Long-time Chairman Barry Eyre explains the tale of his 25th auction.
Barry - it's over to you...
"25 seasons. Count them. TWENTY-FIVE.
Eight blokes in a pub, one in Milan on the end of a WhatsApp conversation, all bidding against each other to buy 15 Premier League footballers for their Fantasy League teams. And this was the 25th time. Well, 25 auctions for three of us, the others had joined along the way or missed the odd season or two due to circumstances beyond their control. Like jobs.
In 25 years, inevitably, the participants' lives have evolved. Children have accumulated, grown-up and left home. Grandchildren. Jobs and careers have changed, along with hairstyles, body shapes and, er, eyesight.
But still we gather every year to drink beer, talk football, life, the world, and everything. And then compete against each other for Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane and Sam Chase.
Halfway through the night, bidding starts for Sanchez. Lee Brooks, a probationary manager in his third season, is distracted and can’t quite hear what’s going on, assumes everyone's bidding for an undiscovered superstar from a promoted club's reserves and then, on hearing the final price of £13million declares, "What do you lot know that I don't? Who the hell is Sam Chase?"
Cue guffaws of laughter and a lasting auction memory, to go along with other classics from the previous 24 auctions – like manager demands for starting over as last orders are called, someone falling asleep in a curry house, and managers regularly exceeding their two per club player allocation as the beer and frustration at missing out on Shearer/Henry/Suarez takes effect.
This year, as a result of diary clashes and holidays, we held the auction three weeks into the season - after the closure of the transfer window. So we all had the benefit of a) seeing points indicating early season form, and b) not being disrupted by the arrival of new players in the weeks after the auction. In theory, our teams should all be better balanced.
Auction strategies abound. They're generally altered when you see all the top strikers disappearing for ridiculous money, and, knowing you need a big name to avoid nine months of misery in the re-election slot, make a panic purchase for any high points scorer from last season - even though they may be injured or awaiting a transfer to Barcelona.
Statto (every league has them) arrives with a meticulously researched list of best value buys, targets and budget limits. Champion five times out of 24 suggests he may know what he's doing.
Our man in Milan - three titles in 15 outings - offers a unique insight into auction strategy, which this year may have reached its ultimate expression. Known for investing only in strikers (i.e. as many as the rules will allow) and faced with a night in a café next to the Duomo, he orders his agent in England to buy Lukaku and Alvaro Morata at whatever the cost and strikes a deal with the Chairman to put the rest of his squad together from the leftovers when he returns to blighty.
The rest of us veer from the emotional purchase – "I've supported them since 1966 so I must have someone in blue" – to the considered analysis – "De Bruyne's nailed on for at least 50 points" – to the professional insight – "He did a job for me last season" – to the downright desperate – "Just don’t want to spend the season at the bottom again".
At the end of the evening, there's the inevitable rapid trawl of the free agents to make up the teams – "Is he classed as a full-back this year?" - and a palpable sense of relief that we managed to complete the squads before closing time. No one exceeds the two player limit. We speculate on our man in Milan's choices from the dregs of the remaining players. He won't care who he gets, just so long as there's at least another four strikers for him to choose.
Finally, just to confirm that this whole thing is clearly ridiculous, Statto discovers on his drive home that Paul Pogba, one of his big money purchases, has been injured in the Champions League and faces six weeks out. Who'd be a Fantasy League manager?"
At least Sam Chase found his place in the folklore of the She Doesn't Understand Fantasy League.
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