Join me if you will. It’s time to go back. Way, way back.
In 1989/90 I believe I was about to embark on my second full season as an actual football fan.
Well, as close to being an actual football fan as a Surrey-born middle-class boy living in Farnham with a father who hates football can be.
At the start of the 89/90 season, I would have been 11. Therefore, logic tells me that I would have been playing U12s football for Heath End Wanderers as their goalkeeper.
I would have completed my first season as a ‘Luton Town fan’ – why is that in inverted commas? Quite simply, I’d never seen them play live but had adopted them as a glory boy after they got through to the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final where, as luck would have it, they beat the mighty Arsenal.
The 88/89 season for Luton wasn’t terrible either – we got back to Wembley again in an attempt to defend our League Cup crown but, despite taking a first-half lead against Nottingham Forest, we lost 3-1. And to make it worse, my older cousin (and as we’ve grown older my surrogate big brother) Roger was and still is a Forest fan. And he was downstairs in the living room with my parents with his current girlfriend – clearly having to do the family rounds instead of doing what he’d rather have been doing and watching Forest win a trophy at the famous old stadium.
The 89/90 season, U12s as I’ve said, I’d have been entering my fourth season as ‘a goalkeeper’. Fourth season? That can’t be right – some maths must have gone wrong somewhere.
My first season was U9, and I’d have turned nine in that season, I presume? So that must mean that I started playing for Heath End Wanderers in 1987 and we went on to win a cup in that inaugural campaign, the trophy being lifted in 1988. 88/89 would, logically, have been U10 and my second season, 89/90 – aha – the U11 season and my third season. See, there’s a reason to go back and check these things.
Football was different back then, as we know. After all, that’s why you are reading something on The Football Pink and not scrolling through the clickbait sites telling you about the latest multi-million-pound transfer rumour that’s happening in this ‘window’.
To me as a half-decent-but-not-as-good-as-my-other-cousin-Rich goalkeeper, I was dreaming of ‘making it’. I mean, I was alright in-between the sticks – I was to go on and win Player of the Year this season, represent the League and generally continue on an upward curve if my body could just start growing a bit more.
I was an absolute football nut, like many – and as we didn’t have a great deal of football on TV to watch, it was all about playing the game and being the heroes you’d sometimes get to see on TV but would certainly read about in the match reports, the magazines and comics like Match, Shoot! or Roy of the Rovers.
You won’t need me to remind you that in 89/90 Gazza was now at Tottenham, for example. And he was feeding Gary Lineker who was back from Barcelona. Arsenal were the First Division Champions, courtesy of Micky Thomas’ dramatic last-gasp winner at Anfield as Liverpool mourned the tragedy of Hillsborough.
England were still managed by Bobby Robson, clinging to his job after the embarrassment of Euro ’88 and the hope of qualification for Italia ’90 – and we all know how that ended up.
The First Division landscape was a completely different beast – Manchester United’s boss, Alex Ferguson, was still potless and patience was running out. United finished a lowly 11th place in 88/89.
His fellow Scots, George Graham and Kenny Dalglish were top of the pile – Arsenal, as mentioned, were champions but Liverpool were oh-so-hungry to win it back at the first attempt.
On the other side of Merseyside, Everton were still licking their wounds at falling down the pecking order having been one of the teams of the ’80s. English teams were banned from Europe following the Heysel Disaster and their talented side was breaking up as players, and the manager, wanted to test themselves in European competition. Howard Kendall went to Spain and Colin Harvey stepped up, the side only finishing eighth as well as losing the FA Cup Final to Dalglish’s Liverpool in an emotional all-Merseyside affair.
Brian Clough, well into his later managerial years, led Forest to third place as well as the League Cup.
My team, Luton, having been as high as sixth the season before, finished 16th – two points above relegation – with Middlesbrough, West Ham and Newcastle all falling to the Second Division. But, we did register the biggest league win – a 6-1 hammering of Southampton that I really should remember.
The Gunners’ number 9, Alan Smith, was the top goalscorer with just 23 goals – which makes me wonder where all the other strikers of the ’80s were in that season.
Ian Rush was back from Italy, but it was doppelgänger John Aldridge who topped the Anfield scoring charts – 21 in the league and 31 overall.
Lineker was still in Spain that season and Mark Hughes netted a lowly 14 for United. Ian Wright was still at Palace.
But why am I telling you all this stuff you already know?
Is there an actual point to this very disjointed trip down memory lane?
Of course, there is.
We need to quickly fast-forward to the present day, however.
Growing up, I became (like many) a huge fan of the Championship Manager/Football Manager computer game.
Many hours were lost, particularly on the Championship Manager titles (but then you could also point the finger at Premier Manager, Sensible Soccer, Kick Off and pretty much every other football game out there in the very early ’90s).
Football Manager reappeared in my life in about 2015 and, I am lucky enough to say, was part of my journey into working in both football media and the professional game.
In 2014, I penned my first book – “Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager – the story of Mansfield Town according to Championship Manager 99/00”.
And I started gaming again – and writing about my Football Manager experiences.
Yet, in recent years (OK, FM20 and FM21 – let’s say it how it is) I have lost interest again. This year’s new game lasted less than a month for me – I just find it a bit samey and dull.
Every so often, I boot up an old Championship Manager title just to remember my youth a little more – and they rarely disappoint.
And then I remembered something I had always meant to go back to.
Simon Treanor’s amazing work at recreating Championship Manager 89/90.
Yes, that’s right – Championship Manager with a full, and I mean full 89/90 database.
Using the 01/02 game, Treanor has painstakingly added player after player, league after league to give us a completely playable game for the last season in the 80s.
It is phenomenal, it really is.
So, I now feel it is my duty to do this incredible body of work justice – to take us all back to a nostalgic time in the home of nostalgic football content here at the Pink.
We are going back to that 89/90 season – I just don’t know which club yet.
And trust me when I say, that is the hardest part of even kicking this creative project off – where on Earth do I go?
Where possible, he has managed to keep it all authentic – naturally, due to the game being the game, not every single thing is exactly like the 89/90 season, the European Cup for example, but hey – who actually cares?
It’s got the players, that’s the main thing – that’s what really counts.
But when I say I am struggling to come up with a place to start, I mean it.
In the next post, I’ll show you some of the options that have caught my eye and a glimpse into some of their squads.