This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
England supporters have suffered plenty. I lived through the pain of seeing Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle miss their penalties during Italia '90. I suffered regular sights of Des Lynam's mustache, and bore witness to the very real horror of Gary Lineker doing his business on the pitch, rather than in adverts for crisps. But several years from now, when my kids are playing for England in their own semi-final against the Germans, it might not be a skied spot kick that costs us a shot at glory in the final. It could easily be EA Sports' FIFA (Soccer) series.
Picture the scene: it's raining heavily, and you're watching two under-tens teams playing on your Sunday off. It's nil-nil and you're getting colder. Then, the team you're there for sparks into life thanks to the speedy forward. He's beaten the last defender, but the keeper is quick off his line and he's on him.
Luckily, his strike partner has kept up, and is there for the easy ball. He just has to square it to him.
He just has to square it.
Here for the sport, not the games? VICE Sports has you covered.
But he doesn't. He takes on the keeper, loses the ball, and the rain suddenly feels even colder than it did 60 seconds ago, and you're wishing you'd had a proper breakfast before leaving the house.
Why didn't he just square it? It turns out that EA's FIFA is to blame.
You're probably well aware of the growing number of YouTube celebrities exerting a huge influence on today's web-connected kids. Take that, couple it with the fact that most young football-loving boys and girls are massively in love with FIFA, and we've got a big problem emerging at grassroots level.
The biggest offender is what they call a "sweaty goal" (don't shoot the messenger, I didn't coin the term, and I hate it as much as you, if not more). This is the process of sliding a simple pass to your side, thus removing the keeper from the equation and leaving your teammate with an open goal into which he can score a tap-in. Oh, and the kids hate it, because someone once said so on a FIFA YouTube commentary video and now it's sacrosanct.
BlacknWhite's "Sweaty Goals" music video—and no, we can't make any sense of it, either
It's ridiculous. Any adult can see it, and will stand there confused when it happens at training, and it's utterly exasperating when it happens during a match. But you try telling a kid that a hat-trick of sweaty goals (again, I'm sorry) is better than three misses, because they just don't get it. A manager will remember a hat-trick for what it is: three goals, not how they were scored.
In many ways, this aversion to the sweaty goal is a greater risk to England's future football fortunes than childhood obesity. I think I'd prefer to see a ten year old smash through six Mars Bars and score a brace than eat a salad and refuse a tap in. Do they really want fans to sing songs when they mess up trying to do something they saw a FIFA YouTuber do? (On that note, Frank Lampard really isn't, and has never been, fat, and that song makes no sense.)
FIFA encourages flamboyant play with its raft of skill moves—but you rarely see actual footballers using tricks on the field. Actually, only the absolute best players can get away with it—think Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, or former Bolton Wanderers captain, Super Kevin Cyril Davies. Fact is, unless you pull off a rabona or a Cruyff turn properly, you're going to look a complete idiot, and everyone is going to laugh at you. Not in FIFA, though. No, in FIFA you can trick your way around every one of your opposition's ten players, then flick the ball over your head and tap it into the net (which I'd argue immediately makes it a sweaty goal). Cheers, EA.
Related: Vice's documentary on eSports
Or something completely different? How about a documentary on the South Korean love industry?
Instead of getting the basics right, they're trying to spray Gerrard-style raking passes out wide (and having just as much of a success rate as he does), or slicing across the outside of the ball, resulting in a pea-roller pass to nobody, and putting pressure on their team. And that's the biggest problem: it's all good fun until it costs you a game. It seems to be slowly being forgotten that football is a team game. There will always be individual players who are brilliant, but the marvel of a crunching (but fair) tackle from a hardy defender, or the midfielder who does the simple things well is being replaced by step-overs and shots from the halfway line.
FIFA has even permeated into the language and discussions of young players. The game's Ultimate Team mode is so popular that they're creating their dream teams and asking questions about what their own FUT card will look like. They're being told by a game who the legends of the sport are, instead of seeing what makes these players so special through their actual actions on the field. Who's better: Ronaldo or Messi? Well, Gary Lineker (shave the goatee, by the way, Gary) has a legend card, so he's better than both, obviously. (Now, no children should think that Lineker is better than Messi, and if yours do, you've failed them.)
Will EA's football game and its widespread presence on YouTube really be culpable when England crash out of the next five world cups, before FIFA as an organization collapses under the weight of its own alleged corruption? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous. But if nothing else, this article has at least briefly taken your mind off the crushing depression that comes with following a national team that does, well, nothing, really. We show up at a tournament, and then we go home again. The future is worrying for England, and apathy reigns supreme these days. The excitement that followed the team in 1990 feels long gone—but hey, at least we don't have to watch Jimmy Hill on TV any more, right?
Follow Adam on Twitter.