Messing reports that, in a remarkable turn of events, the Butcher eschewed the opportunity to release a press statement, instead taking to the steps of the Abattoir Arena to talk to the fans directly. They vented their concerns about returning to the days of being a selling club, of throwing away opportunities for success with poor transfer choices, of rash market decisions leaving the club further away from glory than ever. They felt this call, with the title so close, opened the door for the King to pip them at the post. The Butcher spoke to individual fans, before climbing to the top of the steps to give this quote.
“If you look back two years, when we had Arnautovic and Lukaku, a lot of you, a lot of the fans said the same thing. No, you did. And, to be honest, with justification. But I thought we could take it on, and you’ve got to allow me to do that. If it doesn’t work, I know what the implications are. On my head be it.”
By the end of the Butcher’s unheard-of intervention, the fans were chanting his name. They know nobody else could have brought Dumb and Dummett to the verge of such glory. Whatever fears they have, they know they have the right man for the job. After the fans left the area, the Butcher returned inside the Abattoir Arena and gave Messing a direct quote, for those fans who were unable to be there in person.
“My message to the fans this week is, everything they’ve said, whether it be real harsh criticism or support, has been accepted. They’ve got every right to have an opinion, it’s their club, but only one person can really make the football decisions. I’ve made that decision, and there’s two ways it can go from here. If I get it wrong, well, you know, I know what the consequences are. And if we can turn the club and keep going upwards, then you know we’re bound to win something. We finished outside of the medals last year, and from our point of view, it’s really strategy. I’m looking to improve the club, and I think the Free Hit in Gameweek 36 was an opportunity we couldn’t refuse, bearing in mind where we need to go.”
As it turns out, the Butcher was proven correct in his assessment. His Free Hit squad secured 59 points in Gameweek 36, twenty points more than his team would have scored without the Free Hit. Despite the King closing the gap to just four points, those twenty extra points for the Butcher ensured that they remained at the top of the table they have headed since Gameweek Four. The challenge now is ensuring they finish Gameweek 37 top of the table, to avoid the King using his own Free Hit on the Final Day to negate any chance of the Butcher outscoring him. With a cushion of just four points, and with King Ding having outscored the Butcher in six of the seven gameweeks since the restart, that is by no means assured. All we know for certain is that, entering Gameweek 37, the Butcher is still the man to beat.
With that in mind, let’s look at how the rest of the League of Gentlemen fared in Gameweek 36.
A more likely candidate to catch Who Horner, and secure qualification in the Gentlemen’s Classic, is The Ox. Having beaten the White Warriors by fourteen points this week, they saw Slick Rick draw closer from behind but, more importantly, they have cut the gap to twelfth to just eight points. Oxsmorons frontline were the heroes, with four goals and an assist between the three players. Should they keep up their fine form, Who Horner is in real trouble. Despite his team finding two goals and three assists, five of his players scoring one point or less left the White Warriors holding twelfth by a slim margin. Heading Lower Mid-Table is Private Parvesh, who will not finish any lower than the eleventh place he presently occupies. A clean sheet, four assists and two goals give him a 62-point cushion on those behind him; had his captain not scored zero points, the ten-point gap to the Chasing Pack would be far smaller. His aim for the last two gameweeks is to ensure a top-ten finish, one which is well within his reach.
It was a solid, if unspectacular, week for the Lord, who did make one huge call – starting Ritchie over Gomez – and saw it pay off in stunning fashion, with Magic Matt lashing in one of the thunderbastards of the season to finish the gameweek as the Lords’ highest-scoring player. A further three goals and one assist gave the Lords’ a gameweek score of fifty points, though the decision to sign and captain Sterling proved a disaster, with Manchester City man earning just two points while the transferred-out Mane became the fourth-consecutive player to be sold by the Lords and immediately score. These sorts of decisions have cost Lord Geord over the season, and go to highlight the folly of switching big players. Predicting hauls is so difficult; performing the ol’ switcheroo just increases the chances of missing out on all the hauls, as opposed to catching them. The Lord has been very impressive in raising his Overall Ranking from 4.1m to 375k; to achieve a higher finish next season, more faith in his choices is required. With Mane retained, the Lords would have been seven points off Boom Xhakalaka. Because of their choices, All Star Vogt is eighteen points ahead. Given the two squads share so many players, it’s going to be difficult for the Lord to ascend in the table; the likelihood of taunting messages from the All Star throughout the next week has increased dramatically. One clean sheet, four assists and three goals gave Boom Xhakalaka a gameweek score of 59 points, extending their cushion over the Lords by nine points and closing the gap to the Title Contenders to just fifteen points. Should the All Star get these last two weeks right, he still has an outside chance of finishing in the medals, which would be a fantastic end to his debut League of Gentlemen season.
The man hoping the Dazzler stays away is Hitman Hodgson, who has had a remarkable debut season of his own. Poor performances in the cups worked to his advantage in the league, with the pre-season predictions of him being the dark horse proving correct. His use of the Free Hit paid off well, with his one-off squad outscoring his regular team by fourteen crucial points. Two clean sheets, two assists and four goals gave him a gameweek score of 62 points and moved Does It Mata inside the top 150k in the Overall Rankings. Four injuries, including three in defence, make the coming gameweek a real challenge for the Hitman; the prospect of the Dazzler playing his Bench Boost while the Hitman can’t field a full team makes that 24-point cushion look very vulnerable. Should he ride the wave and finish third, it will set Does It Mata up very nicely for next season, and the challenge faced in closing the hundred-plus point gap to the top two.
What an effort it has been from King Ding this season. From 119 points behind, the gap is now just four points. One clean sheet, four assists and four goals saw him equal the division-high gameweek total of 68 points, while moving the Ringers to just outside the top 10k in the Overall Rankings. Since Gameweek Four, the Butcher has looked unstoppable; only the determination, skill, experience and courage of the King has prevented this season being a procession. With some favourable fixtures in Gameweek 37 and a Free Hit remaining, the King is the favourite to enter the Final Day on top of the table; even if he doesn’t, the title race is going right down to the wire. If the King can somehow become the first man to retain the League of Gentlemen title, in these circumstances, it will be his greatest achievement in the history of FPL, if not his entire life.
That concludes another dramatic week in the League of Gentlemen, one that saw few positional changes, but huge strides made for several teams homing in on their rivals – not least Mad Mikey P and King Ding. Gameweek 37 promises to up the ante to boiling point. As always, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods forever be in your favour.