More Than A Game…

30 11 2010

My Football Manager journey began back in 1993. I was playing the Commodore Amiga, the game was called Championship Manager and the makers went by the unimpressive name of Domark. If you are wondering how this relates to the game currently known as Football Manager then this story is probably not for you.

Domark were soon swallowed up by Eidos, who developed the Championship Manager series into a global phenomenon before splitting from the brand name to create Football Manager. But let’s start at the beginning.

The 1993-94 version must look appallingly primitive now. Back then it was a statistical paradise for a 12-year-old boy. I’d previously had to get my kicks from homemade top trumps and a dice game called Wembley (don’t ask). Sure, there’d been football management games before but when it came to statistics the original Football Manager of my childhood could provide only the most rudimentary of detail. Mark Hughes was an ‘an eight’. Peter Beardsley was ‘a nine’. Ergo, Beardsley was better. Painful.

Here though was a game with a plethora of detail providing subtle nuances beyond the intellect of well, anyone really. The trap had been set and a generation was about to caught hook line and sinker …

The mid 90s brought GCSEs, A-Levels and with it the PC. Of course every young boy needed a PC to pass his exams. It was obvious. It was also obvious that I had to purchase CM 97-98.

Now there are computer games and there are cultural phenomena. I’d suggest CM 97-98 falls into the latter category. This was the game that set the parameters and the clichés for much of what was to come. Tales of hours, days, weeks, months and even marriages that were thrown down the drain in pursuit of one more victory; Stories of taking Altrincham to the Premiership or Telford into Europe; the kid down the road who was now in the 2086-87 season. CM 97-98 had it all. It was also perhaps the first game to introduce the concept of ‘the Football Manager legend’.

Wonderkids and bargain free transfers. Typing those words and phrases into google search will see you transported into the netherworld of Football Manager. Over a decade ago the concept was new but the principle was the same – and for many it began with Crewe.

Crewe Alexandra had a reputation for possessing a fine academy and boy did the CM programmers run with it. Danny Murphy (AM-C) and Neil Lennon (DM-C) were the must-have players at that time and when I say must-have I mean it – if these players averaged less than 9.30 for you then, in the eyes of your peers, you were clearly tactically incompetent and had no more right to live on God’s green Earth than a weasel. When you throw in Darren Purse (D/F-C) you had the first batch of FM legends. The pioneers of what was to come.

By 2001, the game had – as Jamie Redknapp (M-C) might say – literally exploded. An entire counter-culture and mythology surrounding this so-called game existed. Teenagers were taking print-outs of their teams to show friends. Sleepovers that should have been dedicated to alcopops and fledgling attempts to remove girls’ bras were descending into all-nighters of a very different variety. Many a night at my friend’s would see me woken at 5am by the click-click noise of Kris sat in near darkness, silent and muttering about ‘one last game’. Only it wasn’t really a game was it. It was something more.

After all, a game ought to have an outcome; an ending. With CM there is no end-of-level baddie … no mission completed … there is only the next season. This wasn’t a game. This was something approximating to a life.

By the time Championship Manager 2001-02 came along – now known as Championship Manager 3 – it was a sophisticated creature that provided training regimes and an in-depth scouting system. In fact there was now the nagging doubt at the back of your mind that you were putting more time and effort into your management than the average Premiership manager was for real. It is a belief that Harry Redknapp and numerous others have seemed determined to confirm in either word or deed ever since.

And, of course, more legends were being created. There were characters from Zlatan Muslimovic (only the player Ibra could have been) and Stefan Selakovic to, err, Mike Duff.

Trouble was brewing, however. The creators and programmers of Championship Manager, SI Games, split from the publishers Eidos and confusion reigned supreme among devotees everywhere. Fans of “Champ” were now faced with a decision – stick with the product they had come to love or follow the talent. Not since Eric Bristow and co left the British Darts Organisation had sports fans been faced with such a decision. But it was soon clear that the creators of the game had taken the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices with them – the King was dead, all hail the King. Enter, Football Manager.

Fans were accustomed to slight interface changes after all, and the name change could be dealt with. So those in the know put their faith in SI Games and were rewarded. The five years since have seen the game develop more and more, even coming to reflect the increased role of agents and the media in the modern game. But perhaps there is still some nostalgia for the games that launched the phenomenon…

After all, who really has the time to ensure that every player has individually specific closing down tactics; that the opponents are being shown on their weaker foot; that the temperamental striker is being given a kick up the arse in the team talk while the teenage full-back is being suitably relaxed… and that’s just the match. You’d better make sure you don’t say the wrong thing in a press conference, make a bad call in contract renewals or asked too much of the board – oh and be sure to be scouting the entire world on a weekly basis while you’re at it.

Football Manager is now a high-maintenance girlfriend. Which, incidentally, is another thing you won’t stand a chance of keeping in your life if you get sucked into playing this game. But then, that’s just the sort of tough decision you’re going to have to make if you want to be a Football Manager.

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16 responses

1 12 2010
Thomas

Lovely article and perfectly captures the essence of why we play such games.

As a teenager, like you, I was addicted. 8 hour sessions were very much the norm, particularly on a dreary Sunday when homework was the only other option for passing the time. Yuk!

But in all honesty, I’ve dropped out of the loop in recent years when it comes to management sims. They’re just too much like hard work.

Like you say, they’re so incredibly involved that it’s almost too realistic. And I don’t want another full-time job thank you.

My two favourite management games of all time actually fall outside of the FM franchise, and we’re going back to the late 90s here.

One was FIFA Soccer Manager – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_Soccer_Manager

The other was Premier Manager 98 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premier_Manager_%28series%29

…both on PC of course.

I also enjoyed the first Premier Manager for the SEGA Megadrive, where players were simply rated using superlatives such as ‘Brimming with confidence’ and ‘Exceptional’. I believe ‘World Class’ was the highest honour.

The reason I liked those specific games so much was because they had enough detail to keep you interested but they allowed you to get through a season in one sitting. Having dabbled with the more modern alternatives, I’m not a fan of press conferences and the like. It just slows everything down unnecessarily.

3 12 2010
GhostGoal

cheers thomas,
yeah I definitely see where you are coming from. it can be more like work than play these days! so much admin to do that perhaps they’ve sacrificed playability for realism?

2 12 2010
chris waddle

i bought my first copy from the since closed computer crazy in wolves back in 1993. it remains the best £23 i ever spent.

my favourite players were as follows:

1. ibrahim bakayoko-a snip at 10.5 million from montpellier. played him just behind the front two.

2. tommy svindal larsen. available midfielder from norway midfielder left centre for about 35k. outstanding

3. signing eric cantona for juventus on first italia version. he actually bagged 98 goals. i know it is hard to believe but it was one hell of a day

4. two players from cambridge in the first version mark collis and ferrah orosco. they were fictional players who were creators of the game and guarenteed a title tilt if you could get them both.

5. eric nevland.

3 12 2010
GhostGoal

ah yes, bakayoko was a regular feature at the top of the player search. i remember good old tommy too and those cambridge lads. I was too much of a stickler for reality to touch them though!

3 12 2010
tangerinedreaming

Tonton Zola Moukoko!

Amen brother!

3 12 2010
GhostGoal

haha. I love that you can simply exclaim tonton zola moukoko and everyone who played the game will know exactly what you are talking about!

3 12 2010
Steven

I suspect you’re in your late 20s/early 30s like me as you’ve just described my exact thoughts on the matter. I guess it’s a generational thing with regards to computer games.

I’d like to add James Flood to the list of “Legends”, a striker from Crewe Alex who almost always ended up firing England to World Cup glory.

To go back slightly earlier I used to play Graham Taylor’s Soccer on the Amiga. The best player on that was a left back called “Julian Broddle”. He’d get you a guaranteed 30 goals a season WHETHER YOU PLAYED HIM OR NOT. Legend.

3 12 2010
Dominic Pollard

Pretty much describes the last ten years of my life! Bought it back in 1998 and have never looked back. Fantastic post, simple as.

3 12 2010
FootballFarrago

How could he score if you didn’t play him?

6 12 2010
Steven

Because he was that good.

(Or because the game was buggy as hell)

3 12 2010
Tom Smyth

Simply, the best game ever invented.

As I was discussing with Ghostgoal during Wolves’ brave defeat at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup earlier this season, the latest “App” update on the IPhone has made the latest reincarnation, FM 2010, just as addictive for a 29 year old on the train into work as CM 97-98 was.
My memory of CM97-98 was loading up the game aged 16, and then turning it off aged 23. Everything in-between, as must be the case for most, is stuff of managerial “Hall of Fame” legend. (However, I am sure on this version of the game Lennon was AMC).

However, back to the current FM 2010. My current Wolves team is below. I still get that great feeling when you see one of your players on the TV for the first time, and you say to yourself “that’s what he looks like.” (i only know what 2 of my current team look like)

(My Screenshots of team and achievements can’t be uploaded…….)

In a 4-1-3-2 Formation

1. C Carrasso
2. V Soares
3. P Zabaleta
4. P Valdes
5. N N’Koulou
6. F Conti (just bought this bloke from AC Milan for £31m)
7. Dentinho
8. M Ricci
9. J Wilshere
10. G Vitale
11. Neymer (x2 World Player of the year)

12. A Young
13. SEB
14. H Rodallega
15. F Caicedo
16. F Lucas
17. Sidnei

And should be wondering, 3 Premiership, 1 Champions League, 2 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Super Cup, 1 World Club Championship, and 1 Community Shield. The dream never dies.

3 12 2010
Oli Baker

Absolutely delighted you’ve kept SEB. I can’t face selling him either.

3 12 2010
Tom Smyth

Other good memories include buying your mates who were on the game. I remember taking Steve Palmer from Telford to Wolves. He was absolutely useless, but i paid him well. Also a pal from Uni, Damien Doyle, who was first team Physio at Brentford / Wycombe / Leicester (he was the guy who saved Clive Clarke’s life that night he had a heart attack in the tunnel…he was sacked, with Martin Allen, 2 weeks later by that ungrateful sh!ster Milan Mandaric). However, on the first version of CM he was on (early 2000’s) they had his nationality as English. This was much to our amusement as he is the most patrictic Irishman you could ever meet.

3 12 2010
Oli Baker

Kennedy Bakircioglu never quite lived up to his Championship Manager billing. Scandinavian scouts were pretty generous with their ratings in my experience

3 12 2010
chris waddle

i must admit i could never bring myself to buy stuart skitt from atherstone united regardless of any friendship. i just knew he would never pass and blow up after sixty minutes

6 12 2010
Ryan Davison

loved this – especially the bit about printing out the team sheet to show mates, I had to talk my parents into buying me a printer for that sole reason. Brought back some good memories. Remember Mark Collis and Ferrah Orosco from Cambridge??

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