The Early Days
Championship Manager 03/04. That’s where it all began for me. It was through my eldest brother that I got introduced to the then named Championship Manager series, that would later become Football Manager. The premise was relatively simple. Become a football club’s head coach and take them all the way to the top. You could choose to manage a titan of the game like Barcelona or pick up your local team and achieve feats they couldn’t imagine in real life. Watching Lichfield City F.C lift a Champions League title after well over a decade of hard work. That’s what it was all about.
I have a fond memory of my earliest interactions with the Championship Manager series. My brother was playing with me watching. After all, I was probably too young to really grasp something as complex as Championship Manager so I took the role of backseat gamer instead. He was managing Liverpool, the club most of my family supports, and he needed a crucial late goal against Bolton Wanderers away. He looked to his bench and couldn’t decide who to bring. Presumably just because I liked him in real life, I told him to bring the Czech Republic striker Milan Baroš on. Minutes later and in the dying seconds of the game, Baroš scored a crucial winner to bag the three points. He joked that I was a genius assistant manager and that he would ask for my advice for future clutch situations.
My Very Own Copy
Times change though. People grow up and soon enough I had my own laptop with my own copy of Sports Interactive’s hit management simulator. Championship Manager was dead after Sports Interactive chose to split from Eidos Interactive and team up with SEGA instead. Even though the plucky British developers had lost the name of their iconic brand, most other assets were still owned by them. Most importantly, they’d managed to retain the source code for Championship Manager. With SEGA now fueling them and them still having their hands on CM’s source code to base their new series upon, Football Manager was born.
Just a quick side note for those interested, Championship Manager is effectively a dead series today. Eidos did try to keep it alive for several years but it became apparent for fans that Football Manager was quickly becoming the superior title. The newer Championship Manager games have very little to do with their origins and have mostly resorted to becoming overly simplistic mobile titles. It’s a little sad to see how such a great series could fall apart but it’s more or less entirely Eidos’ fault as they had planned to replace Sports Interactive after the release of Championship Manager 4. Sports Interactive head Miles Jacobson described Eidos of having “a lack of respect,” for the contributions they made to CM. He also stated that Eidos seemed to believe “that anyone could make games,” effectively claiming that Sports Interactive themselves were not an important part of their plans. Turns out they were wrong.
I didn’t play FM 2005. I didn’t play FM 2006. Actually, I didn’t play Football Manager at all until FM 2009. By the release of Football Manager 2009, something had changed that enabled me to actually play these games on my own. I was old enough to understand what the information on my screen actually meant. Technically, I was still only 10 years old but that was enough to at least have a rough idea of what I needed to do to win games. Even then, it wasn’t yet a staple of my video game collection. Just another game I happened to play from time to time.
Prime Teenage Years
There’s no doubting my early to middling teenage years is where I spent the most time playing Football Manager. The final step I needed to take in order to become a true fan of the Football Manager games came with FM 12‘s release. This was the first title that I managed to sink hundreds of hours into and where I learned most of my trade in becoming the FM veteran I am today. When I say veteran, I’m not flattering myself either. Judging by the hours I have on the Steam versions of the game as well as an estimate of titles prior to that, I can confidently say I have spent over 8,000 hours of my life playing Football Manager. That’s almost a year, which is kind of crazy when you consider I’m only 20 years old in the first place.
On Football Manager 2014 alone, I managed to stack up an impressive 1,507 hours over the few years I played it. Unlike most annual sports games where you’ll happily ditch them as soon as their sequels come around, I went on to play FM14 for many years. Along with some of the best online friends I’ve made, we hosted a long-term save as part of a competitive gaming site called ApexOnlineRacing. That league started life in the April of 2014 and wasn’t finished until November of 2017. In that time, we managed to complete 15 seasons with between six and fourteen of us managing at a time. We eventually moved on to newer FM games but I don’t think we’ll ever have a save that accumulates the same level of culture and history that FM 14 save had. I spent some of my best Tuesday nights fighting it out online with those guys.
I’d be lying if I said it never got stressful to run that league but the experiences you get to have in these large online communities are something special. I always encourage people to reach out and see if there are people who’d be willing to play what they love with them. Just this year, I got the opportunity to play true competitive Overwatch for my university team. Actually having that level of communication and genuine desire to do as well as you can is something you’ll never find just playing regular ranked. It’s the same with FM. Single-player is fun but it’s never going to compare to a long-term online save where you can create memories that you and your friends will discuss years later.
All Grown Up
I’m twenty years old, very soon to be twenty-one, now and I’m approaching the end of my journalism degree. Times have changed and I no longer can play FM for 1,000s of hours every year without repercussions. I wouldn’t want to even if I had the chance. Don’t get me wrong, I still usually hit a fair few hundred hours for each new release but most of that is accumulated in online saves when I have some free time on my hands. Just relaxing with friends and nothing too serious. The ApexOnlineRacing FM league is still ongoing to this day but isn’t necessarily as special to me as it once was. I still show up every week, host the save and do my best as a league coordinator but I’ve accepted that the league’s prime has passed.
I’ll likely never enjoy FM in the same way I did as a kid watching my brother play or as a teenager who had far too much free time. Honestly, that’s kind of sad to me. After all, I mean no exaggeration when I say Football Manager is one of the most iconic and, frankly, great video game franchises of all time. It might not quite be on the same level as Mario, Sonic or Pac-Man but I don’t think it’s as far off as people might think. After all, FM manages to sell millions of copies every year despite being a glorified spreadsheet simulator. According to the best selling game series wiki page, Football Manager has managed to build up around 18,000,000 sales worldwide since its 2004 launch. That puts it above Wario, Metroid, StarCraft, Burnout, Hitman and even Valve’s cult classic FPS, Half-Life.
So what am I really trying to say? Many people probably can’t understand the appeal of a game where you spend most of your time looking at numbers and facts rather than actual flowing gameplay. Sure, there’s the obvious fact that it’s pretty cool to be placed in the shoes of a professional football coach but I think the love of FM for many goes deeper than that. For the same reason sandbox games like Minecraft and GTA build life-long legacies and nostalgia for many, Football Manager does too. When you load up a database you are presented with a world of possibilities.
Want to make your local amateur team ridiculously wealthy and play a money bags scenario? Easily done. Want to only use youngsters from your academy and create a world-beating club with just local talent? Challenging but certainly possible. How about traveling the world and attempting to win every continent’s highest honor, the Champions League? Oh, and you have to start unemployed with no prior experience or qualifications. This so-called Pentagon Challenge is one of the many examples of unique and interesting scenarios FM’s community has come up with over the years. Now imagine doing one of these challenges online with a couple of friends. The heartbreaking defeats, the last minute winners to celebrate and all of the hilarious banter that comes along with it all. These are the experiences that FM to be truly unlike any other game series I’ve played. Maybe Football Manager really is just a glorified, over-priced spreadsheet simulator but you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world.