Fantasy football isn’t talked of like other addictions, but I’ve been living a double life long enough to know the truth. My name is Ben Tallon. My childhood hobby drawing footballers lead me to a career illustrating for The Premier League, Leeds United, UEFA and Arsenal and that side of it makes the parents proud. It’s time to come clean about the ugly reality of life as a functioning FPL Addict. I take comfort in the knowledge I am far from alone.

At £4m, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was simply an enabler, budget Crystal Palace defensive cover to free up funds for premium midfielders. He never will care, or even know about the thousands of enraged Fantasy Premier League puppets he walked into a weekend of regret following a star performance, 12 points rotting on sub benches across the world.

The first wall of rage hits on the opening Saturday afternoon as I’m spraying the all-purpose cleaner on the shower tiles. BBC Radio 5 live reports that Callum Wilson, not Josh King is to take the penalty for Bournemouth and I cough and splutter on a mixture of fumes and grief. Last night I had to watch Luke Shaw flash a glimpse of what I could have had with a goal against Leicester.

Season in, season out the hurt that happened last year is wiped from memory as the blind optimism of game week one returns, only to be wrestled to the floor and clubbed across the back of the head with frightening efficiency, replaced by a throbbing murk.

It’s on the bus to town at 4.30pm that I log in to see Patrick Van Aanholt, with his pending clean sheet and assist bounty, inexplicably missing from my squad, despite building every draft around him.

Refresh page. Log out, log back in. Still missing.

I can only think that I must have temporarily shed him in my final draft to make way for City’s Benjamin Mendy, Liverpool’s Alexander Arnold, but the plan was always put him back in. How could this be? Remembering the rush in which I was whisked out of work on Friday when Laura, my long suffering fiancé realised the match day traffic at Old Trafford might cause trouble on the drive home, it all suddenly makes sense and my world further caves in.

The messages come fast and furious, little jabs from league rivals getting word of my ensuing meltdown over the Palace pain. In the pub I squeeze my pint glass so hard it might break, donning the smile mask for those around me as Jiminéz and Richarlison pile on more selection regret with three goals between them, both considered, yet ignored.

At 7pm I’ve made three reckless transfers. By 7.30pm, thinking about what I’ve done, I email the official FPL website to ask if they can reverse them, telling a blatant lie about two ‘unsavoury characters’ who hijacked my unguarded laptop as I visited the toilet in a café and made three transfers before fleeing.


Words and illustration by Ben Tallon.

Addict behaviour. Tall tales to cover self-inflicted hurt.

At a house party that night, we laugh, joke and drink. The hum of the host’s ventilation system puts me on the brink with every piss break, filling me with the urge to run out of the flat and into the city night, warbling and rasping.

Arriving back home at 11pm, Laura’s visiting friends arrive with their two-year old who we are told is going through ‘a phase.’ Refusing to sleep, a clown theme lullaby carries out into the corridor and into our bedroom, haunting me as I stare at the ceiling, drifting in and out of unsettling dreams.

On Sunday, I awake feeling terrible, at first unaware of the misery’s source, like the morning after a loved one walks out, until the words WAN-BISSAKA return to my thoughts. All those unreachable points. I plunge my face into the pillow as Laura reads a book on a plant-based diet.

In the living room, a Match of the Day re-run is on the TV, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and presenter Gary Lineker laugh amongst themselves after the Fulham v Crystal Palace highlights. I force myself to sit through their analysis of Wan-Bissaka’s brilliance – deserved punishment for lacking the balls to start him.

My big FPL handicap is, as a professional illustrator, I lack the ability to apply simple logic, building around the best players, looking instead for the ‘naughty’ solution. With an outstanding 303 points last season, Mo Salah is in 53% of squads, but not mine. I find ways to justify this, loading up on alternatives and hoping he suffers 2nd season syndrome.

When Salah opens the scoring against West Ham, my heart races, eyes dancing behind their lids, chin quivering, fighting back the tears.

Our two-year-old guest dances around on the rug as Mr.Tumble, a middle-aged, unremarkable BBC presenter dressed as a clown pulls silly faces at me through my TV screen. It’s in moments like this that you reconsider the nature of reality.

As I begin to dissolve into total despair, on my laptop screen, my captain Sadio Mane taps in Liverpool’s second and I make a strange grunt, snapped out of my fugue state. The child momentarily stops and looks across at me before resuming her jig, not overly alarmed by my primal behaviour. Early in the 2nd half, he scores again and I laugh loudly, juddering in my seat with sheer relief. The girl runs out of the room. Benjamin Mendy registers two assists for City against Arsenal and that fast, I’m partially off the hook.

This is worse than it’s ever been. I can’t remember ever being so emotionally shattered by a single opening round of Fantasy Premier League fixtures, only to end up a respectable 5th out of 24 in the league. Right now, the idea of 37 more rounds of this self-made circus is more terrifying than any evil Stephen King created.

You can see more work from Ben Tallon here

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