I’m not particularly proud of the fact that Sensible Soccer and I have never got on. Even our first, rather negative, mention of the series in the form of a now ancient review of Sensible World Of Soccer (which comes close to being filed under “20-something delights in mildly controversial opinion” or “that thing you like isn’t very good, actually”) came after approximately 12 years of trying and failing to see what everyone else loved about it. I owned the original Sensible Soccer on Atari ST and on PC, and would periodically give it a go in the hope that I’d catch on, before adding SWOS to my collection and, inevitably, hating that too.

There’s little point rehashing my criticisms here, especially as I recently revisited the series. My intention was to approach the games with a more positive and grown up attitude, finding the positives and keeping the snide remarks at bay – which I think I did – but I still couldn’t paper over the bare fact that I still didn’t really like it. Perhaps aided by a concurrent playthrough of the vastly inferior facsimile Football Glory, I found the original Sensi to be basically ok, but replaying SWOS told me that, while my sentiments in 2005 may have been crudely expressed, they remained largely representative of how I felt about the game.

And that is a source of regret, although so is my attitude during the early years of FFG: too keen to stamp on others’ nostalgia and delight in calling something dated and rubbish (although, let’s be honest, the latter can still be rather good fun under the right circumstances). Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2 were two of my most prominent targets, with your correspondent at the time clearly of the opinion that they owed their stellar reputation to a particular generation of games writers’ nostalgia for Amiga multiplayer during their university years.

Ha! That’ll never happen to me, man. I’ll never get to my mid-to-late 30s and be banging on about the games I played when I was younger. I’m better than that: I review games on merit. How does it stand up today, yeah? Is Sensi better than FIFA and Pro Evo? Is it? Is it really? “More realistic”, is it? With those silly little players and their big heads waddling around the pitch and punting the ball hither and thither? Better than the latest footy games with proper graphics and commentary and all that? Pipe down, grandpa.

That’s why we had so few sports games on FFG during the early years. At that point, I still played the latest ones, and the instruction to buy the latest update of whichever series is generally considered the best, seemed like fairly obvious advice: you’ll always have the time and the inclination to keep up, so this should be your default choice forever. The new ones keep getting better and better and make your old ‘classics’ look like shit, never mind the ones that weren’t even considered good at the time.

At some point, I must have realised how misguided all of this was and began (to some readers’ evident dismay) populating the sports section more regularly. Although not everyone may feel the same, I came to see the depth and breadth of old football releases, compared to the annual two-horse race we have now, a rather fascinating phenomenon and usually find something interesting to say about each of them. I also recognised that my own particular modern football series of choice had not, in fact, remained the best option forever and ever, but instead fallen upon critical hard times, and decided to make some time to write about what I considered its glory days.

But it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood that the wheel had turned full-circle: an innocent hankering for a bit of Pro Evolution Soccer 3, and the relative simplicity of getting it going on my laptop (not completely without hiccups, but never are the seemingly modest desires for an oldie stirred more vigorously than when it doesn’t seem to work for no particular reason) soon led to a Master League season, and to semi-regular evening and weekend matches. And, most significantly, to thoughts like “they don’t make ’em like this anymore”, “I miss the simplicity of the controls” and “modern games are too complicated, this just feels right.”

All of which are comments I would happily have mocked had they been made (and they have been made) about Sensible Soccer. It turns out, though, it’s actually fine, natural and normal to have nostalgic feelings for an old football game and not want to dive into the latest FIFA, without necessarily deriding the latter as too complicated.

What’s more, that feeling of getting back into an old footy game that you loved, playing a few matches and being unable to resist firing up a season or multiple seasons and diving full-length into it again, even if it involves repeating some of the same beats – recalling your old tactics, buying and selling some of the same players – is a great thing. It’s distinct and separate from tinkering with some of the mid-table stuff from the past, interesting as that can be, because while you might play, say, The F.A. Premier League STARS for a period sufficient to see how it all works and whether you can get good at it, you already know all of that going back to a Pro Evo (or even Puma World Football) and yet still feel compelled to play for hours, days and weeks.

I also now have more of an understanding of the section of Championship Manager fans who dismiss the latest versions of the series (now called Football Manager) to be far too complex and time-consuming, instead rallying around an older version (generally the 01-02 edition appears to be considered the pinnacle). This sizeable hardcore replay the game over and over again, sometimes signing the same great players, sometimes setting themselves contrived challenges, discussing results and sharing stories via Twitter. My own experience of replaying an old version was unsatisfactory, in that I felt that my alternative version of history had already been written – perhaps my mistake was trying to do exactly the same thing with the same club and players, and when I had less success than before it sort of damaged my old memories.

The Pro Evolution Soccer 3 Master League is a different story though. Can it really be 15 years old? [Yes – a reader]. And so in acknowledging an unapologetic nostalgia for old-school Pro Evo, a series he first played at university, this 37 year-old man comes to realise he is not, as it turns out, any different from, or better than, those Amiga-owning Sensi lovers after all.