If you have a child (and dare I say especially being a man and having a young son) you end up living your childhood through them. However, you want the best for them, you want things to be better than they were for you growing up and you don’t want them to repeat the same mistakes you made. But one of the best things about being a Dad is you get to enjoy those little things with them all over again, as father and son and as friends.
So when my six year old had been keeping his beady eye on me for the last few weeks ticking away on my phone either in elation (come on captain Kane!) or more often than not much to my chagrin (damn you Pep and your rotation policy!) and noticing my fantasy adventures, he inquired about when he is old enough to play this “game”. Being the pro-active Dad that I am, I thought what better education in the ups and downs of football management and generally a good lesson in life to take part in Fantasy Football?
We sat down and began our journey. Herein lies the first lesson – you can’t have it all. An empty squad with a £100 million budget might appear to a young child as a take your pick time at Hamleys at Christmas but we all know it just ain’t that simple.
He is certainly learning the big names, through the odd MOTD watching as well as taking an exuberant interest in collecting those cards – yet another throwback to our youth. But he hits his first stumbling block: “Daddy I want Kane, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Aguero, Pogba, Sanchez, Hazard…..”. The list goes on. Yes son, and I want more money, less time at work, a six pack whilst being able to eat whatever I want and the ability to sleep through the night without having to take a piss but sadly I’m about to be forty soon so I have to be realistic.
Therefore we delve into the economics of squad building and the financial distribution required to be able to actually fill your whole squad. Although us adults might find it hard, seeing a six year try to decide which big hitters they want and which they just can’t afford beggars belief.
The poor chap goes in circles and just can’t decide. Imagine if we could have thrown in the understanding of statistics in all this. And then to top it all off the look on his face when I mention that there is a small chance Lukaku might have had a three game retrospective ban (luckily that came to nothing). He just stared at me as if I told him that the world has stopped all production of chocolates and sweets… His eyes well up. His jaw drops. And the Man Utd fan in him comes out. “But that’s not fair Daddy…why?”
Thankfully with a gentle fatherly nudge in the right direction, the six year old logic comes back into play to save the day. I remind him that a certain favourite of his has returned from injury… “Good, Zlatan can play and Lukaku will need to have a rest anyway. And Zlatan can play in midfield too.” (Good point son!)
Later we move away from the big names and onto the budget players. Here lies yet again the fun and games of nonsensical decision-making that only a six year old can perfect. Actually I take that back. If anyone could have followed how my fantasy football transfers have been this year, I wouldn’t take any advice from me!
First up, Will Hughes (initially pronounced Hugs by my little man – damn those “-ghes” phonics!) His eyes light up. He sees his price (£4.6 million in the official EPL game) and he notices that he scored in Watford’s last game. I compound the chaos by mentioning that he also scored the week before – bad move Dad. But then, the clincher from nowhere strikes like a sign from the Footballing Gods… he opens his next pack of collectable cards and who pops out..? The ever present, free-scoring (nine goals in 165 games for Derby!) midfield maestro that is William James Hughes from Watford FC. Well there’s literally no talking him down now. Out goes Raheem Sterling (“son he’s in the form of his life? WTF?!) and in comes Surrey’s answer to Xavi & Iniesta!
I can’t talk him out of it. At least go for Richarlison (“yes son I know it sounds like Richard’s son”) if you want a Watford midfielder. But then another classic piece of child thinking rears it’s head… “He just scored Daddy so I get some points?” OK this is where explaining the fact his team for this current game week didn’t have Hughes in but he is in play for the next game week leaves my son with the look of a man who has just tried to understand how the DeLorean’s flux capacitors works. But the explanation was given to him in Japanese. With half the words missing…
Nevertheless he enjoys the game the way he plays it and we have had a lovely time bonding over players, who will score and assist (“De Bruyne is good at assists isn’t he Daddy?”). And we see that he had the foresight to captain Kane in the week where his Daddy didn’t. He’ll probably end up with more points than me.
The experience has meant that not only can I pass on the “football fan” torch to my son (he actually sits through games now with me and has the same cognitive dissonance when one of his fantasy players scores past our beloved Man Utd) but also we have strengthened our friendship as father and son. And the biggest lesson I have taken away from this is to relax more about it all – let him have the fun to put player X or Y into his team or jump on the bandwagon. Let him have the tingle of excitement we all get when we think we’re backing a winner here. This is it. This week I’ve got the winning formula.
We know from bitter experience more often than not our team the previous week (almost certainly the one from the game week pre-playing the wildcard) will often outscore the changes we just made. Or the player we left on the bench scores a hat-trick.
But it’s the journey that matters. And some mistakes in life need to be learnt the hard way, even if they come in Will Hughes* shaped sizes.
*All the above was based on real life events. No children were harmed in this process. Also we love you really Will Hughes. You better keep scoring, for my son’s sake!