I want to tell you all a little story. In September 2012, having caught the FPL bug, I timidly ventured into the Twitter world knowing that there would be "real" football fans out there that I could learn from, be jealous of (I live in America, where proper football hasn't quite caught on like it has in the rest of the entire known world), and maybe even interact with. I was hooked on FPL like crazy and thought I might be able to get a leg up on my all-American minileague by secretly searching out the experts.
One of the first people to offer a kind word of welcome was some guy named @fplhints. He seemed genuinely nice and more importantly at the time, had a moment to spare for some ignorant American whose team consisted only of names that could be easily identified by anyone who checked into ESPN.COM for 5 minutes on a daily basis.
He had created a "list" of solid FPL accounts and that list became my home for the rest of the season. I read a lot, I followed closely, trying to soak up as much info and knowledge as I could. Mr. Hints seemed to approach the game a little differently than other accounts I followed. He made moves that didn't make sense to me because of my limited knowledge, but they always seemed to pan out. I gradually got glimpses into his mind and over time things made a little more sense. The Chief, along with a few other accounts I had gotten to know (@desmythen and @TheRealRickLea) taught me for the first time how to "think like an FPL player" as opposed to playing like a fan of the sport and simply choosing players I liked or had become familiar with.
I stuck around (I was too addicted not to) and continued to interact, always appreciating the Chief's knowledge, insight, and rock-solid professionalism. In a world where it's easy to vent and wind up people who you have never met, the Chief never had a bad thing to say and treated EVERYONE as an equal and with the utmost respect. I had come to not only appreciate his premium knowledge but also to respect his character.
I finished the season on a complete high. I was on an awesome run of green arrows and reached heights I never thought imaginable. I guess my excitement became evident in my tweets and in my interaction. Before I knew it, two of the best in the business (Chief and Ryan of @FantasyYirma) were encouraging me to write articles about my FPL experience, and in a moment that I hope he does not regret, Chief asked me if I would be interested in contributing to his blog for the following season (this one).
So, on a complete high and with a wave of enthusiasm unlike any other I had experienced in FPL, that's how my little venture with the FPLHints site started. In addition to me, Chief asked the 15th ranked FPL player in the world to join the site as well, and Chief, Matej (Mr. @CalledItFPL himself) and I quickly gelled. Fly joined a little while later, after the season had started, and Chief's vision for creating the perfect little FPL family had completed itself. They were the brains of the operation, the top-notch FPL managers, and I was the kooky, amped up American riding a wave of improvement that still didn't get me anywhere close to their league, but I was PSYCHED.
And, as those of you who have followed the site for the entire season well know, it all fell apart for me before things really even got started. During the first 4 weeks of the season, a period I now half-lovingly (not really) refer to as Lukaku-gate, I hit FPL lows that I had never experienced even during that first year when I didn't know my behind from my elbow. Here I was, coming off a wave of glory, coasting into a new season as a contributor to a well-respected blog, someone who is expected to know his stuff, with a certain pressure to perform, and I was completely tanking.
I didn't handle it well.
I couldn't hide my pain, I couldn't hide my frustration, and words spewed forth from my fingers in ways and at speeds that I didn't know were possible. At times I didn't even know where they were coming from. It was pure emotion, pure pain, and pure immaturity. I quite frankly, although some of my articles were pretty funny, was embarrassing myself and more importantly, was embarrassing Chief, Matej, Fly and the entire site. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to take the high road but couldn't deal with the failure. I wanted to take the Chief's approach of respectability and dignity but just fell apart. Before I knew it, I had become known for my rants, or, as Bantasy Football might say, for my severe "moron-ness".
Through it all Chief encouraged me. Never a reprimand. Never a reminder that the site was meant to be a respectable source of information or a suggestion that I was overstepping the lines. Never a hint that he was embarrassed or concerned about the profane-laced articles I was writing on my personal blog or the stupid, moronic ranty tweets that I would never want to claim as being my own after having calmed down. NEVER.
If the blog was mine; if I had spent the better part of 4 years building and establishing a well-respected blog that had become known as a source of quality information for dedicated FPL managers and then someone like me came along and acted the way that I did (whether on the blog itself or in the Twittersphere, where my actions as a contributor must have some overlap towards the image of the blog as a whole), I would have wanted to have nothing to do with me.
Not Chief. And not once. NOT ONCE did he voice any concern or give me any indication that I was making him uncomfortable. If I were him, I would have been squirming every day, wondering how bad things were going to get, how much of the respectability of the site this lunatic American with the crappy luck would erode away through his constant complaints and rants.
The Chief stuck by me through it all; always encouraging, always accepting, always providing the underlying rock-solid, unwavering foundation that Matej, Fly, Steven Dolphin, Jake Rudman and I needed and that caused us all to ultimately thrive in our interactions, our sense of family, our sense of belonging to something far-reaching and incredible.
We just "fit". We enjoyed each other's comments, we soaked up each other's suggestions and ideas, we enjoyed each other's articles, we had fun bantering with one another and with the community. The site, in many ways, became something bigger and better than probably any of us ever expected. Except maybe Chief. He did his homework. He somehow knew that this group of guys had what it took to collectively create something bigger and better than any of them could have created on their own.
His vision and leadership has been as flawless as any season-long, multi-faceted endeavor could ever be. He has become a friend to us all, and the way he's touched our lives goes far and above anything that you could ever see on the printed page of a blog. I'm getting choked up just writing this, but he's THAT kind of guy. It's been an honour and a privilege to be associated with Chief and this group of guys.
By the way, who's playing this gameweek? Oh, does anybody really give a rat's patootey about the bottom 8 at this stage of the game? With the relegation battle all but over and the most (well, maybe second most after GW37) unpredictable lineups of the season about to come out for a season-finishing jog, let's stick with the mighty Sunderland Black Cats and Fabio Borini for this week's #JackInTheBox.
By the way....if, like me, you've been following the Chief on Twitter forever, you've always pictured him as Alan Pardew, right? ;)
The one. The only. The Chief of @FPLHints. Thank you for everything my friend. You are an amazing man.