Saturday 3rdAugust 2019, it’s etched on my brain.

I’m about to go on holiday for ten days of sun next week, but I’m more excited about August 3rd. Why I hear you cry – because it’s the date of the ‘Bags league’ auction draft. It’ll be a 5-6 hour slog through 150 of the Premier League’s finest, and I can’t wait. Once we’re finally done we’ll be piling the picks into RealFF and then waiting six long days for the season to start. 

Having participated in normal drafts where each manager in turn selects a player, both online and offline, I can’t stress enough how doing an auction draft is simply better. Here’s roughly how ours works and how I believe yours should too….

The premise – each manager has a budget, in our league it’s £100m. For the rest of the article assume each manager has £100m as I’ll refer to examples. As with an everyday auction an item, in this case a player, is brought up for sale and then bid on. We take it in turns to bring up a player, in reverse league position from the previous season, so the last place finisher in 2018/19 will bring up a player for auction first (shout out to Dr Quinn). I’ll talk about strategy around bringing players up later on. The player is then bid on until there’s one highest bid and silence from everyone else. The auction master, a role we tend to rotate in and out of throughout the draft, then gives fair warning – “GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE, SOLD” and brings the hammer down. The draft board is updated with the player and their price, the relevant manager’s remaining budget reduced accordingly, then it’s on to the next one. Do this 150 times and you have yourselves an auction.

Draft in person – an auction draft only works if you’re all in the room. If your league can’t get together for your draft then auction is not the way to go. One ill-fated year our ‘foreign entrant’, a manager who inconveniently moved to Northern Ireland, attended the auction via the magic of Skype. It doesn’t work. Since then we’ve resolved to always draft in person, which led to nine of us flying to Northern Ireland for the draft last season. 

An auction draft only works if you’re all in the room.

Have an auction master and an auction hammer – it’s vital that someone takes control of the bidding process and is in charge of any disputes. An auction is a slog. Unless you have a really supportive significant other who’ll play auction master one of you will have to be both a manager and in charge. I recommend the auction master duty is shared out, maybe switch each hour or so, and is not the most intoxicated. Avoid chaos. Having an actual hammer to hit when a player is sold can be a useful tool in ensuring people know when the next player auction is about to start. The lure of nicotine is amazingly strong in some. They’ll wander off to smoke when a player doesn’t interest them, then wander back in and complain if they’ve missed a further two or three players whilst outside. The hammer is the smoker’s friend -  they hear it drop and leg it back in to find out who the next player to be auctioned is. 

Bringing up players– When it’s your turn to bring up a player don’t waste it. A goal in the auction format is to get others’ money spent, so that you have more funds than them to buy with going forward. Therefore I always try to bring up players that I know others will spend big on that I don’t want. Manchester United players are great for this given our league has numerous Red Devil fans in it, they’ll happily spend way over the top on Pogba, Lukaku etc and then tell you “it’s their year”. It’ll work equally well if your league is full of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool etc. fans. 

On a side note I believe your league will only be full of Manchester City fans if you live in Manchester. I came to this realisation last week when I saw a youngster at a train station in a Man City shirt, some 50 or so miles from Manchester. At first I wasn’t sure why it surprised me, until I realised it was such a rare sight. Walk round your local town in summer and you’re bound to see the odd Man Utd shirt, a Liverpool kit or two, but Manchester City fans are a rare breed outside of their stadium’s shadow. Would be interested to know if this is the same in other countries. 

If Pulisic’s price stays reasonable I’ll have him...

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The other tip is to never bring up a player you want. If you bring up a player that you want and then start manically bidding on him your league will notice, and they’ll ‘bid you up’. The only time I stray from this tactic is when there’s a new player to the league e.g. Pulisic. If you’re respected as a decent manager bring him up with a strong opening bid and it’ll lead to a feeding frenzy. I don’t know why this works, but it really does. If Pulisic’s price stays reasonable I’ll have him, but most of the time the price flies and I go quiet.

Don’t be scared to spend – especially in a league with captains. Try to bear in mind that a handful of viable captain options, your Salahs and Sterlings, should and will cost you 40%+ of your auction budget. Don’t be scared off by what may seem like steep prices and end up with your full budget left after the top players have all gone. I’ve been there. Convincing yourself you’re happy to have £30m more than anyone else to spend on your last 3 players, and that you always intended Giroud to be your main forward, is not a good place to be. 

There will be freebies– In line with the above tip also don’t be afraid to run out of money. I’ve never attended a draft in which there haven’t been a slew of free players at the end as everyone uses their budget up on their first 10 players or so. When we get to this stage we’ll switch to a normal ‘take it in turns to pick’ draft until everyone has a full squad. There’s a few little tricks that can be employed here like ensuring you have say £3m left when everyone else is broke, as that allows you to pick up 3 players consecutively for £1m each. Once this has been done and everyone is broke then ‘take it in turns to pick’ kicks in. 

Careful with position balance – don’t fill one positional slot early if possible, this applies to all draft styles but more so at auction. If you take say Wilson, Aubameyang and Chris Wood for a combined £60m in the first hour of the draft you have a few issues. Firstly you can no longer bid on any other strikers as they won’t fit into your squad, so you can’t bid people up or influence their price in any way. It’s also boring, as suddenly a large portion of players brought up are dead to you. Most importantly it means you’ve little money left for the rest of your squad, which results in say a weak midfield. This’ll likely handcuff you to a formation like 4-3-3 as you try to play all your strikers every week, compensating for your weak midfield. 

Influencing prices– Bidding people up is a dangerous game but one that can work very well. If you have a Liverpool fan who has a Mane tattoo, hails from Senegal, and has called his first son Sadio, he will draft Mane. Don’t let him do so for cheap, keep bidding against him to drive the price up. Obviously you have to stop at some point, you don’t want them backing out and leaving you with Sadio Mane for £90m. I tend to bid people up to a point that I wouldn’t mind owning the player at, in this case I’d maybe go £45m. If the Mane lover backs out then I have a decent player in my squad, if he doesn’t then I’ve ensured he’s paid a reasonable price to get him. 

Bidding people up is a dangerous game but one that can work very well.

The best thing- about auction drafts is you can bid on every pick until you fill your squad. In a traditional draft you’re pretty much just waiting for your next pick, in draft you’re involved every step of the way. It takes a long time, but with a few beers and a group of mates it’s a fantastic time.

Any questions or comment please interact with me via @realffgaffer on twitter. I’d love to hear from potential users of RealFF – what do you want to know about the site and what articles could help you decide to ‘go draft’……….