As a child I like to think I was quite clever at school. Reports and parents evenings always went by without a hitch and I was in the top classes for most subjects. Thoughts were turning towards what subjects I would pick to do at GCSE based upon my ambitions to have a career in Sports Journalism. This was a key part of my life. However, my life was to be ruined by men such as Tommy Svindal Larson, Cherno Samba, Tonton Zola Moukoko and Ibrahima Bakayoko. Those five have a lot to answer for!
My concentration levels dipped at school almost as quickly as my results had and all because of one reason. Now depending on your upbringing I am guessing you already know what it is, yep that’s right, it’s Championship Manager or as it’s now known Football Manager.
School days were spent swapping stories of how I had led Barnet from obscurity in Division Three to heady days of entertaining AC Milan in the Champions League in front of a noisy 54,000 capacity crowd at Underhill; a team built around free transfers like Marc Emmers and Erik Nevland and the bargain basement additions of Bjorn Heidenstrom (Leyton Orient), Niclas Alexandersson (Halmstads) and Robert Page(Watford). These were halcyon days for the Bees and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Where text books and exercise books were common place in the classroom, printed squad lists from Championship Manager 97/98 were now the norm. Learning about Geography was replaced by learning about the new wonder kid from Argentina, instead of Maths you spoke of rejecting mega money from Barcelona for an attacking centre midfielder you had found from Latvia for pennies and French was replaced by discussions of an epic Champions League win over Guy Roux’s Auxerre.
After scraping through my GCSEs with just about the expected grades, I moved into Sixth Form and with my progression so too did Championship Manager. New features were added and new wonder kids were to be found. I can never forget persuading young Argentinean striker Javier Saviola to sign for my all conquering
Newcastle United side and playing him alongside Alan Shearer. A deadly partnership was formed; all fuelled by the creative force of Swedish duo Kennedy Bakircioglu and Kim Kallstrom.
Success was built on rock solid foundations with goalkeeper Andreas Issakson ousting the long-serving Shay Given and Jonathan Woodgate revelling in his role as Magpies captain alongside new addition Carlos Puyol. Tyneside had never witnessed such glory days as domestic and European trophies were won in front of sell out crowds at an extended St James Park with it’s new capacity of 83,000.
Free periods – laughably called study periods – were spent at my friend Chris Tullin’s house getting our Championship Manager fix, as our Newcastle United side eased it’s way to the Premier League and FA Cup double. Chris – much to my admiration and envy in equal parts – went on to be in a later version of the
game after signing for Nuneaton Borough just before the Conference division was added to the game. I signed him at Newcastle for no other reason than because I could and called him up to the England squad, naming him in the starting lineup for a hastily arranged friendly against San Marino. He still only got a 6 and was taken off at half time. I’m sorry Chris but that was the last call up you got!
Now for the serious part although don’t worry it won’t take long. Just as I would advance from student to worker, Championship Manager would change as well. The game’s developers split from publisher Eidos and this saw the game morph into its modern day state of Football Manager. Nothing changed, nothing at all, the addictiveness was there. The game was to become an escape from a brutal reality over the coming years.
An escape from the monotony of full time work, an escape from a failed marriage and most of all an escape from moods that had a fondness of collapsing almost as quickly as my promising career managing Blyth Spartans had once I had reached League One.
Ah, that Spartans side was one of my favourites too. Youngsters released from Premier League clubs suddenly graced Croft Park. Jimmy Davis (Manchester United), Gary Harkins (Blackburn Rovers), Adam Green (Fulham) and Joe Kendrick (Newcastle United) all played key roles in helping me lift Spartans from Conference North to League One within four years of taking over. Ironically, Kendrick played for Spartans and was there when I began to work for the club in the role of Senior Press Officer – weird how things turn out, eh?
This past eighteen months have seen my life take a dramatic turn. I got engaged to my partner Jacqueline on Christmas Eve 2014 and became a Dad for the first time in July 2014. I have also made progress with my aspirations to become a full time, professional journalist so things are going well. Yet there is still that bug, that niggling addiction to a game that has been part of my life for so long. As I sit here typing this I can categorically state that my current game on Football Manager’s latest offering is without question my greatest side of all time.
Escaping the sack from Arsenal for a poor fifth place finish in my second season was quickly followed by a job offer from Manchester City and the lure of a £135m transfer budget. That coupled with the chance to rejuvenate City after a shocking final season under Manuel Pellegrini that saw them finish tenth in the Premier League was too tempting. I made the move and started spending millions like there was no tomorrow. Fast forward twelve months – virtually of course – and I have just completed the Premier League and FA Cup double and have overseen the transition of an aging City outfit to a vibrant squad containing the likes of Julian Draxler, Raphael Varane, Alvaro Morata, Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic.
So as you can probably sense the bug is back and the obsession levels are as high as they were when I first bought Championship Manager 97/98 way
back in my High School days. Where once sat in my bedroom ignoring homework that urgently required my attention to see if I could complete a deal for Rai from Paris Saint Germain, I now sit in my living room with my six month old son William cooing at my side, brimming with delight at my capture of Varane for a bargain price of just £18m. That was me, not William brimming with delight at the signing by the way, although I do think he was quietly impressed, honest!
Championship Manager or Football Manager, either way it is a passion that is far from over and as Morrissey and the Smiths once sang “There is a light that never goes out”