I’d not done a draft since the mid-1990s.
The auction, in those pre-internet days, involved one pub, a bunch of increasingly drunken fellow managers and mounds of paper upon which were scrawled such insightful gems as ‘Sheeeerah!!!’ and ‘Warren Barton – defensive lynchpin’.
I was younger then, and didn’t know any better, but my hazy recollections of a decidedly messy affair was that it was a decidedly messy affair.
Fast forward two decades and I’m sitting in an Islington studio about to draft again.
But this time it’s different.
We’re all sober, for starters, and remain so throughout. We’re being filmed by the Premier League, after all.
— Fantasy Premier League (@OfficialFPL) September 11, 2018
The place has been set up to look like a faintly laddish open-plan apartment, complete with a criminally unused pool table and a generous sofa upon which are sat myself and three other managers.
They are FFS co-owner Chris and both halves of the FPL Family unit, Sam and Lee.
We are being joined for the draft by four significant others – FFS founder Mark, FPL Holly, FPL Hints supremo Ash and former champion Ben Crabtree – who will operate remotely.
I have a horrible feeling I’m the least prepared of the group.
But I have a book to promote, and I have done a certain amount of thinking on the train down.
The first thing that crosses my mind is a giddy realisation that you can afford ANYONE, because no player has a price.
This leads to a dangerous minute and a half when I imagine a team full of Agueros and Salahs and Alonsos. A fantasy fantasy team, if you will.
But then I remember that other managers are going to steal away what are rightfully my players simply because it’s their turn to pick and they don’t want me to win.
A dread thought then follows…I might have to go for a Huddersfield striker. Or a Fulham defender. Or Oriol Romeu.
Why? Because all the good players will have gone and I’ll have noting left in my draft tank but panic.
The knowledge that we have only 30 seconds per pick doesn’t help.
It sounds a long time, but not when you’re scouring an ever-shrinking list of forwards looking for someone – anyone – who’s had a shot on target, never mind actually scored, in the past 12 months.
FFS community manager Geoff has kindly set up a WhatsApp group for us to blither at each other. I cunningly tap up Geoff for some super secret draft advice, which he gladly gives.
I congratulate myself on my deviousness, only for Geoff to then share all that advice, and a whole lot more, with the group.
His key points:
- Set up a comprehensive Watchlist
- Make sure you get a top striker early
- Then get two good midfielders
- And another striker
And then the draft begins and it’s a whirlwind of tiny triumphs and huge disappointments.
Only one of us can have Aguero, which is clearly inhumane, and he is the first player to be drafted.
Kane, Salah and Alonso follow before it’s my turn.
Geoff’s advice floats, Yoda-like, across my synapses.
“Get a top striker you must”
I draft Andrew Robertson.
And it’s downhill from there.
But I have one trick up my fantasy sleeve, and I unveil it for my fourth pick.
Kevin De Bruyne. The very injured Kevin De Bruyne.
I’ve gone full marathon-not-a-sprint and picked a player who won’t be fit again until mid-November at the very earliest.
Time will tell on that one.
And time is the key takeaway from the whole draft experience.
You can set up selection windows, with 30 seconds per pick as the shortest. Chris, as league admin, plumps for exactly that and it really makes for a frantic and adrenaline-packed evening.
Mistakes are made through time pressure. This provokes scorn and bewilderment as long-devised strategies are destroyed by that merciless half-minute.
And it’s a huge amount of fun as a result.
However well-prepared you are, the 30-second window to choose from an increasingly denuded list of players makes fools of us all.
It remains to be seen whether I will end up as the biggest of them.
But I’ve had so much fun, I genuinely don’t care.
Highlights include Chris forgetting it’s his turn to choose and ending up with an auto-selected Joe Hart who, indefensibly, sits at the top of his Watchlist.
Sam’s outrage when her husband beats her to Salomon Rondon is another magic moment, although neither of them has yet to come up with a convincing argument as to why they both wanted him anyway.
And the low point has to be Holly’s consistent selection of all the players I was about to bring in myself.
It was obviously nothing personal, so I have decided to take it personally.
Playing the ‘normal’ FPL game remains, for nearly all of us, our top priority. The planning, the scheming, the agonising over transfers and captaincy choices are what drive our seasonal obsession.
But I can say, hand on heart, that you should give the draft version a go.
It’s easy to set up and the auction is an absolute blast.
And we haven’t even started on the trades yet…
You can watch the video of our draft HERE
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