As we age, and technology develops at a rapid pace, some of us out there yearn for a simpler time. Others move with the times, embracing whatever the modern world has to offer us, adapting like an ever-evolving species. Football as we know it does not escape these changes, and is indeed often at the centre of it. Rising ticket prices, dodgy TV schedules and unscrupulous foreign owners seemingly more commonplace now than ever.
As football becomes more scientific and statistics based, it’s only inevitable that computer games follow suit and become more complicated with each passing version. Via an internet connection, you can even play games such as FIFA and Football Manager against other players from the other side of the world.
I’m approaching my mid-30s and haven’t owned a games console for years, ever since the X-Box decided it’d had enough, although I do dedicate one old laptop for my gaming fix. No, I’m not playing the latest version of a “must have” game. I’m back with the game that was one of the first I ever loved: Championship Manager 1997/98.
My family didn’t own a computer until I was 16, therefore my first experience of this game occurred at a friends’ house. As a huge football fan growing up I was immediately hooked at the prospect of taking a virtual team to glory, and playing with a mate allowed me to channel my not-so-inner competitive spirit. We’d play all night, often continuing until 6am, stopping only for hot chocolate and butter-soaked toasted teacakes.
To spice up proceedings, whoever was the higher ranked out of us would be afforded the luxury of the padded office chair, whilst the loser would be forced to sit on an uncomfortable wooden kitchen chair. When you were playing for twelve hours at a time you needed no bigger incentive to get your team up the table than to rid yourself of a numb arse. We’d make up songs, adapted from current chart hits, aimed at rubbing each other’s poor performance in it, or to speed each other along when we took too long working on our team or scouring the transfer market. They were great times, but turning 18 and “adult life” ended that particular era.
MS-DOS also ceased to exist, meaning the game could no longer run on modern computers. I’m no I.T. expert but those who are will probably understand. It was therefore time to dabble with the newer versions. 00-01, 01-02 and 03-04 were further versions of Championship Manager that held my attention for a while, and later Football Manager ’08 and ’10, but it was never the same. I’d keep dreaming about going back to the old faithful.
What I loved about 97/98 was its simplicity. All you really have to do is select the team, and sign the players. The newer versions become more and more complicated with each passing year, requiring you to take team talks, plan training, deal with agents. Some people love that, but I prefer the simplicity and pace of the older game, which means you can bash out a season in a few hours, and play it whilst watching TV because it doesn’t require all of your attention. It must be said, the modern versions are excellent at mirroring reality, and the database is even used by clubs all over the world as part of their scouting network, so accurate is the data, but it just isn’t for me.
As well as the simple format of CM97/98, I developed an affinity with the players and just couldn’t imagine playing without them, irrespective of whether they’d retired or in some cases died since the game came out. Signing the cultured Belgian midfielder Marc Emmers on a free transfer was a must, no matter who you were managing. Norwegian midfielder Tommy Svindal Larsen, who could operate either on the left or through the middle, was another bargain that was sure to perform whether you were Barcelona or Barnet.
On every save the 16 July was a particular favourite date, as players would retire to be replaced with a “re-gen”, which would often be a teenage version of the departed player. Unable to sign Ronaldo or Clarence Seedorf? Just wait until they retire and sign their regen, often for a couple of thousands of pounds, and on a fraction of the wages. The computer never seemed to grasp this, and as you filled your team with regens and dominated, the computer was dishing out silly money to expensive has-beens. This eventually allowed your team to climb to the top and dominate for years. It also still amuses me to this day the names that the computer would come up with for the regens. Zinedine Zidane and Bixente Lizarazu retire, and a few years later there’ll probably be a goalkeeper by the name of Zinedine Lizarazu.
As well as playing on my own nowadays, much to the bemusement of my girlfriend, I also play with the same friend with whom I shared those experiences with as a teenager. His wife also cannot understand the allure of the game to adults, but it is a great chance to revive old rivalries whilst catching up with a mate. Going to work the next day having played until 1am isn’t always easy though!
The internet actually became prevalent in our lives after this game was even released, and then it was the dial-up version that seemed to take an age when compared to today’s instantaneous version. The game is now being kept alive by a small and dedicated group of fans, through Twitter accounts and blogs. It’s great to see that you’re not the only geek out there, fixated with a 20-year-old game.
People may laugh, and make fun for not moving with the times, but I don’t see the big deal. Like with music, or movies, you tend to develop a soft spot for things that were present in your formative years. Most of the music I listen to is from the ‘90s and I still can’t get enough of films like Rocky IV and The Terminator. For me Championship Manager 1997/98 is no different. It’s childhood memories, hours, days, weeks of fun, and the chance to laugh, joke and connect with friends. It’s a window to escape from the fast-paced and complicated modern world replete with the stresses of jobs, rent and family dramas. What is the harm in escaping to a world where your biggest worry is the impending retirement of Marc Emmers?