How Football Manager Shaped My Path…

Football Manager 2016 comes out today, and while the game itself has changed in a gargantuan way since I started playing in the 90s, it’s still a hobby that will suck away days of your life.

Before I go into this story I think it’s worth explaining what I’m doing with my life. I’m a football journalist. I was born, and spent the first 20 years of life, in Sheffield, England. I have, however, spent the last four in South Africa, firstly in Cape Town and then Johannesburg.

I visited SA for the first time in 2006 with my folks, came again in 2010, and when I returned for the third time in 2011, it was on a permanent basis. No more loan deals. I’d fallen in love with the country, but it didn’t start in 2006.

Right, back to the story. I think the first Championship Manager that I remember playing was Championship Manager 3 when it came out in 1999. I had just turned nine-years-old and I was new to the whole computer game thing. I’d grown addicted to FIFA ’98 (The one with the indoor games!) and my love for gaming was in its preliminary stages.

I enjoyed CM 3, but that was about it. I got all the games after that, but I think it was Champ Man 01/02 that really got me hooked. It was at that point that I started sleeping less so I could find time to play, and it inevitably affected my schoolwork.

Then, however, Champ Man 03/04 came along. I was 13, and starting to really get into my gaming. I had a handful of friends who understood my addiction. My mates Morley, Iain and Jamie spent just as much time on the game as me, and I think I spent more time with Cherno Samba and Supat Rungratsamee than I did with any of my other mates. I was done for.

Supat Rungratsamee
Supat Rungratsamee

Sometimes we’d have joint games when Morley and I would start a season on a Friday after school and see how far we could get by Sunday night. He’d stay at mine or vice versa, and we’d stand up and play national anthems and shit before big games. Hilarious thinking back.

We’d just got a portable house phone and I remember tying a football sock around my head so that I could speak to Morley, Iain or Jamie while we were playing. My original handsfree kit. I’d also print off my teams so I could take them to school and compare with classmate, Gabe, who always seemed to play with Inter. Ha. Makes me smile.

I remember tying a football sock around my head so that I could speak to Morley, Iain or Jamie while we were playing

I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan, but for some reason that year I decided to start with Charlton Athletic. Now, at 25, I’ve no idea why I made that decision, but I did. Before I knew it I was in 2016 and had turned the Addicks into a global powerhouse, literally winning every single trophy available.

Mark Fish and Shaun Bartlett, who I have since got to know and can call friends, were big players for me on CM 03/04, with guys like Jerome Thomas and Freddy Adu coming in as I made my way up the table. However, it was Lebohang Mokoena who was my favourite. I bought him from Orlando Pirates, as well as Benedict Vilakazi, and that’s when my interest in South African football began.

Lebohang Mokoena
Lebohang Mokoena

Despite being a Wednesdayite, and him playing for Leeds, I’d always been a big Lucas Radebe fan. It’s surreal for me that, nearly a decade after seeing my first ever live game (Wednesday v Leeds), Rhoo is somebody that I can call a mate. I’ve done events with him and he always gives me shit for being a Wednesday fan, however Leeds aren’t doing much these days either.

Anyway, back to Mokoena and Vilakazi. My aunty and uncle had friends in SA, and in 2003 I pleaded with them to bring me back an Orlando Pirates shirt with Mokoena on the back. They couldn’t get a name on, but I got the shirt and wore it with pride. I don’t reckon there were many kids in England with a Pirates shirt, especially not back then.

I started keeping track of ‘Cheeseboy’ as he’s known, finding footage of him online and seeing how he was doing. He was flying at that point and I had high hopes that when he made it big-time I could say that I’d known about him for years.

Sadly things didn’t go that way, and Lebo sadly hit a bit of a slump. He’s now 29 and on the fringes of Mamelodi Sundowns, and I must admit that it saddens me. He’s not had the best of luck with injuries and has only played about 77 league games in the last seven seasons. I still hold out hope that he’ll come right. At least he’s done better than Samba.

When I first came to SA myself in 2006 my mum and dad had these typically tourist plans of buying wildlife souvenirs… Wooden giraffes, glass elephants, shit like that. Me? I wanted my Pirates jersey with Mokoena on the back. I got one. It was a cracking looking shirt too.

Wooden giraffes, glass elephants, shit like that. Me? I wanted my Pirates jersey with Mokoena on the back.

I realised very early in my life that I was never going to be good enough to become a footballer. I also knew that writing was something that came relatively easy for me. It was at that point that becoming a football journalist became the obvious choice. It was the closest that I could get to the game without actually playing.

If you’d said to me when I was negotiating Shaun Bartlett and Mark Fish’s new contracts as a 13-year-old kid that eight years later I’d be meeting Shaun for lunch I’d have told you to put down what you were smoking, yet here I am.

I got to where I am through a combination of hard work, risk and a bit of luck, but honestly, if it wasn’t for my Championship Manager/Football Manager obsession, I’m not sure I’d even be here at all. I wouldn’t have covered two World Cups, two AFCONs and a CAF Champions League final by 25. That game literally did set me on my path.

Thanks, Sports Interactive.

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