Widely-regarded as the most addictive computer game of all time, Football Manager (a.k.a. FM) has the ability to seriously affect people’s lives. We managed to track down one guy who let his obsession with the game completely ruin his degree. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll consider throwing your own copy of Football Manager in the bin as he recounts his unfortunate tale…
In Biblical times, hermits inhabited caves in the desert. In this day and age, they live in student accommodation and they play Football Manager. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I was one of those hermits.
I am, however, ashamed to admit that my rambunctious love affair with Football Manager temporarily managed to ruin my education. Sit back, tear your eyes away from the FM transfer list for five minutes, and let me tell you how a database of make-believe football statistics changed my life.
The seeds of obsession
Football Manager is bloody moreish. Arguably, the most addictive computer game on the planet, it should come with a warning on the box. Like cigarettes, but with lifesaving messages that read: “Football Manager may seriously harm your future prospects” or “If you play this computer game, you will have to be surgically removed from your pyjama bottoms.”
Sports Interactive should perhaps even be forced to use stark images that will dissuade people from plunging headfirst into this popular quagmire of football fantasy. They could use the bleak image of a dishevelled 19 year old, sitting in the dark, wearing a dressing gown, his bleary eyes fixed, full of fervour, on the miserable neon glow of his laptop.
An alarm clock in the background reveals that the time is 4.27am and a stack of unopened university books is being used like a ceremonial plinth for a slice of stale cheese on toast. The simple phrase “This is your future” could be written underneath. I reckon that just might do the trick.
Perhaps though, before efforts are made to quash the devastating allure of that shiny FM disc, someone should think about eradicating the game’s ‘gateway drugs’. Indeed, like many people, Football Manager was not my first taste of football management roleplay.
My obsession with football management games started from a very young age. When I was seven years old, my older brother had Premier Manager on the Amiga; a game which looked like an inferior version of Ceefax and bizarrely allowed you to change the names of the teams at will (a joyous feature which allowed my brother’s friend to change Manchester United to Man-cheesier United without us knowing.
Oh, how we chortled!). It wasn’t great, but it was still good enough for me to rattle through a few seasons in a single evening.
At the age of eight, I moved on to Ultimate Soccer Manager; a veritable classic of the Amiga platform. At the time, Ultimate Soccer Manager had it all.
You could even bet on matches, offer bungs to referees, and build your stadium up from a collection of grassy banks and rundown terraces to an all-seater leviathan. However, USM was still lacking something. I built up a tolerance to it quite quickly. I needed something that packed more punch.
Methadone for managers
I took a brief break from football management games when I briefly got hooked on football stickers. During the ’96 and ’97 seasons, I dominated the transfer market of my primary school playground, acquiring ‘shinies’ from my peers for next-to-nothing, and getting rid of lesser players for exorbitant fees (sometimes swapping mulleted full-backs for shinies I already had, just so I could assert my authority). I was a wheeler-dealer. I was the Harry Redknapp of Leftwich Primary School.
My only comeuppance came in 1997 when Jamie Lillith swapped his Dennis Irwin sticker (the final piece of my Manchester United puzzle) for my ‘half a Des Walker’ (a special sticker unique to Merlin’s Premier League 1997 album); only for me to realise when I got home that he had given me the Dennis Irwin sticker from the 1996 album. Goddamn you, Jamie Lillith!
After finishing my ’97 sticker album with a last-ditch flourish at a ‘swap shop’ in a local McDonald’s, I decided to return to the comfort of my bedroom and my PC. This was when I first played Championship Manager, as FM was known back then.
The 97/98 edition was fairly simple in comparison to the latest versions, but after I’d taken Ajax to the Dutch title in my first season, winning 11 out of 12 ‘Manager of the Month’ awards in the process, I was completely infatuated.
The evenings and weekends of my secondary school years were dominated by Champ Man. I bought every new version that came out and I continued to buy the ever-reliable Sunday Oliseh (a Nigerian defensive midfielder) at every given opportunity.
Fortunately though, when you’re still at school, you have to go to your lessons. Your parents make you. Admittedly, I spent a large part of my time at school discussing ‘Christmas tree formations’ and transfer targets with my friends who were equally as addicted, but I still managed to do pretty well in my exams.
This may have something to do with the fact that my wonderful mother confiscated the disc during exam season. Without her, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get through my A-levels and secure a place at university.
An addict is always an addict
During my gap year, I went travelling and left my Champ Man addiction behind me. I felt healthier and happier. In my first two terms at university, I made a bunch of good friends, I got myself a charming girlfriend, and I got great marks in my coursework. I looked set for a 2:1 in my first year, but then it happened.
One quiet evening in halls, my mate casually mentioned that Championship Manager had been renamed Football Manager. This I had to see! I also had unfinished business.
Ever since Championship Manager 97/98, I had been trying to sign a Brazilian defender called Argel. His player attributes were insanely good (16s, 17s and 18s for almost everything) and he was only valued at £2.3million.
I had made countless bids over the years to bring Argel’s unique talent to the likes of Notts County FC and Aston Villa, but I was never successful. In fact, the one time I managed to sign him, he was denied a work permit.
I was desperate to find out if Argel was still playing and if he could be bought on the new Football Manager, so I went out and bought the game the very next day. By the time I’d made it through my first set of pre-season friendlies, I had forgotten Argel altogether.
The new game had new features, new tactics, new training schemes, but it was still the same glorious football database I had grown to love over the past eight years. It felt like home. With no mother there to confiscate the disc, I allowed myself to become enveloped in the familiar embrace of Champ Man once more.
From that moment on, my life became an endless chain of mammoth Football Manager ‘sessions’. I started missing lectures; I stopped going out with my friends; I wore nothing but pyjama bottoms for days on end; and the communal shower in my halls became a “complete waste of time”.
Staying in my room for such long periods of time actually saved me money, but I did manage to lose other things in the process: my girlfriend, my dignity and the FA Cup final against Chelsea in a nail-biting penalty shootout.
On the rare occasion that I left the comfort of my room, I would spend the entire evening explaining to my friends why Kevin Davies didn’t fit in with my footballing philosophy and why I had to let him go.
I’ve heard rumours about another Football Manager-obsessed chap, a friend of a friend, who donned a suit and tie when his side reached the Champions League Final, but I just don’t believe it! That kind of thing would require a little bit of effort, i.e. showering, owning a suit and bothering to knot the tie. Surely that would waste valuable playing time?
From bad to worse
My darkest hour came when I turned up late for an exam that I hadn’t even revised for. I was locked in a season-defining ‘six pointer’ and I couldn’t tear myself away from the computer. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to complete the exam paper.
I didn’t even bother to turn up to my next two exams. There was no point. I had missed the majority of the lectures and I hadn’t done any revision. Instead, I took comfort in the fact that I had made it to the play-off final with Ipswich Town, and Premiership football was, yet again, on the horizon.
I failed the year and dropped out.
When I returned home, my parents were pretty disappointed. Thankfully, they made an intervention and banned me from playing Football Manager ever again. They broke the disc into smithereens before my puppy dog eyes.
I took a few years out, lived at home, and worked for a while. When I’d kicked my habit once and for all, I enrolled on a course at another university. I graduated with a first class honours degree last year. It’s been six years since I last played Football Manager. I sometimes wonder if I could play one more season without getting hooked again. Then I remember that it would, most definitely, be a mistake.