BY MARK CARRUTHERS
As a child I like to think I was quite clever at school. Reports and parents evenings always went by without a hitch and I was in the top classes for most subjects. Thoughts were turning towards what subjects I would pick to do at GCSE based upon my ambitions to have a career in Sports Journalism. This was a key part of my life. However, my life was to be ruined by men such as Tommy Svindal Larson, Cherno Samba, Tonton Zola Moukoko and Ibrahima Bakayoko. My concentration levels dipped at school almost as quickly as my results had and all because of one reason. Now depending on your upbringing I am guessing you already know what it is, yep that’s right, it’s Championship Manager or as it’s now known Football Manager.
School days were spent swapping stories of how I had led Barnet from obscurity in Division Three to heady days of entertaining AC Milan in the Champions League in front of a noisy 54,000 capacity crowd at Underhill; a team built around free transfers like Marc Emmers and Erik Nevland and the bargain basement additions of Bjorn Heidenstrom(Leyton Orient), Niclas Alexandersson(Halmstads) and Robert Page(Watford). These were halcyon days for the Bees and I couldn’t get enough of it. Where text books and exercise books were common place in the classroom, printed squad lists from Championship Manager 97/98 were now the norm. Learning about Geography was replaced by learning about the new wonder kid from Argentina, instead of Maths you spoke of rejecting mega money from Barcelona for an attacking centre midfielder you had found from Latvia for pennies and French was replaced by discussions of an epic Champions League win over Guy Roux’s Auxerre.
After scraping through my GCSEs with just about the expected grades, I moved into Sixth Form and with my progression so too did Championship Manager. New features were added and new wonder kids were to be found. I can never forget persuading young Argentinean striker Javier Saviola to sign for my beloved Newcastle United and playing him alongside Alan Shearer. A deadly partnership was formed, all fuelled by the creative force of Swedish duo Kennedy Bakircioglu and Kim Kallstrom. Free periods – laughably called study periods – were spent at my friend Chris Tullin’s house getting our Championship Manager fix, as our Newcastle United side eased it’s way to the Premier League and FA Cup double. Chris – much to my admiration and envy in equal parts – went on to be in a later version of the game after signing for Nuneaton Borough just before the Conference division was added to the game.
Now for the serious part. Just as I would advance from student to worker, Championship Manager would change as well. The game’s developers split from publisher Eidos and this saw the game morph into it’s modern day state of Football Manager. Nothing changed, nothing at all, the addictiveness was there. The game was to become an escape over the coming years, an escape from the monotony of full time work, an escape from a failed marriage and most of all an escape from moods that had a fondness of collapsing almost as quickly as my promising career managing Blyth Spartans had once I had reached League One.
Ah, that Spartans side was one of my favourites too. Youngsters released from Premier League clubs suddenly graced Croft Park. Jimmy Davis(Manchester United), Gary Harkins(Blackburn Rovers), Adam Green(Fulham) and Joe Kendrick(Newcastle United) all played key roles in helping me lift Spartans from Conference North to League One within four years of taking over. Ironically, Kendrick now plays for Spartans and I work for the club in the role of Senior Press Officer – weird how things turn out, eh?
Now at the age of thirty one, I am recently engaged and in July I will become a Dad for the first time. However, I have also just renewed my longest relationship yet with Football Manager as I bought the newest edition on Friday afternoon. It’s a love that never disappeared, something proven by the fact that last year I completed the Three Peaks with my friend Mark Rutter and a key topic of conversation over the three days was, indeed, Football Manager. Although to be honest, most of it was him bragging about how he had achieved so much success at Newcastle they had built a new stadium called ‘The Rutter Stadium’.
Now the bug is back and the obsession levels are as high as they were when I first bought Championship Manager 97/98 way back in my High School days. Where once sat in my bedroom ignoring homework that urgently required my attention to see if I could complete a deal for Rai from Paris Saint Germain, I now sit in my living room patiently awaiting the arrival of my first child in July, brimming with delight at my £18m addition of Southampton’s Adam Lallana at Newcastle United. Championship Manager or Football Manager, either way it is a passion that is far from over and as Morrissey once sang “There is a light that never goes out”.
YOU CAN FOLLOW MARK ON TWITTER @MarkyC1982