And so, after three months of rest, the Gentlemen gather for the biggest campaign yet. With more contenders than ever before, and with the knowledge this will be the final time the division is documented for posterity, the stakes are higher than ever in the World's Greatest Mini-League.
After a summer of breathtaking excitement, where the impossible almost became reality and England nearly won an international trophy, the League of Gentlemen is back, with the biggest field in the eight-year history of the competition. What began as a friendly rivalry between old pals has now expanded into the must-see competition in all of Fantasy Premier League, with competitors coming from far and wide to have a crack at being crowned the champion of the most intense division in the game. With the announcement that this will be the final instalment in the FPL Nightmare series, the stakes are higher than ever, with only one chance remaining to be forever remembered as a winner of the World's Greatest Mini-League.
Entering the campaign as favourite is last season's record-breaking champion, Dan 'the Dragon' Hodgson, who strode into the competition and soared above his rivals to win at a canter, smashing the divisional points record in the process. Repeating the feat will be a tall order, especially given the quality of some of the new additions to the League of Gentlemen, but the Dragon has shown he has the mettle to manage any crisis, and any route to glory will go through him. His biggest rival will be the four-time champion, Martin 'King Ding' Bell, who suffered a torrid time last season and will be out to set the record straight. The King has never gone two seasons without reigning triumphant, and in the final year of the chronicles, he will be more focused than ever on ending the trilogy as the dominant force. Fresh off a runaway success in La Ligue de Gentlemen, the international fantasy competition based around the European Championships in which he thrashed the man who displaced him as champion, the King will be full of confidence that he will re-take his throne over the coming thirty-eight gameweeks. This war between the young upstart and the wily veteran will dominate the narrative in the months ahead, and it's hard to look beyond the previous two title-winners when it comes to predicting who this season's champion will be.
The rest of the Gentlemen will not let them have it their own way. Gentlemen's Trophy holder Jamie 'Jockin' Jeeves' Ayers, so plagued with talk that his aggressive style is past its sell-by date, will be determined to prove the doubters wrong and become a three-time champion, while Big Steve 'The Butcher' Allison will have the support of the neutrals, as he looks to take the final step to glory after back-to-back silver medals. Last season's winners of The Eliminator and the Gentlemen's Classic, 'Ginger' Ben Cuthbertson and Ben 'Hitman' Hodgson, will be heavily-favoured to translate their cup successes into league performance this season, while the villain of the division, Simon 'Grinchy' Vogt, went on an unprecedented run of form post-Christmas last time out, storming up the table from nineteenth to finish with the bronze medal. If he can reach those levels from the first gameweek, his manipulations and mind-games will be very difficult to overcome, and could well see this book trilogy end with a tragedy.
Beyond the favourites, those who struggled to adapt to the pandemic circumstances last season will be looking to prove the critics wrong, none more so than 'Deadly' Daz Lawes, who dropped from fourth place in 2019-20 to failing to qualify for the Gentlemen's Classic through his league placing. His first goal will be to make it through his qualifier into the group stage, but ending the book trilogy as the 2-1 final place victor in the Wars of the Lawes will be high on his agenda. Craig 'Flash Funk' Whear has been spoken of as a top prospect for years now, and has so far failed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. A great start last season was derailed following his Gentlemen's Classic Grand Final defeat, which set off a tailspin from which he struggled to recover. Dale 'Iceman' Newton, Daniel 'The Ox' Oxley, 'Slick' Rick McLean and Gavin 'Masterchef' Bridges have showed great form in short bursts over the last two seasons, and their challenge is finding the consistency to threaten the upper echelons of the table, while 'Maverick' Mikey Paterson, Laurence 'Who' Horner, 'Metal' Marc Farquhar, Andrew 'Wooden Spoon' Helling, 'Private' Parvesh Geerish, Adam 'Big-Time' Birkett, Mikey 'Mack Daddy' McMahon and Sam 'Wildman' Whitfield will all be looking for vast improvements to their games this season. Maverick Mikey, Mack Daddy McMahon and Big-Time Birkett showed the most potential for growth last season; the question is whether they can learn from the mistakes of previous years and demonstrate their ability to enact new strategies with greater possibility of success.
The rise in popularity of the World's Greatest Mini-League has seen seventeen new contenders enter the fray, all of them seeking fame, fortune and being immortalised in the echelons of time. New to FPL itself are Ricki 'Lionheart' Lamb, 'Gladiator' Glen Morton, 'Stone Cold' Stephen Levins and 'Daredevil' Daisy Lawes, who deserve great credit for stepping into such a foreboding arena with so little experience. The Lionheart is filled with confidence following a successful season in one of FPL's bootleg rivals, but he will need to learn the new rules of engagement fast to have any success in the League of Gentlemen, while the Gladiator, Stone Cold and the Daredevil - who is the League of Gentlemen's first female competitor ever, and is just ten years of age - will have to adapt quickly to understand the nuances and secrets of such a foreboding environment. 'Lethal' Lee Jones, 'Rough Rider' Adam Ryding, Ash 'the Bash' Whittaker, 'Uncaged' Andy Bage, 'Killer' Kevin Paul, 'Professor' David Storey, Matt 'Dodger' Rogers, Brad 'the Lad' Rogers, 'Glorious' Gary Dow and Carl 'the Chancellor' Hellier enter with poor FPL histories, though that is not necessarily an indicator of future success. One thing the World's Greatest Mini-League does is improve the standards of play, and as the challenge increase, so often does performance, too. These men may well have lost engagement in the early parts of previous campaigns, but there is little chance of that when there is so much to play for in the League of Gentlemen, not least their eternal reputation in the annals of time.
There are also three newcomers who pose a serious threat at the top of the table. John 'Go' Cartin enters the division having finished just outside of the top-100k for the second time in three seasons, with a points total that would've seen him finish second last season. While he has a history of inconsistent performances, he has gone up a level in the last three seasons, and is a prime candidate to benefit from the bounce that often accompanies entry to the World's Greatest Mini-League. Stephen 'Mighty Mouse' Mounsey may have only finished just inside the top-500k last season, but he has an incredible nine top-100k finishes, including a top-20k ranking in 2019-20. That is a pedigree that is unmatched in the League of Gentlemen, and which marks Mighty Mouse as one of the favourites for the competition, assuming he can handle the increased scrutiny of his choices. 'Terminator' Tristan Hodgson has had a poor few years in the game, but between 2009 and 2011 he posted three consecutive top-100k finishes, including an outstanding 8,065 final ranking in 2010. If he is ever going to regain that form, it will be in the League of Gentlemen. It must be noted, though, that none of the new boys have ever equalled King Ding's final ranking of 7,043 in 2019-20, which remains the benchmark of excellence in the division, and could well never be surpassed.
In addition to the league drama, the League of Gentlemen's three cup competitions return this season. Here is a brief rundown of how they all work:
Currently held by Ginger Ben, the rules of the Eliminator are simple: every team enters, and whichever team scores the fewest points that gameweek is Eliminated. This continues until Gameweek Twenty-Six, where the last two Gentlemen left standing go head-to-head in the Eliminator final. Due to the influx of new competitors, this season will see two teams eliminated per gameweek at the start, until we reach the point where one team per gameweek leaves us with two teams for the Gameweek 26 Grand Final. In a change from last season, which will only add to the drama, transfer hit points no longer count towards your Eliminator score.
Starts: Gameweek 3
Grand Final: Gameweek 26
The Gentlemen’s Trophy
Currently held by Jockin' Jeeves, the Gentlemen's Trophy is an unseeded two-legged head-to-head knockout competition, with the exception of the Grand Final, which is determined in a best-of-three-gameweeks format.
Due to there being over 32 teams in the League of Gentlemen this season, one or more first-round ties will be between three teams, rather than head-to-head.
First Round: Gameweeks 27 & 28
Second Round: Gameweeks 29 & 30
Quarter Finals: Gameweeks 31 & 32
Semi-Finals: Gameweeks 33 & 34
Grand Final: Gameweeks 35, 36 & 37
The Gentlemen’s Classic
The Gentlemen's Classic sees sixteen of the Gentlemen - last year's top twelve, plus four qualifiers determined in Gameweeks Three and Four - compete head-to-head in four groups of four teams, with two points for a win and one for a draw. Once they have played each other twice, the top two in each group advance to Stage Two, a second group stage featuring two groups of four teams. After six further gameweeks, the top two of each group advance to the two-legged head-to-head Semi-Finals, before the winners of those face off in the two-legged Grand Final over the Festive Frenzy. Currently held by Hitman Hodgson, this competition is the showcase event of the first half of the season.
Twelve Confirmed Entrants: The Dragon, Big Steve, Grinchy Vogt, Jockin' Jeeves, Ginger Ben, Flash Funk, Lord Geord, Hitman Hodgson, Red Hot Rob, Sirloin Sean, King Ding, The Ox.
There are three Qualifying clashes, based on last season's finishing positions, and one which features every newcomer to the division. If any team does not return from last season, they are not replaced in their Qualifier. The top-scoring team over Gameweeks Three and Four from each Qualifier advances:
Qualifier One: Iceman Newton, Mack Daddy McMahon, Big-Time Birkett, Private Parvesh.
Qualifier Two: Deadly Daz, Who Horner, Maverick Mikey, Wildman Whitfield.
Qualifier Three: The Masterchef, Slick Rick, Metal Marc, Wooden Spoon Helling.
Qualifier Four: The Chancellor, Mighty Mouse, Gladiator Glen, Go Cartin, Rough Rider, Lethal Lee, Uncaged Bage, Lionheart Lamb, Ash the Bash, Killer Kev, Daredevil Daisy, plus any last-minute additions.
The Gentlemen's Classic will be contested over the following gameweeks:
Final Qualifying Round: Gameweeks 3-4
First Group Stage: Gameweeks 5-10
Second Group Stage: Gameweeks 11-16
Semi-Finals: Gameweek 17 & 18
Grand Final: Gameweek 19 & 20
In the event of a draw in the knockout competitions, the Tiebreakers are as follows:
First tiebreak: the Substitute Shoot-Out.
Second tiebreak: Most Goals Scored.
Third tiebreak: Fewest Goals Conceded.
Fourth tiebreak: Coin of Destiny
The Substitute Shoot-Out works as follows: Whoever scores the most between the first outfield substitute of each team scores one point. Whoever scores the most between the second outfield substitute of each team scores one point. Whoever scores the most between the third outfield substitute of each team scores one point. If there is a winner – 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 or 3-0 - after the outfield substitutes, that team wins. If the score is tied, whoever's substitute goalkeeper scores the highest will be declared the winner. If the Substitute Shoot-Out cannot determine a winner, we turn first to most Goals Scored, then Fewest Goals Conceded over the course of the whole tie. If there is still no winner, a best-of-three Coin of Destiny toss determines who advances.
In the event of a tie in the Group Stage of the Gentlemen's Classic, the head-to-head record is the first Tiebreaker, followed by Most Goals Scored throughout the whole group stage, then Fewest Goals Conceded. If those still can't determine a winner, it becomes a Substitute Shoot-Out based on the substitutes in the sixth group game, then the fifth if there is still no winner, and so on. Only if there is no winner after all that will the Coin of Destiny be invoked.
The over-riding story of these chronicles, the very thing that inspired them in the first place, is the absolute horror that comes with an FPL Nightmare, and my difficulty in handling my own ineptitude. What began as a few throwaway blogs to vent my frustrations and amuse King Ding has now grown into a book trilogy, with fans far and wide and an ever-growing number of contestants entering the division. To win the World's Greatest Mini-League this season, with the breadth of quality throughout the competition, will be a truly remarkable achievement. The Gentleman who does so will be forever remembered as the final champion of the FPL Nightmare chronicles.
Many people have questioned why I would walk away from the series when it keeps growing in popularity. It is that growth that explains the decision. The challenge laid down by King Ding was to end my torment by winning the League of Gentlemen then retiring as champion. The success of the series means the motivation for completing the King's Quest is diminishing; when you can benefit from your bad decisions and misfortune, the need to end the FPL Nightmare starts to evaporate, and that is against the spirit of the challenge. This was not about becoming a successful author, it was about proving myself better than my rivals over thirty-eight gameweeks. By profiteering from my failures, I have no reason to succeed. As such, the stakes simply have to be raised.
I must continue on the King's Quest until either it is completed, or until the end of my days. However, this will be my final opportunity for any triumph to be documented, for any glory to be chronicled, for any victory to be remembered. This is the final season my FPL Nightmare will be written about; should I fail the King's Quest, I will be forced to endure my torment in the shadows. It's all or nothing for Geord's Lords, and I simply cannot afford any mistakes. I cannot fall back into the hit-heavy approach of old. I cannot take wild gambles with little hope of success. I have but one opportunity to prove I have learnt the lessons of my failures, and to apply them correctly and give my trilogy the fairytale ending. The problem is, this isn't fantasy, this is real life, and it all comes down to determination, desire and discipline. This truly is Lawes' Last Stand, and it will take every last drop of energy, analysis, skill, dedication and perseverance to emerge triumphant. In thirty-eight gameweeks, we'll all know whether or not I can walk away with my head held high.
Thirty-eight gameweeks. Thirty-three competitors. Three cup competitions. The World's Greatest Mini-League is back, and the stakes have never been higher. Will King Ding retake his throne? Will Grinchy Vogt steal the glory? Will Jockin' Jeeves reassert his power? Will the Dragon go back-to-back? Will Big Steve take that final step? Will someone new rise to prominence? Will I be able to complete the King's Quest? So many questions to be answered, so much football to be played, so many dreams to be shattered and so many FPL Nightmares to endure. It all starts now.
Welcome to the League of Gentlemen.
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Dancing With Disorder
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The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps
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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.