Fantasy Football Blues

This is a bit of a departure to my previous posts. More of a rant than anything else.

Every year, at the start of the footballing season, I face an incredibly tough dilemma. One I know will impact my life greatly, debating internally on such seemingly unimportant decisions that eventually cause loss of sleep, temporary madness and a season ruined by regrets.

The question I ask myself every year in August, before the Premier League kicks off again, is whether I should take part in Fantasy Football or not. Fantasy Football, for those who are unaware, is a game popular amongst football fans (and for other sports i.e. basketball, american football etc), where you choose players to comprise a team with various restrictions. Each player has a price – obviously the best players are more expensive – and you can only have so many players from one team. Players gain your team points by scoring goals, getting assists, keeping clean sheets, and can lose points by scoring own goals or getting red cards etc. Pretty simple. The aim is to create a team under a set budget who will get you as many points as possible per week.

Sounds like a fun way to pass the time huh? An added interest to the weekend games? A good conversation starter with your mates?

My current team. What does it all mean? I’ll tell you what it means. F**k all.

Oh no. If only that were the case. It will end up taking every bit of joy and happiness you used to get from the weekend football. Granted, you’ll get a bit more of a buzz before teams around the country kick off. You might flick through channels or keep a close eye on the latest scores, watching  vigilantly to see if that bloke from Southampton still has a clean sheet, or if the Chelsea striker you spunked over £10 million on has added to his seasons tally of zero. You might even get a few moments of joy here and there, like selecting the right player as your captain (your captain receives double points) and watching as he goes on to get a hat trick, propelling you ahead of your mates for a week or two.

But it won’t last. The thrill of the game might get you every now and then, especially at the start of the season. The novelty begins to wear off when your genius decisions start backfiring left right and centre. You bring in Rooney because United are at home to West Ham and make him the captian. He’ll bag a few goals and an assist, surely? Nope, he gets sent off. You will find a large proportion of the defenders you select are suddenly prone to scoring own goals and giving away penalties, but the moment you take them out of your team, they’ll transfer into Beckenbauer and eat points for breakfast. You begin to realise that perhaps you aren’t the tactical mastermind that you thought you were, and suddenly not just fantasy football but the football itself loses its appeal. You’ve lost your appetite for it, and you try and ignore it like a sulking teenager. But you never give up on it. I’ve lost count of the times where I’ve given up on the game, only to return to it, chop and change my team and have a great weekend, surging up the table again and just like that, I’m addicted again.

The aspect of fantasy football I hate more than anything is the internal conflict it causes as a football fan. I’m a Manchester United fan, and so I want United to do well. I want United’s rivals (Liverpool, Arsenal, City, Chelsea) to do badly. But the best players are at these clubs. Balancing your team with a scattering of these rival players leads to a bit of a conflict – do you want to do well in Fantasy Football, or your actual team to do well in real-life football? Because you can’t have both (you can, unfortunately, have neither). This season, Diego Costa of Chelsea is ripping the league apart, with 8 goals in 6 games. Every goal he gets, I get points (double points most week, as he’s usually my captain), and so whenever he pops up with a goal, I clench my fist and cheer with gritted teeth, dying a little inside. This also happens when Sterling (Liverpool) gets an assist, or Kompany (City) keeps a clean sheet. It will never feel right cheering for the opposition.

And imagine, after 9 months of chopping and changing your team, desperately trying to keep up with or ahead of your friends or colleagues, you manage to scrape those vital points together at the end and win your mini league! Your friends pat you on the back, tell you ‘Fair enough mate, well played.’ and you can strut around like the football god you have become. But what does it all mean? No one will erect a marble statue commemorating your success. No one will even remember after a few days. At the most, you might get an insignificant cash prize or a tacky trophy bought online. What you are more likely to receive is an overwhelming sense that you could have actually achieved something worthwhile during all those painstaking hours wasted on a pointless game that means nothing.

I’ll be playing it next season no doubt. And the season after. And the one after that…

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