With the Dragon closing in on a league and cup double, The Butcher and King Ding joined forces in the most outrageous stunt in FPL history. Jez Messing has the scoop.
With Gameweek Thirty-Three seeing the title race effectively over and the Dragon holding the upper hand in the Gentlemen's Trophy, it looked like nothing was going to stop him marking his League of Gentlemen debut season with a double success. Though King Ding had taken a marginal lead after the opening fixtures of Gameweek Thirty-Four, the Dragon had some big-name players still to play, leaving him still the favourite to progress to the Gentlemen's Trophy final. Meanwhile, Big Steve looked to have wasted another chance to close the gap in the title race, with fourteen crucial points from two players left on his bench. The Dragon had proven himself the best, and now fortune was in his favour, too.
What followed was an act so unbelievable, so unprecedented in League of Gentlemen history, that the Dragon simply could not have anticipated it. As the news filtered through that King Ding's Jota had been left on the Liverpool bench, he picked up his phone and rang the man whose heart he broke last season, The Butcher, Big Steve. Upon hearing the King's plan, the Butcher agreed to a temporary truce, and joined the King's cavalry.
The world watched on in amazement as the images were beamed to millions of homes across the globe. Led by the Butcher's lieutenants, Sirloin Sean and Red Hot Rob, the Appleby Assassin's Guild broke into Old Trafford and flooded onto the pitch. As the minutes ticked by until the designated kick-off time, the Appleby Assassin's Guild spread out over the fabled stadium, breaking TV cameras, smashing the executive box windows, liberating the matchday equipment and clashing with police.
As first the referee and then the teams themselves were told to stay away from the venue, the Theatre of Dreams was threatening to play host to the greatest FPL Nightmare of them all. As the match was officially abandoned and the Butcher's points came off his bench, the Dragon saw four of his biggest players rendered fixtureless, with no chance to replace them. His lead at the top had been slashed by almost a quarter. The introduction of the Appleby Assassin's Guild had seemed an unnecessary move so far this season but, with this one act, they showed the impact they could have on the title narrative.
Still, the Dragon had two trump cards up his sleeve: Heung-Min Son and captain Kane. They were his chance to save the situation, especially Son, who neither his league nor cup rival possessed. Captain Kane resoundingly let him down, contributing zero goals and zero assists in a 4-0 victory. It looked like it was going to be one of those days when VAR nonsensically ruled-out a legitimate Son goal. To survive in the Gentlemen's Trophy, the Dragon needed Son to outscore the King's Lowton by ten points; he simply could not afford for VAR to deny him. Son refused to be denied. The Korean Killer shook off the denied goal to score a goal that was allowed to stand, while enhancing his total with an assist to secure a haul of twelve points, enough to limit the ground the Butcher made up to just two points, and leaving all the pressure on Lowton to save the King the following day.
Never before had such tactics been deployed in the League of Gentlemen, two managers joining forces to unleash a riot and force an abandonment in the quest to deny a rival some points. In the aftermath of the event, they were dragged before a League of Gentlemen disciplinary committee. While no sanctions were able to be enforced, due to the unprecedented nature of events meaning it wasn't actually covered by the rulebook, the condition of them retaining their manager's licenses was the dissolution of the Appleby Assassin's Guild. Any further acts of organised disruption, if perpetrated by League of Gentlemen managers, will see them thrown out of the league.
Grinchy Vogt, upon hearing this decision, grabbed Messing outside the disciplinary hearing venue and went on a tirade. Demanding an immediate expulsion from the division and threatening to revisit the launch of the Division of Dapper Dudes if it was not forthcoming, he was informed by a spokesman of the league that continued talk of a breakaway had also been added to the rulebook, and he, too, could face expulsion. Vogt quickly backtracked, stating he was just trying to make a point, but the look in his eyes suggested this will run and run. Meanwhile, the Dragon asked Messing to relay his thanks to both the disciplinary panel and the fans. Addressing both, he said he was just going to keep working towards securing his success on the pitch, and that he was grateful the legitimacy of his impending title win would not be questioned by the expulsion of a rival.
Just when we thought the drama was done, the League of Gentlemen produces a situation like that. Incredible.
The Cup Chronicles
After the drama of Sunday's riot and Monday's disciplinary hearing, there were still two games to be played on Monday night, with one of them pivotal to the Gentlemen's Trophy. The King, two points ahead of the Dragon in the gameweek but four points behind in the tie, needed Lowton to find three points. The dream of a clean sheet was soon shattered, with West Ham scoring early in the game, and with the ball put in the net a second time, it meant Lowton was down to just one point. As Burnley chased an equaliser, the King crossed his fingers for a Lowton involvement, but it was not to be. Had it gone to the Tiebreaker, the King would've won the Substitute's Shoot-Out; as it was, the Dragon went through by just two points - the two points James Rodriguez cost the King by getting injured in the warm-up.
There was little drama in the other tie. Jockin' Jeeves reduced his twelve-point lead by eight points before kick-off, bringing in Wood, Pereira and Castagne. Who Horner had nothing in response, and was blown away by his superior rival by a scoreline of 67 - 93. So poor was Who Horner's gameweek that, had his total for the gameweek been doubled, he still wouldn't have caught Jockin' Jeeves. For the Rap Rob Roy, he moves forward to a best-of-three series with the Dragon, and a chance to end a disappointing season with some silverware, while laying down a marker for next season to the inevitable champion. The Dragon, meanwhile, has the opportunity to end his debut League of Gentlemen season with two trophies. Whether he secures the Gentlemen's Trophy depends on if he can outscore Jockin' Jeeves in two of the next three gameweeks.
The League of Gentlemen:
With four gameweeks to go, there could be some drama at the bottom after all, following Private Parvesh's 44-point thrashing of Wildman Whitfield this week. It's a result that closes the gap to second-bottom to 74 points - still a huge margin, but when 44 points can be made up in a week, the dream of avoiding the Wooden Spoon lives on. Apart from Metal Marc replacing Maverick Mikey in nineteenth, there were no changes outside the race for twelfth. Lord Geord took a huge step towards securing his qualification for the Gentlemen's Classic next season by outscoring The Ox by eleven points; with a thirty-point cushion over thirteenth and a Free Hit to play in next week's double-gameweek, the Lord will have only himself to blame if he misses out from here. King Ding has no Free Hit, but his 43-point advantage over thirteenth and his Bench Boost means he looks secure right now as well. The battle for that crucial twelfth place took an unexpected turn this week, with the absent Iceman Newton more than doubling the score of the other chasers to launch himself into possession of the qualification slot. His 62 points leaves Slick Rick 32 points adrift in fifteenth, Deadly Daz 26 points off in fourteenth and The Ox fourteen points away in thirteenth. Whether this is a last hurrah for the Iceman or the start of a strong finish remains to be seen, but the pressure on the Gentlemen behind him has been amplified. With four gameweeks to go, who manages to avoid the Classic preliminary rounds remains as up in the air as ever.
The Chasing Pack
A solid week for Hitman Hodgson, who maintained his place in the Chasing Pack with a steady 52 points. New signing Kane was given the armband over his team-mate, Son, a decision that cost the Hitman ten points. Fortune smiled on him with Dias not playing, which meant seven-point Digne came off the bench, while Christensen, Calvert-Lewin and Iheanacho secured further returns. After almost doubling Sirloin Sean's score, he would've expected to rise in the table, but was denied that by the genius of Red Hot Rob. Utilising his Wildcard, he brought in and captained Bale, who brought in a monster haul of 42 points. The further returns of Mendy, Iheanacho and Coufal ensured a two-place rise to seventh, condemning Sirloin Sean to the Irrelevants. Had it not been for five players missing out on playing, his rise could have been even more pronounced.
Flash Funk was the man most grateful for Red Hot Rob's absences, as he desperately tries to avoid ending the season with further falls in the table. It was another disappointing week for the Funkmaster, who had only nine players take the field and saw only Mendy, Coufal and Mount secure returns. His total of 32 points leaves him 45 points off Jockin' Jeeves in fifth, a gap that will surely increase when Jeeves plays his Free Hit this coming double gameweek. The Rap Rob Roy's sights are firmly set on finishing in that bronze medal position, a task that grew more difficult this week. While he made up ground on fourth place, his rival in third outscored him by two points, and also has a Free Hit to play. His eight-point hit led to a gain of two points after Woods scored, but it is a chance to close the distance missed. With just four gameweeks to go, Jeeves's hopes of ending the season with the bronze medal rest on finding the differentials with his Free Hit. With 31 extra points to find, he simply must take some gambles next time out.
The Title Contenders
Ginger Ben's chances of the bronze medal receded this week, with a score of 28 points just not good enough at this stage. The absences of Pulisic and Rudiger from the Chelsea team cost him dearly, as did the failure of Iheanacho and captain Kane to get more than an assist between them despite very favourable circumstances. New signings Maddison and Pereira both failed to return, with only Lloris, Veltman and Iheanacho securing small additional points. With only four players doubling-up next time out and the Gentlemen behind and in front of him both having Free Hits, this gameweek's pain could just be a precursor to a much more devastating outcome next time out. Even taking hits to get more players in could backfire, given that it would only be damage control. Ginger Ben, more than anyone, will be praying for a low-scoring week in Gameweek Thirty-Five.
Now sixteen points clear in third, Grinchy Vogt has the advantage of being able to Free Hit in a double gameweek knowing the men chasing him have to take all the gambles. His eyes will be cast 31 points back to Jockin' Jeeves, his real rival for the bronze, in fifth, but Vogt knows he has the upper hand and can select the obvious targets for his Free Hit squad without worry. Given the Butcher is all chipped out, the Grinch will have it in the back of his mind that the 51-point gap to second is not unassailable; if you remember his incredible seven-week burst post-Christmas, you know that you can never write Grinchy Vogt off. Indeed, with the Butcher having only five players who double-up, a strong Hundred Club entry next time out could see Vogt cover the gap in just one gameweek, though it would take everything falling into place for that to come off. Returns from Coufal, Reguilon and Iheanacho and the haul from Son gave him a gameweek total of 41 points; nothing special, but at this stage, it may well prove all he needs.
Despite unleashing the Appleby Assassin's Guild to get the Manchester United vs Liverpool game abandoned, the Butcher was unable to take advantage. The fourteen points gained from the returns of his substitutes proved - captain Iheanacho assist aside - to be the only returns he secured all gameweek. The Butcher's title hopes now eradicated barring a miracle, his challenge is to ensure he obtains a second-successive silver medal. The 51-point gap over Grinchy Vogt should be enough, but with the Grinch having a Free Hit on a double gameweek, the Butcher still needs a strong finish to make sure. He'll be back next season, and he'll be one of the favourites for the title, but his race looks run this time out. There's no shame in being beaten by a performance like the one the Dragon has produced, but it will be little consolation after coming so close to glory yet again.
The Man Who Would Be King
The business end of the season is when the pressure is at its peak, and many expected the Dragon to succumb to it in his first League of Gentlemen campaign. Like all the other doubts and pressures, they have had the opposite effect, instead driving the Dragon to greater heights. At a point where many managers would defend what they have, the Dragon has put his foot on the accelerator, winning April's Manager of the Month award by nineteen points. That his closest rival was second-place Big Steve shows just how important it was to go on the attack, and there is surely no stopping the Dragon now. A disappointing gameweek of only 38 points, secured through returns from Christensen and Iheanacho and the haul of Son, dealt his top-10k chances a blow; a slight drop to 15,497 leaves him fourteen points off a four-figure finish, which is still very achievable. Double Gameweek Thirty-Five will provide a sterner challenge, though with seven players doubling-up, he is set up nicely to prosper. The big question for him is whether to gamble on taking a hit or two in the hope of reaping huge rewards, and it's a decision that requires deep thought, given he is only nine points ahead of the twenty-thousandth ranked team. As for the League of Gentlemen total points record, he is just 171 points away with four gameweeks to go. It really has been an outstanding season for the Dragon and, with his participation in the Gentlemen's Trophy final over the next three gameweeks forcing him to stay focused, it could well go down as the greatest in League of Gentlemen history. Magnificent.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Thirty-Four, one which saw the Appleby Assassin's Guild cause chaos by forcing a big-match cancellation, which saw the race for twelfth take an unexpected twist, and which saw the Dragon and Jockin' Jeeves make it through to the Gentlemen's Trophy final. Ahead of Double Gameweek Thirty-Five, 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.