Tears, Tantrums And Tactics: A Brief History Of Fantasy Football

The Popularity Of Fantasy Football Is Bigger Than Ever
09:05, 17 Aug 2019

With more than six million players logging-on this season, Premier League Fantasy Football is bigger than ever and you’d struggle to find many offices across the country that won’t be bitterly divided with dodgy deals and trash-talking over the next nine months.

Even as I write this, I can hear my manager fume behind me after his inability to pick up Watford’s Ismaïla Sarr ahead of the weekend deadline. Next to me sits a grown man in tears after missing out on Man City new boy João Cancelo - the right-back cruelly snatched away from him from a rival player. 

Oh yes... this is a game of life and death. 

If you didn’t already know, Fantasy Football is a game where players manage virtual football teams in which points gained are based upon the performances of real-life players. The primary objective is to create a team that will score the most points based on real life eventualities such as goals, assists, clean sheets etc across a full season.

The history of the game actually began in England. Creating the concept of Fantasy Football in 1966, and rolling the product out in 1971 to precisely seven of his mates, former economics teacher Bernie Donnelly would change the way people look at upcoming football seasons for the next 48 years.

Originally called the “Donnelly Fantasy Football League”, by the 1990s the craze had extended to the national press, and in the weeks leading up to August, in those dark, dark days pre-broadband, prospective managers would have to scramble to pick up copies of the Daily Telegraph in a bid to get their teams picked and confirmed, either over the phone or via the post.

Though the game had risen in popularity since its inception by Donnelly, even in the 90s you’d have to be a fanatic to have stood a chance at winning whatever the jackpot was that season. Not all football fans had the luxury of being able to keep up with the Premier League, then the Premiership, on Sky Sports and most would have to wait until Match of the Day on a Saturday to see how they’re squad was getting on.

Now, nearly two decades into the 21st century, thanks to advancements in technology the popularity of Fantasy Football has exploded. With a vast array of football stats, news and highlights at our fingertips, each season gets more and more competitive and the game that might be brought up in the pub to a worldwide phenomenon.

The game will no doubt continue to expand in the coming seasons and with a nearly a full season of Fantasy Football still ahead of us; toys will be thrown out of prams, tears will be spilled and friendships will be destroyed. For that, we have Bernie Donnelly to thank - our Fantasy Football trailblazer.