Trending Like Becky

To top it all off, her watch was running late. Becky checked the time on her cell phone, too. It was 7.42 pm. The match was supposed to start at 7.45. How could she have missed the first minute, then? After watching every single Champions League game from start to finish, she had dropped the ball right at the most anticipated game of the tournament. First the idiots at school, now this. It was officially the worst day of the 2016–17 football season. Lying in bed with her computer on her lap, she turned up the volume on her television and typed up a rushed apology to her seventy Twitter followers. Live coverage would begin now.

Seventy followers and not a single one from school. Being a shy girl who likes football might have been enough to eliminate her from all high school popularity contests. But she didn’t just like football, no. The boys who played twice a week for the school team and talked about their games over lunch — they were the ones who liked football. Becky was obsessed with it.

Not that she played it, of course: modern football is as physical as it is technical, after all, and Becky knew enough about the game to realise she just wasn’t built for it. Even the weakest girl on the school team could shove her to the ground, break her twiggy legs and smash her glasses on the grass just by looking at her. The referee wouldn’t even call it a foul.

Fighting against genetics would be useless. Instead, ever since she learned the first letters of the alphabet, Becky knew she wanted to be a sports journalist when she grew up. At 15, she was still as sure as ever. Every waking hour she spent outside of school was dedicated to football. She followed every major international competition, national leagues from eight different countries and even the matches of her town’s local team, which played in the fifth division.

At first, some of the boys couldn’t help but feel compelled to talk to that nerdy blondie who knew more about football than all of them combined. She used to hang out at their table during lunch, which drew universal reproach from the girls. However, she was soon disqualified from the boy’s table thanks to her journalistic integrity.

It happened when she took their invitation to watch one of their games. Becky knew that day was coming and tried to avoid it as long as she could, but one day she ran out of excuses and found herself in the stands of the school football field witnessing the worst match she had ever seen.

“So? Enjoyed the game?”, asked Tristan, the team captain, as soon as the torture was over.

In hindsight, Becky should have been more diplomatic. But a true journalist would never dream of telling them anything less than the truth: at their age, they should have a better sense of tactics. Their defence was full of holes, their offence was obsolete and aside for Tristan, who had a one-in-a-million shot of becoming a half-decent midfielder one day, the others should all forget about football and focus on their studies instead.

From then on, the only company Becky had for lunch were the sports pages of local papers. That and her smartphone, of course. Her Twitter account wasn’t going to become a hit without serious work.

When they realised that she could live well without their company, the boys went on the offence. On the day of the Barcelona vs. PSG match, one of the boys had left a pair of sweaty football socks on her desk with a note. “Smell them. This is as close as you’ll ever get to reporting from the field.” It was the third time that week. Their attacking strategy was obsolete, indeed, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed. Not as much as missing the first minute of Barcelona vs. PSG, though. She was lucky that didn’t cost her any Twitter followers.

Timing is everything when you are covering a football match live on Twitter. Even a few seconds can make the difference between your tweet getting half a dozen retweets or being ignored by everyone. That’s why she insisted that their parents should change from cable to satellite. The signal was faster. Just a couple of milliseconds, sure. Not nearly as fast as reporting from the field, but who’s to say those milliseconds wouldn’t make a difference? When Suárez scored at 3 minutes of the first half, for instance, she was the first one in her timeline to tweet about it.

“Barca starting strong with Suárez scoring at 3'! Can they recover from their 4–0 defeat in the first game?”

A couple of minutes later, the first notifications started showing up on her profile. Twenty retweets, sixteen favourites. Much more than she used to get. Blessed satellite! Those extra milliseconds more than made up for her missing the first minute of the match.
She thought she had been lucky on the first goal, but it happened again when Kurzawa scored for Barcelona again. Why was her Twitter feed so slow? One of her followers even replied saying the game was still 1–0. Even the field reporters she followed took almost four minutes to mention the goal after she had tweeted about it. That’s when the retweets and favourites came again, this time by the dozens.

In the second half, things got weirder. Meunier slipped and made a foul on Neymar inside the box. Penalty! How come no one else was talking about it? Becky typed up a quick post:
“Penalty kick! Can Messi put Barca at 3–0?”

This time, instead of retweets and favourites, she received quite a few nasty replies. “Penalty where? What game are you watching, girl?” Something was off. Becky didn’t even write anything when Messi converted the penalty kick into a 3–0 advantage for Barcelona. All she could do was wait, for another three minutes until people started retweeting her short comment about the penalty kick. A minute later, they were all talking about Messi’s goal.

Becky didn’t even answer the mean comments she got before the rest of Twitter saw the penalty. Instead, she watched as the number of replies to her page skyrocketed.

“How on earth are you doing this?”

“Are you some kind of football witch?!”

“Tell us the final score!”

She thought of giving them an answer, but decided against it. A serious journalist should never draw attention to herself. Besides, what could she possibly say? That Twitter was stuck four minutes in the past? That her satellite television was receiving signals from the future? Who would take her comments seriously after that? She decided it would be better not to react at all to those questions and keep reporting on the match. It was just another regular day on her Twitter feed and in the 2016–17 football season, except that the journalists she idolised on Twitter were casually mentioning her little-known account.

“Some viewers have called my attention to the Twitter profile @becky2001. Spookily accurate predictions for the entire match.”

When she wrote about Cavani’s goal for PSG a few minutes later, her page was flooded by cursing messages from Barcelona fans. Not dozens, now, but hundreds. Four minutes after that, when the rest of the world saw the goal she had already seen, her number of followers went over 1,000 for the first time. It would soon break ten thousand in the minutes that followed, as Barcelona fans started following her en masse looking any signs of hope. They needed three goals to qualify now. Could they do it?

Becky wished she knew: sometimes seeing four minutes into the future is not enough. While everybody else in the world waited 27 minutes for the next goal, Becky had to wait for 23. It almost didn’t make any difference, right? Still, she couldn’t help but feel proud that she was the first person in the world to witness those historic final moments of the match. Three goals in seven minutes. Those who were following Becky’s account found out about the first two of them four minutes before they could see them on live television. For the last goal, the one that put Barcelona at 6–1 and cemented their unbelievable comeback, Becky decided to wait a little longer. She was still the first to post about it, of course, but only by a couple of milliseconds. She liked football too much to ruin such a legendary moment for the rest of the world.

An hour after the match, Becky was still a worldwide trending topic. Seventy thousand followers, interview requests from around the world, and all in a single game. Imagine the final! Becky skimmed through her list of followers contemplating her success when one of her newest notifications caught her attention.

“Tristan is now following you.”

She chuckled. For the first time in the 2016–17 football season, she was looking forward to her next day at school.

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