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Dhaka Tribune

Finding victory in a defeat

Bangladesh-based football media platform Plaantik has published a first-of-its-kind title, Plaantik: An Anthology of Bangladesh's Football Culture, with Dhaka Tribune as editorial partner, featuring essays and articles from a galaxy of top football writers and players. Today's excerpt is from the essay Living the Fantasy by Fatin Khandoker. You can read the full text by getting the book at plaantik.com/book.

Update : 07 Dec 2022, 12:13 AM

“AGUEROOOOOO ... I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again!” 

With these immortal words of Martin Tyler came the dramatic conclusion of the 2011/12 Premier League season. The neutrals were left in awe; there was unparalleled ecstasy and joy on the blue side of Manchester; and utter heartbreak for those, including yours truly, who had their allegiances sworn to the red side -- Manchester United.

Once the post-match emotions went away and everything sank in, a sudden realization dawned upon me. It had gotten lost during the rollercoaster of the match, but I suddenly had a smirk on my face as I scrolled through the updated rankings on the Fantasy Premier League season website. There I was, at the top of the table, in the fiercely contested mini-league with my brother, cousins, and some of my closest friends. This was my first ever mini-league in the world of fantasy football. 

This was a rare feeling, and I found myself in the middle of a conundrum.

“Should I feel guilty about how I feel?”

“Am I less of a fan now because of how I feel?”

My team had just missed out on the league title, and while I was upset, a part of me was ecstatic about what may seem like a minor matter of winning some mini-league in a fantasy football competition. But those who play fantasy football competitions, or any sports for that matter, would know that it's not just a game. It carries you on a rollercoaster of emotions, and at the end of the day, when you triumph, it's not really about any prize on offer. It is about the sense of accomplishment and bragging rights too.

I was on cloud nine when I finished nearly in the top 2000 of all the managers during the 2019/20 season. For some perspective, over 9 million people played the game that year. It may sound bizarre, but I rank that as one of the greatest achievements of my life. The competition is as fierce as it comes, with only a couple of points distancing thousands of managers in the overall standings at the end of a season.

Funnily enough, I had been playing fantasy football for a while prior to playing the official Fantasy Premier League game regularly. I had cut my teeth at other fantasy football competitions, including ones for international tournaments and the one on the ESPN Star Sports website in the late 2000s. And my foray into the world of fantasy sports games actually goes way back to the early 2000s, when Super Selector -- a fantasy cricket game run by ESPN Star Sports -- was the flavour of the town.

Despite the inception of the Fantasy Premier League in the early 2000s, it took some time for the game to catch on in Bangladesh, but we have seen exponential growth in recent years. In 2022, over 40,000 managers from Bangladesh were playing the game, and it will only keep growing. It is not surprising the growth of the game has coincided with the advent of social media. 

And this has given rise to several online forums and communities in the country that finally have enough of an audience to dedicate themselves to fantasy football. Perhaps the most engaging of all is the Facebook group Fantasy Football Players of Bangladesh, which has proven to be a one-stop source for Bangladeshis on all things related to fantasy football. The rise of the game in Bangladesh is best exemplified by the achievement of fellow Bangladeshi Pranto Protim Paul, who was inches away from winning the Fantasy Premier League in 2021-22, only to finish 12th out of 9.2 million managers!

I think it would be fair to say Fantasy Premier League has catapulted fantasy sports games to a whole new level in Bangladesh. Because it's not only the Premier League, but fantasy football is also always in full swing when it comes to the UEFA Champions League, the World Cup, the Euros, and on a smaller scale, the Bundesliga and La Liga as well.

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