What's In A Game?
Next year, life apparently begins for me as I hit the vintage age of 40. I was an unusual lad as I was obsessed with football for as long as I can remember and from the age of about six was fascinated by tactics, formations and reading old football programmes that had been passed to me by my uncles. A child of the 80’s, if we could be outside playing football (or any other sport) that’s what we would be doing. In fact, we would even fashion some sort of tiny football pitch in the house and my brother and I would play one-on-one for hours on end, before inevitably ending in a fight after one too many overzealous tackles. This was a time when a two-footed knee-high foul might have seen the offending player receive a yellow card at most.
Therefore, I have never been a big one for computer games as I grew up in a time when we would be out from morning until night playing any sport we could create with any materials we could get our hands on. The grounds of the local GP surgery were perfect as they had two trees which were just the right distance apart to represent a good-sized goal for children. The local lads in our village would play there for hours on end. Good times…apart from when the ball would hit the over-sized tree shaped post, and the ball would fly off in any direction, sometimes leathering you full on in the face. You’d get up, hold back the tears and carry on like you were as hard as Vinnie Jones. And, if someone did get more seriously injured, well, then the GP surgery was right there…
However, this is the UK we are talking about, so we couldn’t always rely on the weather and we did have a ZX Spectrum (the one where the tape player was separate to the keyboard) growing up and on very wet days would play this; 90% of the time this would be football manager games. As I said, even from a young age I was obsessed with football tactics, formations, players, styles and so on. Bit strange for a young kid! Even today, before watching any match or checking on scores of games in progress I look at the line-ups and formations first. Old habits die hard.
The Spectrum really excelled when it came to football management games. Graphics and gameplay of action games have not stood the test of time well, but some of the football management games are still as playable today as they were 30 years ago.
The infamous ZX Spectrum.
The very first game we got as a gift for the Spectrum, was a football management game called League Challenge. A cult classic. I still remember the Christmas our late uncle Spencer was with us, and with his tactical nous, took Huddersfield (competing in the bottom division) to an FA Cup semi-final. This was unheard of. There was even some additional drama, as we were beaten by Crystal Palace in this semi-final match, which is where our uncle Spencer lived.
Other management classics on this beautiful computer were Tracksuit Manager, Kenny Dalgleish Football Manager, Football Director and my personal favourite, The Double. The Double was ahead of its time. This was the closest thing to what we now see with Football Manager. The level of detail and statistics was much deeper than other games from it’s time, and on matchday’s every match across the four English divisions were shown on the videprinter…including scores, line-ups and scorers. For a young football geek, you can appreciate the joy this brought me! My knowledge of lower league teams then was encyclopaedic. Talking of matchday’s, the playing football game of Match Day was a favourite of my brother and I, and we would play match after match against each other. When Match Day 2 came out, they added in back heels…mind blown.
The last platform game I played was probably Sonic the Hedgehog or Alex the Kid on the Sega Master System. I have never even played games like Call of Duty, Fortnite or what else is the big thing at the moment. In fact, I have barely played a football ‘playing’ game that has been made in the last 10 years. One game I have played periodically over the years has been the football manager games of Championship Manager & now Football Manager. Be interesting to know how much these games makers were inspired by the management games of the ZX Spectrum.
On one, month long Easter Holiday during my University days, myself and two friends played Championship Manager 24/7 around the clock. We all had 8 hour ‘shifts’ – mine was the early hours, midnight until 8am. For anyone who has ever played this game, knows this is exactly how addictive it was...
Cristiano Ronaldo's stats on the legendary PC game Championship Manager 01/02. Whatever happened to him anyway?
Other games and platforms worthy of a mention are Sensible World of Soccer on the Amiga and Pro Evolution Soccer on the Playstation. It wasn’t all glory though, there have been many football games over the years worthy of a red card and a lengthy ban. A game on the Spectrum called Striker where you managed a team and were one player too…you would often wait 4 or 5 matches until they gave you a chance to score and inevitably you would be tackled before the screen had even loaded. Or the two-player version that was made of Football Director. Football Director was top quality, and when they brought out their two-player game, my brother and I were ecstatic. Managing a team together is all good and well…but nothing beats getting one over on each other.
Unfortunately, the gameplay didn’t match the concept, and within two or three games of every season, a glitch would kick in where league tables went rogue and points totals effectively meant nothing. You can imagine the scenes when one of us was 8 points worse off than the other, but was several places higher up in the league standings! Enter tantrum, fight and computer being switched off in anger. We never did finish a season. All laughs now, but at the time the pain was very real. And in those days, there was no comeback on the purchase, no updates you could install to remove any glitches. That was it. The final whistle was blown.
Later this week, fellow founder, Tom, will be sharing his top 10 games on our channel…so check that out…and let us know, what were your favourite games?
Football Writer (and Football Geek)
Well Done Michael, He’s 13