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The Highbury Library animted promo v5 350x350

Like 3,500,000 other people around the world I've played Fantasy Premier League for the last five years. Like 3,200,000 in any given year I've been doing it really badly. This summer I resolved to put that right.
I sensed there was a specific problem holding me back and wondered why an Arsenal-supporting friend of mine always destroyed me. Season after season for the last five years he's finished in the top few thousand. It doesn't sound spectacular when you put it like that, but trust me he's good.

So I swallowed my pride and opened up to him about my 'fantasy foibles'. The awkwardness lifted once he realised I was talking about the online football game and we got down to brass tacks. Over time I realised that what he described as my 'scruples' were hurting me more than I feared. Foibles, scruples, whatever. It was bad.
This might sound familiar to you, or it might sound like 3rd-season Mourinho talk (i.e. completely nuts). But the crux was that I could not bring myself to pick footballers playing for rival teams, because, in my mind, that was tantamount to wanting the competition to do well.

And this made me uncomfortable. It's a conflict of interest. When Harry Kane started looking like a bargain to me I pictured myself cowering before some kind of Arsenal tribunal. The Dial Square team, in that cold aspect of old photographs, stared down at me as a panel of judges. Also, the Highbury squirrel was on the stenograph.

"We find you guilty of misappropriating your support. You pledged loyalty to Arsenal, and Arsenal alone. What part of that pledge were you forgetting when you signed that chancer, Harry Kane?"

I told them I thought he was more than a one season wonder, which got me a reduced sentence on diminished responsibility. But I was sentenced to feel dirty and inferior, never able to grip my lapels and claim with any integrity that I was proper Arsenal. A part of me had been convinced by the idea that I could help the team even in the most roundabout ways possible. And how much more roundabout does it get than refusing to pick players from enemy clubs on an internet game? It doesn't, because it's crazy.

OK, so that is crazy - squirrels can't type shorthand - but I justified my method in other ways: Resourcefulness through scarcity, like cucina povera, but for fantasy football. F*ck, that's a pretentious way of putting it.

See, it can be hard to settle on a team each week - with form, opposition and any number of other variables to take into account. So, by always picking three Arsenal players and eliminating the possibility of ever signing a Tottenham, Man United or Chelsea player I was of course draining the talent pool until left with a traversable puddle.

Except, this doesn't work because the teams I don't like happen to be among the best teams in the league. Well, normally they are.
My friend taught me that fandom is a more pliable thing than I had thought. This man of reason plays a conscience-free fantasy football game; no twinge when Eden Hazard wins bonus points, no pang when Diego Costa scores a last-minute winner, and when John Terry smiles, he smiles too.

You recoil with horror yet his is all very sensible, particularly in a Moneyball sense. You know, cleansing your mind of the biases that deny the hard data, emancipating yourself from the kind of reflex devotion to your team that bookmakers prey on. Think of the Tottenham fan betting that this will be the season they break the top four, or a Liverpool supporter convinced that 2015-16 is their year. They're danged fools, right?
I don't want to be a danged fool, and with nothing to say in the face of this common sense I accepted the possibility that I too might learn to enjoy a goal by someone I don't like. And I have to admit it feels great.
See, you can come to see rival players as second-class members of your setup; boot-cleaning, cone-carrying scapegoats who can be bought and used like bogroll. They live in the shed, surviving on energy gels as their self-esteem is undermined by their pampered teammates. It's a bit like working at Amazon. On Saturdays I turf them out on the pitch to do right by me, and I'll take the points they earn me like a ruthless hustler with no mind for their welfare. If they mess up my count they're gone, sent packing with a single click.

When the sad day comes that I have to part with Riyad Mahrez as his early-season form evaporates, through misty eyes I'll tell myself and his avatar to remember the good times. But when discarding  John Terry I'll feel nothing - nothing but glee. Extra glee, because to be casting John Terry off must mean that Chelsea are doing badly.

Finally, and perhaps the most useful perspective, is the idea of hedging your emotional bets. Fantasy football can save your week.

Maybe that's a bit drastic; it's only a game. OK, fantasy football can save your weekend.

Now if Arsenal aren't playing well your weekend may need a safety net. It's just natural that good players in good football teams will win you points. So why deny yourself the good things in life? It counters the frustration of Arsenal going up against these new cyborg goalkeepers every week. If Arsenal do drop points there's something to salvage from that 95th-minute Rooney winner.
I've blasted my way into the top 200,000. I shouldn't have to say again - it's way cooler than it sounds. I got in touch with my friend to share the joy. Two warriors scaling enemy walls together. Allies for now, but aware that the time may come when we're locked in battle and he regrets the tips he gave me.

So, off the cuff, I told him, 'the fantasy cream rises, eh?'
And that's when the awkwardness that had dissipated returned. I don't think we're going to be friends any more, but my fantasy team's going well. And in the end, isn't that what counts?


  • 15 Sep 2015
    So let me stop reminiscing of days gone by and let me focus on our Welsh wonder. Let me start off by saying that I think it is quite obvious that Aaron Ramsey is better in central midfield. His partnership with Mesut Özil, his running from deep and his underrated ball winning ability makes him a ...Read more