A month or so back, Sports Interactive’s Football Manager 2013 was the highlight in a SEGA sale and, as an avid fan of the sport (Liverpool, if you’re asking), I made sure to take advantage. Although there are folks obsessive about the insanely deep management sim to a degree that I can’t even conceive (though, I highly recommend reading this piece as one such example, echoing many stories I’ve heard from players about their experiences), the game has been an on/off staple of my life, right from when it was originally known as Championship Manager and was published by Eidos.
Having not played the series for four or five years, I finally found time to start up a game this past week. Opting to manage Liverpool, as I always do, I marvelled at the interface changes made since I last played and then set about deciding how to improve my squad on such a limited budget. It was at this stage I was reminded of the last time I’d ventured into the franchise and was hit with a flashback to one of the most surreal moments that’s ever happened to me since I started gaming. Truth be told, I’m a little surprised I hadn’t thought to write about this before.
Football Manager 2009 was the exact iteration, which I’d only bought after a two-year hiatus solely on the basis that it was the series’ first game with a 3D match engine. Just a few weeks after its release in November 2008 I was forced to work away from home one weekend, travelling south to the other end of the country by train (I still lived in England at this point). Expecting to have some free time while I was away, I packed my laptop to help alleviate the boredom. With some luck I’d managed to bag myself a table seat after stepping onto the surprisingly quiet train, so wasted no time whipping out my laptop and started to pick up my season from where I left off.
Two stops later and the carriage was steadily getting busier. I remember feeling quite self-conscious that everyone was quietly judging me, and I was getting increasingly worried I’d soon have someone sat next to me, so naturally I thought about packing up. Before I had chance to save and do just that, my second fear came true on the next stop; a guy, roughly my age, got on and took the seat next to me. Part way through a big match (which I seem to think was against Spurs?), I was thinking of ways to hide my screen when my fellow passenger looked over and actually spoke up.
“Is that the new Football Manager?”
“It is,” I nodded politely.
We talked briefly about new features before he explained that back in uni he and his buddies used to buy a crate of beers and play Championship Manager together every few weeks. I’d heard this type of story before from many others, but we shook hands, formally introduced ourselves (his name was Adam I think, a Sheffield United fan and was travelling to see his girlfriend, if anyone cares), and I went back to managing my team. My new friend was looking on, totally absorbed.
Then he started to offer advice. In between matches he would suggest young players to scout and stars who would fit my team’s play style. During games he’d spot weak points in my formations, suggest substitutions and talk in depth about opposition strategy and my training schedules. Much to my bemusement, he had even taken to cheering my goals. For any other game I’d hate having a backseat gamer like this, but something struck me; he had essentially become my assistant manager.
Just was I was mulling over whether or not it’d be a little weird to say this out loud to my new friend, the whole train journey got a little stranger. At the next stop, just before Leicester, a group of slightly beered-up Leicester City fans got on, apparently travelling to an away game further south. It was standing room only at this point so they were in the aisle right next to my table. It wasn’t long before one of them spotted the game.
“Hey, this lad’s playing Football Manager!”
I sank slightly into my chair, not enjoying being the centre of attention.
Some banter was thrown around on account of who I supported (all good natured of course) before a few of them also took a serious interest in my game. All tried to crowd into an area so they could all see my screen and asked questions about how my season was going, who I’d signed, and if I’d kept “that diving bastard”. They too started to cheer on my Liverpool team.
I’ll be honest with you; I was totally perplexed and felt way out of my social depth. Who could blame me? I started the journey trying to mind my own business, trying to avoid talking to people and play my game in peace, and instead I’d acquired a real-life assistant manager and a vocal fan base in the process. It was surreal but, truth be told, I was kind of loving it.
As the train fast approached my destination, the Leicester fans were the first to depart, all with a handshake for me after I mentioned that I hoped City won. Adam too left before I hit the outskirts of London, wishing me all the best in my title push after his advice just about kept my Liverpool team in contention around the midway point of the season.
With only one or two stops left myself, I saved my game at the earliest opportunity, closed my laptop and began pondering just what had transpired over the journey.
They always say that the wonderful thing about football is that you can take two people from different walks of life, even different nationalities, put them together on a pitch with a ball and they’ll find a way to communicate. Here, Football Manager – a virtual extension of that sport – was bringing a handful of people together in much the same way. People that under any other circumstances would likely not even have looked each other in the eye. Looking back, that seems pretty amazing.
Despite how accurately developers can mimic sports in the virtual realm these days, even in capturing the pulsating, electrifying ebb and flow of the real thing, it’s still incredibly rare to find a sports game that can provide you with a genuinely important memory that will stay with you forever. Yet the serious, coldly-presented and perhaps even sterile, stat-focused Football Manager unexpectedly left me with a milestone moment that’s as important to me as any other emotional video game payout I’ve experienced in the last decade.
Andy Corrigan is a freelance games journalist based in Australia. You can follow him on IGN here whether you like football or not.
Source : ign[dot]com