Gameweek 39: Victory for the South

Gameweek 39 saw the FPL pundits of the North face those from the South. FFScout’s Az played in defence for the victorious South. He shares his match report.

How it started

Gameweek 39 had its first mention from a tweet by Ash on the 4th September 2021. A brilliant idea that aimed to get FPL managers for a one-off game of football, where all proceeds went to charity. Benny Blanco got in touch, and I received my invite to the game on the 4th October. After keeping Benny waiting for a month (sorry Benny), I replied to say I’d love to play… and in all honesty, I then completely forgot about it until things really started to ramp up…

On January 29th 2022, proper details started to emerge. Tickets were about to go on sale. There was a venue. Teams had filled up with the likes of Gianni, Ben Crellin, Ben Dinnery, David Munday… this was now a real thing. I realised that this was actually happening, so I thought it best to start getting into shape. I found a five-a-side weekly game in Hitchin, hit the gym (getting myself a hernia in the process) and started to prepare for the 28th May.

Pressure to deliver

As someone who has watched and lived football, particularly over the last 12 or so years, but had no real experience ever actually playing the game competitively, I was always a bit worried. There felt a lot of pressure to deliver a good performance, on a full-sized pitch, with people watching while representing “The South”. Was this perhaps too big a jump into the deep end? It was all starting to feel very real now, especially when the memes and banter from Team North started – along with videos of their “skills” on the pitch. A real rivalry was starting to brew.

We had our first training session on the 30th April. Although I knew many of the people from FPL Twitter, many of them I was meeting for the first time. What I loved about the session was that it found a great level between taking the whole thing seriously, but still focusing on enjoying ourselves. We all got on so well with each other, and despite being quite clearly one of the worst technical players in the team, I was never made to feel like an outcast. In fact, it was the complete opposite.

The unity and team spirit that we fostered even in this early training session carried over to our “friendly” match at the beginning of May and finally to the Castle Vale stadium last weekend. When FPL moves out of the “virtual” space and into the “Real World” (as Dean Smith would call it) – you really realise how special this community is. I know the North players had similar experiences getting to know each other, attending their own training days… and in all my time I’ve never enjoyed being part of the community so much as in the last few months.

Pre-match

When Gameweek 39 rolled up, and I finished my bowl of Granola on the M6 hard shoulder (marginal gains!), the general feeling in the South camp was that, as underdogs, we had a real point to prove. We’d lost a few players in the month leading up to the game (as had the North) and had drafted in some new faces. FPL Nacho and Peter (fpl.team) came in – more on them later – and they slotted effortlessly into the group that had become close over the months building up to the game. David Munday printed off all the Tweets and stick that we had “suffered” from the North, including good-natured banter of all things ranging from our Goalkeeper’s height to my throw in technique. We donned our kits, had a final team huddle, and headed out onto the pitch.

The game itself

The game itself went very differently to how I expected it to. I expected the North to attack more down the flanks than they did, instead they chose to play early crosses into the box that the magnificent FPL Plonker and FPL Harry dealt with all game. With my limited ability at right back, I was rarely called into action in the 53’ I played – and Pras, Ash (FPL Juice) and Suj all had similar experiences in the same position. The North struggled to create any significant chances, whereas Peter and Nacho, our two late registers, were a constant threat to the North backline.

Nacho scored an early goal, which I think shocked the North who thought the game was going to be a bit of a “gimme” and we had the better chances throughout the match, mostly due to assured displays in midfield from our two James’ (from FPL Surgery & FPL Planet). In defence, Plonker excelled at marshalling whoever was playing in the backline and Harry put in a near faultless performance ensuring no way through for the North from open play.

Their goal in fact came from a corner, with Gianni heading home after being a constant bane from these set pieces all match. However, despite one of the nerviest five minutes of my life, Team South held on for a win.

The buzz I got when the final whistle went was like nothing I have experienced before but credit to Team North who were gracious in defeat. In the changing rooms, we put on the Team South anthem created by Rob (@FPLandsongs) and celebrated like we had just won the Champions League.

Post match

After getting changed, we headed for the night out. Quite a few people from the FPL community had made the trip to Birmingham and the evening was another success for real world meetups for FPL managers. If you haven’t attended one of the meet ups before – I really do urge you to get to one. We now have FPL Fest, FPL meets and the annual GW39 tournament and they really showcase the best of the community that we are all a part of. With a shared interest, there’s never an awkward conversation and everyone goes out of their way to make people feel included and welcomed. 

Roll on 22/23

I can’t stress how big a success Gameweek 39 was, and full credit to Ash and Benny for putting together such a brilliant event. I’m hoping to see this grow, with more people coming to watch, playing in the game itself and of course in raising money for the brilliant Street Child United (I am absolutely positive we will beat the £4,3737 raised this year). I’m grateful to be part of such a brilliant FPL community, and like so many of you reading this, I just can’t wait for the 22/23 season to begin now!

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