“I’ll think about it.”
These were the four non-committal words that sent the world of Fantasy into a spin as Sean Downs and Paul Gregory clumsily announced the most unlikely of relationships. In an age where media glitz and meticulously orchestrated premieres are used to unveil everything from a team’s cynical 7th kit release – probably inspired by an inconsequential moment in the club’s history – to some of the highest profile transfers in the world, this was less of a salacious seduction and more of a backseat fumble with two-sticky fingers.
But where that kind of double-up makes sense, Sean Downs and Paul Gregory, initially, don’t. Dig a little deeper, however, and some similarities, while not exactly making sense of the dynamic, might shed some light on the how and why these two managers in particular may have come to see eye-to-eye.
Downs remains the most maligned but magical manager in the game. Mired in financial troubles once again, relegation and controversy have underscored four seasons of abject trophy-less struggle but his strength of personality ensures he remains a compelling presence. Even in failure (or especially in) that strength of conviction in his managerial ability is underpinned by two irrelevant years of dominance in the defunct BOB he has never come close to replicating.
To Downs, however, that’s as inconsequential as the titles he relentlessly tries to claim. He remains a magnet for bluster, for controversy; for disrupting the status quo. He’s the Fantasy Farage, railing and battling against a (supposedly) evil league that has served his purposes better than any other could. A loud-mouthed veteran capable of getting under most managers’ skin, it doesn’t matter that both his Downsy’s 11 or Super Ted FC haven’t won anything because Downs doesn’t care. When you’ve eschewed the power of performance for the force of personality, why would you?
That disdain for on-pitch performance has become a calculated afterthought with Downs providing an (often comical) alternative perspective on everything he does. Bottom of the league? He played for it. Relegation? He avoided it. Not winning a title? He planned for it.
It typically leaves his critics, abusers and (supposed) oppressors in state of disbelief, confusion or apathy that doesn’t so much as ebb and flow; it flares and boils, always simmering, Downs perennially ready with reasoning plucked out of thin air…or darker, less comfortable places, according to his rivals.
The news quickly reverberated around the Fantasy world as managers went on record with their, unsurprisingly, forthright thoughts. “I haven’t seen a coupling like this since Elton John and David Furnish got together,” mused Bombers manager, Will Penhallurick; DTA manager Stephen Davies was quoted as saying “I’m shocked, appalled but not surprised that Paul has switched allegiances,” whereas Paulisa Fekir manager, Jon Jolley was brutally blunt in his assessment, raging: “They’re both c*nts. Top-up c*nt and glory-hunting c*nt can both f*cking do one, the unwashed pr*cks.”
So what can Downs and his controversial ‘Downsy’s School of Excellence’ offer a DoDi title winner who, let’s not forget, still sits in 2nd in DoWo despite the criticism raining down upon him? The short answer: pure egotism.
Downs’ brand of practiced, smirking indifference is inherent, but he believes it’s something you can teach—or at least pretend to have. It’s a quality Gregory has desperately needed this season after coming under sustained attacked from former DoDi, and now DoWo rival, William Penhallurick from the very first kick of the season; he’s faced it from the media and the Really Wildcard Show’s Mehdi Daoudi who has doubted Gregory has the “experience” or “greatness” to achieve anything in the game; and from a cast of peers who question his loyalty to his club by virtue of the fact he’s loyal to so many others.
I don’t really know what the advantage is for them. One’s a whiney, all-talk prick, and the other is one too. – Wyn Williams, Borussia Teeth
But let’s not cast Gregory as some wallflower desperately wilting under the pressure. In his first season, he navigated the chaos of DoDi with skill and confidence despite Penhallurick snapping at his heels both in the league and in the media. In the beginnings of his second season, he’s only second by virtue of The Jager Bombers having the greatest start in their inconsistent history—and, as Gregory’s pointed out, there’s still a long way to go.
Behind closed doors, and private messages, this was a move orchestrated to shock, distract and consolidate a partnership that is sure to draw the ire of every manager in the league. For Gregory, he may have just utilised the best verbal flak jacket in Teflon Downs to share the load and deflect much of the heat that was previously solely direct his way.
Even as Gregory denied such a deal even existed and quickly went to ground from the media, curtly responding “no comment” to all enquiries, Downs was already on his soapbox, proclaiming his dismay at breaking their confidentiality clause, exposing flaws in the timing of Gregory’s claims that they had never made contact in nefarious circumstances. They weren’t seamless moments to celebrate their strange union but for an experienced practitioner like Downs, you even feel Gregory’s hasty absence was orchestrated by his new mentor; the idea of Downs putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder and confidently stating “they’ll have to come through me first.” Not that Downs is all give—in his first act, he pit his two proteges against each other, demanding David Twigg designate the much-hated Park the Bus to his new classmate in an effort to shore up a defence Downs deems to be way below standard. So even with this chaotic start, it still begs the question:
So why Downs and his School of Excellence and why now?
As we stand outside it’s concrete and barbed wire-lined walls, the DSoE© is a physically intimidating structure. It conveys power, inspires fear and imposes success—everything its founder and devout attendees have struggled to accomplish. Its track record isn’t one that compels you to attend—alongside Downs’ barren four years and counting, it can only call upon former student, and denounced graduate, Stephen Davies’ single DoDi title with DTA. But even that comes under scrutiny after Davies attributed his success to directly disobeying Downs “cult-like” teachings of failure. Despite that, David Twigg sensationally moved to the program after a damaging relegation from DoBo with Xtal Tha Pulsewidth—a side set the lowest points total for a season in any division. This season they’ve sat in the bottom places in the early weeks of this campaign, and even despite that, Twigg’s support remains unwavering.
“Sean teaches us not to look outward but to look within ourselves…to find our inner BAE,” Twigg explains from a DSoE©-approved break in Mexico. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It’s an easy mantra to follow when you’re losing finals or not even reaching them but again, that brings us back to the idea of conflating common sense with the undiminished confidence that a final league standing isn’t the measure of the manager.
In an exclusive tour of the compound that DSoE© calls home, mantras of Downs’ teachings adorn the walls with statements like” Points aren’t everything” and “Power Bottom” daubed in a brilliant WKD Blue.
“It’s about thinking outside the box,” Downs explains sat on a custom-made Flamin’ Hot Peperami throne. “It’s disrupting and disputing the idea that you need conventional success to be successful.” He waits a moment, then posits: “Who has spiritually gained more: the man who risked everything on Remy Cabella or the sheep who picks Harry Kane every week?”
The timing, then, is perfect for a manager of Gregory’s ability. With the bar set so low, he brings the DoDi trophy the DSoE© felt it had earned with the Davies’ abdication and sets up the very realistic scenario that Downs, Twigg and Gregory could all find themselves in DoWo next season and apply a level of tactical collusion not seen since Chakademus met Pliers. Downs, however, refutes this.
“A ‘division’ is just a wall the establishment likes to build to harness true genius. People laughed when we finished bottom last season, but did we get ‘relegated’? Did the ‘rules’ apply? No, because it wasn’t decided. When we are ready to get ‘relegated’ we will do so. Your ‘traditional’ rules don’t apply, here.”
And he has a point. Downs words may sound quixotic but for a side that has finished bottom of DoBo three times but has only been relegated once defies traditional rules—and Downs has used that to fuel his myth.
There’s no doubt that for aspiring, impressionable managers, he represents an intoxicating mix of attitude, ambition and ambivalence; a rollercoaster with no safeguards, speed limit or success. But if you’re Paul Gregory and have nothing to lose, the choice is obvious.
Think about it.