Once, I could have named each player in my fantasy football team, recited the number of points they had scored thus far in the season, and explained why I had included them in the team.
From primary school days onward, I had spent at least two hours each Saturday afternoon listening to the BBC radio football coverage. BBC Radio 2 on 1500 metres Long Wave had a sports programme that began at two o’clock. There would be live second half commentary from four o’clock. At five o’clock the unmistakable theme tune of Sports Report would precede the voice of James Alexander Gordon reading the classified football results. Newspapers printed full fixture lists, with space to record the results and I would sit and listen to the careful modulation of the voice on the radio: the inflection of the team names would tell you if the match had been a home win, a draw, or an away win. I would write each score down carefully, to what end, I’m not sure, the newspaper would have been thrown away the next day.
It was starting to read the Daily Telegraph in the mid-1990s that had stirred up the interest. There would be a page giving details of the forthcoming Premier League football season with lists of all of the players. I would sit down with a pen and paper scrutinising the lists of players and picking a team where the respective values assigned to each of the players totalled no more than the permitted overall budget, before carefully completing the printed entry form, tucking it into an envelope with a cheque for the entry fee, and posting it to a PO box somewhere in England. Each Wednesday in the Daily Telegraph, there would have been a full round-up of the fantasy league scores for the previous weekend’s matches.
Moving to Dublin meant reading the Telegraph less often, following League of Ireland matches, and becoming more interested in Irish rugby than in English football. Fantasy League Football no longer occupied the time it had, although it must have continued into the digital age as I continued to receive emails from the Daily Telegraph. Four seasons ago, I entered a team, Clonenagh XI, which came around 31,000th, but had taken little interest since.
An email came this morning from the Daily Telegraph advising that time to enter was running short, the clock was ticking down to the first match of the new season. Online entry was free, so I spent half an hour picking a team, which I called the Windmillers. I discovered I could have four more free entries, so clicked on an auto-generate button, giving me teams that I called the Muckspreaders, the Milkchurners, the Hedgecutters, and the Sheepshearers. I have no doubt that each will be as unsuccessful as all previous entries; the most interesting question will be whether the auto-generated teams score more points than the one I chose.