One of the most interesting aspects of modern football is the way it's become airborne, turned into something that seems to knock on your bedroom window at night, keeping you awake with its endless screaming about transfer fees and formation tweaks.
The modern game is no longer something content to live merely on the pitch or in the "paper and pub" – it's been shattered into an infinite number of tiny digital pieces that have been siphoned off into the new arenas where it is able to scream for attention at each second of every day.
Alongside the Twitter timelines and curated lists, the gossip columns and podcasts, the sordid, groaning weight of scurrilous clickbait sites and illegal live stream chat boxes, the platform-spanning spectre of the group chat is one that looms large over Premier League football – and perhaps one that has even started to define what we see happening out there in the forsaken place, the cold, deserted, disappointingly corporeal plane of the IRL.
This week, as most of the Premier League squads were packing up their gifted boohooMAN swimming shorts and awful snapback caps before jetting off to cosseted luxury holiday resorts and belated warm weather training camps in Marbella and Dubai, Newcastle United were in Oxford.
The FA Cup fourth-round replay was remarkable for many reasons: the wonderful strikes from Liam Kelly and Nathan Holland that gave the League One side their mini-revival, Allan Saint-Maximin's FIFA '16 "bug goal", the sight of Jamie Mackie in boots, somehow still existing. Many more enjoyable moments were provided by the Kassam Stadium's West Stand, which simply doesn't exist, a situation that makes watching a televised match there feel like being stuck in front of a computer game whose frame rate hasn't been able to keep up, a glitch in the system that produces a car park where a terrace full of human supporters should be.
Now the dust has settled, though, it's clear the fixture will reverberate down the decades not for any of the above, but because it surely represents the football group chat's most successful foray into public life to date. As Allan Saint-Maximin wheeled away in celebration of his extra-time winner, the watching BBC cameras panned to those away fans loyal enough to travel down from Newcastle for the occasion, and found among them a man stripped to the waist, jubilantly windmilling his flaccid cock round and round in circles mere metres from Isaac Hayden's face.
WARNING: NSFW video.
For some, it was a surprisingly stirring moment, a reminder of football’s unparalleled dominion of the visceral, a spontaneous explosion of joy that, while necessitating condemnation from the authorities, on some other, more knowing level, was almost heartening in its slapstick euphoria. Anyone attuned to the game's modern frequencies will realise, though, that this strange outburst could only have emerged from one place: the rationale-rewiring, peer-pressurising group chat, the display orchestrated in that little spooling box on WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter that is the secondary space where so many of us go now to absorb and expel the footballing experience.
Live on national television, sequestered before the cameras in the front row of the stands and presumably enlivened by 250 miles' worth of Newcy Brown, the man who has come to be known to the world as "Windmill Willy" will have realised early on that the evening presented a rare shot at cult lore and online infamy.
The idea would have been posited in the group chat first as no more than a stray thought, a joke caught on the wind, a gag that will have gradually grown into something more and more real with each passing minute, with every beer and thumb-punched exhortation to "go on, just get it out for the lads, mate". The clincher will have been the Viagra advertising board sat right in front of the away support.
How quickly whimsy ossifies into the inevitable, circumstance into fate. Finding himself swept up in a moment so imbued with a sense of destiny, any man who has half-joked his way to getting his cock out on national television could only ever proceed to actually get his cock out on national television, and then windmill it round and round in circles like a mad chimp at the zoo. Anything else would just be a loss of face.
The world doesn’t know where Windmill Willy is hiding now. At the time of writing, Thames Valley Police had just launched an investigation into the "exposure incident", so the chances are that wherever he is, he's enduring an especially stressful week. Spare a thought for the Toon Army's Oxford Cock Fugitive as he makes his way, hood up, from office to home to friend's house, to stow himself away as best he can before the law inevitably catches up with him.
This man is a criminal, yes, but also in some ways a victim of modern football's contagious tribal zeal, the derangement on show in this mad moment of crowd-pleasing self-pleasure the firmest evidence yet that the group chat is one of the game's most intoxicating and tyrannical arenas.