Football Manager has been creating addicts for twenty years. Grant Woodward reports.
Since first hitting shops back in the early 90s, the Football Manager computer game has made addicts of men up and down the country.
Allowing armchair experts to put themselves in the monogrammed padded jacket of a top-flight manager, tales abound of hardcore players taking unlikely teams from no-hopers to world-beaters.
And to celebrate its staying power, a special documentary on the game is showing for one night only at the Vue cinema in The Light in Leeds tonight, followed by a question and answer session with its developer, Miles Jacobson.
An Alternative Reality: The Football Manager Documentary is a feature-length film examining Football Manager’s impact on the culture of football, its enduring appeal and its influence within the professional game.
Miles Jacobson, Studio Director of Sports Interactive, said: “The documentary isn’t our story – it’s the story of the people who escape to the alternative reality of being a football manager, and the effect this has had on their lives.
“It’s also the story of how a computer game made by football fans has become a part of the world it set out to replicate.”
One of the contributors to the film is comedian Tony Jameson, who likes the game so much he’s even doing a whole stand-up tour devoted to it.
Having bought his first copy of the game at the age of 12, when it was called Championship Manager, he has been playing various incarnations of it for two decades.
“My first memories of it are sitting in my bedroom with a couple of mates,” he says.
“Back then you could get through a season fairly quickly – once you’d waited half-an-hour for it to load. But these days it’s a lot more immersive and very much a solo hobby.
“Unlike my mates I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, all my shows are in the evening. So technically I can be on it all day. Although to be fair I do need a lunch break and it’s rare for me to be up before 11.”
The game’s addictive quality has been the subject of a book – Football Manager Stole My Life.
It chronicles how fans have booked honeymoons next to the ground of the Bulgarian second division team they’re managing in the game and even berated real-life stars for leaving their fictional sides.
“There are certain signs to look out for,” nods Tony, who takes his live show to Harrogate next week. “You go out with friends and spend the night trying to work out why you lost your last game.
“You find yourself getting dressed up in a suit for a big cup final.
“I even learned the Cameroon national anthem for my time in charge of their ill-fated 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Once you’re hooked it’s very easy to get carried away by it all.”
An Aston Villa fan, Tony, who’s from just outside Newcastle, counts his biggest achievement as guiding Blyth Spartans from Blue Square North to three times Champion League winners and Premier League champions in 10 consecutive seasons.
“I’m up to the 2060 season and Yossi Benayoun is my right-hand man,” he says. “David Villa is the team physio.
“The keys to being successful in Football Manager are patience, a competitive streak and a complete lack of a social life.”
Despite the hours he spends deciding formations and strategies on the computer, Tony says his wife Hayley is surprisingly understanding.
“I don’t know if she sees me playing it and thinks, ‘Oh well, at least he’s out of the way for a bit’ or ‘Oh God, he’s on that again’.
“But if she does complain I might have to point out that I’ve been with the game longer than I’ve been with her.”
Tony Jameson’s Football Manager Ruined My Life is at Harrogate Theatre on October 13. For tickets call 01423 502116.
Championship Manager, as it was known then, was first released back in 1992.
Football Manager has been recognised by real-life football clubs as a source for scouting players.
In 2008, Everton signed a deal with developers Sports Interactive allowing them to use the game’s database to scout players and opposition.
In November 2012, 21-year-old student Vugar Huseynzade was promoted to manager of Azerbaijani club FC Baku’s reserve team on the back of his success in Football Manager.