As the nights draw in, and the air starts to feel like winter is just around the corner, my mind turns to football.
Hell, it may only have just turned August, but it is a bit nippy out, and having done the necessary research (ie been watching Sky all day), the Premiership season does indeed start next weekend - or sort of. It's the Charity shield or whatever they're calling it this year, and a full fixture list for The Championship and leagues 1 and 2.
So all of a sudden it's time to think long and hard about fantasy teams.
My first foray into Fantasy sport was way back in the early nineties, with cricket. I'm pretty sure The Daily Telegraph was the first place to do it, and as the years have gone by, there is a Fantasy version of everything. I was even asked to sign up for a Fantasy Tour de France this year - sorry Matt - I didn't even reply, having no knowledge or interest in the sport.
Football soon followed suit, courtesy of The Sun. In the early days, you paid to submit a team, and then got updates and scores printed in the paper. To check out your own team, or have a mini league with friends, you had to all add up your own scores and compare.
My early attempts were ok. Not winning amongst my peer group, but still doing myself proud. Scoring was pretty basic too. Points if your player scored a goal, minus points if a defender or goalie let them in. Points for a clean sheet for defenders, and minus points for cards.
As the years have gone by, and the advent of OPTA statistics, scoring has become more convoluted, and more websites have sprung up running similar style competitions.
A few years ago I was running a league based out of the Sun for colleagues at work - this time just for The World Cup, with £10 in for each team - winner takes all. It was starting to get a bit easier to manage leagues, as The Sun was publishing all the players scores on line, so sticking everyone's teams in a spreadsheet and then just copying and pasting the pages from The Suns website meant I could produce a new league table in a matter of minutes after each evenings games, rather than scouring the papers hours on end for each individuals players and scores.
I was planning on distributing the scores as I had done with the previous years Premier League - via works email.
Shortly before the tournament was due to start I received an email from a very senior member of management, entitled 'Fantasy Football'.
'Shit', thought I. I'm going to be told not to do this on work time. I can explain away that all I do is send an email with the scores in, because not all the players have a home email address. I don't do any of the updating or preparation of tables at work (but only because the website is blocked by works firewall). I'm not making any money out of it, It's not gambling, it's just a friendly sweepstake.....
As it turned out it wasn't an email telling me to cease and desist, rather one asking me very nicely if he was allowed to play, and if so, here was his team, and to whom should he give his £10?
Fucker went on to win it too. Very begrudgingly I had to go to the Management Suite to hand over the cash.
"Have you got an appointment" said the receptionist.
"No" said I, "but I think he'll want to see me if you just buzz to let him know I'm here. I have his gambling winnings for him".
Now the multitudes of websites are free, and the game play even more sophisticated. You can start with a whole squad rather than a team, and pick which 11 actually play each week, allowing you to swap your keepers if your 1st choice is going to be playing against Man Utd, or drop players if they are injured. That is if you can be bothered to log in everyday and micro manage your team. I had Torres captaining (double points) my team for around 6 weeks last year before I decided that I should probably log in and make some substitutions being as he was injured and not playing.
Team selection can take hours, as you decide whether to blow your cash on a killer strike force, or go for a balanced approach.
You ca spend a fortune on 'big players' who either get injured and score nothing, under perform, or who everyone else has bought anyway, so you gain nothing by having them, but lose everything if you don't. Do you save fuck all for defenders so you either have cheap players from big teams who never get off the bench, or whatever you can afford from Fulham, and then just hope that the amount of goals they let in is offset by the millions that Anelka and Berbatov are going to score?
I've decided that most of it is down to a little bit of common sense, and a lot of luck. It's that £4.5 million that you have left to spend on a defender or midfielder. You can't afford anyone you want, so you just look at the price list and pull someone at random, and then they go on to bag up hundreds of points for you. That was Joleon Lescott for me last year. This year he's £7.5, but because he did well for me last year, I've stumped up the cash - as have 16% of other people who have registered at the official website.
I've spent a grand total of 10 minutes and £100 million selecting my squad, and as usual, I hope for success, but expect mediocrity.
If you want in, I'm playing at The Barclays League site. If you want to join my mini-league, contact me via email, FB or Twitter for the pin number. The more the merrier, and the further down the points table I can slide.
I'll still do better than Grimsby though...