Let’s face it – we all start off the new Fantasy Premier League season with lofty ambitions of beating the other four million football managers to the title, but reality soon seeps in when it becomes clear that our ‘hidden gem’ in midfield was hidden for a reason and that our ‘promising’ young wing-back is still learning his trade by leaking four goals every match.
After a moment of expectation adjustment, we realise that the most we can hope for is to beat our equally inept mates in the private league we have formed. This, to me, is the real essence of the game – the banter and bragging rights available within a close circle of friends.
The good people at FPL (https://fantasy.premierleague.com) have introduced a new format this year which enhances this aspect. Available for groups of up to 16 managers, the Draft supposes that there is only one Harry Kane (“one Harry Kaaa-aaane….”) and he can’t play in hundreds of thousands of teams every week. If you choose him before the other managers, he is yours and yours alone.
It is a principle that I first stumbled across when running my own fantasy league for a bunch of workmates in London some 20 years ago (it’s okay, FPL, I won’t sue for copyright infringement). Fortunately the shambolic events of our Auction Evening, which lurched into the early hours of the morning with none of the 26 managers present acquiring a viable team, can now be avoided by using the clever systems within the FPL machine.
There are no player values or budget. Simply prepare a Watch List of your targets and either be online at the allotted time of the Draft or let it play out automatically. The managers are arranged in a random order and the picks proceed in a snake-like pattern (ABCD DCBA ABCD etc) to equal out the advantage of going first. If the player at the top of your watch list is already taken you will have a short amount of time to change tack, or the computer will automatically proceed down your list to the first available player.
Inertia tends to drag us back to the comfort of what we already know, but innovation can be a force for good, as long as it doesn’t involve Michael Flatley or changing the recipe of Cadbury Creme Eggs. The beauty of the new set-up is that you can still play the original and much-loved format alongside the new Draft idea – literally two-for-the-price-of-one (although you don’t have to pay for either!)
Our private league of ten far-flung friends, formed last year as both a way of avoiding work and an opportunity for hurling abuse at each other, proved a roaring success on both fronts and was only marginally tainted by the injustice of the final result. After the distressingly long summer break, we are all looking forward to resuming hostilities when Gameweek 1 starts this Friday.
Will you be living the fantasy dream this season?