It’s often said a man knows he is getting old when he accepts he will never be a professional footballer and starts planning his management career. If this is true, the Championship Manager (and later Football Manager) series has aged an entire generation prematurely.
The series has become somewhat of a cult phenomenon: it even predicted the rise of Lionel Messi. It also featured players that made Messi look like Ali Dia. The problem is, they either didn’t reach their potential like FM06’s god-tier wonderkid Freddy Adu or simply didn’t exist like legendary Portuguese frontman To Madeira.
Football Manager is about more than that though. The stories everyone knows are good conversation pieces but the personal ones, the player’s own experiences, are what makes the game what it is.
North-East comedian Tony Jameson wrote and toured with a show based on his Football Manager experiences. The aptly titled “Football Manager Ruined My Life” was mostly based around his time as manager of Northumbrian minnows the Blyth Spartans. He didn’t just talk about his successes but about the impact the game had on his life. How he suited up for cup finals. How, when handed a touchline ban, he started the match, left the room, came in at half time to press play then left again. These are experiences all true fans of the Football Manager series can identify with because we’ve bloody well done it too!
It goes further. People have applied for jobs at actual football teams based on their Football Manager experience.
Games are about escapism, immersion, they’re meant to play with your feelings. Football Manager does that. If I had all the money I’ve wasted decimating keyboards after conceding a sloppy equaliser I could probably afford a weekend in Blackpool. If I could bottle the feeling I had when I won my first European Cup with Hartlepool United on penalties it would probably replace cocaine on the illicit substance market. If I felt the same amount of love as I felt for Paul Dunn, a striker I bought at the age of 17 from Shrewsbury who played his entire career under me and ended up my record goalscorer for a real teenage boy I would probably be arrested.
These are the things Peter Molyneux was always banging on about before he released something ultimately underwhelming. Dragging actual emotion out of people. Making them look quite mentally unwell when you realise they’re going through all of this over something ultimately pointless. Creating memories that stick with them.
Memories like when Febian Brandy was up front alone as my then League One ‘Pools side were 2-1 up with their backs against the wall against the mighty Everton in the FA Cup semi-final. Febian latched on to a long clearance, left Everton’s centre halves for dead and, surprisingly, slotted home to secure our place in the final. We then got obliterated 5-0 by Chelsea but it doesn’t matter, we went on one hell of a cup run and I was bursting with pride.
Memories like that World Cup final where Gareth Barry of all people scored a bullet header in the 87th minute to take us to extra time. We went on to beat Japan 3-2 and win our first trophy since 1966. Yes Japan made it to the 2014 World Cup final, things can get weird.
This is just the tip of the iceberg and everyone who has invested time in the game is like this. It’s not a game, it really is a way of life.