When Fantasy Football Enters Into The Realm Of Reality

10:01am Mar 5 2021

Fantasy football is all about fun and games. It isn’t meant to be real, hence the name of the pursuit. Yet it can also be serious business for participants, who track that internet and scour football sites in search of the latest on who’s in form, who’s lost their form and perhaps most significantly of all, who’s not fit.

It’s that latter category which is causing a row among managers of Premier League sides. No, not the fantasy Premier League sides, the actual Premier League sides, the ones you watch on the telly on Saturdays and Sundays.

Word leaked out that Aston Villa star and England international Jack Grealish wouldn’t be part of the Villa 11 for a recent match against Leicester City due to an ailment. Whether you’re partaking in a fantasy football match, or playing a punt with the top sportsbooks, this would be vital intelligence to possess in terms of setting out a course of action.

It was the first time in 50 matches that Grealish didn’t play. It’s how the information became public knowledge that has bosses of Premier League clubs up in arms.

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Searching For Answers

More than eight million people play fantasy football worldwide and it appeared as if all eight million players were in on the news that England midfielder Grealish was hurt and unavailable for Aston Villa’s match on Sunday against Leicester. It was all the rage across social media in the lead-up to the match.

When the lineups were made public an hour prior to the contest, sure enough Grealish’s name was absent. Villa lost the match to Leicester by a 2-1 score.

Afterward, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith didn’t attempt to hide his disdain for the fantasy element of the sport. He was furious that Leicester had been given a heads up by the fantasy football community that Grealish wouldn’t be part of Aston Villa’s side.

“We’ll certainly get to the bottom of this,” Smith said. “I was made aware that it came out on social media outlining he wasn’t going to play and, if it’s coming out of our training ground, I will find out where that’s coming from and reprimand who it’s coming from.

“It’s something I wouldn’t be happy with.”

Leicester City manager Brendan Rogers admitted he’d learned of the Grealish situation through the internet fantasy football rumor mill.

“I’d heard maybe 24 hours before that there was a doubt but you can never always believe things, the rumors that go around,” Rogers told the Mirror.

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An Inside Job

Smith didn’t need to do a whole lot of detective work in his search for answers. There was Aston Villa DNA all over the methods through which the Grealish absence came to light in fantasy football circles.

Several football players and team personnel are also fantasy football players and it’s the shrewd fantasy football participant who checks the lineups posted by these chaps prior to inserting their own lineup. Fantasy football lineups must be submitted 90 minutes prior to the first match of the day, so that offers plenty of lead time to glean information.

The Fantasy Premier League community had flagged several Aston Villa-related accounts for having left Grealish out of their teams. A Twitter account with the handle “FPL Insider” posted that Villa players Matt Targett and Neil Taylor, as well as Conor Hourihane, currently on loan to Swansea City, had all dropped Grealish from their fantasy football side, as had one of Villa’s scouts and the club’s first-team performance analyst.

Villa Takes Action

A day after the Grealish incident, Aston Villa announced that it has banned all of the club’s players and staff members from participating in fantasy football.

“A number of the younger players have Fantasy Premier League sides and have been told in no uncertain terms not to continue to play them due to the potential insider knowledge element,” an Aston Villa official told The Times.

Other clubs are forbidding their players from including teammates in their fantasy football sides.

Insider Information

The Grealish episode isn’t the first time this season that fantasy football sleuths have utilized the accounts of actual Premier League players to glean information.

Just two days prior to the Grealish incident, fantasy football players noticed that Leeds United skipper Liam Cooper left teammate and left back Gjanni Alioski out of his FPL lineup. Sure enough, Alioski wasn’t in the first 11 as Leeds faced Wolverhampton Wanderers, ending his run of 17 consecutive first-team appearances.

Prior to a Jan. 31 match against West Ham United, Liverpool left back Andrew Robertson dropped teammate Sadio Mane from his fantasy team. Mane missed the real game due to a minor injury.