It’s been 25 years since the original Championship Manager came out. I didn’t remember this myself, of course, it was in The Guardian, along with this collection of stories from fans of the series. Despite never quite hitting the mad 20-season, multiple-Champions-League-winning heights of many hardcore players, I’ve certainly fallen victim to its time-sucking charms on numerous occasions over the years, so here are some memories of my own.


Championship Manager

Although detailed research and accuracy soon became a hallmark feature, the original Championship Manager, released in September 1992, didn’t actually feature real player names. They were added in the 1993 update, which was my earliest experience of the series. Despite the real names, it wasn’t desperately exciting to look at, and only my Dad’s assurances that it was considered the most authentic football management game of the time persuaded me to give it a second look.

As co-managers of Leeds United, we achieved initial success through the adoption of long ball tactics (much like the real-life team) and the goalscoring exploits of a prolific target man. Swiss striker Frédéric Chassot was that man in the early days, signed from the single list of ‘Foreign Players’ (as opposed to fully functional teams and leagues) available in this version. To be fair, it was more unusual to have non-native players in the early nineties: English sides normally just had one per team as a kind of vaguely exotic novelty (“interest you in this Andrea Silenzi sir? He’s built like a traditional English centre forward but, you know, Italian and that.”)

There was a random element to the stats each time, so he isn’t that good at heading here.

Chassot was replaced by Paul Devlin, a journeyman (and not particularly tall) midfielder in real life but a goalscoring colossus for our Leeds team. Meanwhile Chris Bart -Williams was a high profile disappointment and cultivated a fear of big money signings that remained a feature of my Dad’s approach over the years. Having won everything with Leeds, we moved to Crewe Alexandra in Division 3 to try and do it all again, at which point I think my interest started to wane.

Championship Manager 2

Aside from a couple of data disks, updating the teams and stats, there was also Championship Manager Italia, which gave players the chance to manage in Serie A (the choice of the Italian league was possible due to the success of Channel 4’s Football Italia programme in the early-mid 90s). Championship Manager 2 would follow up on this theme, with different versions allowing players to manage in various European leagues, although only one league could be run at a time.

My own memories of the sequel are mainly of hot-seat multiplayer, either with my Dad or my friend Peter (more on which here). It was also the beginning of my unfathomable association with Swindon Town FC. I can’t quite remember why I chose them: the club had a brush with the big time with some success under Ossie Ardiles and, later, Glenn Hoddle, who took them up to the Premiership as player-manager before buggering off to Chelsea and leaving long-suffering assistant John Gorman to endure a chastening single season in the top flight. Perhaps I thought it might add an extra element of achievement if could revive the fortunes of the team who conceded a record 100 goals and then suffered a double relegation.

The lad’s unsettled, it’s easy to see that. It says it right here.

In game-land, funds were raised by flogging star midfielder Kevin Horlock for the highest price at the outset then rebuilding the side from scratch in an altogether unrealistic manner. My star striking partnership was, at one point, the unlikely duo of Kevin Nugent (signed from Plymouth Argyle) and Dutch international Peter van Vossen (with – possibly – James Scowcroft as backup?)

I also remember the series’ short-lived experiment with audio commentary around this time. Clive Tyldesley, a reasonably big (if also notoriously annoying) name, was brought in to perform these duties, but his non-specific ramblings added little, interrupted the flow of matches, and slowed the game down to a snail’s pace.

Championship Manager 00-01

The 96/97 and 97/78 version of CM2 were more than just seasonal updates: the former added the Italian league as an option, while the latter came with nine playable leagues and for the first time allowed more than one and up to three full league systems to run concurrently. This was all a prelude to Championship Manager 3‘s fifteen playable leagues, although such developments made the game rather processor-hungry and the initial release a bit buggy.

University, and a degree with very few contact hours, were fertile conditions for CM addiction. My PC teetered on the edge of the system requirements, but whacking down the database to minimum enabled a second hand copy of Championship Manager 99-00 to run a single league at a borderline acceptable speed. Somehow, though, I became distracted by International Cricket Captain 2, and the fortunes of Yorkshire CCC took priority over Swindon.

Australian winger Danny Invincible – a virtual legend.

The acquisition of a new computer and the 00-01 seasonal upgrade led to my most hardcore CM period. Late nights were spent scouring through lists of players from various Scandinavian scouting missions, and a squad of talented bargains secured promotion to the Premiership and a succession of comfortable top half finishes. In a nod to realism, though, we were unable to expand our ground and therefore compete financially with bigger clubs.

Despite a reputation as a one club CM man, I left for Newcastle and managed to persuade my replacement at Swindon, one David O’Leary, to sell me my best players at a very reasonable price. We won the league but were frequently thwarted by Glenn Hoddle’s Southampton and a seemingly unstoppable striker by the name of Richard Pacquette (real life: 6 goals in 31 appearances for QPR). Revisiting that Swindon side for my FFG write-up proved to be a bit of a mistake, as I unwittingly besmirched fond memories of the team I built, by having key players (and first-time legends) fail to perform as well second time around.

Football Manager 2006

Although I wasn’t as hardcore as many others, and don’t have any particularly notable life-ruining stories relating to CM, I was nevertheless aware that playing didn’t leave much time for anything else and a new game was not to be undertaken lightly. Championship Manager 4, which for the first time allowed you to watch the on-pitch action as it unfolded, was purchased but largely unplayed, while the chain of shops from which I bought Football Manager 2006 closed down before I got around to installing it.

He’s a good lad, he just needs an arm around the shoulder.

Ah yes: Football Manager – the spiritual successor to/’real’ Championship Manager, after a falling-out between developer and publisher. The 2006 edition still had the magic, despite being tougher than before, and I found Swindon’s relegation battles both invigorating and exhausting. (I also played Championship Manager 2006, and can confirm that, as everyone pointed out at the time, it isn’t as good).

Even though I found myself getting sucked in again, and Football Manager continues to be a commercial and critical success, to an extent, you can never go back. There’s a time in your life for spending all day in your pants in front of the computer, and there’s a time for, er, doing other stuff. Retirement has afforded my Dad the chance to return to the series (although I’m reliably assured he takes regular breaks and remains fully clothed) so, who knows, I could possibly end up giving Football Manager 2048 a whirl one day.