Month: September 2014

A New Chapter

Dear Loyal Readers,

I’m pleased to announce that I am joining the writing team at global Fantasy Football superpower, Fantasy Football First. I will be continuing with the odd muse on here but my main articles will exclusively appear on this site every Friday in a slot called ‘It’s a funny old game’:

http://fantasyfootballfirst.co.uk/

Let’s hope the good people of Fantasy Football First have a better eye for talent than I do on the Fantasy Football pitch and I can keep the comedy flowing.

Scot free

It has of course been a week when Scotland decided that England has a heart of gold underneath so we can continue our broken relationship, like Coleen Rooney keeping her eye on the money and turning a blind eye to the grannies shimmying down their Cheshire mansion’s trellis in the dead of night. All the talk of Scotland over the past few weeks has led me to misty-eyed memories of my first ever Fantasy League season, led by that venerable local publication the North-West Evening Mail, which had the wonderful quirk of allowing managers to pick from Scottish as well as English clubs. What a glorious manifestation of the Union that was, giving me the pleasure or gorging myself on the Old Firm’s late nineties dominance. I fondly remember the must-have Peter Lovenkrands rampaging through the rag-tag defences of Patrick Thistle at will, giving a return on investment more guaranteed than any peddled by RBS.

In my younger days I reached the heights of my short playing career by leading the Dane Ghyll 2nd team. As one of few schools in Cumbria big enough to muster a second 11, we spent our afternoons taking on teams cobbled together from boys who couldn’t really venture far from their inhalers sitting on the touchline or the sons of families who lived too near to Iceland, enslaved by an addiction to 89p bags of potato smileys. Even my goal-hanging (does anyone remember ‘goal hanger’ being shouted as an insult in schoolyard games? I wonder if it is now seen as a compliment in these post-Costa days) accumulating 6 goals without getting my knees dirty – until I scrunched up a clod to rub on my knees whilst walking off of course, our teacher was a traditionalist when judging performances after all – could not compare to the ease with which I cantered to the mini-league title that season, borne on the back of Rod Wallace and the incomparable Celtic poo palace, Mark Viduka.

Now as I sift through the mysteries of an open, anything-goes Premier League, how I wish that the metronomic points scoring from North of the border was open to me, even in these less certain times with Celtic in 5th and Rangers still not even in the top flight. Perhaps to celebrate our intact union, Fantasy Managers should be allowed to take players from all corners of the United Kingdom for one week only. I would certainly relish grazing on the fresh statistical pastures of The New Saints, Airbus UK Broughton and Portadown. In fact, anything to level the playing field against those who have taken the obvious choice and picked Diego Costa for the past few weeks would be welcome.

Perhaps we should also regress for one glorious week to the method of transfers from those glorious days of local newspaper Fantasy Football too – phoning a premium rate phone line and using an over-sized plastic push-button phone to key in the code number for each player. For us early pioneers in Fantasy Football, it was not furtive calls to cigarette-starched sex line workers that we hid from our mothers, but the 40 minute battles with a Hal-like computer who, after 20 attempts, may finally allow us to swap Robbie Earle for Kevin Philipps. The fact that I am one of very few current managers to still possess the rare artifact of a push-button home phone so would find myself with a transfer monopoly is purely coincidental.

Loan sharks

After lying dormant but restless for one long week, the life of a Fantasy Football manager erupts into life today. As we throw ourselves once again into transfers, often making a simple financial transaction an angst-ridden rollercoaster of internal negotiation and buyer’s remorse, I for one am glad that we are spared the credit-crunch worthy machinations of loan deals to worry about as well.  I’m moved to muse on this by the recent revelation that Chelsea have 26 players out on loan, many of them young starlets who have been plucked from around the world only to be kept in glass-fronted stasis at their own clubs or faceless feeder teams. It is as if Roman Abramovich has recently seen ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and fancies himself as a real life ‘Collector’, sending mercenaries round the Cosmos to bring him mysterious artifacts and jewels. Not to use in a nefarious scheme, just to gaze on them and know that they are his.

It is the football equivalent of seducing another man’s wife, hanging an opulent necklace round her neck to flaunt your ownership then lending her back to the poor, broken cuckold for him to follow her round the house like a lost puppy so he can still make one-sided love to her every week but knows that each moment of pleasure is hollow, eating away at the finite number of days he has until he has to return her to the rich new owner’s yacht. Breathe. Breathe. It’s ok, she’s gone now.

Even my beloved Liverpool have got on the act, rolling the child snatcher’s cage round to Lille to lure Divock Origi with a handful of sweets then leaving him there to prance around French fields for another season. It must be confusing for the keen young colts who are thrown into this strange limbo –  funded by a strange, far off benefactor like a nutmegging David Copperfield. Packed off to boarding school away from their stepfather’s sight until they mature into men of use, not knowing how long they will have to wait until they are finally allowed to follow the other grown ups to the cigar room after dinner. Perhaps in the simple existence of today’s young superstars, they just run around in ignorant bliss, giving no more thought to who owns them than a prized thoroughbred does as long they are allowed to gallop along with their tongues out and are plied with regular hay and Bentleys.

I like to try the same trick at my local newsagent. Buying all of the best chocolate bars, which we all know means the Twixes and Kit Kats, but then allowing the long-suffering shopkeeper to place them back on the shelf next to the inferior Bounties and Double Deckers for others to stare at wistfully, even sniff the wrapping if they feel bold, but never fully enjoy. I like to sit in my palatial manager’s dugout warm with the knowledge that the finest products in the shop are mine, taking pleasure in the shopaholic rush of purchase without the less interesting after service of having to carry them home or find a space in the cupboard to put them in.

So, I am now offering the same service to my fellow fantasy managers. Through my pre-2013 Wenger tactics of putting false hope in inferior players and keeping my transfer purse closed tighter than an Italian waiter’s apron pulling his belly in, I have found myself with a surfeit of cash. So, I’m more than willing to give up this season as lost, claiming it as a development season as Ferrari’s spin doctors do in F1, and use my cash to buy up any starlets owned by other managers on the understanding that only I can come back and claim back my property in the future.

Of course when next season comes around, I will probably just invest in a new wave of short-term galactico investments which, shiny and new as Buzz Lightyears, will surely push last year’s Christmas presents behind the bed (an image comes to mind of John Guidetti lying forlorn next to Woody, covered in dust). Until, years later, I am only reminded that I happen to own them by finding a wad of contracts stuffed into an old photo album, like lost Premium Bonds bought for a child’s first birthday, found when they are 43. Enjoy the simple transfers while you can, because when Fantasy Premier League see the potential of this idea (sent to them as a suggestion form made with cut out letters from magazines as they demand), Fantasy loans are about to get real.

Hold your horses

Yes we can still enjoy musings on Fantasy Football even when there are no Premier League fixtures this week. As we know, the life of a Fantasy Manager never stops.

I’m sure at least some of you have had the experience of agonizing over transfers on a Friday as usual, finally gathering the courage to send them through, scrolling down in smug, premature satisfaction when – horror of horrors, you see that there are no games on this week. It is an easy mistake to make, once we are into the rhythm of weekly team changes the routine is set into auto pilot and nobody wants to accept a gaping hole in their early weekend plans. God forbid, we may have to do some work on a Friday afternoon. It is easy for the international breaks to pass by unnoticed when you are deep in the mire of an early Fantasy relegation fight, especially with the level of interest the England side stirs in us at the moment.

The immutable Sod’s Law of Fantasy Football dictates that whichever player you have picked, now a week early, will inevitably pull up like a lame horse in the first few minutes of his meaningless international friendly against St Kitts and Nevis (thinking about it, that level of opponent shows the type of player I’m usually drawn to take a transfer chance on), making a mockery of your hard earned choice by booking a return flight to the physio’s table for a good few weeks.

I often wonder if minor Premier League players have cottoned on to this trend and log onto fantasypremierleague.com to anxiously scan through their own ‘Selected by %’ stats, knowing that just a single decimal point change upwards before the international break makes them a marked man, doomed to injury. Even if they try to avoid this fate by catching a Blighty one in training, the forces of Fantasy Football destiny will track them down in ‘Final Destination’ style with an injury wherever they may be – a hamstring twang walking down the steps to the training ground, or an elaborate Mouse Trap chain of events ending with a jar of mayonnaise falling on their foot. Sadly, the same Sod’s Law fate also seems to follow me to betting on the Grand National. As soon as my pin sticking approach alights on a promising young filly, I sense a distant glue factory manager rubbing his hands with glee and priming the heaters. Whenever I have watched horse racing live, I’m sure I have seen the horses looking anxiously in my direction and putting on a stage limp.

So, as this week’s public service announcement for the benefit of Fantasy Managers and real-life footballers braving the international break, avoid Sod’s Law and remember that THERE ARE NO FANTASY FIXTURES THIS WEEK. So, farewell until next week when the stats battle can be rejoined.