The Lower Leagues: Fantasy Football?
I appreciate that there is nothing more tiresome (or tragic) than listening to somebody harp on about the decisions behind the selection of their fantasy football team. “I’ve got Lampard in the middle, you’ve gotta have Lampard and double points if he’s captain! I just didn’t know whether to pick Carlton Cole or Bobby Zamora upfront!”
It was predominantly for this reason that I have opted to change the format of fantasy football that I am participating in this year. For over a decade now I have been given a rhetorical £100 million pounds and my choice of the crème de la crème of the Barclays Premier League – but, now, enough is enough.
This season, the new and exciting format basically consists of picking your top and bottom performing three teams (in no particular order) in the Premiership, the Championship, League One and League Two. Thus, picking Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (or perhaps Man City, Liverpool, Everton or Tottenham, depending where your allegiances lie) as your top three Prem teams seems like the logical thing to do.
Easy enough, I hear you say. And I couldn’t have agreed with you more. That was before I bitterly came to realize that the money isn’t won through your Premiership predictions.
After reading back my opening statement, I appear to be running the risk of sounding somewhat contradictory. Nevertheless, for good reason. What this new format does, is further highlight the major distinction between the top tier of English football and the rest below it.
Let me illustrate with examples. The Fantasy Football season is already in full swing, with the lower leagues all completing a round of games before the big boys turn it on this weekend.
Already, I am drastically suffering. My top three for the Championship were Middlesborough, considerably bolstered by half of Glasgow joining their ranks, the Chelski of the Championship, QPR and Portsmouth, who have managed to retain a decent-enough caliber of player since their demise.
Only one of these teams, QPR, mustered a victory in the opening weekend. Rubbing salt into the wound, Boro were overturned by Ipswich and Portsmouth by Coventry – two teams I had placed in my bottom three. Funnily enough, the other club I had doomed to relegation was Millwall, who spanked much-fancied Bristol City 3-0.
Incidents like this were not limited to the Championship. Everyone’s runaway favorites for League One, Southampton, were taught a 1-0 lesson by local rivals Plymouth, whilst a quick look at the midweek Carling Cup results shows no less than 6 Championship teams being knocked out by clubs beneath them.
Complete and utter unpredictability. That is what I love about the lower tiers and is what, in essence, makes them so much more romantic than the Premiership. Of course, I’m not the first to say it. The fact that ‘anyone can win it’ is a much used maxim for Championship managers and the fact that it runs true makes for a turbulent and either enchanting/disheartening season for any fan who isn’t safely buckled in.
I revealed my hand concerning my Premiership top three predictions earlier. At the risk of sounding cock-sure, I would bet my bottom dollar that they end up correct. I would also double-or-nothing that bottom dollar with my predictions for the other end: Blackpool, Wolves and West Brom.
Similarly, its not too difficult to name the teams who will be scrapping for either high or low end midtableness. Indeed, it seems that nothing ever really changes at the top.
It is this predictability that is slowly morphing the Premiership into some kind of familiar pantomimic showcase. It’s guaranteed that Manchester United and Chelsea will be trading Punch and Judy blows at the top of the table by September. Rio Ferdinand is most definitely beeehhhind you.Carlo Ancellotti will continue to trade places week to week, completely unnoticed, with Christopher Biggins. The only question that remains is whether Owen Hargreaves will ever find a shoe that fits and make it to the ball?
On the other hand, the lower leagues more closely resemble a WWE Royal Rumble, where not only are favorites picked up by the underdogs and hurled over the top-rope onto the floor, but every two minutes some other unknown outfit joins the fun.
Of course, this difference all inevitably boils down to one thing, which has been so endlessly discussed that it seems pointless to do so here. In short, money money money. In all probability, the gulf between the Premiership and the best of the rest will only get bigger, hence solidifying the Prem’s already concrete predictability. Not that, it is a problem.
I love seeing all the big stars play as much as the next man. In fact, I am already salivating at Saturday’s early kickoff between Manchester City and Tottenham. Though, in terms of sheer sporting entertainment, the upsets, the dark horses and the unexpected flops that recklessly ride the lower league tsunami, for me, provide the real fantasy football.