The Underdog That Could: A Fantasy Football Story

With the new season approaching, Fantasy Football managers are tinkering with their teams, eager to lift that imaginary trophy.

Sure, last years productivity in work went down, your partner was sick of you glaring at your phone, sweating over mounting injuries on your bench, but it was all worth it, to be crowned over all those within your league. I’ve been asked by Three At The Back to write an article on my performance in my own fantasy league last season.

Before I begin regaling you with the dizzying heights that was my triumphant 1st place finish in my 30+ league, I must highlight, I am an amateur in every sense of the word. My interest in football began 2 years ago, with an unusual wager with an Irishman, I bet him he couldn’t go alcohol free for a month (he lasted 2 weeks), the counter bet was that he had a month to get me interested in football, needless to say, we both won.

He picked a team for me to follow, Southampton FC, a middle of the road club that I sank my teeth into, I still follow them now, I became engrossed in their victories and defeats, I became attached to their journey in the premier league, and finally I understood where the passion originates, it’s something very primal.

Making Decisions

The underdog that could, that was my story, paralleled with the meteoric rise of Leicester City it felt like the dream could shatter like glass at any moment, every nail biting week for the Foxes was mirrored by my own trails and tribulations. What captain do I pick? What formation should I play? What does KDB stand for and why is everyone talking about it? Like I said, an amateur.

Now, that doesn’t mean I lucked my way through the season, if that was the case I’d be rolling dice in the casino with lottery tickets stuffed in my pockets. Saying that I have to give Lady Luck her dues, she kept me afloat in the bad weeks and nudged me ahead in the good ones. She was present when I captained Agüero the day he netted 5 goals, the day I transferred  Ashley Williams in on a hunch, grabbing me 13 points in the process.

Sergio Agüero celebrates
Sergio Agüero bagged 5 goals as captain 
© The Mirror

She must have helped Scott Dann to, he would stick the occasional goal in and nobody else considered picking him. I didn’t pick players blindly, there was method to my madness, I was beating friends in my league who held decades of football knowledge under their respective belts. However, just like when you start playing poker I had the blissful ignorance of not overthinking it, something that certainly stung me in the latter half of the season.

I had developed a routine and I stuck with it, a day before matches started, I would open up several tabs on the computer and absorb all of the tips, picks, tricks and fantasy pundits opinions. I would utilise the score predictions from Lawro on the BBC website, he became my biblical prophet, his words were holy scripture, I would then collect all of this information and apply it to my team.

These people live and breath the sport, so why wouldn’t I take their advice? Or heed their warnings? It was never about copying their ideas but instead utilise their knowledge as a guide, a sign post on where to go, and for someone with limited knowledge it was the golden ticket (or boot?).

European Rotation

It wasn’t all plain sailing, and my green boots did come into effect when the dreaded European football reared its ugly head. My lack of understanding almost cost me the title (I finished 11 points  ahead), my naivety coupled with my new found ability to overthink every decision ruined my one chance to storm ahead and take the pressure off.

Jürgen Klopp laughs
Jürgen Klopps European rotation nearly costs the lead
© The Express

Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp and Europe mashed together with a double game week saw me not only lose my significant lead, but place my team in a terrible position thereafter. In an attempt to maximise players on a double game week I had inadvertently selected players on rotation, the folly of going for cheaper players because they’ll play twice (they could play 100 times, there’s a reason they cost £5m).

I began chasing points, which lead to terrible choices born out of panic and perceived opportunism, not my usual calm and calculated choices. Martial as captain against Aston Villa anyone? (thanks for that Chris), Coutinho in for the double game week? My only saving grace, that 2nd place had a Liverpool heavy side, which equally crippled him except for Firmino, who’s name I curse to this day (I dropped him previously due to injury) otherwise it was game over, the dream up in smoke, thanks for that Lady Luck, she can be a cruel mistress.

Despite my errors, I wasn’t out of the race, it became a dog fight, a tantalising cliffhanging finish. My earlier high points consistency in the season had pushed me out of the trenches and clear of everyone except 2nd, maybe 3rd if he picked a lucky triple captain choice (he didn’t). Part of that strategy for me was Odion Ighalo,

I had picked him up super cheap, and once he started scoring he wouldn’t stop. He wasn’t a run away like Kane, who’s get himself a brace each match, this played to my advantage, Ighalo went under the radar and gave me 6 points every week, without fail. When people finally caught on to this points tractor chugging away, he had slowed down and by then I had thanked him for his services and dropped him sharpish.

Spot the Differential

Orion Ighalo Celebrates
Orion Ighalo scored a lot of points early in the season to catch managers out.
© The Mirror

When the variety of people’s players started to blend into a standardised team, it’s those little differentials that give you an edge. Another aspect which others tend to fall down, is team loyalty, flooding their teams (well 3 anyway) with players of the club they support. My favourite example of last season, a zealous Man United supporter insisted on captaining Martial every game, he consequently finished in low mid table obscurity, below a 7 year old… Who started the season 4 weeks late (sorry Chris, but that’s revenge for the Villa advice).

To finalise, I think there are many factors that get added to the melting pot of being a good Fantasy Football manager. You may attribute my victory to beginners luck, I wouldn’t blame you, but it’s a long season and I’m not that lucky, it was a hard fought win that I’m proud of. It’s definitely a skill game, but you can have bad seasons, unlucky results and surprising upsets, but that’s also the beauty of it.

I think that’s the message I’m trying to get across, is that Fantasy Football can connect with those unenthusiastic about the sport. It creates an amazing dynamic, a competitive competition that fosters a personal investment, that makes you watch matches, care about results, strive to win, and enjoy the beautiful game. Coming to work, talking to friends and sharing your stories, losses, wins and bad beats. It worked for me, and it can work for others.

You can find and reach out to DC on twitter @DC_Writes or at his website daniel-cole.co.uk. You can face off with DC in our Three At The Back Premier Fantasy League using the pin: 177695-57368. We’re sure (and hope) his meteoric rise last season will result in a catastrophic fall this season.

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