Look at the current Barclay’s Premier League table and there are numerous stand-out anomalies. Aside from Leicester City’s exceptional march towards the title, there’s the unlikely battle between West Ham and Manchester United for the last Champions League place in fourth, Tottenham’s confident challenge for the title and, on the more negative side, Chelsea’s slide from defending champions to 10th in less than a season. Even Aston Villa, everyone’s favourite quiz answer as the only team no one can remember has been in the top flight since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, have just been relegated.
You’d think I was about to embark into a long discussion piece about the whys and wherefores of such a season – an in-depth analysis of each team’s unusual season and what has brought us to this point. But do you want to know what I really see when I look at that table? Two abbreviated words that few will understand – CHAMP MAN.
Let me explain. In much the same manner as many football fans of the 90s and onwards, I grew up addicted to the computer football management simulation game Championship Manager or Champ Man for those in the know. Only those who have played the game will understand what I mean when I say the current premier league table looks like something out of Champ Man. It wasn’t uncommon for players of the game to play 10 or 20 years into the future, by which time leagues, and the teams leading them, looked very different from the current status-quo. Only in a 20 season game or ‘save’, were you likely to see Leicester winning the league or Chelsea finishing as low as 10th. And here it is today – actually happening in real life.
Realising this was my first thought on seeing the table really made me reflect on how entrenched in my thinking this game was, and how much of an impact it had had on me and my love for football. I started wondering when I must’ve started playing it and to be honest, I couldn’t tell you. The earliest memory I have of playing the game was trying to sign Italian wizard Gianfranco Zola from Parma not long after Chelsea had done so in real life. Zola signed for Chelsea in 1996 and I was born only 8 years before, so I guess that gives you some inclination as to how long my love for this game has gone on.
I’m not exaggerating when I say would spend hours on end playing that game. Marathon sessions that lasted as long as I could stretch them out for (read: as long as my mum let me). Though not a regular player of the game in it’s current incarnation as Football Manager, I would estimate I was a regular player of the game for nearly 10 years – and that’s the first time I’ve actually considered playing the game in those terms. Pretty incredible, really, when you think about it.
But this game means more than just the multiple league titles, FA Cups, Scottish Cups, Copa Del Reys, Copa Libertadores and Champions Leagues it has brought me over the years. It means more than the encyclopedic knowledge I have of players from the 90s and 00s that I probably never actually watched play an actual game of football in real life. For me, it meant bonding with my two brothers. Fellow addicts of the game, they were only too happy to discuss tactics, transfers and potential signing targets over a bowl of cereal before school. Even today, the mere mention of certain names, the commonly know ‘Champ Man Legends’ found all over the internet, bring smiles to our faces. Nicolas Oudec, Thomas Doll, Knut Reindhart and Victor Leonenko were just a few of our favourites. And just for my big brother, a picture below of a man we idolise to this day, a man on whom many great teams were built. EVER MOAS.
That’s what this game is to me – memories. More memories than I could recount in one blog. More stories than I probably remember. Silly, you might think. But memories I wouldn’t trade – even if you were offering me Kennedy Bakircioglu on a Bosman.
The cover image used for this piece is entirely the property of Sports Interactive. No copyright infringement is intended.