We can barely manage our own lives these days, so what makes us want to manage a football team? It’s all you hear about in the papers. Scorn, praise, hatred, respect, managers in the sport can get it really hard or be loved by the fans. Luckily, as football fans, we don’t need to worry about all that pressure and stress. We can take just the fun parts of that particular job-role and not have to worry about the real life repercussions while we’re sat at our PC desk at home.
Sure, you might have to deal with some in-game media bashing, maybe a player might proclaim how much he hates playing for you! But at least you can come away from it when you want, and leave it all behind you. Something Arsene Wenger would do well to learn at this time.
We love footy management games because we feel the ultimate control; everything is our decision. We can do what we want, and when it works, boy does it feel good! When it doesn’t work, it gets REALLY frustrating, but at least you can step away, take a breather, have a nice hot chocolate with some digestives, and come back when you’re back in the right frame of mind. Maybe then you’ll win that 2nd leg in the Semi-Final of the Champions League after your team let you down in the first away leg.
The following games are the games that put me in control through my life. They’re the games that helped me to forget the real world when I needed that escape. The games that helped me to appreciate who Terry Cooke was, why Tonton Zola Moukoko was my new favourite striker, and which explain why my University results were never as high as they should have been!
1st Division Manager – Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Amstard CPC, Atari ST (1991)
Despite being the earliest management game on my list, I don’t think that this is the first manager game I played. I played this a year or two after Premier Manager and Champ Man. ’93. I remember it being in a little square cardboard box, with some generic manager on the front. The game was a VERY simplistic management-sim, similar to Championship Manager 2 in function, but comparatively basic all-round.
The in-match action was kinda cool, and one of the better examples of it from the early 90s but you’d soon find the sequences were actually very repetitive, as you’d see the same goals and moves happening after so long playing it. Anytime your team were losing, you’d get the joy of seeing your manager’s furious face, as well as being able to give a half-time team talk which could consist of, “JUST KICK THE #?*$ OUT OF THEM!!”
A simple game to play, and worth a try to get a feeling for where these management games once were.
For some bizarre reason, the one thing that stuck with me after all these years about this was the commentator who you would see throughout the process of the match. The actual commentary was non-existent but his eyebrows used to bounce everywhere and he reminded my brother and I of crap TV pundit Jim Beglin, whose eyebrows were always on the move when he was talking bollocks.
Premier Manager 1 & 2– Mega Drive, DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Acorn Arch. (1992)
Everyone LOVED these game, but I didn’t. I found them very difficult at the age of 9, and just couldn’t get into it. I hated how you had to start off from the conference. I wanted to be a glory hunter and just go straight for my boys at Liverpool.
The games were very in-depth for the period they were released and I can definitely see why older gamers would have enjoyed them. Maybe I was just too young to appreciate it back then, might be worth trying again now, but needless to say, they were a sign of things to come where the scope of the management game was concerned.
Championship Manager 93 / Italia – PC, Amiga (1993)
Developed by Sports Interactive, I reckon the Italian version of Champ Man 1 was the first management-sim I ever played. Despite it featuring Italian players and teams only, there was something about this title that had me intrigued. I loved what I was doing, with the amount of control I had over the team. I was able to alter the tactics any way I wanted. I was responsible for the transfers processed and it was wonderful to see my decisions take hold and form the club I was managing.
I also found the commentary text in-match absolutely incredible. It was like the game was talking to me, helping me to visualise exactly what I was unable to see. Like I was watching a text-based radio show!
The difference in quality, content, and presentation between this and what the Champ. Man. / Football Manager series would eventually feature is mind-boggling. No-one could forsee how popular these game were to be back then but they became the behemoth of management games. It would be difficult to dethrone Sports Interactive.
Oh, and don’t forget to use the legendary 1-4-5 tactic. You were unbeatable in CM1 if you opted to go for this crazy looking formation, and it was a lovely exploit if you wanted to see your Lecce team destroying the Serie A league.
Super League Manager – Amiga, Atari ST (1995)
Until I started doing research for this article, I had forgotten all about this game! I only recognised it from the daft out-stretched arm which you would control in-between matches. You would manouver your ‘arm’ around your desk, clicking on the items you wanted to interact with; phone, team sheets, latest newspaper, coffee and plant. Yeah, you could water your plant and drink your coffee! *shrugs*
It was quite innovative for its time and while not a great manager game, it at least tried to do things differently away from the other games out at the time. I wouldn’t go out of my way to play it now, but still, worth a look at!
Championship Manager 2 / 1997-98 – Windows, DOS (1995 – 1997)
The 2nd iteration of the Champ Man. series was when people really sat up to take notice of what Sports Interactive were up to. Alternated photo backgrounds had been introduced since CM1, a far slicker interface was presented, the match commentary was improved tenfold, and you felt more involved with your club than ever before.
Ultimately, the 97/98 edition was by far the best, where contract negotiations felt interactive and you could play with 3 nations worth of leagues at the same time. The tactics and formation engine was massively improved and it took a fair bit of tinkering to really nail down a successful style of play.
The pride you felt when successful was unreal. You felt like you’d achieved more with winning the UEFA Cup than you had done on your latest school geography test. You’d put the time in and reaped the reward of patient work. On the other hand, not succeeding was so stressful. Why are my team not performing well?? You think you have the right tactic, team morale is good, what’s going wrong?? You could always resort to the tried and tested star players…
Legendary players like John Curtis, Jose Chilavert, Ibrahima Bakayoko, Sabri Lamouchi, all players who could turn your team from mid-table hum-drum to world class beaters. Erik Nevland, Soren Colding, Teddy Lucic, you get these bad boys in and you’d be unbeatable. They felt like exploits but you couldn’t resist it, you just HAD to feel the glory even if it meant you repeatedly ended up with the same team on every game you created.
Sadly, a glitch in the game means that after about 15 – 20 seasons, all the club managers in the game suddenly stop selling their players, and all teams end up with hundreds of millions of pounds in their coffers, as no-one can spend anything. That first in-game decade though was a truly golden experience and a waste of lord knows how many of my teenage hours.
Ultimate Soccer Manager – Amiga, Windows, DOS (1995 – 1999)
This is quite the under-rated series of manager games and I LOVED them. Developed by Impressions, and distributed by Sierra, this was a bit more involved than your average management game of the time. Not only were you responsible for your team, you were also expected to handle merchandise, stadium building, and the training of your players. Graphically, it blew Champ Man 2 out of the water.
The game allowed you to handle reserves, as well as get help from your assistant manager on various topics. Training was quite in-depth and it was great to see the players effort show in their improved stats.
You’d receive faxes, and voice mails, and even use the vintage teletext for various functions. The game really made you feel like you were there, and it was so innovative. You could offer bungs to other teams in the hope they’d be a bit more open with their transfers with you. You could place bets! These activities needed to be on the down low though; too many instances of this kind of activity would not go un-noticed and the board could sack you if caught out.
My absolute favourite feature of the game however was the stadium builder. Oh this was glorious. You could essentially create your own dream stadium. Start off in a lower league and you’d find your ground consists of grass mounds for the spectators to watch from. Start earning a bit of extra money though, and suddenly you’re adding terraces, boxes, roofing, whatever you fancied to get the ground to where you wanted it to be. It was a brilliant feeling being able to personalise the stadium to your hearts content and if successful enough, you’d end up looking like Old Trafford or Anfield.
The game is now freeware, so can be downloaded to play for free but it’s very difficult to get up and running on today’s modern machines! One of my all-time favourite under-rated games.
LMA Manager – Windows, PS1/2, Xbox, Xbox 360 (1999 – 2006)
I don’t have a lot to say here as I was never that impressed with the LMA series. It had some cool little features including a stadium builder, a fully 3D match engine which the Champ Man. Series hadn’t attempted yet, and it was a predominantly console specific release, which we hadn’t seen much of where football management games were concerned. Match highlights were a feature as was challenges that you could undertake to test yourself.
The series isn’t a bad one and certainly has its fans like Champ Man. and Football Manager does, but this is the 1st division of management games in my eyes. Give it a try if you want to see what it was like to manage teams on the Playstation 1.
Championship Manager 3 / 2001-02 – Windows, Xbox, Mac (2001)
The 01/02 edition of CM3 is on a par with CM 97/98 for best football management game ever. It was a vastly upgraded version of CM2, but with more features again, such as being able to converse with the media and your team and staff. Training was finally implemented and it could become very involved. The formation screen had had a massive overhaul and suddenly the customisation felt limitless.
The nations represented in-game had risen to +20 (dependant on the speed of your machine), and the game also featured the implementation of the new Bosman Transfer system. You could compare players side by side and also have your medics deciding what’s best where a player’s injury is concerned. We could fine players, and trawl a massive database of players world-wide with the help of our scouts who would travel anywhere you wanted them to in the hope of finding that next FIFA World Player of the Year.
Again, more legendary players who didn’t necessarily make it big in the real world! Kennedy Bakircioglu, Cherno Samba, Taribo West, Mark Kerr… but the infamous one was To Madeira. This guy was a beast of a player who could put away 60 goals a season. A Portuguese whizz-kid, he was a guaranteed signing for most managers out there except… he wasn’t real. He was made up by one of the research scouts who, after a failed football career, decided to put himself in as a make believe player and immortalise himself. Sadly, Madeira would be removed from later games, but when you had him, WOW. Mix any of these players up in your WWW2 tactic, and boy were you in for some trophies.
Some people would argue 01/02 is the greatest management game of all-time, and it’d be hard to disagree. It has a real personality about it. It does have its issues mind you, such as your unbeatable tactics becoming ‘broken’ after a few seasons and some opposition goal-keepers becoming suddenly amazing when playing against you, but there’s no denying it; it’s a fantastic experience and still better than any Football Manager game that’s been released since.
Football Manager Series – Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360 (2005 – present day)
There was a fair amount of confusion when Sports Interactive and Eidos went their separate ways in the mid 00s. Less knowledgeable fans didn’t know if Championship Manager was the series they were supposed to continue buying, or if this new Football Manager series was the new way to go.
It became very quickly apparent that the quality had went with the developers, and not the name, as Football Manager retained the hardcore fanbase of recent Champ Man. games. Eidos, who had acquired the Championship Manager name in the split, introduced its own take on the genre, but it was doomed from the beginning; Football Manager was here and it destroyed Championship Manager over the next decade.
I couldn’t hope to begin to list off the features found within the FM series. It has an insane amount of things to do and the control you have over the club you manage is unrivalled. Considering you play this game on an in-game day by day basis, you could actually spend at least half an hour on any given day just sorting things in your team out, whether it’s through training, contract discussions, transfer business, it’s never ending. This series has destroyed relationships due to husbands forgetting who their partners are, and considering their virtual teams more important than anything.
Me? There’s just too much to do. I’m a father and a husband who works 45 – 50 hours a week, and at the end of the work day, I simply don’t have the time or desire to try to throw myself into this virtual world of thousands of players and clubs, with hundreds of decisions to make. I’d love to, I really would, because I recognise the quality that can be found in this series, but I think Champ Man 01/02 was my limit on in-game freedom.
If you have the time to get the most out of Football Manager, then you’ll absolutely LOVE this series. I managed to get a couple of seasons out of the 2012 edition, and really enjoyed it. I just couldn’t do it on a yearly basis. But there are people out there who ONLY play this game, nothing else. Fans who carry laptops around for the sole purpose of playing this wherever they can, with whatever minutes they get free. The kind of person who on their CV will list their in-game accomplishments as they think their dedication to their team will get them that real-life job they begrudgingly apply for.
Football Manager has no real competition anymore. The developers have always shown a true labour of love when crafting these games and it’d take a huge screw-up for Sports Interactive to ever truly get the formula wrong. If you want to play a football management game, this is where you need to be looking. Oh, and you can play it on your mobile phone, if you weren’t addicted enough. Perfect for those toilet breaks at work!
They’re time sinks, which let us lose ourselves in a masculine world of money and fame. They’re OUR teams, who we have meticulously crafted with the millions of in-game currency. No-one else has had my version of Liverpool FC, nor have I ever had your version of your Havant & Waterlooville. They’re the kind of games we’ve spent lunch-times discussing with each-other, stories of success and failure, of the great surprise wins we’ve experienced, and the big-name transfers we never expected to come through.
Football management games are ADDICTIVE, they truly are. If you don’t ‘get’ them, you never will. If you don’t like football, you’ll never understand the fuss of these text-based games. While you have your city building games, and you might have your space-fleet management games, we have our football teams who become our little babies and afford us some semblance of control in this real world of madness which we never truly feel in charge of.
And let’s be honest, it feels freakin’ great to take Liverpool FC to the top of the Premier League. I never said these games were realistic…
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