The Togga Draft Blogs are coming thick and fast as listeners, followers and Gafferazzi - both official and honorary - take it upon themselves to document the excitement of the Togga draft. Here, friend of the show and resident naked German Max give us his account of that fateful evening in London...
Wednesday night, straight out of work and onto the train, Ashley Herring (Ash) and I are heading into London for the first ever Gaffer Tapes TOGGA Live Draft. The stage is set at the Double Bill Café, where we will join up with the remainder of the Gaffer Tapes' triumvirate, Cracking Hazelleyes (Craig) and Mr James Kelly (Tom - it's a long story), alongside eight of their most enthusiastic Gafferazzi. The whole operation is clearly very professional, reputations are on the line and my own preparation sketchy, at best. On the plus side, I am quite familiar with the format of a live draft, having played NFL Fantasy Football the last three years. However, sitting next to a poker-faced Ash on the train, I cannot shake the feeling that not paying any serious attention to the Premier League in forever might put me at a disadvantage. I run my idea for a first pick by him, keep it simply, go with Harry Kane. Good pick, he confirms, if it wasn't for the fact that the Spurs will not be playing their home games at home this year. Great, thanks for the confidence booster, buddy! By the time we get in the Uber to make our way over from the station to the Double Bill Café, I have given up on talking draft strategy. Instead, the Afghan driver and I engage in a lovely conversation about Afghanistan's number one sport, Buzkashi, played on horseback, throwing a dead goat around. It eases my tension slightly, although Ash trying to change the topic back to an oddball activity he calls "Cricket" is not helping. I see what you are doing, mind games it is. When we arrive at our destination, my fears are instantly confirmed. The room is filled with a bunch of seemingly lovely people, fantasy football enthusiasts looking for a fun evening spend at their favourite pastime. However, their laptops, draft guides, colour highlighted spreadsheets and secretive folders send a different message; these guys are cut-throat veterans and they mean business. On top of all that, a giant draft-board is projected up onto the wall. There will be no mercy, every pick is to be publicly announced, exposed to ridicule. Welcome to draft hell.
Before I can fake a migraine as a dignified way out of all this, the Hazellnutter reveals our draft order. I have the eighth overall pick, which is problematic as I do not know the names of eight players worth taking in the first round. Imagine my relief when Chuck, holding the very first pick of the draft, offers to trade. I jump at the chance, we shake hands and I find myself in pole position. Crisis averted, all that is required of me now is to take a respectable top player and not make a fuss. Harry Kane comes to mind but then he is never playing at home this year, I remember. Maybe Alexis Sanchez, who was very good last year, should be my choice. But is he not on his way out, wanting to leave Arsenal? And so the clock is ticking away, I imagine the others eying me up, when I have an epiphany: Eden Hazard. It has got to be him, what a great player and the second highest scorer in TOGGA last season. Select the Belgian Wunderkind, push the button, done. Good times, I made a more than respectable choice and the spotlight is off me now as I do not have to pick again until the end of the second round. What brings me back to reality is Mr James Kelly wondering out loud whether Hazard was not injured till September. Laughter fills the room, round one of the draft is a resounding personal success, we are off to a great start.
When Harry Kane is selected second overall, I ponder for a moment whether I should point out that he will not be playing his home games... but I decide not to. The first two rounds are just a flurry of top players filling our draft board, each met with a mixture of excitement and envy by the other drafters.
While all this is happening, the three Gafferteers are doing their thing, unfazed by the crowd increasingly enthused by free beers and sangria. Although Ash is uncharacteristically quiet at first, using every last second to gain a research edge over the other two and the rest of us. Craig uses his first pick to autoselect Siggurdson, while Mr James Kelly desperately tries to remember his TOGGA-account password. Maybe they are human after all and the award winning perfection of their weekly podcast does have something to do with the team of professional writers, editors, sound engineers and producers they secretly employ!? By the time I get to pick again, at the bottom end of the second round, most players for whom I can connect a face with the name have gone. With one stand-out exception, Mesut Özil. By the way, even if he was not a proper star player by now, how could anyone forget that face? Freaks me out every time they fast forward through player close-ups in the UEFA No to Racism-spot. I take him and I know then and there he will drive me mad all season. All that football genius, cramped into the body of a little girl, combined with the work ethic of an Italian post office worker. Özil will be brilliant for fifteen minutes every tenth game while in between forcing two teammates to do his defending, running, laundry and the dishes for him. Or is this just how he plays for Germany? I really need to start actually watching the Premier League. With my third pick, immediately after snatching up Özil, I select Wayne Rooney. Might as well double down and take the most popular English player, too.
Rounds four through six are quite interesting from a psychological standpoint. By this time in the draft, all the clear-cut top players are gone and yet these picks still feel like really high draft selections. There seems to be a gap here between ones expectations and the calibre of players actually still available. With no clear plan of my own, I do what every self-respecting fantasy footballer would do; I cheat and steal. Sitting next to me, Chuck has a handwritten name on his notepad, triple underlined no less. Troy Deeney it says there and he appears to be a striker, just what I need. After doing my own bit of research on the guy, I take Deeney fifth overall. I am very pleased with myself, the team is taking shape.
From the ninth round onwards, the above described mind-fuck seems to work in reverse. All of a sudden you are amazed at the quality of players left up for grabs, given the low picks spend on them. At this stage in the draft, anyone seems to be a bargain and generally everyone in the room appears to be quite pleased with themselves and their choices. Although beer and pizza certainly helps with that, too. A few late round picks in our draft worth noting include Kompany, Origi, Matip, The Ox, Shaqiri and my own Theo Walcott. And then, of course, let us not forget Kolarov! Not too shabby players to be taken in or after the twelfth round.
The evening comes to an end with more beer, pizza, lots of jokes, selfies and friendly mockery of the teams selected and the brains behind the selections (... some even implied Hazard at no. 1 was controversial!?). But whatever the humorous disagreement about this pick or that, one thing is universally agreed upon; this TOGGA-thing will be huge fun!
The Naked German
This would usually be where we ask you to follow the writer of the blog on social media, but Max has a Nokia 32:10 and we very much doubt he has Twitter. Instead, we'll take this time to remind you to buy your tickets for The Gaffer Tapes: Live on October 24th, as tickets are selling fast... We love you all x