I have played over 13,000 hours of Football Manager. On the surface, that may seem like a horrifyingly large figure. It’s certainly not something I’ll be adding to my LinkedIn page (not least because it might lead to me getting hired by Norwich), but in my defence this is because I have been playing football management games for a very, very long time.
My first brush with the genre was Player Manager on the Commodore Amiga, but it was Championship Manager 2, the ur-Football Manager, from before Sports Interactive picked up their ball and fled Eidos, that really triggered my enduring love for the genre. I have played, give or take, at least 500 hours in every entry released in the series since — something that a quick check of the playing times in my Steam account (where I can find everything back to Football Manager 2005) backs up.
What I’ve never done until now, despite being both a writer and a streamer, is played the game publicly. ‘FM’ (as the game is known to its friends) has always been my private passion. It’s the game I play with my mind switched on and my words switched off.
This release, I’ve decided to change that. I’m going to run two concurrent games, not one. One for fun, and one out of pure masochism. I will write about the second.
This isn’t because I want the world to finally see me as a secret football management god. I’m not.
What I am is a highly competent digital journeyman.
I play these games because I have an unending love of taking terrible clubs — ideally fallen or forgotten giants — and making them solidly decent. I have spent years learning how to milk every ounce of ability out of a 34 year old washed up striker. How to find the value lurking in the Under-23 squad beyond the numbers. I have mastered when to sell an apparent star and swap them for three bang average players and, most importantly, how to build your tactics around a squad of players that you don’t really want, but are stuck with. Overall, I am very, very good at extracting an enormous amount of milk from squads who can barely moo.
Then, in game, one of two things normally happens. Either I get bored and take a new job at a failing club elsewhere. Or I take a fallen giant to within a few points of a title, then get sacked and replaced by Jose sodding Mourinho when the club gets taken over by a billionaire. Such is the life of a digital journeyman and I’m (mostly) fine with it. Apart from when it’s literally Mourinho.
I realised a while back, however, that apart from my occasional outbursts of pleasure and frustration at all the above on social media, most people in my life — let alone my readers and viewers — have never really had an insight into this whole side of my existence. My wife is the only person who has ever seen me stand in front of my computer in a shirt and tie and sing ‘Abide With Me’ (FA Cup final appearance. You just have to. It’s the rules).
Indeed, because she’s a lovely human being, she long ago realised it was best just to leave me to it. She’s even gotten used to being consulted about fictional job offers from new clubs, providing opinions on the cities or countries to which it would require us to move. I have, and I can’t believe I’m admitting to this, turned down jobs in Football Manager because my wife thinks we’d struggle to settle in that city.
Beyond this, the only other people who know about my digital journeyman life are the small group of work and social acquaintances who accidentally revealed their ownership of the series to me as well. I’ve always been amused at how diverse this group actually is. It’s cross-gender and cross-class, but also (for reasons no-one seems to be able to explain) super discreet. You’ve never lived until you’ve had a senior MP sidle up to you quietly and, as if they’re trying to buy drugs from a friend’s teenage son, ask you how they fix their wing-back problem.
So it’s time to give the rest of you an insight into how I have spent a full 1/20th of my life. That’s what I’m going to do in this series, which (I warn you now) will be updated very intermittently. That’s because I’m fully aware of the challenge I’m about to set myself, and how much I’ll need to be in the right mood and mental space to pick up this save rather than my ‘fun’ one. Because this is going to tax my 20-plus-years knowledge of the beautiful, digital game:
I’m going to win the Premier League with Oldham Athletic.
Next time, I’ll tell you why.