The Gentlemen's Trophy Grand Final got under way, with the first match decided by the slimmest of margins. Amid a dismal gameweek for scores, Jeeves was closing the gap, and only Ronaldo could save the Lords.
Gameweek 35 promised so much, yet ultimately became a battle of survival, with some of the lowest scores of the season. Barely any players broke double-figures in the whole game, meaning owners of Son, who scored nineteen points, were in dreamland. The rest were in big trouble, with no team not featuring the South Korean Sharpshooter managing to reach a half-century of points.
For Stone Cold Stephen Levins, the only man in the League of Gentlemen to give him the captain's armband, it was the stuff of fantasy. Stone Cold's nightmare start left him languishing in the Irrelevants, leaving him with a huge battle to climb through the table and chase a top ten place. His approach early on was to move away from the standard Salah captaincy, a dangerous choice which had drastic consequences at times, but over the course of the season has seen him make huge gains on his rivals. Having flirted briefly with tenth spot a few gameweeks back, his choice to back Son made him comfortably the highest-scoring manager this gameweek, producing a 36-point swing against Ash the Bash and leaving him fourteen points clear of eleventh place. Crucially, he also made up 36 points on eighth place, leaving him just 38 points off the Elite with three gameweeks to go. The FPL debutant has no chips left to play, but his penchant for courageous choices could yet see his first campaign end in memorable fashion.
I was lucky that none of my rivals owned Son, let alone captained him. Seeing his monster haul, coupled with the 22 points of Robertson over the last two gameweeks, brings great regret at the decision to sell both to take a two-gameweek punt on Ronaldo. And yet, had I remembered to save my team last time out, the seventeen points Saka had scored since I signed him to replace Son meant that the gamble may have paid off. There are many ways to accumulate points in FPL, which is why the game is so exciting, yet when you are down to the final few gameweeks, it's what makes it so dangerous. One great captaincy call could leave you in dreamland; one flip of a coin could leave you suffering the ultimate FPL Nightmare.
James two points; Alonso nineteen. Alexander-Arnold five points; Robertson twenty-two. Kane eight points; Son twenty-two. De Bruyne nine points; Jesus thirty-two. A swing of seventy-one points in two gameweeks from four coin-toss decisions, without captaincy being factored into it. This gameweek, the captaincy swing between Son and Salah was thirty-six points. The variance is brutal, and with two double gameweeks to come before the Final Day, the potential for a dramatic end to the season has never been higher.
It felt like Gameweek 35 was going to fall in my favour when Salah made a one-point cameo and de Bruyne didn't play, meaning my two closest rivals scored just two points from their captaincy. Even after Cash gained Jockin' Jeeves a clean sheet that moved him fourteen points ahead of me in the gameweek scores, I was still confident. I still had James against Everton, a sure-fire clean sheet with huge potential for attacking returns. I had Nketiah, cemented as Arsenal's number nine against a tired West Ham. I had the greatest goalscorer of all time at home to Brentford, with seven goals in his last three home fixtures, and he was my captain.
Then, with one bad touch from Azpilicueta, with one poacher's effort from Richarlison and with a packed-out Goodison roaring on every defensive motion from a team with no further designs on attacking, it all fell apart. James, the most infuriating player to own in FPL history, who hauls every time you don't have him and blanks every time you do, scored just two points. Nketiah had six opportunities to score and took none of them, then went and got himself booked. Now, only three of my players had secured returns, and Jeeves owned them all. I only had one player left to play, and Jeeves was still eleven points ahead for the gameweek. The opportunity had gone, and now it was a fight for survival, one I had 24 hours to stew over.
Trying to unwind, I watch the snooker World Championships final, as Ronnie O'Sullivan sought to equal Stephen Hendry's modern-day record of seven world titles against Judd Trump. I watched how he took the game to his supremely-talented opponent, a champion in his own right, and blew him away with some astute decisions and some bold moves. I saw O'Sullivan's opponent slumped in his chair, knowing that the record-chaser had an answer for everything, feeling the effects of a gruelling earlier battle that left his options feeling a little more limited, his brain a little too weary and his task a little too insurmountable. At the close of the first day of the two-day final, O'Sullivan was seven frames ahead, and his destiny of glory seemed sure to be fulfilled.
As I waited for Manchester United to take the field, I watched the second day's play as a distraction from the torment FPL was creating. O'Sullivan entered the arena to a cascade of expectancy-driven cheers, with everyone in attendance knowing his odyssey was sure to reach its triumphant conclusion. There was no doubt in anybody's mind that this was the tournament where his quest would end; nobody's mind, that is, except the man himself. Barely noticeable to the casual observer, his cue was a little less steady. His choices were a little more cautious. The balls that would roll into the centre of the pocket in 99% of his matches were catching the jaw on the way down. His opponent managed to claw one frame back, then another. As his dominant lead began to reduce, O'Sullivan tried to find his magic, but the momentum had shifted. By the end of the third of four sessions, his opponent had given him a trouncing, and his lead had been almost halved. As he left the arena for the two-hour break ahead of the final session, the doubting of his destiny was no longer confined to his own mind. Everyone watching now thought a fairytale conclusion to his epic career was slipping from his grasp.
As the final match of the gameweek kicked off, the snooker had my attention. I was sick with nerves, unable to give any focus to how my gameweek was drawing to a conclusion. I feared the worst; perhaps Ronaldo wouldn't play. Perhaps he would, and he'd get sent off. Perhaps he'd stay on the pitch, but miss a penalty. In the Gameweek 35 scores, I was eleven points behind Jeeves, and my entire team had disappointed. Having watched the Chelsea calamity and the Nketiah no-show, I could face no more football, so I watched the snooker, but it provided no respite. Watching a handsome lead evaporate as a dream faltered at the final hurdle kept my mind fully-focused on my own situation, my own skills deserting me at such a pivotal time. But O'Sullivan dug in. He kept fighting. He put frames on the board and moved closer to the trophy. It wasn't his most fluent snooker. He was making mistakes, but now, so was his opponent. It just needed someone to take charge. My partner asked what the time was, so I unlocked my phone, and as O'Sullivan clinched the title, I saw the news I'd been dreaming off.
Ronnie had rocketed one home.
I end Gameweek 35 three points further ahead of Jeeves than I began. With only three gameweeks to play, I have an 86-point lead. Sometimes, no matter the pedigree or ability of your opponent, some obstacles are too big to overcome. Sometimes, the sense of destiny is too great to be denied. On Monday, May 2nd, Ronnie O'Sullivan achieved his destiny. On that same day, Ronaldo scored a captain's goal which could prove pivotal in determining mine. In three gameweek's time, it'll all be over. I pray that it is a dream fulfilled, rather than my ultimate FPL Nightmare.
The Cup Chronicles
In the first match of the Gentlemen's Trophy final, Hitman Hodgson placed himself at an immediate disadvantage by taking a four-point hit, bringing in Laporte and Dennis for Reguilon and Saint-Maximin, perhaps with one eye on the upcoming double gameweek. It was a move that paid off, with Reguilon being ruled out with injury and Laporte outscoring the Hitman's only available substitute by five points, while also leaving him stronger in the second match of the Grand Final Series. It's an extra strength he will need, as he lost a tight clash by virtue of a Watkins goal for the Dragon and his own mistake of benching seven-point de Gea for two-point Pope. Nevertheless, it was a tie that could have gone either way, with both Gentlemen sharing a similar squad structure and several players, and neither captaining Son, the gameweek's big scorer. Small margins often have the biggest impact in cup clashes, and the Hitman needs to find an edge in Gameweek 36, lest he suffer the ignominy of being defeated by his brother without making it to the third match of the series - a fate the Dragon suffered himself last season, and which he is desperate to atone for.
Gentlemen's Trophy, Grand Final, Match One score:
Dan the Dragon 55 - 45 Hitman Hodgson
Grinchy Vogt achieved his unique goal of reaching bottom spot this gameweek, with another fourteen-player transfer binge ensuring a 52-point penalty which takes him 72 points lower than Lethal Lee. In a notoriously low-scoring gameweek, it was the surprise figure of Wooden Spoon Helling who made a name for himself, achieving the highest score of the bottom twenty managers and moving just seven points away from Who Horner in 35th. A 47-point salvo from Daredevil Daisy, featuring hauls from both Pickford and Bissouma, moved her up two places to 29th. With fifty points to make up to catch the Masterchef, it may well prove as high as she can climb, but it's still a great effort from the youngest competitor in League of Gentlemen history. Several managers rose or fell one place between 28th and twentieth, with Mack Daddy McMahon the manager who emerges at the top of that particular crowd, just inside the top half. It was a good gameweek for Deadly Daz, with Son, Foden and Ings doing the damage as he scored the second-highest score of the gameweek. He remains in eighteenth, but the gap to Private Parvesh in seventeenth has been slashed to just seven points. Killer Kev climbed to sixteenth with a 63-point gameweek, outscoring the three managers directly ahead of him by a considerable margin and leaving himself 34 points off Brad the Lad in thirteenth. Terminator Tris and Ash the Bash both dropped a place as a result of Stone Cold's gameweek-high score, while Red Hot Rob remains in ninth, now just seven points clear of Levins and 31 points off the Elite.
It was another tough gameweek for King Ding, who played his Wildcard only to be outscored by the three managers ahead of him. The decision to start Foster ahead of Pickford cost him eight points, while opting to go without a Spurs attacker looks a mistake already. Of course, a Wildcard can't be judged on a single gameweek, and should the King's Bench Boost pay off over the two doubles, he won't be quibbling about a few lost points here. It does mean the Hitman moved four points further away in seventh, while Mighty Mouse in sixth is now 26 points ahead. The highest scorer in the Elite this gameweek was the Dragon, who scored 55 points even while losing four points on his goalkeeper selection. It was a score that came at a great time, establishing a nineteen-point cushion behind him and allowing him to focus on catching Ginger Ben.
It would be a tough end to the season for Ginger Ben, if he were to be pipped for fourth place in the final few gameweeks for a second-successive campaign, but the form is trending in that direction and he needs to find a way to turn it around. The Dragon made up 22 points on him in Gameweek 35, leaving him just 24 points behind the Ginger One. However, this could well be the end of his recent poor form. With a squad well-prepared for Gameweek 36 and a Free Hit for Gameweek 37, the Mackem Messiah should find a way to cling to his position and could even catch Go Cartin. The third-placed manager is a massive 69 points clear and holds a Free Hit of his own, but in the big double gameweek last season, Ginger Ben had a gameweek score of 129 points. Should he get close to that score in the two double gameweeks to come, it could be enough to sneak the bronze medal at the last. Even Jockin' Jeeves in the silver medal position isn't out of reach, though the 83 points Ginger Ben needs to make up will probably prove a step too far. However, Jeeves needs to take risks in his pursuit of the title, and should they backfire, anything is possible.
The Man Who Would Be King
Of course, if they pay off, then I could be in trouble. It's funny how I think it's almost impossible for Ginger Ben to catch Jeeves from this point, yet the difference he has to make up is larger and I'm so nervous about it. Part of that is undoubtedly his Free Hit, which means his players could have far more matches in Gameweek 37 than mine. The other part is the huge point swings over the last few gameweeks, and I'm quite amazed the gap has remained as large as it has. The damage Son did to my overall rank this week was huge, with my team at 27k before Ronaldo's salvage mission left me at 19,430. The top-5k dream looks unlikely now, with 51 points to make up, and even the 27 points needed to get into the top-10k seems insurmountable. Yet, somehow, an 86-point lead doesn't feel enough. I have a very good transfer plan, but I'm now contemplating changing it, taking a hit and hunting down the top-10k, and also the other option taking a hit to consolidate my League of Gentlemen position.
I shouldn't be this nervous, but when you have put so much into the three years of these chronicles and you declared in pre-season this is the final opportunity, to be so close is really amplifying the fear of failure. My every waking moment is consumed with FPL. I go to sleep and I have nightmares of missing deadlines and failing to save my team again. I fastidiously check everything is all set up ready, just in case I forget. I obsess over the most obscure of statistics. I never thought I would be in this position, not really. I only hoped to give it a good go, so I could at least end the trilogy with a positive message of improvement, leaving the reader hopeful that, one day, away from the archives of my writing, I might quietly win the title and complete the King's Quest. But now, all of that is out the window. I'm 86 points clear with three gameweeks to go, which means there can be no message of hope from failure. It's all or nothing. Either the Hobbits are throwing the One Ring into Mount Doom or the Lannisters are sending their regards, and Jeeves has the Free Hit that could rewrite all the scripts. Three gameweeks to go. One gameweek at a time.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek 35 of the League of Gentlemen, which saw Stone Cold's Son make hay while Ronaldo saved my day, and which saw the Dragon pull away in the Trophy's brotherly fray. Ahead of Double Gameweek 36, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods be in your favour.
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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
The FPL Nightmare III:
The Lawes Rank Redemption
The Complete FPL Nightmare Trilogy:
The Epic Quest From A 4.8m Rank To A Top 0.1% Finish
on Kindle: £3.99
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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.