REVIEW BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM -@CArmband
I’ve been watching football for over thirty years and I have lost count of the number of times that I thought that I could do a particular job. Be it a referee missing an obvious foul for a penalty, a striker missing an open goal (I have had to watch Anthony Le Tallec following my own beloved Liverpool) or observing a manager gradually lose their senses on the touchline bellowing instructions at his players in the manner of a man howling at the moon in the hope that it might change its axis. I’ve always found the role of a manager fascinating. Their future depends on trusting the eleven players on the pitch to carry out instructions and hope that they like you. Sam Allardyce recently suggested in a post match interview that the one part of his job he dislikes is the bit between 3pm and 4.45pm every Saturday. Due to the monstrously successful Football Manager series I can actually have a go at seeing how inept I could be.
My own managerial gaming experience was taking Norwich City to within a penalty kick of the quadruple in the 2000/01 series and the game left me behind from there as it became increasingly complicated as did my life when things like jobs and children got in the way. The Championship Manager format steamrollered on until being superseded by Football Manager in 2005 and became a gaming classic with global sales in the millions.
Several key figures have emerged from the franchise and one of the most prominent is Alex Stewart, who has a new book for sale on the subject, entitled The Men Who Stare At Goals. The book is a collection of articles from those who have become increasingly obsessed by the game, and as well as Stewart’s introduction explaining how he became interested in the game, there is a foreword by FM Gandalf himself, Iain Macintosh.
The ten articles vary in tone but the overarching theme apart from the game is that of nostalgia. The writers hark back to their simpler days of growing up; for example James Williams’ recounting of previous computer systems such as the Amiga evoke genuine warmth of childhood memories. Williams discusses his playing during the 1992/93 season as Newcastle United and readers of a certain age will again get a Ready Brek glow when they read about players such as David Kelly and Gavin Peacock, and also see mentions of the Endsleigh First Division. Williams took the game back up after a brief sabbatical and took over Amiens in the lower tiers of the French league system. The game took hold again leading Williams to take a real life trip to Amiens to see his protégés in real life.
Other articles give accounts of breathtaking honesty when it comes to a writer’s relationship with the game and none more so than Chris Darwen’s. He gives a poignant account of his own childhood and the alcohol addiction issues he faced as a young adult. Having played Championship Manager in his youth (again computer geeks will delight in mentions of Amiga’s and the Acorn Electron) and found solace away from his real life issues by taking Barnet to the European Cup final, Darwen found the game satisfied the addictive nature of his personality in later life as he tried to steer a more sober path. The book itself is worth purchasing for this article alone.
My own frustrations with the game are reflected through Joe Devine’s description of an ill-fated mission to manage Manchester United. For me the game became far too complicated after a while, all I wanted to do was to buy and sell players and to manage games. Devine appears to hold a similar mindset and he describes his man management issues with James Wilson and Paddy McNair in hilariously intricate detail. Similar too are Alexander Nathan’s attempts to manage Toronto FC. A brief description of his squad shows he has talents such as Gervinco as well as some rough diamonds but is prepared to give them a go anyway, with the exception of Alexander Bono (its obvious that Nathan may not be a U2 fan). What follows is a tortuous trip through an MLS season in which you can’t help but will him on, mainly due to the self-effacing way in which the article has been writte.
Further articles are Davis Black offering some very sound advice for any budding writers who would like to develop and hone their skills through writing their own FM articles. Simon Harrison tries to do what Michael Appleton, Henning Berg and Gary Bowyer didn’t, namely deal with the Venkys and make Blackburn Rovers great again. I always tried to turn around the fortunes of a relegated Premier League team and try to promote them from the Championship and so this article I found particularly interesting as it was a familiar tale for me. Sam Kelly produces a transcript of an interview he composed with himself when he was celebrating his thirtieth anniversary of managing Chemnitzer FC. This is something I did myself as manager of Norwich; I used to pretend Ray Stubbs was asking me why I’d dropped Javier Saviola so Paul Dalglish could partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front.
Nathan Hildred discusses how he got emotionally attached to the wellbeing of a pixelated Jay Dasilva when managing Chelsea. Again, this resonated with me. I always bought the (then) teenage prodigy Kennedy Bakircioglü and I was genuinely interested in his real life career based solely upon him being the Kevin Nolan to my Big Sam. Lee Scott writes a fascinating account of player recruitment models within the game and Johnny Sharples focuses upon the new-gen that was Ivica Strok.
The wide variety of subject matter is testament to both the depth of the game and also the huge talent of the writers on show. It is obvious that Stewart is a huge fan of the game and his careful selection of articles proves that. The same is said for those who wrote them too (with the possible exception of Joe Devine!). The FM format is more than a game for the contributors; they’ve been playing it for large parts of their lives in some cases. This is an ideal book for both FM addicts looking for fresh ideas to add to their own experience, or an ideal starting block for those who are curious to try their hand at a game that is so popular it must surely have surpassed cult status by now. I urge you all to buy it now.
You can purchase The Men Who Stare At Goals by Alex Stewart by clicking HERE