There is something strange about a football stadium on a non-matchday. It has silent, post-apocalyptic aura. There are no fans, no police, the streets are relatively clean. The smell of burgers and onions are absent, and the club shop is not the free-for-all it normally is in the build up to a game. Without fans in the stands and players on the pitch, a ground feels soulless.
Inside the stands business continues, if not quite as normal then at least partly. The GMF Academy was present to see the UK Territory Showdown in FIFA’s Interactive World Cup – four of the best FIFA players the UK has to offer going against each other, the winner getting a chance to compete in the world finals in Madrid.
Watching the quartet go head-to-head, I was initially unimpressed with the quality of play on offer. I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but you see videos on YouTube and the like of magical skills, 40-yard overhead kicks, and the likes of Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly taking on a whole team, Cruyff turns and rabonas and lambretas and all the rest. The games we saw were more akin to the tight, dour matches that sometimes spring up between the Premier League's top four, or in Europe, with both teams cancelling each other out and chances at a premium.
But that’s when it clicked. As Martin Tyler’s live commentary seduced the senses (and it is a credit to EA Sports, the makers of FIFA, and Tyler that his commentary on the game is an almost replica of who he struts his stuff live), you realised that these players know the game, they know that the key to winning is being able to defend. The back four rarely venture forward, possession is key, and if amateurs like us took them on they would exploit the holes in our defence like Barcelona playing an under five’s team.
As we approached the final Kyle Walker walked in. His error in the game at Anfield against Liverpool had cost Spurs the win but the right-back was very polite, jovial, only turning serious when Tyler brought up the aforementioned error while the pair commentated on the final.
Walker then went up against the winner, both men picking to play as Tottenham, and there was both praise and criticism for some of the Spurs players on show, especially one of the full-backs (I didn’t catch the name).
Walker then signed some merchandise before an interview with The Sun and Football Focus, including my very own Spurs shirt.
All in all it was an interesting experience, and you felt like you got to know both Tyler and Walker a little better. Just like with real life football, there was the feeling that if you practised hard, laid off the beer and focused you too could be a professional (FIFA) player, but that is without appreciating the pressure the lads were under (one of many clichés heard during the evening).
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