Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fantasy Football Addiction * But Were Afraid to Ask

Gareth Bale: Everyone's favourite Fantasy Football pick.

Hello, my name’s Paul and I’m a fantasy football-oholic.

For months now, I’ve been deluding myself by describing my unsavoury love of fantasy football merely as “a hobby”. For the layman reading this, fantasy football is primarily an internet-based game in which you pick a team from a pool of Premiership players and get rewarded points based on the said players’ real-life footballing performances. Scores are tallied on a week-by-week basis, until a winner emerges based on the sum total of points they acquire over the course of a season. 

I first became aware of my problem when I noticed myself glued to the TV screen watching the final few minutes of Sunday’s encounter between Aston Villa and Everton – a game that’s likely to prove as meaningful, come the end of the season, as a personal apology from Peter Crouch.

The reason for my interest lay in the fact that two of my Fantasy Football players (Aston Villa’s Brad Friedel and Stephen Warnock) were on the brink of securing a coveted clean sheet, given that Aston Villa were 1-0 ahead in the dying stages, thus ensuring both players would gain at least six points for my team.

For those last few minutes, everything else in my life grounded to a halt as I prayed Villa would survive Everton’s intensive bombardment of their penalty area. What’s more, the stakes were higher than usual as I had, up until that point, experienced a series of misfortunes, amounting to a Gameweek more ill-fated than Ian Wright’s television career. Defoe had had a shocker, Lampard actually had the temerity to miss a penalty for once in his life and Doyle… well I don’t think I can ever look at him (through my TV screen) again after he couldn’t even score against Newcastle FOR FECK SAKE!!!!   

The eventual final whistle, confirming Villa’s 1-0 victory, sounded nothing less than elegiac. Finally, I was able to relate to Bill Shankley’s famous quote about football being “more important” than life or death. Coupled with the heroics of Birmingham defender Roger Johnson earlier that day, this game ensured that my team had gone from a pitiful 26 points following Saturday’s ignominious proceedings, to a more than respectable 46 points amid the culmination of Gameweek 3.

Of course, my addiction to all things football-related is longstanding. It has existed since my formative years, when I decided to completely forego studying for my Junior Cert so I could devote all my time towards helping Brighton secure Champions League football in the cult computer game, Championship Manager. I vividly recall jumping with unbridled joy when, for example, a youngster I had painstakingly nurtured for several seasons finally began fulfilling his potential. Namely, Tonton Zola Moukoko hitting back-to-back hat-tricks in crucial, end-of-season encounters. My joy, however, was short-lived. I suddenly realised that seven hours had passed and still I hadn’t started my Maths homework.

Titus Bramble: Selected by 2.9% of Fantasy Football participants who clearly know nothing about football.

So, it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I approached the ungodly entity known as Fantasy Premier League. Yet avoiding addiction in the first season was a cinch. I partook in this seemingly innocent activity, purely because all my friends had joined and so as not to appear too elitist. Secretly though, I believed that in order to care passionately about FPL, one had to possess a Stephen Ireland-like level of emotional insecurity.   

Having selected my players, I proceeded to disregard the rigorous attention to detail required to form a successful side, neglecting to make any substitutions throughout the season and finishing in a well-deserved last place as a result of my unabashed apathy. Not since Ossie Ardiles has there ever been a more careless manager of a football team, real or imagined.

At the time, I manfully responded to the constant derision from my friends/fantasy football enthusiasts by smugly reminding them that I at least had “a life”. If only I knew then of the dire fate awaiting me!

My second year as a Fantasy Football-ista coincided with a sudden rise in my interest for the game, possibly inspired by the fear of (perish the thought!) losing to a girl’s team. But whatever the reason, my addiction started here. Miraculously, I finished season 2 top of 3 out of the 4 leagues in which I was competing, ensuring my appetite for FF success was sufficiently whetted in the process.

Now, a mere three weeks into my third year of Fantasy Football, barely an hour passes without my worrying over whether I remembered to make Drogba my captain. Or imagine for a second, the unspeakable horror of watching Etherington put in another classy performance, only to realise you’ve left him on the substitutes’ bench.

Oh well, at least I’ve made the first step towards alleviating my addiction – acknowledging that I have a problem. And on the bright side, I spend the rest of my time productively, engaging in highly commendable and not-at-all-pointless activities such as, eh… writing blogs?

Consarnit!

* And the award for most hilariously insane music video of the week and possibly ever goes to…

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HBO, you’ve done it again!!!

HBO: Even their advertising slogan's awesome.

To invoke another over-used cultural reference (recall the title of my last blog); rumours of HBO’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After producing a plethora of game-changing TV shows (The Sopranos, The Wire), some damn near perfect miniseries (Angels in America and, apparently, Band of Brothers) and the odd awe-inspiring documentary (Spike Lee’s little seen masterpiece, When the Levees Broke), there have been signs, of late, that its dominance may be dissipating.

Two developments caused critics to question HBO’s omnipotence. Firstly, other channels started replicating its ingenious idea of producing TV art (a term that I’ve made up on the spot, but one which may well have been used been by a dozen other douchebag bloggers – yes, I’m using the term “douchebag,” even though I’d never dream of actually saying it in a conversation).

TV art, as I understand it, differs from normal TV in that it concerns shows where characters don’t always say exactly what they’re thinking. And yes, I am generalising slightly, not all pre-HBO TV shows were terrible. But then this is a blog, not an op-ed, so either indulge me or go back to YouTube etc. The most obvious examples of such recent great non-HBO shows include Dexter (Showtime) and Mad Men (AMC), two programmes which confirmed the noughties status as the golden age of dramatic television (the fifties was the golden age for rock ‘n’ roll, the sixties was the golden age for fashion, the seventies was the golden age for film, in the eighties, I was born (:)), and the nineties was the golden age for sitcoms).

The other problem facing HBO was that by the late noughties, many of its most loved shows had ended and were replaced by patently inferior efforts: namely, Big Love. And not forgetting the ghastly Entourage – a show about extremely rich and vacuous people that’s aimed at extremely rich and vacuous people.

Meanwhile, the major networks had, by this stage, learned to copy HBO’s style of programming with enormous success (commercially speaking). I finish this paragraph by expressing my intense hatred for the pseudo-weird abomination that is Desperate Housewives, a show which I disdain for two primary reasons: 1. Its meticulous preoccupation with quirkiness was so exhaustive that watching it would likely send someone who had just consumed large amounts of cocaine into a coma. 2. The fact that its ratings triumph over The Wire was so comprehensive that David Simon had to beg HBO not to cancel his show – this makes me sad.

In short, at one stage, it appeared that HBO was slightly fucked. That is, until it redeemed itself with the Gabriel Byrne-starring In Treatment.

Gabriel Byrne: No doubt relieved at no longer having to appear in movies like Stigmata.

The show was created by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Garcia Jr. had previously directed episodes of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, amongst other HBO shows. He heavily based In Treatment on an award Israeli drama of the same name (or BeTipul for all you Hebrew speakers). The Israeli version, meanwhile, was created by Hagai Levi and also boasts Ari Folman (of Waltz with Bashir fame) amongst its scriptwriters.   

I know what you may be thinking, “Paul, for the love of the God, that show’s two years old now!” In my defence though, it was relatively late arriving to these shores. And besides, in this age of internet TV and DVD box sets, no one really watches anything at a set point in time.

For the majority of you who don’t really know what I’m on about, the show centres around a therapist (aptly named Paul). He belongs to the long lineage of TV/movie/literary therapists who are themselves inherently fucked up – so far, so clichéd, admittedly.

Each episode lasts half an hour and the action takes place solely within the therapist’s room while unfolding in real time. Again, this is conceivably a terrible idea with ample potential for excruciating levels of pretension and tiresome Freudian metaphors befitting of Spellbound and just about every other Hitchcock film thereafter.

The episodes mirror a therapist’s schedule. For example, the first four episodes in season one each consist of a session with one of Paul’s patients. The fifth episode focuses on Paul’s own visit to a therapist. Hence week one is completed by the end of the fifth episode and the next five episodes comprise week two in which we revisit the same characters whose problems then develop as the series/weeks continue.

Still, therefore, there is nothing especially promising or revolutionary about the show’s concept. The Sopranos, after all, perfectly captured the minutiae of therapy, yet also had sex and violence and cool mobster accents. Surely In Treatment would amount to The Sopranos minus the fun parts.

And yet, one day when I was particularly bored, I decided to give In Treatment a try. By episode one I was intrigued. By episode two I was hooked. By episode three I had acquired psychology speak and began compulsively analysing anyone who would listen… Okay, that last part’s made up obviously.  

But the strange thing was I initially couldn’t put my finger on why I watched it so unflinchingly. I didn’t laugh or cry or even feel an occasional emotional tinge, as was the case while watching most of the aforementioned shows. Instead I just sat there and passively took everything in, as if I were the therapist, before moving onto to the next patient/episode.

And then it hit me: watching the show was, in itself, therapeutic. The show’s message – essentially, that everyone has got issues – may seem a tad obvious, and yet therein lies its power. While watching it, you feel immensely reassured and comforted that, for instance, someone as talented and outwardly confident as Gabriel Byrne’s character is in fact as weak and fallible as the rest of us. It’s therapy in the form of TV essentially and vice-versa, given the consistent entertainment value it provides.

And let’s face it, in spite of The Wire’s thrilling verisimilitude, most of us will never sell drugs on the corner or encounter anyone as callous and Machiavellian as Stringer Bell. On the other hand, with In Treatment, we are, in essence, watching ourselves onscreen. Hence the HBO revolution continues.

* In other news, two significant events in the music industry have occurred over the course of the past week. And by significant, I mean irrelevant to all bar indie-loving music nerds such as myself. Firstly, Arab Strap have re-released some of their early work. Among the highlights of the tunes in question is “The First Big Weekend” – a song which evokes the happy/sad feeling induced by prolonged alcohol-soaked benders better than any song, maybe ever. Listen to it below and spread the word.

Secondly, the ever-fantastic Sufjan Stevens has released a sixty minute double EP (which I will henceforth refer to as an album, since there’s no such thing as a sixty minute EP in my book). I have listened to the unfortunately titled All Delighted People for the first time while typing this blog and on such evidence; it deserves to be regarded (along with She & Him of course) as one of the albums of the year and is bookended by two particularly superb (not to mention lengthy) tracks. Click on the link provided below and see if you agree.

http://pitchfork.com/news/39817-new-sufjan-stevens-ep-is-out-now/

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Zooey Deschanel

She & Him: Random ImageShe & Him: Random Photo

“If you read one blog all year, be sure to make it Paul Fennessy’s guide to all things culturally interesting.” Every issue, the NME or some likeminded publication delivers a blurb (album as opposed to blog-related of course) somewhere along these lines. I, quite frankly, am sick to death of this overload of hyperbolic nonsense.

I would, however, like to draw your attention to She & Him’s recently released album, Volume II, which has sadly received very little hype to date. The fact that this album has failed to garner genuine acclaim epitomises all that’s currently wrong with music journalism (something which I will elaborate on later).

Firstly, I would like to recount my own belated love affair with the band which many people think of as Zooey Deschanel’s vanity project. Like these people, I was initially sceptical about their right to exist. 

I had enjoyed She & Him’s debut single, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” and especially the oh-so-adorable music video which accompanied it. Of course, my being madly in love with Mrs Deschanel served to accentuate my affection for the band. It was a lovely song, but one which I considered relatively slight in comparison to some of the more obviously earth-shattering music I was listening to circa 2008 (i.e. the majestic Third by Portishead, a thrilling alternative music album which was strangely blacklisted by Phantom FM, a supposedly alternative music station). The band, I suspected, would amount to little more than a very fine novelty act.

Young Zooey’s acting career did nothing to change my reluctance in embracing the duo’s music. Thus far, her choices of films to star in can only be described as god-awful.

For those of you who need reminding, her credits include M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent attempt at career suicide, The Happening (his upcoming film, The Last Airbender, may well be the final nail in the coffin judging by recent reviews). In addition, there was the exercise in self-conscious quirkiness that was (500) Days of Summer – a movie that’s as desperate, needy and unlovable as the character whom Deschanel portrays in it. And not to mention, her appearance in what has easily been David Gordon Green’s worst film, All The Real Girls (and no, I’m not counting Pineapple Express as a DFG film). And I haven’t actually seen Elf, but I presume it’s shite.

Secondly, actors generally make terrible musicians and vice-versa. For proof, listen to/watch anything by Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Steve Martin, Cher, Johnny Depp, Tupac, Bob Dylan… I could go on. Before Deschanel came on the scene, the only two exceptions that spring to mind were Bjork (watch Dancer in the Dark now if you haven’t already) and apparently, Billy Bob Thornton, whose country-tinged solo albums are rather excellent according to reliable sources.

Jennifer Lopez: Unique in that her acting and singing careers have been equally terrible.

Jennifer Lopez: That rare beast whose acting and singing careers are in fact equally terrible.

So it was with some reluctance that I gave Volume Two a try, anticipating little more than two or three hummable singles at best. In fact, I had been given the album for free from a friend and so, probably wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.

Yet thanks to my having the willpower to actually listen to the damned thing, I was treated to the perfect summer soundtrack, a blissed out, harmony-inflected gem which deserves to be recognised as one of the year’s best releases.

Let me admit that usually I would dismiss the type of mellow, lilting sounds which She & Him specialise in, as boring or lacking an edge with which great music is normally imbued. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it was the fact that I was listening to it in conjunction with experiencing my first proper holiday following a period of intensive thesis writing, or perhaps it was that it just sounded so bloody great.

I will now briefly try to describe why I love it, hopefully without sounding like an absolute ponce á la the majority of music critics out there.

One of the reasons why it’s so special, and there are several, is that it’s a genuine album. By this I mean that you have to take time to listen to it properly, without distraction, all the way through. Yes I know this is virtually impossible for all you internet addicts out there, but if you truly believe in the power of music and all those other clichés, then you owe it to yourself to check out the album in its entirety.

Every time I listened to Volume Two I had a different favourite song. “Ridin’ In My Car” is retro in the best possible sense of the word. “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” with its repetition of “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm,” would be the most annoying song of all time if it were sung by any other band, but is instead winningly catchy. And if the harmonies in “Home” don’t make you swoon, then there’s probably something wrong with you.

Meanwhile, “Brand New Shoes” sounds like the type of song title a 13-year-old girl would come up with, but it in fact turns out to be a rather delicate and heartfelt number about a tragic young girl who’s “running away” because it makes her “feel better.”

And surprisingly, one of the real revelations here is Deschanel and her exemplary vocals which are so laidback that they make Joni Mitchell sound like Slipknot. Yet overall, the album’s most impressive aspects are its consistency and ability to focus on one particular sound. In other words, all the songs sound relatively similar without seeming derivative, maintaining the listener’s interest in the process. It’s music which, if I may sound so extravagant, is an antidote to living in the twenty-first century with its endless distractions.

Recently in The Guardian, Tom Ewing asked: “Where is today’s pop music for grownups who don’t want to be teenagers any more?” Clearly, he needs to give She & Him a proper listen. Not many bands, for example, would begin a song with such sophisticated lines as “Orpheus melted the heart of Persephone/But I never had yours.” This is one instance (of many) which demonstrates the music’s preoccupation with distinctively adult themes.

So why then has the critical response to Volume Two been so half-hearted? Well my theory is this: having flirted with music criticism, I can tell you that a reviewer’s foremost concern is usually to meet their deadlines. Therefore, the process of listening to the music and writing the review is inevitably rushed – a process which is the antithesis of She & Him’s delightfully languorous approach.

The album is, by extension, what is referred to in music fan circles as “a grower” (something which gradually gets better the more you listen to it). Reviewers, on the other hand, probably only listen to albums once or twice in a state of intense anxiety caused by deadline pressures – listening conditions which are not best suited to the lush sounds provided by Messrs Deschanel and Ward.    

Anyhow, congrats for reading this far and apologies if it ever got too boring or ranty (although it’s supposed to be ranty, but in a sort of charming way). I promise that not all my blogs will be this long, mainly because I won’t have too much free time to write in the upcoming months and also because I don’t want to irk you, my dear mystical reader.

Given that I have implored you to listen to Volume 2 the whole way through, it would be hypocritical of me to provide a link to any individual track. However, included below is a link to the aforementioned “oh-so-adorable” music video for “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” off the band’s first album (I’ll let you guess its title – hint: think of the name of the second album), which I’ve yet to listen to naturally. 

And feel free to suggest bands you think have been neglected by critics if you care to comment (even if it’s only one person commenting I’ll be happy). I’ll start the ball rolling with Blink 182 whose live album, The Mark, Tom and Travis Show, can best be described as a masterclass in puerile pop.

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