By CrazyCraven 1 Comments
Addiction is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence, such as: drug addiction, crime, problem gambling, nicotine addiction and Championship Manager Addiction. There are few games which have addiction levels as high as the heroine-esque football management simulation Championship Manager.
As CM began to infiltrate the football world, stories began to circulate of the debilitating effects of its addictiveness. Many a promising student sacrificed their education, people have lost their jobs and the game has been cited in at least twenty divorce cases. In producing this feature I’ve once again been smitten with CM, however it’s not the current multi-league Goliath but the English only Championship Manager with the 1993/1994 end of season data. This is the very same game which prevented me from enjoying those formative fumbles with girlfriends and drinking cider in the park, so in essence this is the game that nurtured my gaming lifestyle.
Now to gain a general understanding of the importance of CM you first need to understand the gaming landscape of the time, but also appreciate the BSkyB revolution that football was undergoing.
Football games and to a much larger degree football management games didn’t really exist prior to the creation. The only competition CM had was Premier Manager which offered a more business orientated game where you weren’t only in charge of the team but the whole stadium, right down to the price of the programs on match day.
Prior to the creation of BSkyB football in the English league structure was on its last legs. For many the actual events that took place on the pitch were insignificant, as a large hooligan element were only interested in violence and disorder. Home & Away fans were treated like sub human entities, where they were treated worse than cattle and made to endure conditions akin to prisons. Eight foot fences and barbed wire enclosures were common place and even the idea of football being a family entertainment was nothing but a pipedream. The football League along with BSkyB dragged football kicking and screaming into a new age. An age of season long televised football, cameras at every top level game, hospitality suites with prawn sandwiches and Sky Sports leading anchor man Richard Keys (with his uncomfortably hairy hands). Championship manager was not only a hideously addictive game it was also able to associate itself with ‘new’ football.
After a somewhat unsuccessful commercial launch of CM and extremely harsh treatment from critics who ridiculed the game for featuring no sound (beyond the title screens) and graphics which weren’t any improvement over the BBC’s text based news service Ceefax, a strange comment, as football fans had been glued to ceefax for years, eagerly waiting for score updates. However it wasn’t until the release of Championship Manager 93/94 with its introduction of real player names and implementation of the FA Premier league that football fans everywhere began their sordid affair with Champ Man.
The CM formula that exists today has been crafted and evolved from the original game which was released almost two decades ago. It is true that current editions have dedicated animation engines depicting on pitch antics and accurately captured crowd effects but it’s not the glitz and glamour than CM fans love. It is the discovery of that un-found talent playing in the lowest leagues, finding that killer formation or making that destructive strike force that drives you to domestic and European glory and in Championship Manager 93 it was no different.
As with all CM games you start with choosing your team. Now I have always a sucker for choosing my team Swansea City, but with the first few CM games player statistics and teams financial status has an element of randomness so two games never felt exactly the same.
CM93 almost fell at the first hurdle on the road to greatness. The Amiga version which stole my youth would take a staggering 40 minutes to create a career and was renowned for getting its knickers in a twist half through and crash. But once that initial excruciating period had passed, time would hold no relevance and before you know-it it was 7 am, you hadn’t done your physics homework and the school bus was arriving in an hour.
So the game loads, after a few choice words from the Board of directors you are thrust headlong into a bevy of menus laid out in a in a grid formation. If you are looking for fancy graphs and detailed graphical representations of statistics then you are going to be disappointed. CM is nothing grids and grids of raw unadulterated data. It is essentially number pornography; every statistics is detailed to the n’th degree. Each player’s career is monitored and constantly updated. For example the games he played for which team, how many goals he scored and what his average rating was. Furthermore there are numerous team statistics like biggest win, highest attendance, most goals in game and lots more. For each division there’s also a top scorer list and an best average rating list which can be quite useful when looking for good players from lower divisions.
That first season at any club was never easy, personalities would clash, star players would want to leave or the fans would be upset by the direction you are driving the team. If you choose to manage a lower league team you would always be battling with the accountants and making and deciding whether or not to sell your prized striker to balance the books or run the risk of upsetting the chairman by driving the team into the red, but be on the threshold of glory. At the other end of the scale teams in the premiership are awash with new money and the lure of the premiership was enough to poach any young starlet.
After the hours and days of crafting your team the attachment you get to players is absurd. You live in dread at the end of each successful season for the horrifying message that “They have achieved all they can at the club and need a new challenge” or the message you would never wanted to receive, “Expected to move abroad at the end of season” this message was the nail in the coffin for your star players’ career at the club. But nothing beats bringing through a player from the youth team to become a European cup winners’ cup winner or International, the care that goes in to nurturing the talent and the unbridled joy when they smash home a winner.
Creating that unbeatable team there really were only four players you needed to sign. Liverpool’s Don Hutchinson, Crystal Palace’s George Ndah, Hartlepool United’s Nicky Southall and Nil Lamptey from the European transfer list. Hutchinson and Ndah would score goals for fun while Southall would provide every assist throughout the season. But Lamptey was the real jewel in the crown. It is rumoured that Ron Atkinson brought Lampety to Aston Villa in the summer of 1994 due to a Championship Manager addicted scouts tip. Lamptey’s case is often cited as an example of the dangers of hyping a teenager too much. At 13 he was playing in Under-20 competitions. Pele hailed him as his natural successor. At 16, he was playing international. He was quick powerful, skilful; he had a natural and instinctive feel for the game: he was, in short, a genius. But personal problems and terrible agents destroyed a career before it was able to flourish. However in CM Lamptey is the player he should have been in real life, if you can sign the Ghanaian wizard silverware is almost guaranteed.
The great things about CM was its ability to devour hours of time even when you weren’t playing the game. In 1993/94 the internet didn’t exist for the mass population. So the only way to learn of players/ formations and tip was through Chinese whispers on the school yard/ pub/ work. You would hear about legendary player who would score an average of a goal a game and never request a pay rise or a formation where you would concede ball possession at every opportunity but for every three shots on target you would score one goal.
With 46 league games and numerous cups a season it takes quite some time to complete. But somehow you’ll always want to play yet another season to see whether you can make it into the European Cup or whatever goal is next.
There are myths and legends about ultra obsessed managers guiding lowly Scarborough to the highest levels of European glory. On route to final they would sit down to and hold imaginary press conferences and play the final game in blazer and tie, and that is the problem, I should say, the only problem with CM, was that it felt real. I would go to bed carefully considering my next formation for the coming away game at Champions Nottingham Forest. I’d yelled at my parents when they needed to use the computer. “Don’t you know I just took Swansea into Europe? Do you even CARE about your son’s success?”
The biggest impact that Championship Manager has had on the football fans world is that there is now no mystery. When Cristiano Ronaldo joined Manchester united in 2003 for 12million the average football fan went Who? And How much? But CM fans knew of his ability and to a greater degree CM fans already knew that the likes of Messi, Teves, Rooney and Xavi would be world class players because CM had already prophesised it.
The main thing that really saddens me is just how poorly CM93 has aged, it is true that CM was never a good looker but with its epileptic fit educing flashing match text or garish menus colours only management simulation fans may feel the urge to play this game. If however you have the ability to look past the 90’s colour scheme and you are either at an age where you have no knowledge of early 1990’s football or you are just intrigued by the heritage of the Championship Manager series I strongly recommend that if you can track down a copy.