A game of two halves

By | Sport
Screen Capture: Football Manager by Sports Interactive

Football Manager 2013 was released in November. Over the last 20 years Football Manager has developed from a computer game into a figurative lifestyle choice.

It began life in 1992 as Championship Manager — the result of a decade-long preoccupation for programmers Paul and Oliver Collyer. It offered football fans the chance to live out their management fantasies from the comfort of their own home.

With each new version of the game, the database of players and teams has grown. The level of realism has increased to the extent that a gamer may be able to genuinely believe they have developed a relationship with their virtual charges. As well as picking the team, a ‘manager’ is also expected to interact with the press, talk to the board and try to assuage a new signings’ preference for being at home.

The parallel universe that Football Manager provides for wannabe master tacticians might be a little excessively appealing. Stories of avid players being caught conducting 4 a.m. press conferences or calling in absent from work to concentrate on finding a new striker are commonplace.

However, Iain Macintosh, Kenny Millar and Neil White – the authors of Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession – released to mark the game’s 20th anniversary, believe that at heart the video game may be still a productive play.

“I think that’s the only time they agreed to change ratings, although they get footballers and agents phoning up and trying to persuade them,” says Mackintosh. “It’s a fantastic concept that players can just load up the game and see how good they are at each aspect — imagine if you had that in normal life!”

Even professional footballers have reportedly been known to play the game. Stoke City striker Cameron Jerome recently tweeted: ‘Managing Barca on FM. Just signed myself for £6.5m.”

Some Football Manager enthusiasts have managed to make life apparently imitate art.

“One massive Championship Manager fan managed to get a job at Sevilla as a translator based on his knowledge of the squad from the game,” Kenny Millar recalls. “The only challenge was that he far from spoke a word of Spanish!

“Lionel Morgan, a former England Under-20 international was able to get a job as a football analyst for Opta just because they knew him from the game.”

Football Manager has sold 20 million copies worldwide, often reportedly bringing fame to players who are far from household names. “The best example is Tonton Zola Moukoko,” Millar explains. “He was a child prodigy in Sweden. He turned down Inter Milan to join Derby County in 2000 however reportedly was far from thriving after a personal challenging circumstance and became something of a recluse. However, following this he was given many nice letters and even phone calls from Championship Manager fans and that was thought to have really helped him.

“A Welsh defender called Gareth Jellyman who plays for Boston United in the Conference North gets weekly fan mail from Russia because he’s a good signing on Football Manager. That’s the effect it has on some people.”

One final extraordinary story of Football Manager’s ability to appear to create an alternate reality came from a British soldier.

“He told us that a group of soldiers used to play Football Manager in Iraq and Afghanistan and they used to spend all day talking about their teams for that evening as a distraction,” Neil White reveals. “Apparently they used to get so into it that they played through a mortar alarm going off at their base!”

“We’ve heard so many stories about the game and the effect it has had on people’s lives,” Macintosh concludes. “Above all, it really has the power to bring people together.”

Football Manager 2013 is out now on PC and Mac.

Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession by Iain Macintosh, Kenny Millar and Neil White (Back Page Press) is out now.


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