Is this real life or is it just fantasy?

In a Premiership season where before Fergie’s announcement the most exciting story-lines in the final 4 weeks have been the fairly bland questions of whether Wigan will stay up or whether Spurs will make the top 4, it’s easy to think it’s been devoid of drama. But even in the most trivial of matches this season, there’s one avenue you can rely on for entertainment – contributors @DNSandnick give us their take on how Fantasy Football changed their view on the game. 

You’re sitting there, wearing your beloved Chelsea kit, biting your nails, hoping Man U keep a clean sheet, and leap up in a pub because Titus Bramble just got a goal away at West Brom.

Remember when you could just enjoy football without worrying about goal scorers, assists and clean sheets? It was all so clear – you just wanted your team to win, and your rivals to lose. Blissfully simple. It could be 5-4 and you wouldn’t mind as long as you got the result you wanted.  Into that clarity entered Fantasy Football to muddy it.

Initial forms of Fantasy Football, the simple formats like those seen through the Daily Telegraph in the early 90s, were incredibly successful – but this was only the beginning. The birth of the internet saw not only a growth in sharing and discussion of football, it brought about the instant compiling of stats and accessibility that made Fantasy Football the ideal companion of the beautiful game.

In general, our viewing of any event, be that sport, news or entertainment, has completely changed with the rise of the smartphone and tablet. This shift is the ‘Second Screen’ culture. You can’t watch X-Factor without your Twitter app open to see what your friends or the general public at large think about the acts. The BBC actually created a game to accompany their show ‘The Apprentice’. Viewers can bet on who was getting fired in real time as they watch. For a football fan the list of accompanying feeds are endless. At any given match there are enough tweets to serve as match commentary on their own.

Live information on the BBC and Sky Sports or via Twitter’s OptaJoe give greater statistical analysis than any TV broadcaster ever could. Not to mention the Fantasy Football sites themselves. Each week polls on captain choices, extensive lists of injuries and suspensions, and never ending discussions about the merits of Player A versus Player B fuel the distracting fires in the hearts of the majority of modern football fans. What started as a veneer has become easily 50% of our football interest. Some people seem to care more about Fantasy Football than real football.

So why do we keep coming back? It’s almost as if there is a prediction high phenomena – the same chemicals in your brain as betting, without the hole in your wallet. There might be keen gamblers betting on another team this weekend glued to watching the final scores come in to see if their wild punt on Wigan to stay up has come off. Some Fantasy Football managers will have the same feeling about whether Sunderland can keep a clean sheet this weekend.

Jenas and Graham felt like good ideas in January - perhaps this manager shouldn't have waited to gameweek 38 to remove them...

Jenas and Graham felt like good ideas in January – perhaps this manager shouldn’t have waited to gameweek 38 to remove them…

Fantasy Football sits comfortably between money-free betting and prediction-based ego padding. If you get a funny feeling that Tevez will pop one in on a Saturday lunchtime and he does, you’re a king. If you decide that this is finally Downing’s time to shine at Anfield and he spends the 90 minutes engaged in presumably tedious conversation with Jordan Henderson on the bench, what have you lost really? A slight dent of the ego, but you’d take one of them over a dent in your wallet any day.

Another quirk of the FF psychology is that ‘Sods law’ is crystallized in the fantasy football arena. Your latest transfer’s ankle is shattered into 50 pieces at 5 past 3, whilst the player you took him out for scores his first goal of the season, deflected, with his eyes shut. This leads to another behavioral trope of the fantasy football fan: Playing sods law at its own game. There’s two ways to do this:

  • A. Put in a rival defender or goalkeeper – that way if they keep a clean sheet you get the points, if they concede then your rival conceded.
  • B. Leave out your team’s striker – if he doesn’t score you’re a genius, if he does celebrate like a football fan of old.

With Fantasy football winning is losing and losing is winning.  It can make a tedious 0-0 between Stoke and Everton a joy if you’ve got the likes of Huth and Jagielka in your back line, and take the shine off your favourite team’s victory over Liverpool if you’ve made a red-carded goalless Suarez captain that week. It’s changed us from truly being neutral.

And in a season where drama in the Premiership has been hard to find, it’s always a reliable replacement.

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