We kick off our series of summer interviews with none other than Tom Fenley, the overall winner of the 2013/14 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game. In a nail-biting finale, Tom’s team, “Captain Suarez!”, held onto the top spot by just a single point over his nearest rival – he gives us an in-depth look into his experience and recounts the highlights of an unforgettable season:
Congratulations on winning. Where were you when the final Gameweek matches were taking place and when you had to make your final transfer of the season? What were your emotions like?
I was at home on the morning of the final Gameweek deadline, nervously determining my transfers. I usually confirm my trades the night before or, earlier in the season, even a few days prior, to avoid the slip-ups that had marred previous seasons; often ruinous drunk transfers or missed deadlines due to unplanned hangovers. This time I wanted to see as much news as possible and attempt to figure out the chasers’ transfers as well – it’s an important part of the game when up at the top – so unfortunately I had to stay in the night before, didn’t drink a drop, then set my alarm….
I like beer and knew I was going to be thirsty win or lose, so was in the pub with some mates for the matches. It was an odd feeling, knowing I was first could have put a lot of pressure on but although I wasn’t confident, I also couldn’t be in a better position so felt relatively calm. The first half passed quickly but the second half was torment; it was difficult to keep up with what was happening and all I knew was that it would be close. At full-time we knew it would be down to bonus points and perhaps even Sergio Aguero’s yellow card could have lost it.
Then I went into meltdown, I had no idea what was going on for hours. Unsubstantiated claims that I had won, scribbled maths, enigmatic bonus points, champagne opened (courtesy of Huttondressedaslahm, many thanks) and sipped in misery as I thought I had lost on number of transfers.
Finally, the game updated and I got a few texts; I was pretty sure I had won. Stared at the table for a bit that night, pondering how I had got there. Then I received the email the next day and I could finally believe it, I had survived and won by one point.
You left your final transfer with 17 minutes to spare, I’m assuming that means you were agonising over the decision?
Well, yes and no, the first transfer was always going to be relatively straightforward, Wayne Rooney out for Edin Dzeko or Daniel Sturridge. It was the decision to take a hit or not in order to bring in Leighton Baines that was tortuous. I knew the second placed team had him and that covering another player could be crucial.
There was also doubt over Aaron Ramsey’s playing time and Adam Johnson was just an incredibly frustrating player to own so he was not going in the first XI. I almost did the Baines move (he was on great form and a good bet for a clean sheet) but resolved to trust my instinct that Ramsey would play – it was a very nervous five minutes to the deadline and I had the confirm transfer button ready but I made the right decision. Knowing when to stick is as important a skill as making a transfer and in the end I couldn’t give up the four points just for one match.
On the final Gameweek you avoided taking a hit and transferred out Rooney for Dzeko? What made you decide on that move, as opposed to Sturridge as many others were, or a lucky punt as Luke Weston had with Lukaku.
As mentioned, the Dzeko move was a relatively easy decision to make. I knew that Luke Weston and those behind would take risks but fortunately the gaps were too sizeable unless they were ridiculously lucky. It was Borna (second placed manager) I was worried about and I was certain he would bring in Sturridge, as he already had Dzeko, so it was between those two.
Sturridge had an incredible record this season and was in my team for long stretches, but he was recently back from injury and after Liverpool’s previous games it was a difficult to call that match.
Dzeko had the better form, in a team that was in better form, scored braces in the previous two matches and additionally as I had Aguero, it was insurance to have the Bosnian. If Aguero didn’t play then Dzeko would be the main man in a game where they were endeavoring to clinch the title, so I couldn’t risk not having him.
Your team name is Captain Suarez. How important was he to your season? How often did you captain him?
I only got him in Gameweek 7 after that explosive first appearance at Sunderland. I captained him 22 times, 68.75% of the matches he was available for me – after those initial five matches (suspended), he only missed seven minutes of league football! I watch every Liverpool match and had mentioned to a friend in a previous season that if he hit his potential form he could be indispensable but he certainly exceeded expectations in terms of points. Not exactly a punt, but this game is about having the best players and without bringing him in relatively early I would not have won. As I climbed the rankings it helped to be able to forget about the captaincy most weeks and focus on the rest of the team.
You are a Liverpool fan. Would you have forfeited FPL victory for Liverpool’s first Premier League title in decades?
Yes, absolutely, without a doubt. Liverpool played the most attacking football and it would have been an unbelievable achievement to go from seventh to first, it’s still impressive that they came second. Also it would have made a lot more people happy and I’m all for the greater good. If only both had happened, I would probably still be out somewhere.
You made 48 transfers this season. Is this a lot or not a lot of hits based on previous seasons for you? What is your attitude to hits? What have been your other key strategies this season?
I certainly took more hits than ever this season. It was part of the planned strategy to use free transfers to maintain a balance in the squad in relation to fixtures and to get the form players in with a hit if it looked like paying off.
Hits can quite clearly be successful, I think you have to weigh them up on an individual basis and I did incredibly well with them this season. It is all about the effect it has on your team, if you are bringing in a better player it allows pivotal transfers when faced with injury pileups and provides economic benefit which helps the squad develop over time. This is also illustrated by the fact I didn’t use my wildcard until Gameweek 30, it is all about the long term value of a player and maintaining momentum. In the end the wildcard didn’t help as much as it could have, but with all the burgeoning injuries and doubles it allowed me some breathing space at a crucial point of the season.
There is no trick, or one key area that helps you to do well in FPL, it is always a combination of factors and being able to bring all the various bits of news, information, stats, comments, gut feeling, offbeat thoughts and strategy together with a bit of luck so that you make the right transfer. If there was one piece of advice I’d give it would be to use common sense, it’s not actually that common, be rational, this is not football, it’s Fantasy Football.
In the last four years your highest FPL rank was 79,653. Why was this year so successful for you? Was the reduction in available key players and players maintaining form this year a factor?
To start I would like to say, as many do, that this is the first season I have been fully committed to FPL and not had distractions – I was traveling abroad for three months in each of the last two seasons, making it very difficult to keep in touch with what’s going on, and I stopped paying attention half way through the first season. Before this year, I stopped working at weekends and late as much, so could be more diligent in monitoring price changes and most importantly watch more football matches. I’m not suggesting you should quit your job and start a new career to watch football and play FPL but it would probably help.
The way the season developed certainly aligned productively with the approach I had set myself, to make obvious moves early on, not to over-think and focus on building value for later in the season when more sophisticated scheming could come into play. At the start it was just about staying in with a chance and getting a green arrow, which unfortunately means being boring or a Jonty. The wisdom of the crowd, as Mark has mentioned, was the way to go this season.
The game plan meant I bought in key players promptly. Fortunately they continued to perform and as there were less of them it was easier to cover the big hitters and shift attention to the fringes of the squad. It was unusual for players to be so consistent but I would also check stats and watch matches as well and even if they weren’t impressive in the stats, seeing them involved and performing well in games is always the best indicator.
You are a FFS member? How important was having access to the members area to your success this year?
This was my first season as a member and to go from 80,000 to number one would not have been possible without signing up. The access was an eye-opener in terms of how many different ways there are to examine a player’s credentials alongside watching matches. It’s easy to use and once you get familiar with how to read the stats it makes decisions much less ambiguous or risky.
Which FFS members tools do you use the most? Are there any examples where the members tools helped you make a particularly successful decision?
The season ticker is the initial one that I went to. I knew access to that would be integral in doing well, especially before the season starts as it’s the best tool for establishing which teams to target.
Then I started using the RMT tool which is quite self-explanatory and signals weak areas of your squad. The projections are effective for narrowing the pool of potential players and the comparison tool is the decider, the final judge between the two players you can’t choose between.
I can’t really pick out any specific transfers that were successful due to the tools because I used them for every single one. I wouldn’t bring in a player before using the tools to check: fixtures, projections, how they compared to at least two alternatives and the effect on the RMT score. I would do this in circles, adding or dismissing options and going from one to the other until the most sensible transfer became apparent.
What was your best decision this season? And what was your worst? Also which player has been your biggest let-down?
Clearly picking Suarez up in Gameweek 7 was important. Aaron Ramsey in Gameweek 5 helped but also the decision not to over-think and just go with the flow at the start. I was very close to captaining Eden Hazard for his hat-trick at home to Newcastle, had the armband on him all week and changed it last minute (always a bad idea) – this happens to everyone I know, but was definitely the worst decision I made. Also getting Adam Johnson in, I think most will understand why he was a major let-down.
Your friend, HuttonDressedAsLahm, has been your champion on the site as you have mainly kept a low profile. Will you now comment more? What other community members have helped you?
When I started doing well and realised I was in with a shout I decided not to comment too much, I didn’t know who might be looking and it was so close at the top as evidenced by the one point finish! I was doing so well without asking for guidance I thought I should just stick to my guns and go without any outside influence. I don’t even have Facebook so I’m still getting my head round commenting on the internet. Hopefully, now when I comment I will be able to provide some sound advice!
I wouldn’t want to single anybody out, it’s a great community with some wonderfully eccentric and knowledgeable individuals around, I’ve taken something from every comment I read to contribute to the win. Sometimes I’ve found it’s better to stick with my own thoughts and it’s easy to be swayed the wrong way, but overall the community members are unquestionably a positive influence, a diverse and rambunctious family who love football and all its idiosyncrasies.
Your prize is a seven night’s holiday in the UK and VIP trip to a couple of Premier League matches. Who are you taking and which matches do you hope to attend? What do your friends, partner, wife, family think of your achievement?
I will be taking my long-suffering girlfriend, who can’t think I’m mad for tinkering with an imaginary football team anymore and unexpectedly, angrily blurting out ‘should have captained him, I’d have two more points’. It also avoids upsetting the dad, brothers and friends who I would obviously prefer to accompany to the matches, but don’t really want to spend seven nights in a hotel with.
I hope to go to Anfield for at least one of them, VIP tickets there will be an unforgettable experience, especially if Liverpool play like they did last season. I initially thought versus Man United but I’m not sure if I ever want to see Marouane Fellaini play, so perhaps against Arsenal or Man City.
Almost everyone is incredibly pleased and proud, some don’t have a clue what I’m on about. Most didn’t know I even played it until the last few weeks but recognise it’s probably quite difficult to do so have said “well done”. I get widely different reactions, some people explode with shock and others just look at me like I’m a loon and whisper ‘that’s sad’. But I don’t care, I’m number one in the world!
Will you play again next year and defend your title? If you are playing next year will you be as focused as last year’s winner Matt, who achieved a top 1,000 ranking this year? Or will you be more relaxed and take more risks?
At first I thought I would like a break (or to give it up completely, I’m not winning it again!) but we will see. I think it’s likely I will have a team but no expectations. I might shift focus to the Ultimate game or Sky and maybe join a World Cup game. I play mainly for the added fun when watching games and being a ‘scout’ so can’t see a reason to stop.
I noticed how well Matt was doing this year, he was even higher at some points so congratulations to him, clearly an excellent player and a lovely bloke for starting a charity league. I can’t hope to match that level of consistency and would be more than happy just to do better than Mark, and win my mini-league again.
I would just like to add a huge thank you to everyone involved with the site, for Mark and the contributors for running it and to all the community for the funny and informative comments, links and general shenanigans. It’s now payback time and hopefully I can help one of you guys take the title next year, stay tuned!
Also, thank you to everyone who finished in the top 10 for being such good adversaries. The rivalry was incredible and I was really pushed to win it – to Luke Weston, especially, my commiserations, you played so well and I was surprised you didn’t run away with it, perhaps I can buy you a pint one day? Finally, a shout out to Borna – you made me a nervous wreck the final Gameweek with that magnificent Dzeko captaincy the week before. Well played, I still can’t believe there was only one point in it.