup’ and had to work my way around the room trying to bribe officials from other countries to give me their vote so I could win. In the end, I just missed out as the officials from a random Middle Eastern country just pipped me to the post! Maybe next time!

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the park. I even watched some Football on TV when I got back home for a bit, but when Death Chase started back up after its one-week hiatus, I was hooked back into what I would call a proper sport pretty quickly.

At Football World, the games themselves were okay to watch but were lacking something. I couldn’t put my finger on it until much later when I was home and thought that it might have been better if there had been thousands of real people there in the dome watching the match with me, like it used to be in the olden days. But that’s crazy talk. I mean how could you get thousands in when we all had MARVs! Lunacy!

Many years later, when my own child was old enough to read, I gave them my copy of the Super Sports Annual. They couldn’t believe I had been to Football World or seen Death Chase on the Entertainment Unit. By then, Football World had closed. Apparently, interest had waned as with only twenty clubs per league and nothing to play for except the Asterisk Cup, it had all become rather pointless.

The Asterisk Cup is now used as the trophy for the incredibly popular Man versus Beast. A one-on-one, hand-to-claw duel, between augmented men and augmented animals. My child is a huge fan of the Croco-Shark whilst I have a soft sport for the hybrid Rhino-Bot. As for the competitors, well, we don’t really get attached to them. They’re not around long enough for you to form any real emotional bond with.

As for Panther and Eagle from the original Death Chase, it didn’t end well for them. In Death Chase 85, Panther was bit in half by a synthetic-robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex, when trying to leap from the top of a 16-storey tower block onto a flying hover-bike. He never saw it coming. Eagle meanwhile was smothered to death by a marshmallow Tsunami. Death Chase stopped transmitting not long after. Even the greatest shows are pulled in the end.

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