As a teenager playing video games like Sensible Soccer and Championship Manager, I should have seen this coming…
Computer games are great when you are a kid; you have all the time in the world to play them (once homework is out of the way of course!), and you hone your skills to beat your mates the next time you play. As an adult, that all changes. No time for sitting in front of the TV playing a game, so instead my attentions switched to playing a game that takes weeks' worth of planning, but only requires a little attention every few months actually ‘playing’ the game. Introducing 'fantasy football'.
There are lots and lots of different versions of this, but my favourite is Dream Team. Using the ‘knowledge' I gained from all those hours playing football games as a kid, I can finally pretend that I know what I am doing, and choose a great team and formation to win the league!
Dream Team works by each participant choosing a team of 11 players, with a budget of £50m. The formation needs to be either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, with most people favouring the 4-3-3 as there is a better chance of scoring goals and racking up the points. You can choose from any player in the Barclays Premier League, and try to get the best players in your team to score the most points from clean sheets, assists, goals and other significant statistics.
Each season, this process for many fantasy football enthusiasts starts with as much research as possible over the summer, looking at recent player stats, form and injuries over pre-season. Plus finding out as much as possible about new players that have signed, the positions they have played in before, and if they are due to be away for any part of the season for African Cup games, Olympic games, national service (Korean players) or the South American Cup - all of which can keep players out for a number of weeks. This all takes time. Then after this research, it’s time to start building your team.
Usually, the process of choosing a team starts with the strikers, as these have the opportunity to score goals, and goals equal points. You really need to get a balance for strikers, though, as if you go for the most popular strikers that generally guarantee you 20+ goals a season, you will have spent most of your budget just on these players, so you need to find the right balance. Then you move onto goal scoring midfielders, wing backs that chip in with a few assists during the season, and some solid defenders that don’t pick up yellow or red cards (these lead to minus points and bans). Then you are ready.
When the season kicks off, it is a great feeling each week knowing that you have outscored your mates, and heart-breaking when you haven’t. One of the strangest things about this game is the way it changes your view of a game of football. No longer are football teams sworn enemies of the team you actually support, they contain players that are point machines, and it doesn’t matter who they play for. You find yourself watching games, hoping for cards or injuries for players that aren't in your team, and screaming the names of the players that are, in the hope they can hear you score that elusive hat trick. The whole experience makes it hard to actually enjoy watching a game of football, so is it really worth all this time and effort? Of course it is!
Even though it takes over your life for 9 months a year, you could be a winner, with all of that hard working paying off. The FA cup final at the end of the season could become your defining moment - like the 3-2 thriller when Arsenal played against Hull in 2014. In that particular season, the problem I had was that I had pretty much the entire Arsenal team (a good move from me, so I thought). My team had one flaw though - I didn’t have the players that actually scored that day, but did have the entire Arsenal defence that conceded 2 goals, which left me with minus points (-2 points per player). This move cost me 1st place and the title, but taught me an important lesson about football - it’s a funny old game, and there’s always next season.