A celebration of Fantasy Premier League & the end of a huge conspiracy

The official Fantasy Premier League is back, which means it’s time to pick your team, put aside real-world rivalries and, most importantly, find a worthy successor to Àngel ‘£4.0m Rangel.

Why is fantasy league so good? On the face of it, it strips away the two best things about football fandom: following a club and actually watching, with your eyes, the beautiful game.

With fantasy league, you lose all sense of loyalty to your club and miss most of the real-life action behind the points. It is literally just maths. Just counting, basically. An arbitrary spreadsheet in which N’Golo Kante — N’Golo Kante, for God’s sake! — is of virtually no worth.

And yet there’s something about it, something about its simplicity, boiling down an extremely complex sport into numbers, that makes it an incredibly satisfying companion to the football proper.

Meaningless mid-table fixtures become critical point-scoring opportunities; long-term obsessions are formed for otherwise forgettable footballers. (Matt Targett, we still owe you so much.)

FPL is also, importantly, a Premier League product and/or service that is totally free. Unless you’ve agreed a buy-in with competitors, fantasy requires no financial contribution, making it universally accessible and, in that sense, something of an anomaly in the football world.

Of course, the free-to-play nature of fantasy league might not seem all that surprising, given its simplicity and the relatively paucity of prizes on offer (on the official Premier League game, at least).

But FPL isn’t a million miles away from other number-centric football games like Football Manager, which, seen as a succession of spreadsheets, is actually quite expensive.

Perhaps FPL serves as free advertising for the Premier League, its clubs and the various broadcasters showing its fixtures, but there is no obvious incentive to cash in at any point, no constant haranguing to turn your FPL obsession into season tickets or a BT Sports package — just the occasional invitation to eat Cadbury’s, the official snack of the Premier League, or drink Carling, the official beer. (Perhaps we will, Richard Scudamore. Perhaps we will.)

For these reasons and presumably many more, FPL is now a towering feature on the footballing landscape.

The FPL scandal

Not that the game is always perfect.

Last season, I wrote about a big problem with the official Premier League fantasy game: last season’s database, it turned out, was filled with duplicate accounts — accounts that were exploiting the FPL prize system at your expense.

Under last season’s rules, a sizeable bounty (copy of FIFA, Nike ball, other stuff) was offered to the manager finishing top of a single gameweek, while a smaller prize (FPL t-shirt, stress ball, other stuff) was offered to the gameweek’s top 20 managers.

It was a nice idea, but it meant that individual users were creating multiple accounts each week with the sole intention of winning a weekly prize.

These sneaks (okay, I was one of them, but only for academic purposes) would create teams with no intention of playing the full season, even creating several variations on a team every Saturday to have a better chance of winning.

Some users didn’t even disguise their intentions, giving their duplicate teams names like ‘Salah001’, ‘Salah002’, etc.

Worst of all, in the week in which I studied this phenomenon, one of the ‘one-week wonder’ teams won the top prize.

Cheaters thwarted

When I (and several others) contacted FPL about the issue, they didn’t seem to take it very seriously, even defending the arrangement that allows late-comers to win prizes.

“It’s important that anyone can register and play FPL at any point during the season as people can be introduced to the game at varying stages of the season,” a spokesperson said via email. “It’s only fair that all managers in the game have the same access and opportunity to the prizes on offer.”

But that was then and this is now. And people, I have news for you: We have won. It is over. No longer will Salah002 be taking an FPL-branded stress ball that is rightfully yours.

As of the 2018-19 season, FPL has implemented a new rule:

To be eligible to win a weekly prize, you must have joined the game before the start of the season or a minimum of two clear Gameweeks before the one in which you are top of the weekly leaderboard. Players who have played a chip (including Bench Boost, Free Hit, Triple Captain or Wildcard) will not be eligible to win a weekly prize for the Gameweek that such a chip has been used.

I’ll still have no chance of winning anything, but the platform is now rid of one of its biggest problem. Kudos to FPL HQ!

Options in 2018-19

With the game all patched up, there’s still the small matter of picking a squad. Rangel’s gone. Mbemba’s gone. Mariappa, after seven seasons as a £4.0m defender, has been tragically bumped up to £4.5m.

Your best bet, in my opinion, is to follow the advice from the FPL Twitter account, which, bless its cotton socks, advises you to sign literally everybody on the game.

Take this outrageous bit of propaganda, for example, on how Wilfried Zaha’s reclassification as a forward — i.e. he will get fewer points per contribution — has made him a “big target”.

Or this pointless bit of shit-stirring on phantom striker Daniel Sturridge:

Positivity is nice and everything, but it would be great if, every once in a while, FPL would tell you that Shkodran Mustafi’s £5.5m price tag was just an internal joke and that you should definitely not put him in your team.

Or that Jordon Ibe’s price rise is because they just quite like him as a man. Or that for all the good £6.5m Chicharito will do you, you might as well stick him up your arse.

No, FPL HQ won’t provide objective analysis, but nor, it seems, will the players themselves. Patrick van Aanholt, for example, has promised big numbers for those that back him:

It’s a big shout from the Crystal Palace man, especially with people backing his team-mate Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.0m), who is set to be this year’s Antoine Sibierski.

Planet Football mini-league

With that solid advice in the back of your mind (just pick some players; who cares?), you should also join the Planet Football mini-league (338523-270213) so we can point out your bold and reckless mistakes in future FPL articles.

See you on the not-real pitch.

By Benedict O’Neill

More from Planet Football

I tried to rig Fantasy League, only to discover a huge conspiracy

A heartfelt tribute to the £4.0m defenders of Fantasy League

Can you name all 72 Football League clubs for 2018-19?

How gaming has changed football fans and is ‘loosening club ties’