Unemployment Has Made Me Really Good at Fantasy Football

It’s 4:30am on Sunday morning when I wake up to check the results from the English Premier League games played overnight. As the results load on my iPhone, I am beset by nerves. After a tense few microseconds, I see that West Bromwich Albion has beaten Southampton 1-nil.

As I mentally tally my ‘clean-sheet’ points, I am hit by a wave of emotion, equal parts ecstasy and relief. I struggle to go back to sleep. This has been the most exciting part of my week.

*  *  *  *  *

I recently turned 30, left my job and became a new father within the space of only a few days. It’s fair to say there is a lot going on in my life at the moment. But, sadly, the thing that occupies my attention the most is English Premier League Fantasy Football.

For those unaware, Fantasy Football is a game where you select a team of footballers and receive points according to their respective performances. Good performances (goals, assists and clean sheets etc) attract positive points, while bad performances (goals conceded, penalties missed and red and yellow cards etc) incur negative points. The team with the most points wins. As the manager of your team you can transfer players in and out and choose the starting lineup. There are a lot of variables to consider when selecting team (injuries, fixtures, team performance, weather, luck) which make the game inherently difficult.

As it stands, this season I am doing phenomenally (and uncharacteristically) well. I am coming 243rd in the world, and 12th in Australia. Those standings don’t mean much to ordinary people, but in the world of Fantasy Football it’s a big deal. To put it in context, there are approximately 3.5 million people playing the game globally.

If this were the stock market, I would be the trader wearing the gauche pinstripe suit with gold suspenders who rings a large bell whenever he makes a big trade (which is often). I am not the 1 per cent, I am the 0.1 per cent*.

Shit is approaching Gekko levels
Shit is approaching Gekko levels

My success in this online world has coincided with me becoming unemployed. Now rather than waking at 4.30am to start work, I wake at 4.30am to start work on my Fantasy Football team. I may no longer be earning any money, but I still have the same level of dedication to my profession.

And yet my success is causing me angst. I am addicted, yet conflicted. I am at once proud and ashamed.

*  *  *  *  *

Fantasy Football is ostensibly about football, but it is far removed from the reality of the sport as possible. It has nothing to do with kicking a ball; it has everything to do with statistics and calculated risks.

Being into Fantasy Football is kind of like collecting stamps. The people involved are really into it, and if you happen to be one of those people, it’s best to avoid discussing it in public.

Strictly speaking, the game is for nerds, not jocks. This makes me a nerd, a label I am uncomfortable with.

Sitting awkwardly next to my shame, is my pride. Privately, I am overjoyed at my Fantasy Football team’s performance (named 3-2-1 VLAAR-ST OFF, an awkward pun on Ron Vlaar, the Dutch defender from Aston Villa).

The worst of puns
The worst of puns

Each week my emotional state is inextricably linked to whether I got a green arrow (a joyous rise in the rankings) or a red arrow (a devastating fall in the rankings). The arrows mean nothing to everybody else; they mean everything to me. My ego is now wrapped in fantasy football.

Like a dirty drug addiction, I try to hide my habit from my loved ones. But it’s hard to conceal it from your partner when you’ve spent the past two hours on the laptop evaluating the relative prospects of Stoke’s Jon Walters and Crystal Palace’s Jason Puncheon.

I have let people down because of my addiction. Once I forgot I had dinner in the oven because I was looking at how Sergio Arguero has performed in previous outings against Newcastle United. The results were burnt salmon, an annoyed girlfriend and a healthy return of 9 points for the Argentinean.

Honey, I told you to captain David Silva!
Honey, I told you to captain David Silva!

Unlike a relapsing heroin user, I haven’t once attempted to give up my crippling dependence issues. There has been no cold turkey, no rehab, and no painful cycle of using and drying out. I remain thoroughly hooked. I am still chasing the dragon.

And so I continue to occupy an awkward space: Immensely proud of my online life, yet too ashamed to tell people in my real life.

For now, Fantasy Football will have to remain that way: a fantasy world inside my head in which I am King (or roughly 242 places below the King).

By Ben Shine

*It should be noted that there is no real money at stake in Fantasy Football.

Mark Bresciano is to the Socceroos as George Harrison was to the Beatles

When folks debate who is the Best Beatle Of All Time (BBOAT), it’s generally a battle between John and Paul.

Typically, the argument hinges on which one was the better songwriter (Lennon’s lyrics vs McCartney’s melodies) or who had the more impressive character (Lennon’s rebellious activism vs McCartney’s clownish whimsy). The contest takes on further intensity when you consider the well-publicised animosity between the pair.

But if you ask the real connoisseurs, there is no argument: the best and coolest Beatle was George.

Languid, conscientious and cool as fuck, George Harrison was not only integral to the Beatles, but he easily made the greatest music post-Fab Four (see: Wilburys, Travelling; All Things Must Pass etc).

George was The Man. He was a pioneer in many ways, embracing eastern spiritualism, forming a Super Group (with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison) that was genuinely good, and bedding Madonna in the 80s (among other rumoured sexual daliances).

George single-handedly popularised the selfie stick AND eastern spiritualism in western culture.
George also single-handedly popularised the selfie.

But historical revisionism from Martin Scorsese and music hipsters aside, it is likely Harrison will continue to remain under-appreciated by mainstream Beatles fans – forever the second banana to Lennon and McCartney.

Equally, it seems Socceroo Mark Bresciano, who announced his retirement from international football yesterday, is destined for a similar fate. A great, yet somehow underrated component of a superb group.

There is no doubt “Bresh” is a great Socceroo. As a member of Australia’s Golden Generation, he has been an ever-present fixture in a Socceroos side that qualified for three consecutive World Cups and recently won its first piece of major silverware, the Asian Cup.

All up he represented his country 84 times, scoring 13 goals in the process.

But just as the order of the songwriting credits on Beatles songs aren’t what truly matters, neither are Bresciano’s statistics. What is important was his style. And he had it in bucket-loads.

Mark Bresciano: Overflowing with style
Mark Bresciano: Overflowing with style

Football is about many things, but at its essence it is about space and time. A footballer who can control those precious commodities the best will have the most success.

No Australian footballer has ever mastered the temporal and spatial confines of the pitch like Bresh did. A drop of the shoulder here, a feint there, a flick of the outside of the boot there, and the man could conjure room amidst a previously-crowded pitch. Enough room to turn, make a pass, and change a game.

In doing so, Bresh made the national side tick. And while his playing time diminished by the time the 2015 Asian Cup came around, his mere presence in the side no doubt inspired the younger players (including his heir apparent, Massimo Luongo) to their greatest glory to date.

But like an underappreciated Beatle, it seems likely that Bresciano won’t be regarded by the mainstream as the Best Socceroo Of All Time (BSOAT).

The media are one more headed goal away from bestowing that title on Tim Cahill (John Lennon), having only recently lost their infatuation with Harry Kewell (Paul McCartney).

Australia's McCartney and Lennon had a much friendlier relationship than the original pair.
Australia’s McCartney and Lennon had a much friendlier relationship than the original pair.

While these two are great footballers, they have both intentionally sought the lime-light (as is their right). Their goals, and the fact they played in the English Premier League, only further heighten their public appeal – and claims to being the BSOAT.

In contrast, Bresciano has seemed content to avoid fame and focus on his football. While he has never been shy of scoring goals, his decision to, until recently, ply his trade in the Italian Serie A (when the competition was genuinely one of the best in the world) has had the effect of hiding his accomplishments at the club level from Australian TV audiences.

Despite his talent, success and contribution to the national team, it appears Mark Bresciano will be remembered like George: a cool-as-fuck connoisseurs’ choice, chronically under-appreciated by the mainstream.

While his goal against Uruguay in the World Cup qualifier in 2005 may not be ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Penny Lane’, it’s still ‘Something’.

By Ben Shine

Australian Bribery “Not Good Enough”: FIFA ExCo Members

Zurich, Switzerland —

FIFA ExCo members have slammed Australia’s attempts at bribery as ‘unpolished’ and ‘immature’ as the world governing body, FIFA, yesterday handed down its report into the bidding process for the respective 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

After assessing nine bids from 11 nations, an unnamed ExCo member concluded that ‘Australia just isn’t that good at bribery and corruption.’

‘Australia has shown potential, the ExCo member said, ‘but they need to start turning that potential into performance.’

Of Australia’s first foray into World Cup bidding, the ExCo member praised our enterprising approach, taking time to single out alleged efforts to redirect Government aid from Africa towards initiatives in his home nation.

‘That was encouraging,’ he noted. ‘But at the same time, this is the top level – first grade, if you will.’

‘Australia will learn. I am confident of that.’

The Australian bid was said to be reeling at FIFA’s feedback, believing their levels of shadiness to be ‘at least equal, if not better’ than their opponents.

Dejected, but we'll bounce back.
Dejected, but we’ll bounce back.

Despite FIFAs public condemnation of ‘the potentially problematic facts and circumstances’ surrounding Australia’s bid, TPA can reveal that ExCo members have privately challenged Australia to bounce back from their disappointing return of 1 vote for $46 million of Australian taxpayer money.

‘They [FIFA] have certainly delivered some proactive feedback on how we can take our corruption from good to great,’ an FFA insider told TPA.

‘We know it’s constructive, but right now we’re shattered.’

‘Maybe we’re not quite as polished yet, but we’ll get there.’

TPA readers can join the campaign to (Geoffrey) Boycott the World Cup. For information, click here

Sam Perry