A Tale Of Fantasy Football
So with the drama unfolding over the weekend, it’s very much as you were going into the final week. The two teams who have been battling it out for much of the season only have one more game to decide their fates. The team who currently hold top spot simply need to have one more good week, and they are crowned champions. Predictably, the team who hold second place need the team they trail to collectively falter, so they can gain ground and steal the crown right beneath their noses.
Most agree it’s been an unforgettable season, and with the title coming down to the last day, there’s very much all to play for. I’m not talking about Manchester City & Manchester United. I am of course talking about ‘Bayern Bru’ and ‘Notinyermums Forest’.
I’m talking about Fantasy Football (FF). For those unaware, Fantasy Football is a game (in the case of Fantasy Premier League), which runs alongside the regular Premiership season. Participants assemble a team of Premiership footballers under a set budget. Points are scored based on those players’ statistical performance or their perceived contribution on the field of play. Want to have Rooney upfront with RVP? Sure. Want to see if Lampard and Gerrard can settle together in the middle finally? Do it. Want to see if Wayne Bridge & Anton Ferdinand can form a formidable force in your defence with John Terry? Only in FF. Of course, you can name your team anything you wish; any number of crass combinations or predictably awful puns are welcomed.
Andrew Wainstein created the game in 1991, after seeing the success and popularity of the American sports counterpart. Similarly, my own interest in FF was sparked after spending time living in the U.S.A and taking part in a Fantasy American Football league at my place of work. Fantasy sport is a big deal in America. It takes up prime time TV spots on ESPN, has a whole section devoted to it on NFL.com, and even has a sitcom based on six friends in a fantasy football league in “The League”. The NFL stars also themselves have often come out and said they are players, with some even appearing on “The League”.
Arian Foster – star running back for the Houston Texans – is an athlete who many considered to be their target for the No. 1 draft picks for the 2011/2012 season. While the Texans worried about Foster’s ability to return to the field after experiencing a hamstring problem, fantasy football players worried and barraged him with concern (and in some cases abuse) via Twitter.
He took to Twitter himself to respond to the troubled fantasy players:
“For those sincerely concerned, I’m doing ok & plan to be back by opening day. For those worried about your fantasy team, you people are sick.”
Foster left a final message:
“I know opinions are usually cement. But, I love all my fans. My quarrel is with people who value a digital game over a humans health.”
Clearly, the game’s popularity is huge, and in some cases many players value the success of their fantasy players, even if it is to the detriment of their actual supported team. Can you imagine Wayne Rooney coming out and criticizing the manager of “Raoul Moatrid” for dropping him? Players even pay serious money to get “Guru” knowledge, websites that offer player rankings, statistical analysis, and other tools for subscribers. Why not too? Often these leagues have more than bragging rights riding on them.
I took my new-found enthusiasm back to Blighty and created a league with the bloody lads – lovely banter. For the first time my enthusiasm didn’t wane after the first month – usually the initial excitement of making your dream team dies after you forget to change your team a month or two into the new season. You fall far off the pack, and start promising next year will be “your year”. Not this year however, as I’m pleased to announce I’ve kept up to the pack and have even mounted a title challenge. Of sorts.
Unfortunately I made some ‘inspired’ decisions that have led me to drop off the front two. To start ,I thought dropping Wayne Rooney after his woeful performance against City and replacing him with the inform Nikica Jelavic would be inspired. Captaining Jelavic against a Wolves side would surely reap me the rewards. Added to this, I had a spark of genius to bring in both Wojciech Szczesny & Thomas Vermaelen before Arsenal hosted a Norwich side that had conceded 11 goals in the past three games and scored only once.
Of course, I was left cursing my inspired decisions as Jelavic failed to score against De Vries, coupled with the insult of scoring a perfectly onside goal, which was judged offside. Szczesny made sure my title challenge would lose all conviction as he gifted Norwich a goal, all the while Vermaelen was drifting into increasingly advanced roles, allowing Grant Holt to put the nail in my proverbial coffin. Sure, I had Clint Dempsey & Van Persie, but week 37 yielded me a pathetic 34 points. It allowed fourth to gain ground on me, and allowed first & second to leave me in their wake. I wasn’t just cursing my own decisions. Martin Petrov. Martin Fucking Petrov, who had managed to find his way into my rival’s team, only went and scored a penalty. Who in their right mind would pick Martin Petrov with the plethora of talent available at midfield? Who also, would pick a Bolton player?
So with one week left, I have third place to consolidate. I could yet slip into fourth , and while I won’t miss out on Champions League football as could yet happen to Arsenal, I could miss out on £20, and the bragging rights to call myself a better manager than “2 Goals 1 Cup”.
After all, isn’t that what we all really want? It’s been a great season, some cracking matches leading to some crazy point allocations & memorable weekends. So if you think about joining up for next year’s Fantasy football season, stick at it. You could have your season ruined by Martin Petrov.
END OF SEASON UPDATE:
To quote Sir Alex Ferguson, “Football, bloody hell”. What a final day of the season, I think the hilarity of a 10-man QPR holding then leading City was enough for me gifting Utd the league. Suffice to say I almost shit myself with excitement when Aguero scored that 95th minute league-winning goal.
Amazing scenes really: the Etihad well and truly erupted, Joe Hart ran round in circles like a five year old, and commentators & pundits alike all over the country lost the ability to speak the English language. Not a big feat for Paul Merson understandably, but it still made for some entertaining stuff. Overall good guy Vincent Kompany was left to lift the Premiership title, while cameras at the Stadium of Light seemed to focus more on the elasticity of Phil Jones’ face. Where there had been tears & early exits to beat the traffic at the Etihad, jubilation and hysteria was now found. While all the smoke cleared, there was the small matter of the Fantasy Premier League to resolve. Did Bayern Bru manage to hold on? Or did they choke on their orangey liquid, to allow Notinyermums Forest to steal victory on the very last day of the season. Were the scenes in fantasy-land able to rival that of real life?
And how could it? That was something I’ve simply never seen before, and made me feel sorry for those that don’t get excited by the beautiful game. I did omit from my piece previously that Bayern Bru were ahead by 64 points. It would have taken a seriously monumental cock up from their boss to let Notinyermums Forest to take over. And while the latter did beat Bayern Bru in points in the final week, it simply wasn’t enough. With first and second wrapped up, my attention was focused on my spot in third.
Again, I seemingly did my best to sabotage my own chances by starting Szczesny & Vermaelen again – who seem to hate playing for Garyglittersunder9’s so much, they relish the chance of conceding goals. I also had the bright decision of starting Clint Dempsey, who unbeknownst to me was suffering with a groin injury. Luckily, these decisions didn’t hamper my side too much, with good outputs from Jelavic, RVP (through captaincy) and ‘sigh’ John Terry. I stayed clear of fourth by three points, and can comfortably say I’m thoroughly chuffed with finishing in third position.
So with the season finished, we have the Euros & Olympics to look forward to, I’ll offer five points I’ve learnt from the 2011/2012 season.
Fall on your stars. While the Premier League doesn’t have the likes of Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo scoring for fun every week (can you imagine how much points just those two amass?), this season it did have some near enough must haves. In seasons past, the likes of Steven Gerrard & Frank Lampard would dominate teams, their output for their team simply too much to ignore in Fantasy Football. RVP had a similar year as he finished the year with 269 points. Wayne Rooney was quite far behind in the scheme of things with 230 points. The key here is to identify who is going to have a great season, the sooner the better. Looking back, I started with combinations of Rooney & any from the likes of these : D.Bent, Torres, Suarez, Agbonlahor, Dzeko.. I didn’t take the plunge and go for RVP until week 13!
By this point he had already amassed 92 points. Granted the ‘big’ points didn’t start flowing until week six, but I really think I missed a trick in not bringing him in sooner. If he doesn’t find pastures new in Spain or Italy, I’d be surprised to see a team without him lining up next season. In midfield the big hitters like Gareth Bale (195 points), Clint Dempsey (209) & David Silva (184 points) all had huge years. If you can couple at least two high scoring midfielders with a potent attack, you’ll be in the running for first place.
Find undervalued GKs & Defenders. While it can be difficult to gauge how a team is going to play over the course of the season, it can be easy to judge after a few games how their defence might shape up. Obviously choosing a GK or a defender from a top four side is easy, the likes of Ashley Cole & Joe Hart. They get you clean sheets and often in the case of Cole, assists. Similarly, Kompany or Vidic are often considered for their added goal threat. However, I prefer to save on these positions in favour of spending more on my midfield and attack. Early on, I was putting my faith in Shay Given & Stephen Warnock to get me the clean sheets I wanted. Villa under McLeish played a very defensive (some might say negative) system, so I was confident that at least they would keep clean sheets. When it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be a fruitful endeavour I changed and found some gems that stayed with me the rest of the season.
Michel Vorm was a mere £4m at game week one, and managed to accumulate a huge 158 points over the season. That’s more than David De Gea (134 points, £6.5m at week one) & Szczesny (139 points, £6m at week one). Honourable mentions go to Tim Krul & Danny Simpson, who started at £4.5m & £4m respectively. They managed to amass 282 points between them this season thanks to Newcastle’s fantastic season & defensive record. I am aware that over the course of a season it is about juggling players on form and fixtures, but if you had an undervalued player like the ones above in from the start – you’d not only be laughing at the points, but the remaining balance of your budget to spend on stars in midfield or attack.
The January transfer window is your friend. The myth of teams buying in January don’t equate to value for money was quashed this season, and this certainly showed in FF. The likes of Papiss Cisse managed to amass a huge 105 points over 16 game weeks, after starting at £7m. He later rose to £8.2m. Similarly, Nikica Jelavic & Steven Pienaar both had great contributions to their new sides after moving in January, and would have done the same to anyone who recognised their potential early.
The Wildcard. Great power comes great responsibility. This is especially true of the wildcard. Allowing you to completely change your team with no penalties. A blank template if you will. The problem is, all too many players feel the need to pull the trigger and start a fresh too quickly. Fair enough, you may have a bad first couple of weeks. As long as you completely miles off the top spot, or adrift at the bottom with less than 10 points there is no need to panic. It’s a long season, and anything can happen. Use it when you really need it, when injuries or suspensions strike and leave you facing a big penalty to bring in changes. However, I will say this. Do yourself a favour and don’t start your new season with Conor Sammon in your side, as one member of my league (who shall remain nameless) did. Jesus Christ.
Find a four-leaf clover, see a shooting star, touch some bloody wood. Probably most importantly, is luck. Recently, an NFL fantasy columnist proclaimed that fantasy football is 75% luck; and as clichéd as it is I believe that can be applied to our fantasy football too. No one can predict what will happen before or as a season unfolds, such is the beauty of sport. Who could have seen some of the huge scores we have seen this season?
That other 25% however, is skill, preparation, and balls. When Arsenal beat Blackburn 7-1, RVP alone yielded 23 points. Captain him, and that’s 46 points (from one player alone). Similarly, when Man Utd beat Arsenal 8-2, Rooney achieved 22 points himself. Again, if you saw fit to captain him, that’s 44 points right there. Roberto Mancini loved to enrage fantasy managers this season, I recall him dropping Dzeko right after the Bosnian had scored four goals past Spurs. There would have been a lot of people captaining Dzeko for that game against Wigan that came away with 0 points. Similarly, a player like Balotelli was a real Jekyll & Hyde character. While his off the field antics were becoming infamous, Mario was a player that could simultaneously delight and enrage, scoring for fun one week, getting sent off the next. While the unpredictable nature of Football & the Premiership leads to it being quite hard for any call on Fantasy Football to be certain, that 25% preparation can be the difference between winning the title, and picking Conor Sammon.
Here’s to a great Euro 2012, Olympics, and I’ll see you all back here before the new Premiership season starts to get excited about Fantasy Football all over again!