Within the Xbox bracket of this year’s ePremier League, alongside FIFA esports juggernauts like Donovan ‘Tekkz’ Hunt, Ryan Pessoa, and former world champion Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing, is Joe Healy.
Representing his boyhood club Arsenal, Healy has been the surprise package of the FIFA 21 ePremier League, going on a fairy tale run through open qualifying, the group stage, and the quarter-finals of the tournament. Plus, he’s produced one of the most remarkable moments the competition has ever seen.
Having squeaked through his group stage games 6-5 and 7-6 against Aston Villa and Brighton’s representatives, a tense match against Wolves’ Sean ‘Sean Flossy’ Bleakely separated Healy from making it to the ePL Finals and a huge matchup against Olle ‘Ollelito’ Arbin. 7-6 up and with Sean Flossy looking certain to score a last-minute equaliser to force extra time, Healy’s left-back, Man City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, performs an acrobatic headed clearance off the line, leaving casters Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley stunned and booking Healy a place in the Finals.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in all my life playing FIFA,” Healy tells The Loadout before today’s clash with Ollelito. “It was an unreal feeling. I can’t lie to you, it wasn’t me controlling Zinchenko in that moment, but when I watched the game back I saw I had a lot of misfortune. I had a chance with Bruno Fernandes that he dragged wide in front of goal, I had one with Saint-Maximin on the edge of the box but he did a tackle animation instead of shooting. So overall I felt like I deserved it, which made it feel all that nicer that something as crazy as that [went my way].”
While this moment itself was arguably one of the most surreal ever seen in a match of competitive FIFA, it makes up just a chapter of Healy’s remarkable story.
In his post-match interview straight after that game, he admits that he hadn’t even booked March 26 – the final day of ePremier League action – off work, thinking he’d never reach this point in the competition.
“I’ve managed to get a half day,” Healy reassures. “I’ll be [at work] in the morning, then I can shoot straight home to compete.”
Despite being a long-standing member of the FIFA community, Healy has never been in a position to put in the time and investment needed to kick-start a pro career. After leaving home relatively early and now working long hours as a supervisor at London Bridge Hospital, Healy says he has struggled to properly focus on competitive FIFA.
Even today, in the hours before his matchup against one of the world’s top pros who represents a major esports organisation in Ninjas in Pyjamas, the 23-year-old will not be warming up with practice matches or discussing tactics with coaches – he’ll be at the office.
Tickets to the #ePL PS4 semi-finals: Booked ✅
And with that, we are ready to go for Finals Day 😍 pic.twitter.com/GmByWFAdbf
— Premier League (@premierleague) March 24, 2021
While Healy describes the events of the group stage as “a hell of a story”, he’s feeling realistic ahead of what will be a “tough game” against Ollelito. The Swede, representing Leeds United, has been incredibly strong and comes into the matchup with Healy off the back of a 13-2 demolition of established FIFA pro, Tom ‘Stokes’ Stokes.
However, he says that if the fairy tale run continues with a giant-slaying performance against Ollelito, he could go all the way – and it could potentially kick-start the career in professional FIFA he’s never been able to establish.
“I’ve always been in the scene, dipping in and out, but I hope a good performance on Friday [could be the beginning of something],” Healy says. “There’s no better way to make a statement than to beat probably one of the top FIFA players in the world right now.”
Healy’s storyline isn’t too far flung from the enthralling cup ties in traditional football – the ninth-tier team of school teachers and personal trainers taking on the juggernaut clubs with global superstars on payroll.
Regardless of his results in the Finals, Healy’s incredible run and that Zinchenko clearance will go down as one of the most memorable stories of the FIFA 21 season.
Watch the ePremier League Finals live as eight finalists go head-to-head from 18:00 GMT today on Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport online, twitch.tv/EASPORTSFIFA and all Premier League channels (premierleague.com, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).