This piece was first published on 23 February online at The Huffington Post.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror returned to Channel 4 last week, offering yet more twisted visions of the near future from the mind of the nation’s favourite bouncy haired malcontent.
The final episode of the current series airs on Monday, and with football reeling from a number recent scandals it feels oddly appealing to dream up Brooker-esque scenarios to inflict on the game. Football fans are hardly strangers to taking enjoyment from something that pains and disturbs them.
Each Black Mirror episode is also a modern-day parable. As Brooker himself states, each one is “about the way we live now, and the way we might be living in ten minutes time if we’re clumsy.”
Let’s assume the football authorities are clumsy. Below are five projections of future footballing dystopias, ranging from macabre extensions of the game’s current crises to indulgent scaremongering and sci-fi.
It seems that around every Olympic year, someone will ponder in half-jest about the potential of a drug enhanced Olympics. Last summer, science journal Nature concluded that the advantages for user athletes would be so extreme that they would require their own sports; power running, power swimming, power cycling and the like. With suspicions growing around widespread doping in football, what shape might the sport take if it passed into the realms of powerball?
Once legalised, performance enhancers would be funded like training facilities, with the richest clubs affording the best drugs. Good players would be boosted to the level of greats while era-defining footballers play like supermen, increased endurance making for more fluent, consistent and faster football. For some it’d be a golden age, yet away from the glitz, side effects, addiction and permanent damage to overclocked bodies would exacerbate existing physical and mental health issues. Seasoned veterans and struggling youngsters alike would be forced to destroy themselves to compete, with those unable to keep up losing far more than their chance of a career playing football.
Back in the present the viewer is left asking: does football do enough to help players with off-the-field problems? Do young players receive the support they need if they don’t make it as a pro?
Lost in a virtual reality
Although Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup on the promise of weather control and innovative stadium designs, it was Japan’s rejected World Cup bid that offered up a truly radical vision of how future competitions could be staged.
Their bid proposed that matches would be beamed live into stadiums around the world as real-time 3D holograms. Artificial cloud coverage pales in comparison to the idea of watching Brazil take on Spain live amongst the crowds at Wembley as the game is played thousands of miles away in Osaka.
However, as holograms become more sophisticated, could audiences eventually struggle to differentiate between live, streamed broadcasts and manipulated, computer generated feeds? With fans turning up to watch holographic games at their local arenas rather than live games, matches would no longer need to be played in real stadiums.
Games would take place in football pitch sized studios, with crowd noise and footage of spectators compiled from the countless spectators around the globe, and fed back to them as artificial atmosphere. With so much distortion going on how could they be sure that the games themselves were still real rather than some sort of simulation; an advanced version of Football Manager meets The Running Man in which fake matches are generated for profit?
FIFA goes all 1984
FIFA Laws and FIFA Courts were two of the more insidious phrases bandied around during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with football’s world governing body imposing their own legislation and governance over the host nation.
Hardly renowned for their transparency or commitment to democratic process, at the extreme end of caricature, FIFA are a totalitarian state waiting to happen. From contractors placed on wanted lists due to paperwork errors to shop keepers given life for stocking the wrong brand of soft drink, each FIFA competition would bring with it a tyranny more in line with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil than George Orwell’s 1984 such is the organisation’s past record of bureaucracy and incompetence.
On a more serious note, with street violence, accusations of corruption and judicial interference creeping into preparations for the 2014 World Cup, should we be asking more questions about FIFA and its motives? Big Blatter is watching you.
Match fixing meets the X-Factor
Recent accusations of match fixing in football, perpetrated by powerful international betting syndicates, threatens one of the key pillars of the game. Football is unpredictable: the best teams don’t always win and any side can come out on top given the opportunity. If matches are rigged then the magic uncertainty of the result is defiled, and competitions aren’t worth following. Without competition what is there to play for?
In a future where match fixing has overrun the game, football is a hybrid of professional wrestling’s scripted sports entertainment and the TV talent show format. Each matches is an episode within the on-going soap opera of the season, with the gambling public deciding the winners through betting patterns rather than phone votes.
Some followers convince themselves through sheer denial that the game is still alive but most glumly accept the situation, placated by the 24-hour bombardment of hype and hysteria. Match outcomes would suddenly feature the same one-sided probabilities as a bullfight.
Today’s football coverage drowns in its own ever-present sales pitch. Should we already be rejecting the over-sold hyperbole that exhausts the sport and its spectacle?
Genetic engineering turns players into racehorses
How do you create the perfect footballer?
Once the potential of new kit designs, nutrition, training techniques, and even special facilities such as Barcelona’s La Masia and Dortmund’s Footbonaut are exhausted, the human limits of players will remain as the last barrier to improve performance. With doping dangerous and illegal, where could football’s relentless drive for a competitive edge turn?
No socially aware series of sci-fi nightmares would be complete without a warning against genetic engineering – precisely the field through which the physical fallibilities of footballers themselves can be corrected!
Imagine it: genetically engineered superstars bred into the ideal footballing athletes. Designed to become perfect midfielders, strikers, defenders and so on with cloning labs becoming the new youth academies.
Marcelo Bielsa, the poster boy idealist of intensive, attacking football, bemoans the human nature of players, half-believing if he coached a team of robots he would win every game. Watching his teams in full-flow and seeing his methods applied, it’s hard to argue that genetically engineered superman football wouldn’t be a fantastic sport to watch. Old-fashioned human football however, would be relegated to a backwater pursuit played by those who lack the genetic airbrushing and immense amounts of investment and medical procedures to aspire to anything more than a kick about clodhopper.
While it’s likely that the treatment of injuries would improve too, the breaks and impacts themselves would become more severe as the game’s intensity ratchets up. The forces involved in the tackles between the ever-growing combatants of top-level rugby are now comparable to a car crash. Who can tell how such an escalation of power might affect players, mentally and physically, off the field if footballers became bigger, faster, stronger and more powerful? Such concerns may even be a non-issue, with players bred and grown for elite level football treated like homo-sapien racehorses – disposed of once the injuries become too much, with the lucky ones put out to stud in Alderley Edge and Essex. At least its unlikely the meat of former wingers and fullbacks would find its way into Romanian sourced beef burgers.
So there you have it: five horrible semi-serious visions of footballs future, none of which are likely to happen unless Charlie Brooker suddenly takes an interest in the running the game. Judging by the quality his previous works however (Nathan Barley, A Touch of Cloth, TV Go Home etc.) the prospect of Brooker taking a swipe at the ridiculous world around football is definitely one for the TV wish list. Footballer’s Wives through the eyes of his Daily Mail Island. Well, one can dream.