In 1984 a game was coded by a certain Kevin Toms and released by Addictive Games. This game spawned two sequels and a world cup edition. It put you in the hot seat of any team from Division 1 through to Division 4 of the old football league. You start at the bottom and work your way to the top. This game was Football Manager.
The granddaddy of them all. It took an age to load off of cassette. But when it started it transformed you into a budding Jim Smith or Howard Kendall. Of course when it starts up you can put in your own name. You then get to choose what team to manage, Man Utd were number 10 if I remember. The next screen had you choose your difficulty, from 1 Beginner to 7 Genius. How good of a manager do you think you are? You then proceed to your main options screen. But the only one I used was to display my players or buy new players, it had lots of other stuff such as print league tables (I never had a printer back then unfortunately), and an option to change all the names in the game, so I guess we could load it up today and make it totally up to date, I’m sure someone has done that!
You get to pick your team from all the stars of the day, Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside etc. Unlike the fifty million stats values for your players that you see in the management games today you’re given two things to consider in relation to each player. Skill out of 5 and Energy out of 20. Trying to pack your team with highly skilled players might work now but when entering a new season all players skills would be reversed making getting a winning team together much harder. You then pick your 11 players, no goalkeeper needed to be picked, but you needed to have good defenders, or a highly skilled attacking team would get chance after chance. Once that’s done it’s on to the meat of the game, match time. It flickered onto the screen and you would be transfixed, three on three, would you be attacking or defending, would the ball be blocked, ballooned over the bar, saved or would it satisfyingly hit the back of the net. You would swear you could almost tell what was going to happen with the slightest movement of the players, but after playing it so much it was just your mind playing tricks on you. The tension during tough league matches or on cup days would be almost too much to take, there was no timer so the match could end at any time. The anticipation you felt with each change of screen would rarely be matched in any games, then as well as now. You could just skip along with the space bar from match to match and only stop when it forced you or you could try and get more involved. The club would have to be run smoothly. A big squad costs money which might not be covered by the gate receipts. How about a loan? Maybe sell some players, but not too many as an injury or two could severely dent your promotion push. With those bad results you would see a drop in morale. After some games you would get the chance to buy a new player, can you afford it? Put in a bid if you fancy him but don’t bid too low or his valuation would go up! If we had known back then what they were, we would surely be blaming the players’ agent. The stress could be too much to take for a young manager.
Not being able to save, well I wasn’t able, meant that I had to find other ways to get my team to the Division 1 championship. With the amount of time it took on the harder difficulty levels I was ‘forced’ to leave my Commodore 64 on for up to three days straight, only turning off the TV for a few hours of sleep or when my parents insisted on me eating or spending time with my family. Did they not know what I was trying to achieve?? I had to hide this fact from them though as I was sure if they found that the power box on the plug was now as hot as a nuclear reactor they would switch the whole thing off before I got the chance to say “I’ll try and save it to a tape so!”.
Football Manager was also given away free with Commodore Force in the early nineties, leading to lots more playing and use of the edit feature. I had moved on to Kenny Dalglish Manager by Zeppelin at that stage. The actual match engine wasn’t as good or variable as Football Manager if I remember though, big blocky players constantly hitting the post while the goalkeeper dramatically hits the floor and stays there as everyone else plays on.
Another time I was at some seaside town in the summer and picked up a number of games in a bargain bin, a pound each I think. When I eventually got home days later I tried the games out. Colossus Chess worked fine, but when I loaded up IK+ what should load up, Football Manager? Very strange indeed.
As this is one of my all time favourite games, I really recommend for anyone who plays football or football manager games to go back and give it a try, where else can you buy a star striker for £25000?