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.