Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The addiction affliction by Dale Johnson

Addiction is no laughing matter, it's a cause for concern and needs understanding. You shouldn't mock the afflicted.

Sometimes a person finds themselves locked into a situation from which there appears to be no hope of salvation. There is a chasm of emptiness which only seems to grow deeper and deeper.

Yes, it's fantasy football.

Gone are the days when watching a football match was just about 11 v 11, one team against another and nothing more. Ever since comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner thrust it into the living room of millions of homes through their BBC TV show Fantasy Football League in January 1994 there has been no turning back. Newspapers, television shows and, of course, glorious websites have embraced the concept and we're all hooked.

There are those that escape the clutches of the assist, the clean sheet and the frustrating feeling of despair a long term injury or a three match ban brings. But for many football fans they cannot run or hide. The fantasy football bug is one that will not go away.

Rationale goes out of the window and even the most insignificant of Premier League games can mean everything as you look to climb another place in the table against your friends.

Once nothing more than a player who shares a name with his country of birth, except maybe questionable follicle treatments, Stephen Ireland now grips many neutrals as they sit on their sofas watching what should be a pointless game between Fulham and Manchester City. Unmistakable with his new shorn bonce, Ireland can be seen scuttling around the pitch. The pointless is now the opposite. Every forward move could have a point to it. A fantasy point.

"Give it to Ireland!", "Have a shot!", "Go on son, hit it!".

The sad thing is you don't support Manchester City. To be honest, you don't even like them that much at all. But it pales into insignificance where fantasy football is concerned.

There are those managers who do hold a grudge. QPR fans tend not to put Chelsea players into their squad. The same goes for the Manchester and north London rivalry. Hated players are given a wide berth. Cristiano Ronaldo was a leper after the 2006 World Cup following his antics with Wayne Rooney. But that summer of discontent has since been forgotten, courtesy of 30-odd Premier League goals. There is redemption for anyone when it comes to goals and assists.

Some have managed to kick the habit, turning their back on fantasy for fear of it ruining their enjoyment of the game. The desire for the likes of Grétar Rafn Steinsson to shank another into the top corner can become so great some are actually willing an opposition player to score against their own team. Believe it or not it happens, providing a silver lining to a desperate moment when your team has conceded to, of all teams, Bolton.

For others it's a life sentence. The weekend highlights can never again be about catching up with the action, it's about catching up with your fantasy total.

Ashley Young nets in the final minute at Everton... it's not only Villa fans who jump up in celebration. That's not just three points but six. Six points! Another rung up the ladder in the mini-league beckons.

There are those who perhaps go too far in the quest for glory. It's not enough to check out upcoming games, who's doing well for your team and who needs dumping. There are countless websites dedicated to the phenomenon where people spend hours pontificating about the pros and cons of Brade Hangeland over Gary Cahill or Michael Turner.

Others spend hours crunching the stats trying to find reliable points magnets. Who has the most shots in a game? What percentage of shots are on target? Who provides real value for money? Who's in? Who's out? Who's on the verge of a ban? You have to wonder where people find the time.

The real addicts are now coming out of the woodwork. We're reaching the point in the season where the early season enthusiasts are starting to drop away, leaving the true experts to make their mark. This is where the competition truly starts, where long term tactics come into play as managers try to pick up unique players rival managers do not have.

Managers will try to second guess their rivals. Those assists will mean more and the merest flick off the backside could be the difference between success and failure. There will be more tears before the end of May, but will they be tears of success or failure?

From now on there's no hope. Every game is vital. Every final third pass can make a difference. If only Phil Neville could actually shoot...

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