For a certain type of person, the early days of August can only mean one thing. Not frolicking through the long days, squeezing the last drops of our too-short summer but the stirring once more of an obsession. You will find us hunched over Opta stats, bathed in blue light waiting until the early hours when the hallowed BBC Sport gossip column refreshes, surrounded by fixture tables and form sheets plastered so far round every wall that A Beautiful Mind looks like a study of a passing hobby compared to our fanaticism. Yes, the Fantasy Football season is here.
For us, the first teasing hands of Autumn can’t creep up our thighs soon enough. As soon as the curtain closed on the Premier League circus, after a the last pub debate on what might have been died away with wistful whisperings of the missed bandwagon here, the defender not substituted there, our eyes turned to scattered glimpses of pre-season form and the wild chirping of the transfer window. After the extravagant, glorified scouting trip that was the World Cup, we are back to business, back to the game that ruins Britain’s productivity every Friday as we scour the injury lists and make rash, last-minute transfers. Our weekends have a structure again, our partners’ tongues can start clicking impatiently as we desperately search for score updates in the garden lighting aisle of Homebase or at group gatherings we find the one fellow player with wifi and huddle round them, like smokers on a blustery day round the one working lighter.
The Fantasy Football player sometimes takes an egalitarian, loftier view of the weekend’s football delights, where a gritty clean sheet ground out by an unloved Crystal Palace on a misty evening in Hull can be celebrated as if our team has won the league and a clichéd shinned in equalizer at a rainy Stoke can look as beautiful as a sumptuous chip at the Emirates. However, underneath our usual tribal allegiances there is a selfishness that runs thicker than blood and shows a darker side. We find ourselves feeling the illicit thrill of silently urging on a player against our childhood team, or greeting a popular player hobbling off with glee if we have resisted the temptation to add him to our own ranks.
Every true Fantasy Football player knows the moment when we our paths have crossed with a fellow obsessive. Someone who has seen this light and dark side of the beautiful game. There is no secret handshake, just a shared misty eyed look at the merest mention of Ian Harte, a chuckle about the rare jewel of a David Unsworth missed penalty and story of regret about bringing in Van Persie just one game too late. Together, our memories of seasons past are held more vivid through our personal highs and lows, every player remembered even as just one action shot and a number gained for assists.
So, here’s to the Fantasy Football players, our time has come at last.