There was a time when I would wake in a cold sweat, trembling. My muscles aching and my stomach cursed with a sweeping nausea that would permeate my entire being. I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms, but not from heroin, methadone or any of the more traditional demons. No what I suffered from was a much more insidious addiction, an addiction to Football Manager. Just one more game I said, it won’t do any harm I said.
Such was the beginning of a night that typically ended at 5am with me slamming the laptop closed after seeing my team lose 1-0 to a piss poor Aston Villa side. Thirty-two shots to their one - a double deflection from a 40-yard stat shot. After this heartbreak I would breathe in, collect myself and open the laptop to resume playing. As all football manager addicts know, you can’t end the night on a loss.
First Forays into Management
My first introduction to the world of football management was in July 2009 where, against all the odds, I was plucked from obscurity to replace Rafa Benitez and manage the once great Liverpool. A decision much questioned by fans. It was a momentous challenge and one I assumed I was more than ready for… Oh how wrong I was! I was sacked within 4 months after trying and failing to bring back a sense of excitement to the fans. No matter what formations I tried or selections I made, I simply couldn’t get consistent results from this group of players.
Slowly, they lost faith in my management. Every poor result worsened the morale and all the poor moral led to worse results. A self-perpetuating cycle of failure with me at the helm. I began to lose what little faith I had in this pack of mercenaries. My defence was more suspect than a line-up of OJ Simpson, John Gilligan and Jason Lee’s hair. It was almost a blessed relief when I got sacked. An ignominious start to be fair, although in hindsight I feel I had done a better job than Benitez’s eventual real life replacement Roy Hodgson.
My next foray into management came a few months later at Swansea a team languishing in the Championship relegation zone at the time. I hoped that I would fare better here. My challenge was clear - avoid relegation. What I needed was points on the board. Right I can’t just attack, attack, attack like I did at Liverpool, a balance needs to be struck. How do you win points? Clean sheets. How does one keep clean sheets? 5 at the back. Easy! Now that the ship was steadied we need goals on the break. We needed a clinical finisher who would jump through hoops for our team. Jump through hoops. Through hoops. Hoops. Hooper. Gary Hooper. Amazingly on the transfer list from Scunthorpe I knew that I had to take a punt on him. With that, gold was struck, other teams couldn’t deal with a stoic defence and a striker in golden form (where have we heard that before?)
Suddenly, from not being able to win a game at Liverpool, I just couldn’t lose at Swansea. Every 1-0 win added to the elation in my heart. Despite becoming all that I despised in football (Tony Pulis) I simply couldn’t stop - I was hooked. A swift climb up the table followed with the team eventually finishing in the delightful mire of mid table mediocrity. Our momentum was taken into the new season where we comfortably finished top. Financially I began to employ a tactic that was heavily inspired by Mac from It’s Always Sunny. The board gives me a shit-ton of money; I buy a shit-ton of wonderkids, we wait 12 months, sell them and make a shit ton of profit. Repeat. Over the next few seasons, as I got to grips with the game, the Swansea team I had nurtured grew into domestic and European powerhouses - steamrolling all that came before them. I felt an unexplainable pride when we became top seeds for European competitions, a fatherly concern when centreback and talisman Paul Geary succumbed to injury before Euro 2020 and a puckish delight every time I beat Liverpool (That’ll learn em’).
This is where the true danger lies in playing Football Manager. Within a few hours of gameplay, I had experienced a range of emotions more commonly reserved for Yaya Toure on his birthday – The terrifying lows (relegation scraps/no cake), the dizzying highs (Champions League nights) and the creamy middles (1-1 at the Britannia/cake). Would my success at Swansea have been as rewarding without the heartbreak at Liverpool? I don’t think so. Rarely is a game as punishing, with most boards ready to sack you at the first sign of trouble. Rarely is a game as rewarding, is there a sweeter feeling than beating Real Madrid in the Champions League final with AS Saint Etienne.
Descent into Madness
This is where the love story ends and the harsh realities of the game become apparent. It is a much quoted stat that Football Manager addiction has been cited as the contributing factor in over forty divorce cases in the UK alone. It is widely assumed that it is the underappreciated wives that instigate these divorce procedures but it is my personal theory that it is in fact the football manager addicted husbands who callously divorce their wives over a perceived lack of support for their fictional (but no less important) managerial careers. A decision helped by a cold-heartedness and sense of pragmatism honed through years of callously destroying the careers of hundreds of fictionalised footballers. It is cases such as these that punctuate the life of a football manager addict. As such, there are several unwritten rules that only a true addict will adhere to. If you spot any of your friends or loved ones doing these then please confiscate the game from them. It’s for their own good. You will often find addicts:
- Playing the Champions league theme before a game.
- Putting on a suit before cup finals.
- Taking off their star player with 5 minutes to go in order for them to get a standing ovation.
- Giving the star player a standing ovation.
- Naming their first born son Yaya in honour of the 80 goal-a-season phenomenon Yaya Sanogo.
As an addict all people simply become obstacles towards the peace and quiet needed to achieve a good run in the Johnstone’s Paint trophy. Many a night I spent in the confines of my room “studying” as far as my roommates where aware. Little did they know that I was actually performing highly complex feats of administration and laying the groundwork for decades of imaginary success. It got so bad that I had to get my mum to confiscate the disc in order for me to pass my exams. I knew I had a problem when I began ranking the facets of my friend’s personalities out of 20. So around 18 months ago, with exams looming and real life around the corner, I made the momentous decision to quit management and with a heavy heart I stopped playing the beautiful game.
I’m now getting to the stage of my life where I have to enter the real world and it is certainly made more difficult lacking the familiar crutch of football manager. I know it’s for the best, but despite this I still find myself drawn to a darker time. I find myself accidentally including my champions league pedigree when writing my CV (surely winning the champions league with Swansea three times in a row is better than Duke of Edinburgh). I’m still tempted to send my assistant manager to job interviews. Trying to buy a drunken Supermacs? Easy! I’ll pay in 18 monthly instalments with a relegation bonus (provided the food stays down).
It wasn’t all bad though. One of the benefits of playing fm is that you suddenly become a slightly unbearable guru to close friends and family. You suddenly have the intrinsic ability to give the strengths and weaknesses of nearly every young player (who you obviously haven’t seen in real life but sure why would you need to, you bought him for Shrewsbury in the glorious 2021/22 season). In real life if a player fails to meet the exalted standards he set for himself in the game it can all be covered with the blanket phrase “He clearly hasn’t been coached correctly, sure what does Arsene Wenger know about nurturing young talent” *See Yaya Sanogo
As I write this Leicester lie top of the Premier League with only 8 games to go. If ever there was any proof that the universe as we know it is all just an astonishingly advanced computer simulation, then it’s pretty clear that it is this season. I like to think that somewhere out there in dimensions unseen is a god-like Claudio Ranieri editing Jamie Vardy’s stats, using genie sim to find players like Mahrez and Kante and painstakingly rebooting the game time and time again after every defeat until his Leicester side win.
I’m sure I speak for more than myself when I admit that Leicester’s fairytale rise has reignited my passion for a sport that has looked increasingly morally bankrupt. When I say fairytale I do mean fairytale, albeit one that begins with “once upon a racist Thai orgy” rather than the more traditional “once upon a time” for it is truly an astonishing feat and one which, for me, illustrates why Football Manager can be so great. It can turn any fan into an omnipotent deity able to construct his or her own stories onto the rich beautiful tapestry that is football. Stories that can be every bit as marvellously insane as Leicester’s title challenge. Maybe Saint Etienne will surpass PSG in the next few years, maybe Swansea will win the champions league, maybe Scotland will qualify for the 2018 world cup (Nah! Too far-fetched). Either way, it’s refreshing to know that all of my football manager achievements aren’t as ludicrous as I used to think. Maybe I’ll have just one more game, for old times’ sake. Sure what harm can it do…
The writer of this piece has since relapsed and is currently managing Plymouth Argyle.