Saturday, 4 August 2012

Football Manager (1982)

I was a Spectrum kid. Aged only eleven, I became the proud and grateful owner of one of Clive Sinclair’s first colour computers. My parents didn’t earn much money, but they put some aside whenever they had it and when Christmas came around, they usually treated me to a special present or two. In 1982, they surpassed themselves by handing me my first ever home computer.

I’d like to think I repaid their huge expense by using my ZX Spectrum regularly, often spending hours on end typing in a long and ultimately error-ridden program from a magazine. Yet as we know, most kids are mainly interested in games rather than programming, and in the early 1980’s I was no different.

Despite the limited graphics and processing power on offer, most of the titles available seemed quite exciting back then, so when Football Manager came along, it went straight to the top of my ‘must have’ list. Written by Kevin Toms and published by Addictive Software, this was a game that asked you to pick a team, select the right players and guide them all the way to glory in the FA Cup or Division 1. A shrewd footballing brain was required to do so, let alone a bit of luck and a tape recorder that didn’t mangle up your most recently saved game.

Choose your weapon...
There was no fancy title screen to welcome you into the game. Instead, you were invited to choose your team, and by that it should be noted that you were picking a team name, not necessarily the players within it. As a West Ham fan, my game would always begin by typing in 16, after which I'd list my players with a swift press of the rubber key marked 'A'. Luckily for me, the default squad did feature some West Ham players but essentially this was a random selection of professionals from all teams that needed sorting out over the course of a season.

Kenny Sansom - pack your bags...
All players had a skill level from one to five, an energy level of one to twenty and a monetary value. As manager of your team, the first thing to identify was those players that were making up the numbers. Kenny Sansom - sorry, but a skill level of one and an energy level of seven just wouldn't cut the mustard. Luckily, such players could be sold, although whether you were prepared to accept a derisory offer from another team would be for you to decide.

Blackpool - lacking morale
With that out of the way, you were ready to begin your first match in Division 4 – the starting point for your initial league campaign. As advanced warning of what was to come, you were shown the head-to-head ratings for your team and your opponents. Here you could assess the strengths or weaknesses in defence, midfield and attack, along with the energy and morale levels of both teams. If things looked a little shaky, you could tweak your starting XI to make sure you had the optimum score in all areas. There wasn't much you could do about the Morale rating, though, save for winning a few consecutive games.

No goal - and no ball either
There was only so much tweaking you could do, however, and inevitably the match would have to go ahead. Having decided which colour your team would appear in for the season (only black or white, I'm afraid), you were ready to sit back and watch the action. Yes, it was primitive by today's standards, but in 1982 the sight of some crudely-drawn players animated jerkily on a bright green pitch was enough to induce huge amounts of excitement and stress in equal proportions.

One-nil to The Hammers!
The thing to bear in mind is that during the often lengthy match highlight sequences, there was a considerable element of randomness that added a frisson of apprehension to even the most one-sided games. You were never quite sure how many shots on goal either team would get (let alone how many would go in) and on a few rare occasions a shot that seemed to be going off target might be deflected in by one of your other players.

Sure, you weren't told who was taking a shot or who had scored, but somehow that wasn't important. You merely wanted to see whether your team had scored more goals than your opponents, and it wasn't until the final score was displayed that you could finally breathe a sigh of relief that it was all over.

Plenty of goals at Gresty Road...
Having cast an eye over the other results from around the country and assessed your place in the league table, it was back to the drawing board to begin the whole process again. As well as league games, there were also occasional FA Cup matches thrown in for good measure and with a good run of form these could increase your club's income so that you could buy more players or pay off the loan you'd taken out, depending on your financial disposition.

Never mind, Hull - plenty of
games left
Come the end of the season, what with all the buying and selling of players and selection of teams, you probably felt as though you'd had quite an insight into the world of football team management. Naturally enough, it barely scratched the surface of what things were like in the real world – or even the video game simulations that we know nowadays – but the game was a masterpiece of coding and simple gameplay. It caught the imagination like wildfire back in the day and it's a testament to Kevin Tom's work that the title was still on sale many years after it was originally launched.

West Ham promoted!
As an 11-year-old, I loved playing Football Manager and my classmates at school did too. I know this because for one brief period, several of us would compare our results and league positions daily having written the important details down on bits of paper. How's that for video gaming with a social network element?

Football Manager was the first in a long line of computer games aiming to recreate the struggle to succeed as the boss of a top club, and it deserves all the adulation it's received over the last 30 years. In an 8-bit world of simple sprites and basic sounds, it still owns a place in the hearts of those of us that played it, and for that, Kevin Toms can feel rightly proud of his pioneering work.


  1. Ahh the memories...a lot of this rings true but after playing it about 10 years ago for the first time since the emergence of the console generation, it was so dated and dull. Not a surprise but it ruined the nostalgia and excitement of latching onto those moments of 15+ years before. If you want to remember these games fondly, never play them again :).

  2. I see what you mean, Anonymous, but for the purposes of this post I actually played Football Manager on an emulator website and I found it to be quite pleasing in a quaint sort of way. I think you have to prepare yourself for what will be a crude, basic experience when revisiting stuff like this, but if you do, it'll often be less disappointing than you thought!

  3. I had the same version on my Acorn Electron and distinctly remember the penalty for rejecting an offer from another club for one of your squad members was that the player would be immediately rendered "injured" for the next game!

  4. Brilliant - I had a Spectrum +2 in around 1985, plenty of time to load a tape game while I had my dinner.

  5. You're absolutely right, Jamie - a transfer refusal meant an instant injury for your player! That way, you couldn't go round in a cycle waiting for a better offer to come around!! Well remembered!

    I see, Rich - you were a +2 connoisseur, eh?! I seem to recall I wanted one of those for a while back in the day. Hi-tech stuff! :)

  6. Great write up and bought back some good memories. Remember having to press 99 to continue!

  7. Thanks Tony, you're very kind. Oh yes - pressing 99 is the one thing you do more than any other in Football Manager!

  8. People should remember that this game was written by one man. The latest computer games are written by teams of people.

    Football Manager is a coding triumph. It was written in BASIC (this is the equivalent of Ford deciding to make a car out of wood), but despite this the game was a triumph.

  9. I always remember that at the end of each season each players skill randomly regenerated meaning as the season neared it's conclusion it was time to sell your 5 skill players and draft some 1 skill players in.

    Other games worthy of mention are The Boss / Soccer Boss and Tracksuit manager and of course Football Director.

    And now I think about it Kenny Dalglish's Football Manager and Multi Player Soccer Manager.

    I had all these on my Spectrum (and would play them again if the became available on an iPad)

  10. Didn't you ever change the names of the team and the players? That was part of the fun in the 1983 edition, so 'Universal City' could go through the leagues with a midfield of H. Smith, T. Peck, BA Baracus and HM Murdock, supplying the chances for strikers TJ Hooker and V Romano.
    Actually, I think J Hart was in goal, but the number of goals conceded suggested it was Jennifer not Jonathan.

    1. Ah now, Matthew, I don't believe I had the 1983 version of the game. If I'd had that, I'd probably still be playing it now, based on the ability to customise the player names...