Nineteen Eighty Fanzai

Fanzai will be watching in Matt Arnold’s dream…

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13. Winston Smith was rudely shaken from his slumbers, as he was every day by the unmistakable sound of old football chants.

Winston couldn’t remember when Fanzai had gone from being merely an app on his phone to his alarm clock, life guru and constant companion. But at least today was matchday, and Fanzai was very effective at waking him up from his night shift in plenty of time for kick-off.

So, for once, Winston didn’t mind that a mere 10 seconds after opening his eyes, he was no longer listening to a long forgotten ditty about owning a birds wings and anus, and using them with ill intent over Oxford. But was instead being given a thorough rundown of exactly what was on offer at the club shop today.

Winston rose, he also didn’t mind, that as he soon as he so much as set foot on the floor anywhere in the flat screens baring a huge red and white eye sprung into life

‘Fanzai is watching you’.

And watching him it was, Fanzai scanned Winston upon waking and kept a daily account of his BMI, disposable income, and predilection to write something snarky on social media. Once harvested, this information was immediately passed onto Fanzai’s corporate partners, and, of course, The Chairman.

Winston, like the other occupants of 1969 Mansions, tolerated this total surrender of privacy. In exchange there was a small discount on season tickets and any drinks bought at the ground up to half an hour before kick-off.

Winston also allowed it because, even at the best of times, Fanzai seldom worked. It was both ever present and an omnishambles.

In goal, number one ‘Ty Belford

The Fanzai screen hypnotically intoned in an Essex accent. The app, for reasons no one had ever got to the bottom of, but everyone remained silently very dubious about, was always alternatively voiced by Harry Agombar or Gareth Barry.

Before Winston learned the makeup of the day’s defence, the app crashed.

“You managed 1 out of 11” This, Winston told himself, was “a new low”.

The thought was silent, but the paranoia instant.  Could a crashed app report? Was this act of internal insurrection winging it’s way wirelessly to The Chairman right now?

Winston was relieved to see the screen simply showing the usual error message. The regular reassurance to Fanzai’s users, that these regular malfunctions should be treated as a positive, ‘Ignorance is strength’ it read

Thoroughly uninformed, Winston didn’t feel two strong as he descended the stairs of 1969 Mansions, on each floor different paintings of past playing legends, stared, Lord Kitchener style, down from the walls.

“What have you down for YOUR club today”?

Under the glare of a stern looking John Trollope on floor 4, Winston instinctively stopped to tweet.

Off to the match, think we’ll play well, see you there #stfc”.

A more detailed assessment of the upcoming game was at that moment beyond Winston, the Fanzai app had again crashed the second he’d touched his phone.

Still, he’d done his bit. To the Fanzai Ground!

Many, privately, often vaguely recalled the stadium being called something else in the dim and distant past, but no one dared question the official history.

Namely, that the stadium, like the club, the app and, by association all digital technology and communications, had been the brainchild of Reverend Pitt, surprisingly ahead of his time for a clergyman of the 1880s

As Winston took his seat in the Fanzai North stand, he realised that plugging his phone into the seat to get it to lower had now become second nature. He really couldn’t remember a time when the seat had simply sprung down with a light push of the hand, the very notion seemed fanciful.

As he sat, his every movement, purchase and click since the last home game was downloaded, Fanzai was excellent at selling fans data to target advertisers, a lot better than it was at being an football news app.

At least for this data mine, and the price of a ticket, Winston was allowed in the ground.

A privilege no longer extended to members of the press. Fanzai assured fans this was for the club, and by extension their, own good. The benevolent app had made sure “enemy within” had become the “enemy without… accreditation or access”.

Winston glanced to the trees behind the Fanzai bank, just like in the 90’s full house heyday, figures were lurking in the branches waiting to catch a glimpse of the action for free.

But these were not disappointed fans, sell outs were a thing of the past now Fanzai alone controlled the fixture list, and no one knew when games were on.

These tree climbers were the exiled representatives of The Adver, FLIC and Total Sport.

This was the future. A corporate football boot stamping on a reporters face forever

Rather than race for exclusives, these rivals would now race to get the most best branch. They were courteous and cordial to each other, November nights up a tree will bond men, but one reporters had confessed to Winston that each was secretly praying for the day the others trusted their weight to a weak twig.

After all, it’s hard to tweet updates about contentious throw ins when you are in traction.

Glancing down, Winston was relieved to see Aunty in place. Or at least what was left of the BBC. What hadn’t been shut down by George Osborne, because Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch give him some fudge.

Yes BBC Wiltshire was now a straighten one man band, lucky, Winston thought, that the one man, Shaun Hodgetts, was a very tall man, who can simply see over the Fanzai Bank fence, and carry on commentating regardless.

At least, until Fanzai forcibly fitted everyone with implanted ear pieces and made Shaun obsolete as well.

Winston was snapped out of his pre match daydreaming by a short sharp tap on the shoulder, and with shock but no real surprise, he found himself, with just moments to kick off, being quietly lead from his seat by two uniformed club officials.

Down the tunnel, he was deposited next to the referees room, in a small bunker ominously known as ‘Changing Room 101’. Winston waited, sweating. What had he done to displease?

It seemed obvious that he was about to be outcast, but for what crime? Could Fanzai now decipher emotions with the same ease it devoured consumer habits and internet history?

Had his momentary twinge of sympathy for the two journalists in the trees been somehow registered on some new database of the damned?

Winston was about to find out. The door handle turned, he winced, expecting a burly security official. Instead, standing there, a glint in his eye was The Chairman himself

The Chairman explained something very carefully and then, with a hint of a smile asked Winston if he understood, Winston nodded, indeed he did understand.

Hurrying back to his seat for kick off, he reflected on what he’d heard. The Chairman or Fanzai, had realized that thought they could ban the hacks, they could never silence the chatter of the crowd. Not when out of a gate of 7,453 at least 7,984 would be ‘football bloggers’, according to their twitter bios.

So Fanzai and The Chairman, had decided to throw them a bone, each match a fan would be picked, this chosen one would be furnished with their own exclusive to share with the world, back in his seat, Winston’s fingers shook, and he could barely type, such was the excitement, he even missed the teams running out.

@WinstonSmithSTFC “The players will be having peri-peri chicken for their post match meal Winston Smith understands”

And in that moment, as his words were no doubt being shared by Town fans across the globe, Winston felt two pride scented tears trickling down his nose.

The match started.

He had learned to love Fanzai

He still had bugger all idea who was playing though, the app still wouldn’t work.

Follow Matt Arnold @HaroldFlem


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