The Football Manager series of computer games is something, I find, like many other teenage boys, to be a rather embarrassing addiction. Previously known as Championship Manager, or ‘Champ Man to its rather vehement fans, the game’s addictive nature can seen to be almost comparable to ‘virtual crack’. Fortunately, I’ve never felt the need to take time off work or school to finish another season in the late 2020s taking Huddersfield Town to another Premiership title. But grudgingly withdrawing from the screen as the sun comes up is not an uncommon experience.
The game itself seems to provide some sort of escapism for some players. How else will you ever see your local club sign Brazilian international strikers for £50m? Being an extremely mediocre football player of arguably only Sunday league standard, I can only dream, rather pathetically, of appearing on the game’s database, but I still feel real pride in pulling off another spectacular deadline day transfer coup. Spending hours scouring the transfer market for potential signings and trawling through the squad lists of the Slovenian First Division on what is, essentially, a tarted-up Excel spreadsheet in hope of unearthing a future world beating defensive midfielder is an entirely rewarding pursuit on any Sunday afternoon.
The ‘game’, and its status as such is probably completely arguable, is not particularly attractive nor, to the outsider, particularly interesting. Appearing to be completely incomprehensible to non-football fans, the idea of watching a computer program play out virtual games of football, with what appears to be very little user input, seems rather absurd. Having to explain embarrassingly to female flatmates why one is still awake at 3am watching coloured dots play football is not a pleasant task for any university fresher.
I’ve heard of friends staying up for days straight playing that one next game, knowing that you can’t quit while you’re winning and you certainly can’t go to bed on a loss, and even putting on suits and holding imaginary press conferences ahead of virtual European Cup finals. I’ve been red-faced in front of relatives and friends for my foul language; I’ve broken keyboards, punched walls and stabbed office chairs. All because of late goals conceded away to Darlington in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy quarter-final. Reports of at least 35 divorce cases citing the series as a contributory factor in the breakdown of a marriage seem wholly reasonable.
But despite all of this, nobody will ever come close to the spectacularly named Tonton Zola Moukoko. Watching the Swedish midfielder of Ghanaian heritage lead my Peterhead team from the Scottish Third Division to European glory on CM 00/01 in a 5-1 win against the mighty Juventus, after literal days of play, may be amongst the proudest moments of my childhood. Sadly for Tonton, his career never hit the heights of his Championship Manager heyday, and he currently turns out on a Saturday for Atlantis FC in the Finnish second tier. It’s good to know he’s still a top level footballer at heart though; he didn’t even accept my Facebook request.