Written by TerryWorldOrder
The year is 1984. The home computer boom is in full swing and at Christmas I was gifted my first computer; a ZX Spectrum 48k. I was 12 years old and I had no idea what to do with it, but I was just told this machine would be the future.
Going back to school after that Christmas was different. We were not trading cards to fill some sticker album, or swapping an unwanted gift an Aunt had bought us for a stick of chewing gum; we were exchanging computer games. Within a week we had a found a way to copy the games via everyone’s new best friend – the kid in school whose father had the Hi-Fi with dual tape decks.
To many of you, this concept will sound mind boggling, but back then computers didn’t have hard drives. Games came in cassette form and we loaded them into the computer via a tape deck. This was a primitive system where piracy was rife and even more popular than the phone number of the girl at school who everyone KNEW would snog on the first date.
It was during one of these schoolyard exchanges where I was handed a cassette with a game on it that started a 35-year love affair - Football Manager.
The game back then was a very simple concept. Put the players in a pre-set formation and buy the best players from a very small database. There were terrible graphics of a football pitch with basic one-colour sprites moving back and forth to try and represent how the game was being played out. The game flashed ‘GOAL’ when you scored and omitted a dull beep when a chance was missed. This may sound boring, but back then it was all we had and let me tell you, it was addictive as hell.
Fast-forward to 1987 and I’m now the proud owner of the massively improved Spectrum 128k personal home computer, along with the new football management game Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes. I can’t remember too much about the game itself, as it was certainly one to forget. It unfortunately failed to re-create the magic of Kevin Tom’s Football Manager. Your team was given a total score for both defence and attack, which then went straight to a vidi-printer for the match results. This element of the game created the suspense and was extremely underwhelming in single player mode, but in dual player mode and whilst playing against friends, the surprise of the results made the game come to life. Another thing to mention about this particular game was that what you played on the screen via the software could be replicated with an accompanying board and playing cards.
Moving on to 1992 and I had upgraded to the fantastic Amiga 500. Whilst searching for a football management game to play, I read a game review in one of the Amiga magazines from one of their game specialists. He was comparing Premier Manager with Championship Manager. He claimed Premier Manager was the better and more enjoyable game, simply because Championship Manager was an out-of-date concept based on numbers alone. Being a trusted reader of this publication and on the strength of this review, I rushed to the local computer store and bought a copy of Premier Manager. The game forced you to start in the conference, build the team up and progress through the leagues. The in-game part was excellent and it even showed little animations running to a goal and shooting. Once your player had taken the shot, either a keeper seemingly coming out of nowhere would save the attempt, or if you were lucky, a GOAL animation would flash on the screen. The game was a multiplayer and matches ran at the same time on the same screen. However, the navigation around the UI manager desk was frustrating and really killed what little love I had for the game overall.
During this period I was at college and as luck would have it, one of my classmates had an Amiga too. He would frequently come to college with a selection of games for me to borrow. One day he brought in the original Championship Manager. I remember having reservations, remembering the review I had read, but I gave it a chance and I’m glad I did. The UI was easy to use and you could pick your own system, including tactics and formation. It’s safe to say I was in football manager heaven! This was the game I had been searching for and Premier Manager was binned quickly and without regret. I also cancelled my subscription to that Amiga magazine! That life lesson has stuck with me to this day. Since then I have never trusted any one single review and I’ll search for a consensus of a product if I’m not able to test it myself.
It’s fair to say that after this my college friend struggled to get his Championship Manager disks back. For weeks I delayed handing it back. I kept giving lame excuses like “nah, I’ve forgotten it” or “I had no space in my bag” or the classic “my friend wants to play it”. Eventually I had to cave in and reluctantly gave him the box, conveniently forgetting to put the disks back in. It bought me another week of precious game time to play my new favourite game. I was hooked, addicted - more so than the original version of Kevin Tom’s Football Manager. It meant I had to go out and buy it for myself, although when I told my mate he informed me that the new version of the game would be out in about a month.
I decided to wait and although it felt like an eternity, I eventually owned the new and improved Championship Manager 93. Normally I do not read game manuals unless it’s for control systems, but I read this manual from cover to cover, even before I put the disk in. To this day I still remember some of the strategy tips from that manual, how they described the styles of football and how best to use the players attributes to fit them in those styles. Because of that manual I still believe a player with high flair is a luxury player that often cannot be afforded in the English game and how there are hidden values for each player that you the manager must discover. Just because you have bought somebody with a high finishing attribute, he might not be a consistent goal scorer. Maybe he has a history of injuries? Maybe he hasn’t been played in the correct system that complements his strengths?
Moving forward to the present day, it’s fair to say I have played enough versions of Championship Manager/Football Manager games to qualify for a FA coaching badge, a UEFA Licence and a brown envelope from FIFA. Whoever writes my obituary needs to simply state ‘Terry played Football Manager’. I rarely play the game now just to win trophies. I have served my time, doing the 30 years saves in previous versions where my club have honoured me with a bronze statue and a stadium named after me. Did I get knighted in one version? Or did I make that up? At this point I really can’t remember, but I’m sure I was gifted a donkey in a Spanish save once.
There is so much to do in Football Manager now, it really is a far cry from the simplistic versions that first enthralled me. It’s moved on and evolved. It’s grown up. You can create a tactic and win things whilst delegating tasks to your backroom staff in the background. Alternatively, you can micro-manage everything with incredible attention to detail, from tailoring training to fit your tactic, to mentoring your youth players. However you play the game and to whatever level of expertise you have, it still is a rewarding experience.
Personally, the reason I still play Football Manager 35 years on is the drama this game can create. Nothing will twist your emotions like FM. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry, all in the same session. It will make you throw your arms in the air. All logic will be abandoned and you will be so disgusted with your players that will shout expletives at a screen to dots that can’t hear you. You share your club’s highs but despair at the lows, vowing to turn it around and transform their fortunes. That is the magic of Football Manager - everything from scoring that crucial last minute winner, to changing your tactics and putting 10 men behind the ball with 5 minutes to play. It’s what I love about the series and I know its what you do too. After all, that is why we play it. Just one more game.
My 35 years of playing football manager have been a journey. The evolution from the feel-good early versions to the complete in-depth game that SI has passionately created, always be thankful that they have, because there truly is nothing like it.