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It is safe to say that I was nervous when entering my family’s Fantasy Football league for the first time this season. A few weeks prior to the opening game, I found myself paying more attention to the summer transfer window than ever before and I finally had a smartphone that could hold some sort of charge, so I knew that it was the right time, but I certainly felt the pressure. I was a novice, a newbie, and more importantly, I was a girl. Never before had a woman graced the family league made up of siblings, uncles and male cousins. I had low expectations to begin with – not because of my gender, but purely because I questioned my own managerial qualities. Was I savvy enough to stay ahead of the “Pep Roulette” and City’s sporadic squad rotation? Would Salah and Mane be wearing their golden boots again? Would I even have the stamina to make it past Christmas? I had my doubts. But to everyone’s surprise, (and I don’t use this phrase lightly) I ended up absolutely smashing it for a first timer.

A poorly chosen ‘Free Hit’ selection during ‘Project Restart’ was essentially my Gerrard slip.

Now, I can’t give you any certified tips on how I took the lead in Gameweek Five and carried it on for some twenty-eight weeks, right up until COVID-19 crushed my dreams, but I can tell you about the rollercoaster of a journey I experienced along the way. That’s the power of Fantasy Football you see, it makes you care. Never before had I been so invested in the idea of watching Wolves versus Aston Villa, nor had I tracked the fitness of a Brighton goalkeeper so intensely. I even found myself celebrating nil-nil draws when racking up those clean-sheets and bonus points. But when you are sitting at the top, you see things differently and you have a title to protect. You don’t just play the game – you live the game. 

One of my biggest regrets involved the use of the additional “chips”. Unlike others who opted to use theirs earlier on, I held on to my ‘Triple Captain’ card for as long as humanly possible. Does anyone truly know when to play this boost? I kept hoping that one day I would just know. I would wake up and feel it in my bones that this week Kevin De Bruyne would score a hattrick and is therefore deserving of the armband. But alas, such a feeling never came. Instead, I wasted my mega-captaincy on Raheem Sterling (usually a talismanic Fantasy Football player and prized asset), on a gameweek where he gained me only a measly sixteen points. A tough lesson was learnt that day, but, like a true manager, I ploughed on.

Other pitfalls of my remarkable, albeit short, career included my inability to back the right defence at the start. I spent heaps of cash on the likes of Aguero, KDB and Salah, leaving me with nothing but spare change for my back three. After several weeks of tragedy from a team consisting of Zinchenko, Zouma, and Ake, I decided enough was enough. Suddenly, I found myself with a defence made entirely of Sheffield United. That’s right, I backed Lord Lundstram and his noble steeds before it was cool. Those boys did me proud. It was ambitious, and with one particular cousin closing the points gap every week, a very bold move indeed. But that’s another beauty of the game, I was constantly surprised, and often delighted, with what seemed like my most ridiculous transfers.

Predicting that The Blades would cut open the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Spurs was not the only example of my unexpected foresight. Southampton’s Danny Ings would also prove to have a prolific goalscoring season. However, this is a certified piece of advice for you, my friends: never help others. Yes, football is a team sport, but Fantasy Football is not. After receiving reams of pleading text messages from my older brother (who was a lot further down the table than myself) I caved and offered a simple suggestion that would have astonishing and destructive consequences in equal measure. ‘Danny Ings’, I replied. After consistent competition with my cousin, I had forgotten about my brother. Let’s just say “Dings” wasn’t the only transfer advice I gave him throughout the season. Like an opening to a Shakespeare play, I was usurped, and my crown stolen, not by my modest cousin, but by my power-hungry brother. We will leave that there. At least I didn’t put all of my eggs into one basket, a league made up my close friends was still all to play for…

Looking back, I didn’t particularly help myself either. With a transfer policy more limiting than Athletic Bilbao’s, I decided from the very beginning of the season that I would not include players from Arsenal, Manchester United, or Tottenham. I am a Chelsea fan, and a stubborn one at that. Although, I am convinced that I became a better Fantasy player because of it. I had to take risks and route for the underdogs. I stuck by the likes of Foster and Cantwell, both of which went on to have successful point-heavy seasons on an individual basis (Watford and Norwich can be proud of that at least). Traoré and Jiménez, the Wolves boys, were also constants from the get-go. Each of these players was tried and tested or tried and trusted rather. Much like Super Frank, I had to make do with what I had in my first season as a Premier League manager and I didn’t do too badly.

A poorly chosen ‘Free Hit’ selection during ‘Project Restart’ was essentially my Gerrard slip, leaving me to pick up a bronze medal in the family league. Still, my efforts were not for nothing as I championed “the friends league” with relative ease. Scoring over two thousand points, I won the equivalent of the FA Cup and managed to secure a Champions League spot for next season. I’ll take that and I’ll be back.

I will look back at my first Fantasy Football experience with joy. Yes, it forced to me to learn an unhealthy amount about football, but I definitely enjoyed doing it.

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