When I dreamt up owning and running my own football team, having pumped all of my money and time into this massive project for our team at The Hype Train, my expectations of the season and its reality couldn’t be further apart. This little feature, one I never imagined penning, takes a look at some of the complex and freak challenges we've undertaken during our debut season as a club. All aboard.
Armed to the teeth with a powerful AI camera that took three months to properly work for us, a full Kitlocker club store and top of the range Nike home and change kits, a fully imagined website and photography on game days, our plan was to document an entire season of football with as much professionalism as possible, though instead our debut 2019/20 season has resorted into a patchy mess, broken up by continually bad weather and a pandemic that has all but ended hopes of our club completing the season unless the grassroots season is extended deep in to the summer.
If you’re unaware of how Hype Train FC operate, we were officially formed in June 2019 after a year of intense planning, play on Saturday afternoon’s in the East Berkshire Football League, train on Wednesday evenings at JMA Academy in Reading and are working alongside the EBFL to rejuvenate the image of the league – we’ve already created them a full range of branding, including a shiny league logo and a fully operational website.
Our entire team came to being after a combination of feeling discontent at my previous club, and the sheer passion my management team have for football, with our website the perfect hosting ground for a team that was going to present as much content as possible - becoming the first fantasy football website to own and operate a football club. Not just a football team that gets together once in a while for the cameras, but the full works.
We are my no means a perfect team and are certainly not here here to trophy scalp. Just like a normal team, we have lost key players at the wrong times, whether it is a star attacker that up and quit out of the blue because his friend isn't playing every minute of every game and has a different vision for the team, losing a brilliant team member due to an awful ACL injury after the first game of the season, or being without a good friend for the season due to tragic medical circumstances that are out of the control of anyone - another cruel act of mother nature. We have also gained some fantastic players in recent months that must be cursing their luck about joining a club at quite possibly the worst time.
A winter of discontent...
Our season has been littered with various outside cup competitions, with our side reaching the quarter-finals of the Berks & Bucks FA Junior Cup, a county cup competition featuring any grassroots teams below the intermediate level of the game. We excelled to navigate five tricky fixtures in what was a highlight for the squad to date, with the team the bane of North Berks sides such as Grove Rangers and Hagbourne United's Reserve outfit, beating both on course for our eventual elimination at the hands of Hanslope Reserves in Milton Keynes on January 25th 2020, in a cup run that ran for four months and greatly disturbed our other areas of focus.
Advised of the weekly difficulties of running your own side, from player availability to the state of the pitches in the Slough and surrounding areas, never in a million years did I ever envision storm after storm raining off a bulk of our Saturday’s - continued pleas of patience from our parish council before the holiday's that pitch conditions in 2020 were met with Storm Dennis and Chiara in back-to-back weeks.
A good run in the county cup though has seen a severe absence in our league, EBFL Division 2, with the squad only playing six of a possible eighteen fixtures to date. With eleven games still left on the calendar, as we were awarded an automatic home win after the Phoenix Old Boys side rooted at the bottom of our league were in a drunken state due to England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, as well as a minimum of four additional cup games, the capacity to fill fifteen fixtures between now and the end of the season, May 31st 2020, seem an impossibility given that the spread of Coronavirus across the world in 2020.
With COVID-19 the likely nail in the coffin for a season to remember for every wrong reason, the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 have also been thwart with problematic weather, with seven games called off before Christmas for various reasons – including a professional Academy side from Hungerford failing to raise a side against us, to teams dropping out at the 11th hour, and mother nature having a ferocious appetite to rain, without fail, every Thursday evening when our groundsman makes the call about the state of our home pitch - with a further four games in 2020 called off, all due to the frenzy of storms that battered the UK, causing floods and disaster across much of Wales and the South of England.
Combine these elements with the fact that our training facility at JMA Academy was ripped up in early October and replaced with a new 4G surface, resulting in the squad without a place to train throughout the middle part of our season for ten plus weeks, with all of this all brewing up a storm where players, myself included, were starved of regular football and of a genuine rhythm when we were afforded a Matchday – which makes our path to a county cup quarter-final, and to the semi-final of the Ascot & Fielden Charity Cup (we’ve yet to play our semi-final), as well as remaining unbeaten in our half-dozen league games, a feat I’m not taking lightly given our relentless challenges and circumstances.
The only measure that will see grassroots football return and fully completed is if the season is extended deep in to the summer, when clubs like ourselves will have a weekly and never ending tussle with player availability due to the nature of people going away for summer on well-deserved holidays. At this point though, a week in the sun abroad doesn’t seem too optimistic or plausible, even as early as the middle of March, so there may be hope that players might be getting some sun on their skin down their local parks might be their only sweet relief in a year of event cancellations, with League’s and Associations such as the EBFL and the BBFA keen to see cup final dates booked and completed, to ultimately see a happy end to what in my experience, has been the worst season of football on record.
This is all without factoring in the on-field drama. Our opposition love a wonder goal, we've had a player headbutted by opposing club officials, experienced a range of brilliant to brutally bad referees turn up, one who was even injured and hobbled around the centre circle for ninety minutes to collect an easy paycheck for the day. On the positive side of the coin, we've experienced some great cup runs, some dramatic comebacks on home soil, in Martin King and Callum Parr-Jones have witnessed some of the best goals you'll see a footballer score, and throughout the course of it all have formed a positive on-field identity of how we want to play.
Being close to the situation with everyone at the East Berkshire Football League, Monday evening when UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced that all major and minor social gatherings were to be stopped came as an inevitable shock and sting that I was in no way ready to accept, the Committee acted quickly to deliver quick communication to everyone that all league activities have halted. In this instance the league need to be given the benefit of the doubt as I know they’re doing the right thing for everyone so we can get playing ball as quickly as possible.
Health and well-being of the wider public is of course paramount and it is a pill that everyone is having to swallow together, though I can’t help but feel I’ve written this entire piece almost as a season review. The bulk of our team understand and are even joking in our WhatsApp chat that the number of fixtures and the uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus, means that there is a fading chance we finish the season at all, a sentiment shared by many clubs who’ll likely struggle at the idea of settling for the entire campaign being voided if its Member clubs continue to take a seat on the sidelines. My only plea to the league and FA is that we embrace the summer as a time to complete the fixture lists for all its Member clubs - I don't care what anyone says, football matters. It is more than a game and is at the heart of communities the world across, and there needs to be a care of duty to ensure that when play resumes, that clubs at the bottom of the pyramid are not left behind or forgotten.
Football should be a release where people across the country should be keeping fit and active to fight illness, so here’s hoping that this is merely a passing moment of time where players become hungry and determined to return to the field when the worst of the virus passes. Until then, whilst this train has has been derailed, please keep safe in what will be an extended period of uncertainty for your family, friends and loved ones.
In the meantime, with free time at hand and planning for next season most likely the next steps for most clubs at this point, if anyone is reading this and would like advice on what it takes to start and keep a grassroots football team going in 2020, please email our team – firstname.lastname@example.org – or seek us out on our social media channel and we’re happy to talk you through your next steps.
Want to know more about The Hype Train?
The Hype Train is an entertainment website founded in 2015, specialising in Fantasy sports reporting, starting with Fantasy Premier League (FPL), before expanding to MLS Fantasy coverage in 2018.
We pride ourselves in providing beautiful graphics, statistics, in-depth analytical reporting and free weekly insight for hopeful players attempting to climb rankings tables. We are also occasional media reviewers, with a keen interest to review games, live sport, and professional wrestling.
In 2019, Hype Train Football Club was formed, becoming the first Fantasy Football website to take to the field. HTFC is a socially active team across social and web channels, providing regular match highlights, match reports, comprehensive player statistics and unique player profiles.
The Hype Train were nominated and shortlisted for the 'Best Football Blog' in 2016 by the Football Bloggers Association at their annual Football Blogging Awards (The FBA's), and were again shortlisted as a finalist in 2019 in the 'Best Fantasy Football Blog' category.
You can follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook, follow Hype Train FC on Instagram, subscribe to our YouTube channel for exclusive content, or visit our website here at www.thehypetrain.co.uk