Here’s the first of Rob Reid’s the “Legends of Fantasy Football”. Rob marks his 25 years of playing fantasy football to look at the legends of the game. He starts with goalkeepers. Make sure you vote in the poll at the end.
Rob Reid’s legends of fantasy football – Goalkeepers
The conclusion of GW38 marked a big personal milestone for me: it was the end of my 25th season playing fantasy football in one shape or form.
The early days
It’s fair to say that the early versions of the games I started on are completely unrecognisable from Fantasy Football in it’s current guise. My first experience of the game was the original auction format. Myself and a few mates gathered at one of our houses an evening after school. The auction for a squad of 15 was held with a budget of ‘just’ £20 million with cans and Coke and Golden Wonder crisps providing the interludes between bidding for keepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards. We all had our favourite players and knew little about the nuances of the game. Some of the bidding for players was quite heated!
Scoring was all done manually. Points were for goals, assists, clean sheets and goals conceded only (you think it’s a game of few events now?!) and we worked out scores by videoing Goals on Sunday and watching it back. Midweek games were even more of a challenge, as there weren’t always highlights and we might have to rely on a newspaper report. Thankfully these were less common than they are now.
Needless to say I was soon addicted! The next season I played newspaper Fantasy Football for the first time. The Daily Telegraph was the forerunner for these with team registration and transfers done either by post or ‘touch tone’ telephone. Believe it or not, there was only 6 transfers a season the first year I played. Six! I remember cherishing the registration pack I received and eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Telegraph every Wednesday to get that week’s scores (delivered by the paperboy at 7am along with my Dad’s copy of The Scotsman.) Happy days!
The arrival of the internet
I worked my way through various newspaper incarnations over the next few seasons (The Times, The Sun, our local paper the Press & Journal even hosted a special Euro 96 game) but it wasn’t long before the internet took over making the game bigger, more user-friendly and thus throwing up more rules and versions of the game, each more complex than the next. I always quite liked the minimalist games with few transfers and I guess the Fantasy Football purist in me yearns for this somewhat, but the official version, what we now know as FPL soon had me hooked. There’s always going to be some luck involved, but I like the flexibility and skill element to weekly selection and evolving your team to match fixtures and form.
Whichever format I’ve played though, there have always been players that have stood out. Some are World Class global superstars but others, while still celebrities and in the limelight, would not immediately spring to mind if a pundit was asked to name their best ever 11.
So as a tribute to 25 years of playing Fantasy Football, I’ve decided to write a series of articles selecting my best all time Fantasy Football squad from this quarter of a century playing the game. I’m going to use the current FPL template of 2 keepers, 5 defenders, 5 midfielders and 3 strikers and at the end of each section there will also be some ‘honourable mentions’ who along with my selections will go into a poll for each position, which at the end will also select the FFG readers all-time squad.
If you’re all set, this first article will be selecting my 2 keepers and don’t forget to vote in the poll at the end!
This season’s Europa League final will bring the curtain down on the career of one of the most successful Premier League goalkeepers of all time – Petr Cech. He’s won 4 Premier League titles with Chelsea, is one of only 2 goalkeepers to win 4 Golden Glove Awards, the only one to have won this award with 2 separate clubs and he holds the record for the most clean sheets in an EPL season (24 in 2004-05.) Overall he has a clean sheet record of 202 clean sheets from 443 appearances, that means he’s going to get you a clean sheet close to every second game he plays! To add to this in the midst of it all he’s come back from a serious head injury which both physically and mentally could have ended his career; if ever you’ve been in doubt about his iconic status within the Premier League then this surely confirms it.
From a Fantasy Football point of view he’s been an amazing player to own, especially in the early days of his EPL career where the Chelsea defence would keep clean sheets for fun under Jose Mourinho. You may not have seen many penalty saves or massive save point numbers from the Czech star, but what he and the Chelsea defence gave you in this period was consistency and a solid chance of a banked clean sheet from the start. Shutouts were harder to come by at Arsenal, but he still picked up another Golden Glove representing The Gunners in 2015-16, a season where he held off 2 international keepers to stay first choice. I for one am sad to see him retire and I hope he goes out in style with a fine performance in Baku next week, a true legend of the game.
Edwin Van Der Sar
This pick will probably spark some controversy and debate amongst people who will argue that Peter Schmeichel is the United keeper I should have had in this squad. So here’s my case for Van Der Sar over the Danish stopper! First of all there’s the Dutchman’s record with 2 clubs. He had fantastic success with Manchester United, including 4 league titles, 1 Golden Glove and setting the record for the most consecutive Premier League clean sheets – an amazing 14 in a row in 2008-2009. But he was also a key player at Fulham, and despite not winning any honours with the London club, was an integral part in their performances between 2001-2005. Overall, his clean sheet record across both clubs reads 132 from 313 appearances, an impressive clean sheet return rate of 42%.
On the Fantasy Football side, I don’t recall the 14 consecutive clean sheets for United so much as I recall his 2 penalty saves in 6 minutes for Fulham against Aston Villa in 2005! I was playing a monthly head-to-head game that season that had included points for penalty saves for the first time. It was one of the few times that season that my league rivals outscored me on the goalkeeper front as I owned the aforementioned Petr Cech! He seemed to make penalty saves a bit of a speciality – I recall another vital one for United in a Manchester derby as well as his most famous penalty save in the Champions League final from Nicolas Anelka – all of which made him a fun keeper to own, as well as watch. Schmeichel will certainly and rightly have his suitors in this line-up I’m sure, but for me it’s Van Der Sar who wins the battle of the United keepers so he’s my other pick in goals.
The current City keeper is perhaps unlucky not to make my squad, though if he’s around another 5 years plus I suspect he’ll then be knocking very hard on the door! 36 clean sheets over 2 seasons is a return rate better than both the keepers I’ve selected, albeit playing in a highly dominant team. Time will tell if can continue to provide such fruitful returns, though he does seem to be game-time secure way into the City defence.
I’ve tried to include at least one budget player in each position, either in my squad or on the honourable mentions list. Jaaskelainen may seem an odd choice, but he provided good budget at value at Bolton and also later at West Ham, racking up healthy numbers of saves and with a surprisingly decent overall clean sheet return rate of just under 25%. That’s going to get you 9 or 10 clean sheets a season for a budget price; similar to the Wolves or Leicester defence this season. He also liked a penalty save or two – check out his 2 penalty saves against Lancashire rivals Blackburn in 2006!
Arguably the greatest Premier League goalkeeper of all-time, playing for the dominant United team of the 1990s and capping his United career with the treble in 1999, He was less successful when he returned to the EPL later on for season long spells at Villa and Man City a couple of years later, but still left his mark with both clubs. A great shot stopper and a fast distributor of the ball, the only surprise for me is that he didn’t rack up more assists. He also became the first Premier League goalkeeper to score a goal, netting for Villa against Everton in 2001, he can certainly count himself unlucky not to make my final squad.
Early 1990s Arsenal had a remarkable defensive record, even if they weren’t very entertaining at the other end. It was certainly fashionable among auction teams in my early days of fantasy football to have one or 2 Arsenal defensive options as they would tend to provide a steady flow of clean sheet points. Seaman provided one of these options, and it did give some gratification to the many dogged 1-0 wins that George Graham seemed to guide The Gunners to in this era! The England stopper had an admirable clean sheet rate of 40% through his EPL career, which also saw him turn out for Man City in 2003/04.
So that’s my pick for the goalkeeper section, but don’t forget to vote in the poll below where you can choose from either of my two options or any of the 4 honourable mentions to make up your squad. I’ve also added an ‘Other’ option and if you choose this, please leave a comment in the ‘Comments’ section as to who your choice would be. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and I’ll be back next week to pick my choice of Defenders.
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