For those of us in the United Kingdom, and Premier League mad fans across the world, for most football is at the heart of the conversation when it comes to the recovery from all things coronavirus. The world's game is at the heart of many communities and unities people, both socially and spiritually, in a competitive, compelling environment. Everyone wants the beautiful game back, but today we're stating why we're not happy to see the titular league's game - Fantasy Premier League - returning to finish out it's own season. All aboard.
The Need to Know: Project Restart
The last time a ball was kicked in the Premier League was on Monday 9th March 2019 with Leicester thumping lowly Aston Villa at home in a 4-0 rout, with Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy both netting braces.
It was only two days later on Wednesday 11th March that saw defending champions Liverpool get knocked out of the Champions League at home in a 3-2 extra-time defeat (4-2 overall on aggregate) to Atletico Madrid at Anfield - the last time a mass gathering of fans in a stadium was allowed to happen in a Premier League stadium. Also on the same day, a Premier League game between Man City and Arsenal at The Etihad Stadium was postponed due to coronavirus fears.
Reality began to set with Arsenal Manager, Mikel Arteta, diagnosed with the virus on March 12th after meeting Olympiakos hierarchy during a Europa League outing.
The last English sides to play were Man United and Wolves, with both travelling away from home to empty stadiums on Thursday 12th March 2020 - Wolves drew 1-1 away at Greek giants Olympiakos, whilst United ran out 5-0 winners at Austrian outfit, LASK, in front of just 500 spectators.
In Fantasy Premier League terms, Gameweek 29 was the final round of games before the UK placed itself into a lockdown (in the loosest form possible) due to the realised threat that COVID-19 poses, with a total of 92 games left to play in the Premier League over 9 rounds of fixtures.
In FPL, Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (186 points) was the top player, with Man City's Kevin De Bruyne (178 points) closely behind. Liverpool were mere points from sealing the title, whilst the real grind of attention was cantered on the race for Champions League places, especially as City have been kicked from Europe's elite competition due to breaking financial fair play, as well as Watford's revival, capped by an excellent 3-0 home win over Liverpool, stirring the pot for an interesting relegation battle featuring half a dozen teams.
Since early March, the Premier League has been cautiously been plotting the return of the league and have now pencilled in an ear-marked date for spectators around the world, with two midweek games on Wednesday 17th June 2020 featuring Aston Villa v. Sheffield United and Man City v. Arsenal, the prelude to a full round of games on June 19th and onwards.
The FA Cup also announced that it will run alongside the Premier League, with the competition, currently at the quarter-final stage, announcing the final at Wembley will be played out on Saturday 1st August 2020.
A series of COVID-19 testing over four stages (so far) has seen a dozen players and coaching staff, diagnosed, including Bournemouth's Aaron Ramsdale, contracting the virus at an outing to the shops. Testing will continue whilst teams will be largely isolated leading up to the seemingly inevitable return to the field, despite COVID-19 fears still a real threat to life in the UK.
Then, earlier today on 30th May 2019, the Fantasy Premier League followed up with a statement of their own, claiming the game will return with business as usual procedures, with a new series of Gameweek's to be determined once the fixture list is confirmed. As a small team of three that have been covering the FPL religiously for the last five years, spending countless hours producing content in that time, we feel that it is time to pull the plug on the remainder of the season, and with good reason.
Our Take on the Premier League's Restart & FPL Resuming:
Thoughts from Robert Austin (@HypeTrainRob)
I would like to start this little opinion piece by affirming that the team here, which includes myself, Sam and Phil, are not targeting one particular person, or group, or mean any malicious intent - hell, we're avid football lovers and care for this website, centred around content for FPL for so many years, like it is out own baby. So we don't mean to intentionally sour the punch bowl or produce negative content, the very heart of our content production here is based around creating engaging written and well-researched feature pieces with tailored info-graphics that add a different flavour of fantasy football articles.
Secondly as a disclaimer, before the scopes are firmly pointed at our foreheads, we're all having reasonably good FPL campaigns and we have a member of our team, Phil, that is a senior figure within the NHS working his feet to the bone on a weekly basis, that upon reading this before publishing, believes I am being too diplomatic with my thoughts and wants us to throw all caution to the wind with our reservations about this post-season era of FPL. This isn't a petty issue of 'you're only saying this because of your overall rank', rather this a stern message of integrity that we wish others would adopt, instead of blindly shouting for joy about the game's return without understanding the wider implications and complications that make FPL a near-impossible task to navigate until its conclusion.
We don't make any money from this site and never once have I censored any one individual that has ever produced an article or video for us. This is about the love of the game for us, and perfecting our art. We love interacting with the several footballing communities we belong too and have taken our crusade one step further with our own football team, Hype Train FC. Crucially, we're not dictated by being a business, as many accounts in FPL and wider fantasy football have become, meaning we can speak freely, and perhaps more importantly, truthfully, about the crux of the matters at hand when it comes to the fantasy game.
This also means that we're not afraid to potentially offend an entire community of people in search of representing the greater good - we've done so in the past by challenging awful and questionable business practises by particular people and FPL related businesses looking for a quick, dastardly buck. Content is king here, only second to common decency and integrity, which is the wider message of our point - the Fantasy Premier League as a game has run its course for the season and there is no trick, gimmick or stipulation that can be sold to us that can redeem the game as we run into extra-time this season.
The goalposts for the Premier League have necessarily been moved to cater for the end of the season, resulting in a list of factors that we consider to be detrimental at this point of the league campaign in relation to its translation to the FPL game.
Footballing factors we have considered:
- Generally speaking, there has been a 3-month break from top-flight football. We won't be seeing players at their fluid best.
- Empty stadiums removes the 12th man from the game, and not only is it painful to watch (Bundesliga viewers know this all too well), it removes any type of home bias for the occasion.
- Police authorities want to have a total of 6 games played in neutral venues.
1) Everton vs. Liverpool
2) Man City vs. Liverpool
3) Man City vs. Newcastle
4) Man United vs. Sheffield United
5) Newcastle vs. Liverpool
6) The game which Liverpool could win the league
*As time has passed, the conversation over neutral venues keeps changing, so by the time of reading this may be a muted point (or maybe not)
- Players are more at risk of injury, their matchday preparation and training has changed, as well as their processes on a game day. Customs changing might have an effect on players and staff.
- BBC Sport and Amazon have been award fixtures to televise matches (along with Sky and BT Sport) and games on the whole will now be largely broadcast for free at staggered times, another formatted change to the league. This means that game times are now different, with games on Saturday and Sunday's spread out to the benefit of the broadcaster's.
- The laws surrounding substitutions have changed. There is an additional 4th and 5th sub allowed, whilst times to make subs are staggered and limited, though this doesn't include extra-time. There are also more subs than ever before, with 9 subs allowed in a 20-man matchday squad.
- Regardless of how few in number, players have been contracting coronavirus during these testing periods. BAME players are more at risk. Increased travel for players will not eliminate the risk even if regular checks occur.
- There is a concern that teams will not be at their general best. Can there be any assurances that mid table teams with low risk will be at their best, in what could be a glorified end of season pre-season style cooldown?
- Rotation of players will be heightened during this period as team's cope with constantly changing medical factors.
- The team here believe the move is purely financial, with stakeholders making the crucial decisions ahead of the players and clubs.
- The FPL game continued and was not paused or halted. Players were able to make transfers. Team value and overall positions changed despite a single ball being kicked.
- The 'Official FPL' Twitter account announced that the game will be returning and the only official word is that players won't be able to redeem chips, and only those still with them can use them.
- Draft and Head to Head Leagues are compromised beyond repair. On Monday June 8th 2020, the FPL confirmed that H2H leagues were over and couldn't be salvaged due to the game running its course, with single point draws allocated to players (unless you dropped points and then you lost your game).
- The active player base in FPL will have no doubt changed. All forms of leagues and their final tables comes the end of the season will not be a true reflection of the season due to an expected drop-off of players that like us, think the game has ended before its time.
- Any FPL 'chips' used or strategies implemented before the league went on hiatus, are now completely redundant.
- On Friday 5th June 2020, the Premier League announced the resumed fixtures for the league, with 6pm (UK time) kick-offs now a norm, with games also spread across the week, instead of being packed into a condensed time period. This is a change in itself as it represents a huge change to how the usual season schedule operates.
- On Monday June 7th 2020, the FPL announced that players would be given unlimited transfers until the Gameweek 30+ deadline on Wednesday 17th June 2020. Done as a means to increase player interaction with the game, and despite the need to be adaptable in uncertain times, this further sullies the game's integrity and turns the game into a nine-week sprint, offering players unique advantages and disadvantages (all depending on your mini-league status, of course).
Why these considerations matter:
When considering the above points, the two major factors if you could group them together would be the act of football itself and the combined efforts it will take to see out the season, and secondly the impact it will have on society.
The major bone of contention that we as a team have discussed is the simple reality that the FPL game moved on and played out its season. The game spiked its own punch bowl by allowing players to make transfers, with player price rises and all forms of leagues still changing and shifting. In no reality should my team have risen by 10,000 places, but it did. The game refused to stop and allowed its users to move on. These acts alone were enough to turn us off, without consideration for the wash of conditions facing clubs upon their returns to the field.
Neutral venues has really turned the heads of our team more than any factor. Designed by the police to limit the potential amassing of Liverpool fans, a side certain to win the Premier League crown for the first time in their history, as well as other key dates involving both Manchester sides, the mere suggestion of any club playing a home fixtures outside of their fully equipped stadium, means that the scopes of advantages have rendered the FPL a casualty of these changes. It is disgraceful, even if inevitable, that Liverpool should have a unique set of stadium challenges due to their position in the league and location in the country. By that same notion, no game in London should be allowed to go ahead in the capital due to its superior populace.
Additionally, extra substitutes, no live crowds, players contracting the virus or having issues playing to its surrounding factors, the increase risk of injury, all these variables and many more mean that under no circumstance can you have a just and proper Fantasy Premier League experience. Most other businesses wouldn't provide its guests with a second-rate experience and neither should the FPL overlords consider this acceptable.
For years we have screamed to our lungs about the pitfalls of the FPL being too rigid and inflexible, a basic game to attract casual players, to the point that we were in no way surprised when the game to refuse to pause, whether or not is was by design or choice, it happened regardless. Every single Head to Head table is tarnished with redundant single-point draws whilst if a single player in your mini-league was making transfers, creates an unfair advantage for everyone else in the league.
MLS Fantasy can pause the game because it is run on a weekly basis with regulars resets to fixtures and player pricing, whilst offering unlimited transfers until the minute of the game your player is featured in kicks off, allowing some looseness that might genuinely help FPL players in a time of heightened problems. This looseness means the MLS game hasn't lost any of its structural integrity, even if empty stadiums and COVID-19 complications poses similar on-field issues as the Premier League, at the very least the base game has been salvaged and can be played again without being corrupted due to 9 rounds of nothingness.
What we envision is the changing climate of the Premier League, a necessary evil to see out the season, potentially making the FPL a void topic to report on. We fully understand that the trade off to complete the remaining 92 games is to impose these strict rules, but it does destroy the FPL unless the game embraces a sudden change, which then if it adopts also destroys what it was anyway. What this will lead to are content producers and social influencers from a monetary position leading the charge on the feel good parade for their own commercial benefit - nobody in a position who makes money from this style of reporting will be overtly negative to their own customer base. It just doesn't happen.
This doesn't mean the content that you will see will be any reliable or good, especially if you pay monthly fees to view OPTA driven algorithms. We're happy to admit that we would rather concede the fight and keep to our strict values, rather than reduce the quality of the content produced, whilst everyone clutches at non-existent straws surrounding player form, fitness of players, expected line-ups, captaincy dilemmas and all every of FPL reporting that has become predominant over the years. If any of these fantasy sports guru's claim to have the answers, they are no doubt selling you a lie. Having dealt with a number of these gambling-sponsored click-bait machines in the past, they don't care one bit and will use this opportunity to force false excitement to entice people into cheap ploys at your cash.
The FPL has always been a marketing tool for the Premier League's popularity and it has also acted as a reflection of the league itself. Given the overwhelming circumstances surrounding the league's return, the bottomline is simple in that the game will be unable to represent the league in its current format, if at all. The FPL should match the competitiveness of the league, which has now put us in the camp of thought that both entities are now casting different reflections, resulting in a disconnect that has severed any hope of us regaining any interest in the game.
For us, the thought of writing and producing FPL content to encompass the final 9 Gameweek's will be a futile and joyless effort with only one benefit - page views, social media impressions and certain criticism on our Reddit account - all the boring parts of the job that are secondary to the work itself. If you are in a similar camp, don't be afraid to take a step back and do what is right for you, just remember you are the captain of your own ship and it is ok to be critical - we are and we're glad we can house this opinion.
Consequently, we won't be publishing any FPL related content until next season. We're optimistic that the league's return might provide some positive relief, but that's where the line is drawn. It's a little thing that might have zero impact on people's overall lives, though we believe the message is strong enough to make a point - don't be driven to write, produce or read content unless it keeps true to your integrity and values. If you have none, then much like FPL it is business as usual.
s the world able to cope with the Premier League's return?
Outside of footballing factors, for us here in England there is still a serious sociatal problem with social distancing measures being enforced, if at all (scarsely at best), from police and governmental bodies. Abroad in Europe, a Lockdown wasn't just smoke and mirrors, but as firm as the word suggests in certain countries. That was never the case in England with mixed half-cooked messages in daily coronavirus briefings and hypocritical policy makers such as Dominic Cummings undermining their own edicts.
Unfortunately, football is tied to government policies and has no place in this country if it can not be administered and presented in a safe, logistical way that limits the spread of the virus. Packed beaches and clogged road in a time of 'lockdown' suggest to us that from a purely societal point-of-view, the return of the Premier League, even if not fault of the league itself, will ultimately aid in a potential increase of the virus due to increased social interaction - football is after all the great unifier in this country (and the greatest of dividers at times) alongside a royal wedding.
Teams from grassroots level all the way up to League 2 have bit the bullet to end their season's. Anything below Step 7 football, aka below the National League's North and South Division's, were forced to end. The FA were brutal with grassroots teams and semi-pro clubs that are relying on weekly income's to survive as they sent out a clear message that under no circumstance were we able to play. I am under the firm belief that a universal approach should have been adopted in the UK as a way to solidify clubs, espetically when it come to building to a better tomorrow when the game was safe to return, rather than divide their interests by allowing Premier League clubs to continue, a league and world of its own unique privilege.
Football should be a privalege, but it shouldn't come at the lives of its fans or biggest advocates. Not even one. That life could be your family, a member of your football team or a season ticket holder that you stand next too, or even a professional player. The Premier League has the best advantages of any football league to get the ball rolling again as it can hopefully learn from the Bundesliga's ghostly, hollow return, and for the sake of the league we hope it finishes even if for the sole sake of conclusion. Anything else, including its FPL game in its current state, has no place or stock amongst the beautiful game, when it has lost some of its beauty.
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.
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