Football management sims is a video game genre that we could write a whole book about. It’s a hugely interesting topic and there have been dozens of games over the years that would fit into the category. My history with them is fairly brief, but it has kind of been triggered by a more recent phenomenon.

My involvement started right back at the beginning of the genre. Well, very nearly. The mighty Kevin Toms originally wrote the first Football Manager on a Video Genie, and then converted it to the ZX80 and ZX81. This was a text based affair and a version loved by many. My first memory of it was the next version released in 1982 on the ZX Spectrum. This had the addition of isometric graphical highlights of the matches. But I’m skipping ahead. What exactly is a football management sim? Well it’s exactly what it says. It lets you be a football manager. So you’re not controlling the players during the game itself but rather you’re deciding who to pick in your team, what formation and tactics to play, who to rest, who to buy and sell. Then you sit back and hope your team wins, just like a real football manager! The aim is generally to start with a team in the lower divisions and work your way up, winning league titles and gaining promotion to the higher leagues.

Some people dismissed the genre early on, saying that it lacked the excitement of actually controlling the players, but there is something very lifelike and exciting about the fact that some of the results are out of your control but that you can have a good influence on increasing your luck by using your skill and guile to set things up before the game. Similar early games on the Spectrum had this sort of element too, such as Derby Day, where you bet pretend money on horse races and sit back to watch the results. Nowadays betting on fantasy football is a thing, so that you can supplement your fantasy management with actual flutters either within the app or on another official site, to increase the excitement around your management prowess. But back in the day, even though we were playing on 8-bit computers and watching highlights of little monochrome stick men, it was exciting enough just to watch the results come in on screen.

After several iterations of Football Manager were huge hits, we had other truly amazing games such as Kick Off and Sensible Soccer which included some management elements but focussed more on the physical gameplay. But when Championship Manager (affectionately known as Champ Man) came in around 1992 that’s when things really blew up. My personal memory is that from around 1992-1997 Championship Manager was absolutely massive. People were genuinely getting hooked on it, playing it until the wee hours of the morning every night, trying to take their beloved Wycombe Wanderers to the Champions League Final. I personally never got as into it as some of my friends did. I found it slightly too in-depth and complicated for me. I’m not an expert on football tactics and I kind of preferred the simpler Spectrum version of Football Manager!

Championship Manager has been going non stop since 1992, even though I don’t tend to hear as much about it in recent years. What is interesting, and gets a bit complicated, is that the developers of Championship Manager split from their publishers around 2005. They couldn’t use the name Championship Manager, as Eidos Interactive kept the rights to that name and kept producing games under the name, so Sports Interactive chose to change their game name to… Football Manager. It comes full circle. The modern games have come a long way since that first Football Manager by Kevin Toms in 1982, but it’s nice that the name is kept alive.

As I said, I drifted out of the football management scene a bit, during the peak of Champ Man. But something has sparked the same excitement in me recently. Modern Fantasy Football apps. Now, I tried fantasy football many years ago. Possibly in the late 90s. But I was rubbish at it. I enjoyed picking my team at the start of the year but then I just forgot about it or didn’t keep track of all my players to see who was injured etc. So after a few games my teams would always drop to the bottom part of the leagues. But, the fantasy football leagues have all moved to smartphone apps in recent years and I jumped on board again a couple of years ago. It’s so much easier! I’m playing the official English Premier League app and I love it. It notifies you when your players are injured and makes it easy to replace players or check fixture lists and stats. It really has given me the buzz of early football management sims again. Picking your team to the best of your ability and then sitting back to watch the results come in, which are out of your control, and seeing how your points accrue. 

I had no idea that Fantasy Football actually started way back in 1969 in the NFL. It’s interesting because this past year I have been massively getting back into watching the American Football and I also was playing the NFL Fantasy Football app too. It’s very different from the English Premier League one. I love how they start with an actual live draft at the beginning of the season, where you and your friends in your mini league all vie for the best players in a snaking draft order. It makes it very different from the English football one (where you can all pick the same top players) because in the NFL one only one person can get each top star. Also in the NFL one you have head to head battles each week against another player in your league. So you can have easy or difficult schedules depending on your luck of the draw, which is also a bit like the real life NFL league. But again, it’s so easy how you get notified of player’s injuries and can swap people in and out and choose who to play based on your opponents that week.

As I mentioned earlier, the modern day football management sims are just a bit too complicated for me, and as all my friends aren’t playing them too it’s just not as exciting for me to invest time in. But the Fantasy Football apps, for English football and the NFL are really scratching that itch for me. They are based on exciting real life events and I have several friends playing them that I can go up against. I’m still not very good, but at least I’m having fun!