In my last blog I encouraged you to Embrace the Random but I’ve got a little secret and I’m sure I’m not alone in this but I, like a lot of you I suspect, have a go to Football Manager team.  A team that I always without fail have at least one save with on every edition of Football Manager.  Because as much as I love to embrace the random there is comfort in familiarity.  Like an old snug pair of slippers if you will.

It could well be the team you support, maybe a big high profile club, or even one you have family associations to.  But sometimes, just sometimes, you become attached to a side via unusual means.  Let me tell you about my “FM” team.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve no links to the area or any ties to the club whatsoever.  I’d love to be able to say I have a Great grandfather who played for the team or an aunt who was the tea lady, but I don’t.

What I do have though is a 32-year affinity with a club that I first came across due to a football management game.  Not the one created by the Collyer brothers that would go on to become Football Manager.  No, this particular game was the first edition of the now discontinued Premier Manger series. Released in 1992.

I still remember purchasing the game for my new Commodore Amiga with my hard-earned paper round money in Boots the Chemist. Which, for the younger readers amongst you, used to have an extensive selection of computer games and hardware too.  A trip to this section of the shop was like visiting Narnia to a gaming obsessed youngster like myself at the time.

On this particular day one game caught my eye straight away.  I was drawn to the box like a moth to a flame and vividly remember staring at the “manager man” on the box with his arms aloft in his resplendent Umbro jacket.  

The front of said box promised me “the most comprehensive and sophisticated football strategy game ever” and in bold lettering it proclaimed that “fame or oblivion, it’s down to you!” this was an offer was too good for an aspiring young manager such as myself to refuse and the purchase was made, despite my mum’s protestations of it being a waste of money.  She doesn’t understand the glory of a spreadsheet-based trophy win I thought to myself. 

I was giddy with excitement and on the journey home my head was filled with thoughts of who I would manage and take to what I concluded would be inevitable glory.  Visions of virtual open top bus parades and statue unveilings swirled around my head as the anticipation grew.

Would I be my hometown team that I support, Swansea City?  They could definitely use my help I thought.  The glory days of the late seventies and early eighties were long gone and the idea of taking them on an unlikely journey back to the topflight had a lot of appeal.

Perhaps I should dive right in with one of the big boys like newly crowned English champions Leeds United or highfliers Arsenal?  Maybe I could manage Wales and finally get them to a major tournament after the devastation of Paul Bodin’s penalty miss earlier that year.  All sound options. 

But of course, I wouldn’t be choosing any of them, because I wouldn’t be able to.

You see Premier Manager had a gimmick, a restriction of sorts, the kind that would be unthinkable and likely commercial suicide these days, because you see, although Premier Manager had a whopping “6 match speeds” and a mind-blowing “five playable leagues” you had to start in the bottom one and earn your way to the top.

What 12 year old me had failed to do was read the back of the box which stated “Each manager starts his career in the Conference League. Depending on the Success or failure of your management skills your team will either find itself leaping up the Divisions on route to the top or languishing with the Part Timers!”

Once I’d come to terms with this shocking revelation and the initial disappointment had subsided, I realised I would have to pick a team from a list of places I’d either never or only ever vaguely heard of.  I remember thinking that Bromsgrove and Yeovil sounded like retirement homes and that Runcorn sounded like a niche English village sport akin to cheese rolling or bog snorkelling.  None of them seemed appealing at all.

How on earth would I choose?

Of course I did what any early 90’s kid would do and I wrote out every team on a piece of paper and cut them out.  After folding each one carefully (no doubt listening to that years mega hit Rhythm is a Dancer, whilst wearing my flashiest day-glo coloured shell suit) I placed them into a pillowcase and drew one at random.  Little did I know at the time that this would lead to a three decade long digital love affair.

A love affair that would go on to have highs and lows.  There would be cup finals and promotions.  The odd relegation and sacking too.  Of course, I’ve also managed other teams through the CM/FM years but in the same way I was drawn to that Umbro laden box in Boots all those years ago I always find myself back in the fold.  Bower Fold that is, the home of my favourite team to manage.  The pride of Tameside.  The boys in blue.  The mighty Stalybridge Celtic.

I’ll be honest I don’t remember a great deal about the finer details of how Premier Manager worked except that a Martin O’Niell led Wycombe were impossible to beat and that you could decide which advertising hordings you had around the pitch.  I had my team though and I never looked back.

I will never forget that wonderful summer of 1992 where I managed to get The Bridge to the third tier and the FA Cup quarter final taking notes along the way and storing them safely in a ring binder, sadly lost to time due to various house moves.

I did eventually jump ship to a big club in the topflight when the offer came but I never forgot Stalybridge.  Most notably during my University days I manged to win a UEFA/Worthington/FA Cup treble on CM01/02.  The league title alluded me, but it didn’t matter, they were my team.  Not my real life team of course but as any football management game aficionado will tell you, it doesn’t matter at all.

I’ve often thought of making the pilgrimage up north to catch a game, as many people with similar stories as myself have done in the past but a part of me thinks that may spoil it.  So I shall keep my support the same as it always was.  A passionate albeit distant and virtual one.

So, as I raise my Stalybridge branded mug aloft (£5.99, ten years ago via post and still holding up rather well) I shall drink to another thirty years of managerial ups and downs with my FM team