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We are the cursed generation. Slaves to our addiction, masters only of our regens. We trudge through every day, holding press conferences in our heads, mapping out transfer policy in imaginary Sunday broadsheet interviews. We agonise over formation, toil over tactics. Sometimes we convince ourselves to micro-manage everything, including the U18 squad. We are the Football Managers.
If the team at Backpage Press achieve anything with our new book 'Football Manager Stole My Life', I hope that we can reassure you that you are not alone in this. We know what it is to sit on the sofa tinkering until 3am, scared to go to the toilet in case the flush wakes your partner. We know how it feels when hours of work fall apart in an injury crisis that extinguishes your promotion hopes for another year. But we also know that there are thousands of others who have got it worse than us. Like the chap who shakes hands with the doorknob before a Cup Final, convincing himself that it's a visiting dignitary. Or the hopelessly addicted student whose friends had to smash the CD in front of him in a violent intervention.
I knew instantly that Football Manager, or Championship Manager as it was originally, would change gaming forever. Unlike the other simulations I'd adored, Kevin Toms' original FM, Tracksuit Manager and Football Masters, this was so advanced it was practically sentient. Back in 1992, the Collyer brothers' debut was largely ignored by the critics. They saw a game that looked more like a spreadsheet. I saw the beauty beyond the numbers.
For the first time ever, this was a game that didn't revolve around you. You revolved around the game. The game did not need you, the game did not care about you. If you failed, the game would get rid of you and carry on without looking back over its shoulder. And that's what made it so compelling. Even without real player names, it sucked me in and dealt a heavy blow to my GCSE prospects.
Twenty years on, very little has changed for me. A father now, with less disposable time than ever before, I still relish the opportunity to sit down with a cup of tea, mapping out a plan for the future of my pretend team, packed with pretend players who battle for pretend cups. I haven't been able to get into a game since finishing my sections of the book, but even as I write these words, I know that my return is approaching. I once had a successful trial for the Falmouth Town third team, so I consider myself 'semi-pro'. That should be enough for a Conference job.
But then again, with everything I've won in the past - a World Cup, the Olympics and the Champions League with FM12 alone - perhaps I'm worth more than that. Perhaps it's time that Fergie stood down to make room for someone who'll actually buy a dynamic midfielder.
We're not idiots. Well, most of us aren't anyway. We know that the world of Football Manager is very different from the world of Actual Football. We don't kid ourselves that our cyber-successes make us Actual Football Managers. We might still think that we know better than Actual Football Managers, but then find me a football fan who doesn't. What we do know is that this isn't a game, it's far more than that. It's an ideological bolt-hole, a sanctuary from reality. It's a place away from the chaos of modern life and the demands of work and family. It's where we can scheme and plot and beam and snarl and win and lose and draw and save and exit only to return hours later to do it all again. It's where we belong.
FOOTBALL MANAGER STOLE MY LIFE is out on August 10 and is available here.