1 February ~ Never mind the allegations of adultery, sleeping with your best mate’s partner, taking cash backhanders for showing people around Chelsea’s training ground, and looking like a big Mary Jane in front of an audience of millions for crying after he missed a penalty. I think we can all agree that on Saturday Big John Terry answered his critics with his head. 2-1 to the Chelsea, three vital points in the bag for the league-leading lads from west London, and firm proof that Terry puts football first, well ahead of prurient tabloid headlines.

I raised a fist and saluted both his aerial powers and the endurance of his character. For although I sort of hate his guts, John Terry is in my Premier League Fantasy Team. When a defender scores, it’s worth six extra points. And what about charming Nic Anelka? The well-travelled Frenchman has, it is true, failed to warm the hearts of numerous fan groups as he’s moved around the league and the continent. It might be said that, like Terry, he typifies the aloof, arrogant, out-of-touch and thoroughly overpaid professional of the modern era. But never mind all that. Anelka is a team-mate of Terry’s not just at Chelsea but also in my fantasy line-up, and he too scored on Saturday. Not only that, but he was my captain for the day, meaning his points tally for the weekend will be doubled.

This is the only way for many fans to cope with their alienation from top-flight football. Like millions of other boys 30 or more years ago, the pictures on my walls torn from Shoot! featured players from a variety of clubs. You liked players for what they did on the field. Now you tend to dislike them largely for what they do and say off it. Your only consolation for their ongoing success is to pick them for your online XI in the vaguely sad, parallel universe where middle-aged people sit at their keyboards fretting over Vassiriki Diaby’s calf injury. A Chelsea win hurts so much less when it helps propel you up to number 165,657 in the rankings (that’s out of 2.25 million players, so I’m verging on the mathematical equivalent of a hypothetical Champions League place, even if you allow for the fact that probably a million of those players gave up three weeks in to the season).

This explains how I might spend a Saturday afternoon cheering on the endeavours of one-time England prospect Lee Bowyer. The Birmingham midfielder complained recently that he harbours no hope of an England recall because he’s damned by past misdeeds, even though he’s apparently matured in the interim. He’s right – in the real world, I’d no more want him to score than I’d want to see Frank Lampard pulling up in front of my house to take my daughters to a tea dance. But thanks to the realms of fantasy, I can give little Lee some of the love that he feels he deserves. I can roar on plucky Paddy Evra as he marauds down the left for the reigning league champions. Modest Argentine Carlos Tevez notches again for future European Cup holders Man City and runs straight into my arms. I will, however, draw the line at forking out good fake money for Ashley Cole.

Fantasy Football is a canny by-product of the real thing at a time when there are just too many players and teams to dislike. It’s hard to maintain interest in the Premier League now that the same results seem to be pretty much repeated season after season. In Fantasy world, the odds of winning any of the paltry handful of prizes on offer are tiny, though still higher than the chances of Hull or Burnley taking the actual title. But for once this isn’t about the exploitation of dumb hope. The league I’m in, after all, is free. It’s more like a perk for the cynical, jaded fan. You can’t get into debt, and the focus is on nothing but the on-field performance. For that opportunity I’m grateful at least, even if it means a half-hearted, half-guilty cheer when John Terry scores a late winner to keep the odious Chelsea well clear at the top. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (8)
Comment by NiceOneCenturian 2010-02-01 23:39:22

"taking cash backhanders for showing people around Chelsea’s training ground"

When was the last time the saintly Mr Plenderleith spent his spare time raising thousands of pounds for a children's charity?

Comment by imp 2010-02-02 02:11:18

Me? Saintly? Why sir, you are too kind, even if you can't spell 'centurion'. Though I tend to subscribe to the philosophy: Rights Not Charity.

Comment by bangsection 2010-02-02 10:43:43

Definitely something in this Ian - increasingly I find that fantasy football is my only emotional attachment to the Premier League. I guess this is pretty common among supporters of clubs in the lower divisions. However, I've got a friend who's a huge football fan but has never played fantasy football in his life. It's a conscious decision on his part explained thus: "I refuse to compromise my hatred of certain Premier League players by secretly hoping that they score goals/keep clean sheets." Now that's a man with principles!

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-02-02 11:46:14

Spot-on - and brilliantly written.

Comment by CarsmileSteve 2010-02-02 15:01:44

this has been my only reason for watching MoTD for about five years now, although i do tend to pick players i like (yer besayouns, artetas, agbonlahors) which means my teams tend to do less well than if i was picking the objectively "best".

also it does mean i have an odd regard for Zoltan Gera, very good points to cost ratio, certainly when he was at west brom...

Comment by stuart77 2010-02-02 15:54:09

oh dear a Chelski fan who can't see past John Terry's ability as a football to see that he is a scumbag, i don't think anyone would want to work with someone who had sex with their girlfriend, wife...

but some people think thats ok if your a footballer, oh yeah, he was giving the money to charity was he, i believe you Mr Terry

Comment by Lincoln 2010-02-03 16:42:08

My first reaction to seeing that Terry had been caught with his trousers down was to tell people I was still happy for him to be in my team as he would rack up the points this week against two week sides in a ‘bonus week’ for Chelsea. I was vindicated on Saturday and went as far as to say as long as he is doing well in football I will forgive his off field errors. As if he is actually one of my players.
On the subject of Ashley Cole, at the start of the season I not only had him in my team, but as captain. He scored one, set up two, kept a clean and got man of the match. Combined with other players it put me 100 points clear of the nearest challenger. Fantasy football teaches us that in order to succeed in football, morals must be left at the door.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-02-06 11:47:25

To imp

Who says that NOC cant spell.
I might be wrong but I beleive that centurion and centurian are two separate words with different and distinct meanings, no?

Just a random thought that hasnt really got anything to do with the subject matter at hand..........!!!

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