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James Priest bemoans his obsession.

9:47am, Saturday morning: I wake in cold sweats, panicked and unable to fully process what I’d just dreamt. No, not that hugely irritating falling sensation, but visions of Chris Brunt missing a penalty for West Brom. Seriously, it happened, and it gives a damming indication of my obsession with football, and more specifically – fantasy football, a game that I first started three years ago hoping it would be a ‘bit of fun’, and that now I find near impossible to get out of my mind.

Unfortunately, last Saturday’s fantasy football related nightmare was not a one-off, but a regular occurrence. Friday evenings are not for nights out – they never were in my case – they are set aside as time to cover every single piece of footballing information related to the upcoming Premier League fixtures, ranging from the condition of Rafael van der Vaart’s hamstring (usually extremely dodgy) to Darren Bent’s goalscoring record against, say, Wigan. I attempt to read it all. Saturday’s mornings too have a whole new meaning, once set aside for glorious lie-ins, I now find myself physically unable to sleep through the 11:30am deadline set by the game (henceforth ‘FPL’ – Fantasy Premier League), in need of one more triple check of my team to ensure it’s all perfect.

The game itself is harmless and appeals to millions across the world, but my fixation with it comes at a cost. I haven’t travelled just five minutes up the road to watch local non-league side Forest Green Rovers in months. Instead, I prefer slouching in front of the TV, watching Jeff Stelling, ‘Merse’, ‘Kammy’ and co. brief us on all the action happening in the day’s games, specifically in the Premier League. A cry of ‘Goooooaaalllll’ will typically see me rush over to the computer to verify the scorer and assist provider for said goal, to see whether it affects my fantasy team, as well as – equally importantly – the teams of my league rivals, none of whom take nearly as seriously I do. And if the goal is relevant to my side, then I’ll most likely be seen jumping around the room in a state of delirium, as those in the house at the time will testify was the case when Aleksandar Kolarov recently netted against Birmingham, despite the goal having significant implications for my beloved Chelsea’s ambitions.

Chelsea aren’t even unaffected when it comes to choosing which game to watch. Only last week, given the choice between watching West Brom vs Wigan and Chelsea’s game with Sunderland, I chose the former as it had more relevance to my fantasy side, with Peter Odemwingie and Gonzalo Jara (don’t ask) both playing. That’s right, I actively chose to watch a relegation dogfight over a game that could be extremely significant to Chelsea’s season. Even once the games had finished, and it was apparent that Chelsea had turned in their best performance in months, I barely watched the highlights package, in favour of manually refreshing the FPL website until the game updated, to see exactly far I’d fallen in the global, monthly and mini-league rankings. To this day I still haven’t seen the incident which led to Chelsea being awarded a penalty in the first half, simply because it wasn’t at all relevant to my fantasy football ambitions.

The most irrelevant of things take on a whole new significance too. Re-arranged fixtures fell in such a way that Birmingham were originally scheduled to have three matches in the same ‘gameweek’, causing much excitement from those in the know. The excitement was short lived however, as Birmingham progression to the Carling Cup caused further postponed, ending all prospects of Birmingham having a ‘triple week’. How dare the poxy Carling Cup cause such problems!

Unfortunately it’s not just the Carling Cup seen as an obstacle. As a football loving child, I looked forward to FA Cup weekends more than any other, now that attraction has all but gone, purely because the games aren’t in the Premier League, and so aren’t anything to do with my fantasy team. Even the dramatic ‘cupsets’, like a Stevenage beating a Newcastle, don’t make up for it. I’m sure there will be almost universal agreement that it’s a pretty sad state of affairs where one can’t fully appreciate a wonderful victory, as Stevenage’s was, because the game stands in the way of a fix of fantasy football. I’m not even going to start on international weekends……

Careful attention and monitoring injury news etc. inevitably increases your chances of accumulating a decent points total, but luck undoubtedly plays a massive role in whether or not you are ultimately successful in the game. To emphasise the point, last year’s winner – beating over 2 million other entrants – is this year ranked outside of the top 800,000 players, despite presumably using the same ‘tactics’ that saw him win the entire competition last time round. Putting so much time and effort into a game so heavily based on luck seems nonsensical, nay, moronic, but I am completely and utterly helpless to it, and I fully well know this isn’t going to change any time soon.

Hi, my name’s James and I’m an addict, and I’m sure that I’m not alone.

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