FA off to fantasy land for a game of two halves: Rhys Williams reports on the office craze for imaginary football teams

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The Independent Online
IT'S official, if not altogether surprising. The Football Association, administrator of English football and - for the moment - employer of Graham Taylor, spends at least some of its time in fantasy land.

No doubt deeply disenchanted with the state of the English game, Michael Foster, secretary of the Premier League, has pitched in with the latest office cult, the Fantasy League. Fantasy League? A simple enough idea and perfect for the vocal majority who reckon the only thing England managers are capable of running is a bath, and who fancy themselves in the job.

In the game, you become the manager of your own club with an imaginary pounds 20m to spend on a squad of 15 from the 450 players in the Premier League. An office typically fields 10 or so sides and forms its own league.

The first big managerial test comes with the pre-season auction for players. Each side and league is then registered for between pounds 13 and pounds 29 with the Fantasy League office in north London. Whatever your players do for real in the Premier League, they do for your team - if you own Eric Cantona and he scores a goal for Manchester United, he scores for you. There are extra points for clean sheets.

Each weekend, the Fantasy League office logs all Premier League results and sends out computerised progress reports. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. At the FA in Lancaster Gate, there are 13 sides. 'You should be here on a Tuesday morning when the results come through,' an FA secretary said. 'It all gets a bit serious.'

The game was created in Britain by Andrew Wainstein, a former systems analyst in the City. The first leagues began in the 1991-92 season with 700 people. About 6,000 teams now scrap it out in more than 600 leagues - from the Brian Cant Playaway Premier to the Ooh Err Missus Please Yourself.

Mr Waistein said: 'Ninety-five per cent of our leagues are in offices . . . law firms, accountants, ad agencies - it tends to appeal to people with a bit of intelligence and imagination.' Which is no doubt why members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have set up a league - at least they will manage a tuneful 'There's only one Georg Solti'.

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