FPL Fears

As we entered September, the Premier League had just started to get tasty. Arsenal had just beaten Manchester United in dramatic fashion, Chelsea had been, well, Chelsea again, and suddenly news spread around the group chats. Lads, there’s an international break this week. Nothing like watching international football to burst that early season excitement. Then again, watching England provides us with the rare opportunity to watch Jude Bellingham tearing it up and that’s certainly worth tuning in for. The international break is also a time for managers to regroup, replan and ponder their team selection. I’m not only talking about football managers but also the estimated 11.4million managers, including, you and I, that participate in Fantasy Premier League. “FPL” is football’s most played interactive game.  Now, you might be reading this thinking, surely it’s not something to write an entire blog post about? Perhaps that’s correct. The less that’s said about my measly performance in the game thus far, the better. What if I told you that Premier League players also play FPL. Maybe that’s triggered something in your brain? Let’s explore that concept and why I believe it poses a few interesting questions.

How FPL works?

Firstly, let’s remind ourselves of how FPL works. Each FPL player picks a squad of 15 players who score points based on their individual performances for their club in Premier League matches. Points are awarded to players for goals and assists. Defenders earn points for clean sheets and goalkeepers earn points for saves too. Each week you can select a captain whose points are doubled that week.

Football’s Betting Rules

Forgive me for parking FPL for a second as I breakdown the Football Association (FA)’s rules on betting. The FA is unequivocal in their stance on footballers betting on football. Rule E8.1 of the FA’s Rules and Regulations prohibits players from betting, either directly or indirectly, on the result or any other aspect of a football match or competition as well as any other matters such as transfer of players or employment of managers.

Ivan Toney’s high-profile ban for betting offences made headlines earlier this year. The Brentford forward was given an eight-month ban after admitting 232 breaches of Rule E8. Bets included placing 15 bets on himself to score, 16 on his team to win and even 13 bets on his own club to lose, although he was not involved in these games. Betting on your own team to lose can carry a lifetime ban as can betting on your own performance in a match. It's important to distinguish between Ivan Toney, betting on himself to score, or betting on other football matches and then match fixing which is a completely different entity. FIFPro defines match-fixing as the “illegal manipulation of the result of a sports match, or elements of a match, such as a specific throw-in, penalty-kick, corner or yellow card”.

The rules are very clear. No bets are permitted by footballers under any circumstances. That leaves us with the following question: What constitutes a “bet”? The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb “bet” as; “to risk money on a race or an event by trying to predict the result”. By that definition, a bet must include the placing of money on a particular outcome.

Dangers of FPL?

Now for the juicy bit. How can one link a footballer placing a bet on themselves, their team or any other team, to playing FPL? Would including a player in your team be classed as betting on them? By definition of the word “bet”, no it wouldn’t. No amount of money is placed on a selection in FPL.  However, whilst it wouldn’t be classed as a bet, this does not mean issues couldn’t arise. Premier League footballers who play FPL, may include themselves, players in their own team or opposition players in their team. Only this season, three Burnley players captained Manchester City striker, Erling Haaland, in their game vs City at the start of the season. Captaining an opposition player, particularly such a prolific striker such as Haaland, means the Burnley players were anticipating he would score against them. Inevitably, Haaland did what Haaland does, and scored twice. Were the three Burnley players to have popped down to Ladbrokes and put a bet on Haaland to score, they’ll have been banned from football, probably for life.

Can we sit back here and say that’s perfectly harmless? That doesn’t raise a single eyebrow anywhere? Let’s just digest what’s happened here. The Burnley players not only included Erling Haaland, but captained him, predicting he would score goals against them, earning points for their team. Thinking Erling Haaland is likely to score against your team wouldn’t make you Harry Houdini, however taking that to the next level and anticipating it in such a public way as captaining him in FPL is not a good look.

Picture this, Burnley boss Vincent Kompany is preparing his players for the game at the weekend, outlining in a presentation exactly how Burnley will attempt to stop City and particularly Erling Haaland. As they leave the room, a Burnley player nudges another and says “I’m captaining Haaland on FPL this weekend”. You can imagine the sort of reaction that would invoke of someone like Roy Keane. Is it right that a Burnley player couldn’t bet on the outcome of an isolated League 2 match but can participate in an interactive game, banking on opposition players to play well against them?

As football fans, we are guilty of believing we know what a player’s mentality or mindset is or what it should be. In reality, none of us do and I’ll be clear in confirming I have no idea about the mentality and mindset of any of the Burnley players’ going into that match. Is it, however, too far to question whether this interactive game would have any impact on their mindset going into a match? Predicting and picking a player to score against you on FPL is not a punishable offence but it is at best messy.

The final point to consider, and an important one at that, is the restricted lifestyles footballers have off the pitch. Yes, they’re paid very handsomely and yes, they have privileges us fans could only dream of, however there are caveats that come with playing professional football. The Professional Footballers Association and the FA have a delicate balancing act between maintaining the integrity of the beautiful game and footballers simply having some fun. I don’t believe the game we all love is at any risk, however it’s something I believe we should keep a watchful eye on.


Lowe-Down The League – Weekly Winners Q and A

The winner of each game-week in FPL is invited to ask a question to be answered in the Lowe-Down. Questions and answers for 1 and 2 are below:

Is it fair that only two teams come up from the National League to League 2?

Simply put, I would say no. It would have been a travesty if both Wrexham and Notts County weren’t to have been promoted last season and it very nearly happened. Notts County left it until the final minutes of extra time to get past Boreham Wood in the play-off semi-final and only beat Chesterfield on penalties, equalising late on. Wrexham and Notts County finished on 111 and 107 points respectively, beating the all-time points record set. 2nd place Notts finished 23 points ahead of 3rd placed Chesterfield. It was testament to the quality of both teams that they were both installed as pre-season promotion favourites. Notts County currently sit in the promotion places at the top of League 2.

Maybe last season was a fluke? A quick look at how recently promoted sides have faired in League 2 and you’ll see that 7 out of the last 8 promoted sides play in League 2 or higher with only Hartlepool dropping back into the National League. For those who don’t know why there is such a debate around this, League 2 only has two relegation spots to the National League meaning only two National League teams are promoted each year.

It has never been more evident that this rule needs changing, and it would be beneficial for the whole of the English football pyramid to adopt the three teams up and three teams down structure.

If you could change any of your predictions, what would you change?

Starting with the top 6, I wouldn’t change anything from my predictions.  Spurs have made a better start than I anticipated and I think Chelsea will take longer to click with so many new players. Manchester United will be in a battle for fourth place with the Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle.

At mid-table, I would swap West Ham and Brentford around, given West Ham’s impressive start. The Hammers’ recruitment, since my predictions, has been key to their start.

Going lower down now and I can see why a Nottingham Forest fan would ask this question. Forest’s transfer deadline day business massively boosted the club’s squad and prospects for the season. In addition, Forest’s performances, particularly away from home at Arsenal and Manchester United were signs the club has made significant strides from last season. Not to mention their fantastic win at Chelsea most recently.  Burnley and Everton have enjoyed miserable starts whilst Fulham and Bournemouth have yet to properly get going. As of today, I’d bump Forest up to 13th.


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