Games such as Football Manager have become ingrained into many young people’s lives, with many of us growing up addicted to such games. Marc Eadie takes us back even further, to a time before FM, where his addiction first started.
Just for a minute imagine a world without Football Manager. Sorry to all our younger readers who are now having a minor panic attack at that thought but the truth is that there once was such a world, and I lived in it. Not only did I live in a Football Manager-less world but there was something in those days that, dare I say it, was better than the game every football loving young adult now considers as a mandatory annual purchase. It was called Play by Mail football.
Back in the day when it felt compulsory to buy and build a collection of football magazines like Match or Shoot (I was Match and my brother Shoot) you would often see the advert for Play By Mail football tucked away at the back pages. The premise was simple; you picked a team of your choice (choice should be taken loosely though as all the good teams were usually already snapped up) to manage and you would get all the information about your team posted to you: squad ratings, match reports, transfer lists, etc, all condensed into one beautiful hand delivered envelope. For this pleasure you sent off a few pounds each week (well, at this age it was my dad who handled these affairs) and in return you got the envelope of sheer joy through your door some days later.
What fascinated me about the game was the data and statistical detail that was included in each envelope. Endlessly studying the attributes of the guys on the transfer list and reading the match reports over and over it was an addiction of the geekiest order. An early sign of my part-time career in the realm of fractional betting. I even used to type up my own made up reports for my team on my electric typewriter – why I saved up several months pocket-money to buy one of these I do not know. It was stats, facts, tables, names all in black and white in front of you to run your football hungry eyes over to consume and spit back out again as a victory.
Naturally, progress was slow. One game a week, two if you found out you had a cup game. To select who you wanted to play in each match you marked on the team sheet what players should be selected in each fixture, posted it back, then waited until the results came through. Technically it was more time-realistic with an actual football season and maybe this is what added to its overall value. Games didn’t just come thick and fast, you had time to prepare and make carefully thought out decisions. The anticipation of just how your team might do travelling away to Brechin in your big Scottish Cup clash played on your mind as you sat through Maths on a Tuesday morning. Sorry, I should mention I was given Clyde as my team – all my other selections were taken. Of course I wasn’t going to get my first choices of Barcelona, AC Milan, or Rangers, some other mug had claimed them. I was paying the same amount of money each week to manage Clyde, with household names like John somebody and Ronald another guy (I genuinely can’t remember one original player from my squad), I wasn’t destined to sign Luis Figo or Gabriel Batistuta, I was Clyde, these guys weren’t going to sign for me. My aspirations would take years to realise from where I was. Even if I did ever reach the top league in the country it wasn’t like my first choice teams would make me an offer in appreciation of all my hard work and obvious managerial ability. My only hope was that somebody’s dad stopped paying their fees and I could ‘bagsy’ their team.
Even although I may not have got to splash the cash at a top team, the feeling of signing a player, any player, was something special. Never has something made you feel more like an actual football manager than signing a player through Play by Mail football. As I touched on already you got a transfer list in your pack each week. This was a list of players that other managers had deemed duds for their team and had put up for sale by naming their price. If you liked the look of anyone on the list you marked him down on your next turn sheet and that manager would see your bid when he received his next turn. What happened next was all very questionable though. The manager who owned the player called the manager of his players potential new club to thrash out the deal over the phone! Now, bearing in mind I was about 12 when I was playing this – and assumed everyone else was – I had hardly even used a phone, never mind do a transfer deal with someone I’ve never met over one! And how my nerves were tested after I had placed a bid for a player called Frank Rabarivony, a Frenchman playing at Auxerre (my answer to what I thought our club needed). What I definitely didn’t expect when I picked the phone up was to hear a deep-voiced, heavy Glaswegian guy start speaking to me. I was a bit scared. He wasn’t a boy like me. He was a man. An actual man who then proceeded to sort out this deal for us. My dad must have answered the phone that night as I’m sure my mum would have been more quizzical after hearing a man ask to speak to me, her 12-year-old son. I can’t even remember how you confirmed the purchase though I think it involved you both writing the same thing on your turn sheet. But however I did it, it worked, as two turns from then I had captured Rabarivony. Looking back, I guess the guy selling him must have felt more nervous than I was after he heard my pre-pubescent voice and realised how young I was. At least, I kind of hope he did…
My love affair with play by mail football ended when we got our first home PC (and I got the typewriter to f***). I had worked out by this point that whoever I was paying to play this game was just running a mega game of the first Championship Manager (or something similar) and I could just buy the game myself. Since the day I first put Championship Manager 97/98 into the CD drive and signed Stefan Effenberg for Middlesbrough I never looked back. But I never forgot my Play by Mail days. They helped shape many a computer-based season in my teenage years looking after the fortunes of Barcelona, Lazio, Huddersfield, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and União da Madeira amongst others. That said, not all of them were successful reigns and the old ‘quit without saving’ was utilised. We’ve all been there…
Has anyone else enjoyed similar experience with such games? Are you one of those also addicted to Football Manager type games? Tweet Marc @Eadie84 or comment below.