The first time I remember playing the original Football Manager, which was essentially Championship Manager in its earliest incarnation, goes back well over 20 years to the original Championship Manager 97/98 edition.
By the time I played ‘Champ Man’ however, not only was it third different football manager game I’d played, it was also me least favorite.
It was Ultimate Soccer Manager 2, with its upbeat soundtrack and tinny Sound FX, which was released in 1997, that first captured my imagination.
I was part of a small group of kids who was lucky enough to have friends that owned computers and PCs, even if I didn’t have one (although it wouldn’t take long for me to get the soccer manager bug and grind my parents down into buying one. More on that later though).
I was 11 years old, and I remember being at my friends house, only one of a handful of friends I had who’s parents had just bought him a PC (at a time when they were considered an extremely expensive luxury). He had bought a game in which you could not only manage a club, but you could also manage some of the financial aspects of the clubs short and long term future, including stand refurbishment, amenity building and floodlight restoration. On top of this, you could also have multiple players in the same game managing different clubs.
USM2 was a remarkably complex game that personified all the good things associated with football micromanagement; sure, you could place a cheeky bet on your team, but could you pick the correct tactics and satisfy the aims of the chairman?
USM2 also contained features that were way ahead of its time. Newspaper interviews, whilst somewhat formulaic , would take the quotes from media interviews with you as a manager and publish them in the next days papers.
Didn’t care for newspapers quoting you on how ‘it was a game of two halves’? No worries; you could navigate your way to the in-game teletext to see the latest results and transfer news.
The userface of USM was also genius; hover the mouse arrow over a telephone in the office and you could bring up a list of faxes that you needed to read about the rates from the local council, or click on the option of being able to transfer or loan a player. Even better, why not loan a player in and then use him as a makeweight for another deal? Obviously this is not something that has actually happened in real life (to my knowledge), but it was a well-exploited bug by those who played the game.
The second management game I played, and now which I considered was a huge upgrade, was Premier Manager 98.
Once again with a friend who had a PC powerful enough to run the game on, PM98 contained almost all the same options from USM, but presented in a more modern and cleaner way compared to its competitor. As great as it was playing USM, it also felt like it had been inspired by a distant relative of Sim City.
Just like USM, PM98 had a great user interface but felt more stylish and way sleeker. While USM was probably the most in-depth and complex game of its time, PM98 would allow you to glide through results and seasons in little time. Accessing the transfer list, hiring staff and even being able to organize your tactics (in which you had the option to aggressively close down the opposition with for your forward line) were all incredibly easy options to select and navigate.
On Saturdays, me and another ‘other’ friend would have marathon sessions of six hours plus, bulldozing through games and seasons until I had to go home for my tea, inevitably leaving me with a feeling of hollow emptiness once I returned home.
By the time I played Championship Manager 1997/98 at – yup, you guessed it – another friends house who also had a PC to play the megabite-sapping game, I realised that the time had come; for me to pester my own parents for them to buy me a PC, in order to give me a better chance at being able to ‘academically excel at school’ (yeah right).
To my surprise, my Dad did bite bait and ended up buying me a computer in time for the release of Championship Manager 3, which was drastically improved and updated from previous editions.
One of my favorite expeditions with CM3 was to add numerous managers to clubs in the top flight, and to buy reserve players from the club I wanted to manage. However, to stop the board blocking the £14million transfer of Middlesbrough’s Anthony Ormerod to Manchester United – and to simultaneously make the buyings clubs best players available on a free transfer – one would simply retire from the game and resign from the club, exploiting yet another bug in another football manager game (you see the pattern here).
Looking back at it all, especially now that I’m full back no board with the Football Manager game series, it seemed that Championship Manager was my least favorite manager game as a kid.
Text heavy, clunky looking and taking at least a season to get into, even if it was just so the players you wanted to buy were actually available to transfer (I’m looking at you Daniel Fonseca, Georgi Kinkladze and George Weah), Championship Manager lacked the charm and details of USM and the guile and style of PM98.
But whilst it matched PM98’s ability in being able to manage any of the 92 teams from the English football pyramid, what it did have was a fundamental advantage that would define the game for years to come.
Being able to manage your favorite team or hometown club was one thing, but what Championship Manager included was the option to manage clubs from other countries, with the ability to run several countries at once.
When me and my friends played multiplayer games, we would always choose between either Barcelona or Real Madrid, knowing that not only did both teams have an incredible squad, but also an incredible amount of money and also an amazing reputation, meaning that both teams had the ability to sign almost any player in the game.
International Under-21 matches were also included, along with the results from other selected nations. Whilst USM and PM98 were about managing, Championship Manager was all about alternative world building.
As it turns out, CM97/98 also became the best selling PC game of 1997, although its creators Sports Interactive seem to suggest that it was even more popular than the sales suggest.
Because the disc that had the game on didn’t need to be used once the game was installed, it could be downloaded onto number computers without a code or password, meaning that the actual game was bought and potentially shared by many others. Sports Interactive later admitted that this was on purpose, so that the game could get as much exposure as possible before the release of Championship Manager 3.
The original Championship Manager games were easy to grasp and harder to master, assuming of course you had played the previous edition. Everyone knew the players that they needed to sign, or knew how to find the players that they needed to sign, which always made that transition from one edition to another slightly easier to navigate.
Memories of the subsequent CM releases and before it morphed into Football Manager 2005 and beyond are hazy at best, although I do remember that I continued to play the game up until 2008, which was not only the year that I had my laptop stolen with all my university work on it – which delayed my graduating by six months – but also the same time that I managed to contact chicken pox for the second time in my life (seriously), with my trails and tribulations of York City’s rise from the conference back to Division 2 keeping me company during my sick days on the couch.
After graduating and going into the real world with a job that meant I had to pay rent and other stupid things, I subconsciously moved away from Football Manager and started to play PES on the playstation, mainly as it was another football video game but one that involved playing directly against other people.
Adriano’s left foot was maybe the most deadliest left foot the world had ever seen on a football pitch, if his stats on that game were anything to go by, and were only matched by the ridiculous speed of Obafemi Martins constantly leaving defenders to eat his dust. Yes PES 2005 was ‘lit’ as the kids say these days, and in my eyes always outshone the what I felt were sluggish controls of the early FIFA games.
I didn’t get back into Football Manager for several years, purchasing the Football Manager Mobile app for my iPhone before then playing it on an iPad, a thoroughly more enjoyable experience, mainly so it could accommodate my clumsy digits.
Being able to play on the move over the following years kept me more than occupied, and whilst I vowed to never play the game again on numerous occasions, for the simple reason that it was all that I would interact with on my days off, I always found solace in being able to dip into a season for an hour after work, or before work, or even on the way to work, or basically any other passage of time in which I could squeeze it into my daily life.
But like all good rambling bloggers (or maybe not very good rambling bloggers), I digress. Because it wasn’t until just under three months ago that I decided to dive back into the world of the proper Football Manager, albeit playing the touch version on my iPad, buying and downloading the game a week before I had surgery to fix a torn ACL and Meniscus.
Football Manager Touch 2020 was everything that I wanted it to be and more; stats, numbers, data, records, history, a larger amount of characteristics and attributes compared to the mobile version; it was perfect. Way more countries to choose from, way more players, a 3D match engine; I loved it.
After reading about different user experiences online, I realized that the touch version was basically a streamlined version of the full PC game, with only the important managing attributes retained (finances, transfers, squads, tactics, match days and so on).
Being married and having two dogs, as well as a full time job and another social media/content platform affiliated with my career, it was always going to be difficult to get back into the full desktop/laptop computer version. With an addictive personality, I knew that I wouldn’t get anything done, and nor would I have the discipline to limit myself to just a small amount of time each night or each week.
Playing the iPad version is perfect, mainly because it allows me to do other things at the same time, such as talk to people I don’t like but kind of have to, and watch T.V. that my wife is watching that I don’t really care for.
Being in a situation where I was recovering from surgery, the timing of getting to grips with Football Manager has never been better, even if I should be doing more around the house than what I’m currently doing.
But in attempting to keep to the script and explain its connection to the title of the article, what does any of this have to do with yet another Football Manager blog?