With captain Son in imperious form yet again, Lord Geord now has the advantage he craved. The only problem is he’s been here before, as a fan, and that heartbreak is as vivid now as it ever was. Will Go Cartin be his Alex Ferguson?
I can’t quite understand how this is happening. I can’t understand the position I’m in, how I got here or what to do going forward. I’ve come so far this season, worked so hard to change my gameplay style and to force myself to display the courage of my convictions, and now, I don’t quite know how to approach the last six gameweeks. After so many years of living the FPL Nightmare, of this god-forsaken game consuming my thoughts and destroying my weekends, I’m now six gameweeks from the end of my attempts to complete the King’s Quest, and it is undeniable that the title is now mine to lose. The pressure I’d been managing has given way to stress, the fear of failure is now amplified beyond anything I’ve experienced before.
This is Kevin Keegan territory.
When I was growing up, Kevin Keegan was a hero to me. It’s not just that he played such incredible football; it’s that he took this team, stranded forty places from English football’s summit and on the verge of a failure that would have led to extinction, and crafted a narrative around them that fuelled a resurgence. He saved them from obliteration with shrewd transfers, then took gamble after gamble to get them higher and higher. When they said David Kelly deserved a chance in the Premier League after firing them to the second-tier title, Keegan gambled on bringing in Andy Cole. When they said signing a defender was essential, Keegan went out and signed the world’s most attacking centre-back. When they said you can’t sell your record-breaking goalscorer and allow your rivals to have him, Keegan said he could find better, and that the team was more important than the individual. Just four years after taking over a club on the brink of relegation to the third tier and bankruptcy, he had them twelve points clear at the summit of English football with a game in hand.
We all know what happened next. Be it inexperience, exhaustion or poor transfer choices, the dream Keegan sold turned into a footballing nightmare, a horror story recanted to young football fans about the perils of the bad signing and the dangers of striving for perfection. The philosophies that allowed Keegan to reach the highest peaks of any Newcastle fan’s lifetime became the stick used to beat the man, a failure from which he arguably never recovered, and the black cloud that hangs over the head of every manager who dares to dream of glory and chase it. Just play defensive, they say. You don’t want to be a Keegan. Become more cynical, they implore. You don’t want to be a Keegan. Do whatever is necessary to achieve the goal, they demand. You don’t want to be a Keegan.
After Gameweek 32, I find myself 58 points clear at the top. Keegan’s four-win lead is the equivalent of four two-return hauls. Keegan’s game in hand is my two-chip advantage. Jockin’ Jeeves is now 92 points behind, not out of the running, but very much the Liverpool of the picture. Go Cartin is the Alex Ferguson, sending me pictures of apparent team selections as he turns to the mental warfare, using every trick in his arsenal to throw me off my game. Sell Salah, he says, knowing the doubts I have over Magic Mo’s downturn in returns and his cost to my team. I’ve already done it, he says, putting doubt into my mind as to whether he will activate his Free Hit if I do so. If he doesn’t activate that chip, then he’s taken a four-point hit, and my lead is now 62 points. If he does, then his team could be anything, so factoring it into my plans is meaningless. Mind games have the greatest impact at this stage of the season, when every mistake is magnified and every aberration is amplified. Mind games get into your head, making you second-guess every option, making you doubt the decision-making processes that got you to this point. Don’t fall for the mind games, they say. You don’t want to be a Keegan.
Except, they’re wrong. All I have ever wanted is to be a Keegan, to be someone that tells a story that inspires the generations to come, to act with courage and with honour, to leave people believing that anything is possible if you dare to dream. I started this book series after six years of abject failure. I’ve only ever finished inside the top-500k once, and in eight years, I’ve never been close to winning the League of Gentlemen. I gave myself this one last season, and now, with six gameweeks to go, I’m 58 points clear of my closest challenger, with only one other contender within 155 points of me. I have the chip advantage. I have the points advantage. I have assumed the Kevin Keegan position. Everything inside me is screaming to be cautious, to sign the most dangerous players Go Cartin owns to minimise his threats, to save the Free Hit until Gameweek 38 so that, if I’m still in the lead, I can pick an identical squad to his and take any drama away, and if I’m not, I have the best chance to get back into it. Be cynical, the voices of the critics scream inside my head, and take him out on the last lap so the title is assured. Yet, the King’s Road does not lead to Schumacher Hill. The King’s Quest is not completed by waiting for my demons to die. The story must end with me playing as Kevin Keegan would play, and hoping this time history gives us a kinder result.
The Cup Chronicles
It was a quarter-final to forget for Deadly Daz, who chose to sell Mount to sign Eriksen for the second leg only to miss out on sixteen points as a result, while also leaving Burn’s eight points and Toney’s twelve points on the bench, while seeing only one attacker get a return and only one point from James and van Dijk combined. His score of 82 points over the two legs was surpassed in short order by the Dragon, with captain Son’s 42 points inspiring a 56-point victory, even with the thirteen points of Dubravka and Targett left on the bench. There was a memorable comeback from Brad the Lad, who entered the second leg eleven points behind cup specialist The Ox, yet managed to seal a dramatic three-point victory following the courageous decision to replace Salah with de Bruyne. Also coming from behind to win was Slick Rick, with the Spurs duo of Son and Kane so critical to his performance, while Raphinha also provided a rare double-figures haul. The big story came from Go Cartin, who entered the match with a one-point victory yet was rendered helpless to prevent defeat. Having chosen to sell Son to fund a move for Kane in Gameweek 29, he has watched in horror as the form has reversed and Son has averaged four points a gameweek more since that time, with the 21-point haul from this gameweek especially painful given his league and cup rivals both captained him.
Gentlemen’s Trophy, Quarter-Final results:
It’s as you were in the bottom eight of the division, with no positional movement bar Wooden Spoon Helling rising one place in the division following a sensational Hundred Club entry. Making one of his rare forays into active management, he chose to make neither of his transfers, opting instead to play his Bench Boost despite having two players unavailable. In one of those gameweeks where everything clicks, he saw his double-Leeds defence keep a clean sheet, while Son, Mount and captain Kane provided sixty points between them and substitute goalkeeper Pickford also kept a rare clean sheet. Maverick Mikey and Slick Rick both climb in the table following Wildman Whitfield’s two-place fall, while the rot continues for Mack Daddy McMahon, who saw three teams move ahead of him after a disastrous 36-point gameweek. The Ox’s cup exit also saw him drop two places in the table, with Flash Funk being one of the men to move ahead of him. After a true nightmare start to the season, the Funkmaster has rallied in recent gameweeks and now finds himself just seventeen points off the top twenty. Missing out on the Hundred Club by only a poor transfer hit was Killer Kev, who nevertheless climbed two places to seventeenth, while Gladiator Glen rose to fifteenth and Brad the Lad moved into twelfth. Meanwhile, the remarkable rise of Stone Cold Stephen Levins continues apace, with a seventy-point score taking him into the top ten for the first time. Though he is still fifty points away from the Elite, his maverick captaincy choices are serving him well, and he remains the dark horse to break into the top tier before the end of the season. His first target must be Red Hot Rob, who remains in ninth place and loses a point on the team above him.
There were no positional changes in the Elite at all this gameweek, though some important scores mean that it may well go down as one of the most crucial gameweeks of the season. The Dragon appears to have cemented an Elite finish, with his 77 points moving him 72 points clear of the Irrelevants in sixth place, while also increasing his cushion over eighth-place King Ding to fifty points and his brother, Hitman Hodgson, to 25 points. Crucially, he also closed the gap to Mighty Mouse in fifth to just eleven points, despite Mighty Mouse activating his Wildcard this gameweek. It’s always painful to feel like you’ve made the wrong choices on a Wildcard, but few will feel that pain more than Mighty Mouse, who opted for Havertz and captain Kane over Mount and captain Son and saw 35 points go begging as a direct result. Those 35 points would have left him just one point behind fourth-place Ginger Ben, and should he fail to reach the top four now, Mighty Mouse will see those decisions as the reason why. It was another painful gameweek for the Ginger Messiah, who scored the fewest points in the top four as his dreams fade to black for the second-successive run-in. Even the bronze medal is looking out of reach, with Jockin’ Jeeves extending the distance between the two to 63 points, while the silver medal is now 97 points away. It’s a chastening end to what had been another solid title push, but the early chip usage has come back to haunt the Mackem Messiah yet again. For Jockin’ Jeeves, the title is now 92 points away, and it would take an unprecedented turnaround to cover that ground in six gameweeks, even with potentially four of them being double gameweeks. He will keep fighting until the last, and has the maverick tendencies to pull off the unlikeliest of turnarounds, but he faces a difficult enough challenge catching Go Cartin. He did make up nine points on Cartin, but the man in second will be more concerned with the title race, and knowing the Mount and captain Son duo punished his Havertz and captain Kane choices massively. He needs to make up, essentially, ten points a gameweek. Objectively, it’s a tall order, even without the chip deficit being factored in. Yet, stranger things have happened in the League of Gentlemen, and anyone who remembers King Ding’s Final Day triumph over a Big Steve who had dominated since Gameweek Four will never rule out an unlikely turnaround.
The Man Who Would Be King
And so, having led the division since Gameweek Thirteen, with the exception of one gameweek where I dropped into second by two points but remained in control by virtue of the fixtures for the next gameweek, I have put some real distance between myself and those behind me. Fifty-eight points is a big advantage at any time in the season; with six gameweeks to go and with three chips to play, it is simply massive. With a Free Hit to play in Double Gameweek 33, one that Cartin appears not to be using, I have a real opportunity to put even further distance between myself and the chasing pack. Yet, the apprehension is real. With so many of the big players having single gameweeks against favourable opponents, and with the doubling likely lads struggling with form, fatigue and fixtures, it leaves those on a Free Hit faced with more doubts than usual. Do I really want Ronaldo or Bruno ahead of Kane, even though Ronaldo and Bruno have two games, one of which is Norwich? Kane is in fine form, and his opponents are not, while Manchester United have been so poor. Do I really dare get rid of Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Cancelo or James, even for a single gameweek, only to bring in Newcastle defenders in exchange? These are big calls, and getting even one of them wrong could see those 58 points evaporate very quickly. Still, I ask myself, what would Kevin Keegan do? And I think he’d look at the overall rankings, see me at 11,081 in the world, with a chip advantage over many of those ranked higher and only 25 points off the top-5k, and he’d tell me to go for it all. He’d tell me this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only end the FPL Nightmare, but to do it by setting the highest overall ranking in the history of the division. He’d point out that I’ll never have the opportunity to tell a story like this again, and that it’s a story that could give hope to many a young FPL manager in the future. What if it goes wrong, I ask, and I lose it all? I think Keegan would look me in the eyes and ask me one question in response: what if it all goes right? I think I need to find out the answer.
That concludes the round-up of Gameweek 32, with saw the Gentlemen’s Trophy semi-finalists determined, which saw Wooden Spoon Helling enter the Hundred Club and which saw Mount and Son give me a huge advantage over my rivals. Ahead of Double Gameweek 33, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods be in your favour.
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... It is very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps
The FPL Nightmare II:
The Crying, the Hits and the VAR Probe
Follow Andrew Lawes on Social Media
All Lawes wants is to win The League of Gentlemen, yet the FPL Gods are bastards that conspire against him.
This column provides weekly updates of Lawes' dismal attempts to best his rivals.