Football Manager

Author: Dave E
Publisher: Addictive Games
Machine: Acorn Electron

Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron

Football Manager

If you thought that computers had changed in the last forty years, there are as nothing compared to football. In the Eighties, Football Manager was an accurate simulation of the beautiful game... so players were changing hands for a few thousand pounds, there were only four divisions and (gasp!) there wasn't a sponsorship deal in sight.

Football Manager is a truly cult game. It's hard for modern gamers to truly understand just how many hours were spent by dads and their sons trying to rise from the bottom of division four to the top of division one, and win the F.A. cup on the side. When you look at screenshots of it on the Electron, it looks incredibly sad. Where are all the graphics of Peter Shilton, Brian Robson, Ian Rush and all the other footballing heroes of the day? The answer: Nowhere, because Football Manager was written at a time before its programmer even considered his game would need them.

On the Electron, Football Manager is a purely text-based game. Your role as manager is not to perform sliding tackles or angle throw-ins to your favourite man-crush. Instead you have such exciting options as selling/buying players, printing your status, obtaining a bank loan or viewing the fixture list. You choose a skill level and then try to work out the most favourable combination of players to field in each match. A handy little comparison chart of 'attributes' tells you the total energy and morale currently powering your bid for soccer world domination, plus gives you a total in "skill points" of your defenders, midfielders and attackers. It also compares them with the team you're about to go up against, whilst allowing you to deselect and pick from your team. Deselect players with lower skill points that those you own but are not scheduled to play - this will increase the 'attributes' powering the team and should ensure victory. But not always.

Football Manager

If you were around in the Eighties, you may well remember the announcement of the football results on the BBC, noteworthy for appearing against a completely grey background. "Port Vale 0, Chelsea 1" appeared in a line on the screen. "Port Vale 0, Chelsea 1" droned the passionless broadcaster of choice. And so it continued... Football Manager tries to emulate this with a sort of "slow dot-matrix printer" reveal of the results, including those of the match your own team just played. Ho hum, can you press a key to skip it? No, of course you can't!

After every match, you'll be shown a summary of that week's profit or loss, as calculated by gate receipts, player sales, ground rent and wages (Interesting to see how low those wages are!). I've never dived into the program code to see just how some of these expenditures are calculated but there are some seriously large swings between gate receipts from one match to another - one match I banked a lowly £1,000, the next a whopping £12,000! After most matches, you'll be offered a single player for sale too. If you're flush with cash it can be tempting to snap "anyone" up, just so that, should a player be injured (which happens regularly) you don't have to only field eleven men. However, the game does try to catch you out with high prices for players with low skill levels... so be careful.

Maybe I don't have the imagination I once had but I genuinely struggle to see what we all found so exciting about Football Manager back in the day. Personally I think we had the most fun when we used its customisation utility to change the names of all the real players to those of Class 4P; every time the screen flashed "Goal!", we'd all stop actually playing the game and argue about who it was who had actually just "scored" the goal. Usually because the game didn't tell you and I always believed it should be me. In fact, thinking about it carefully, I even remember a few fistfights kicking off as a result of my so-called friend insisting it was in fact him who scored at least one of the goals... What a fascist really, he *deserved* that fat lip!

Football Manager

I digress but you get the point, I'm sure. This is really a game which existed in its own time in what seemed to be a completely different world. Whether you believe it's worth playing now has to be informed by that history. Or... does it?! To be honest, I've read so much copy about Football Manager being a classic of its day (and so many people like me having whiled away their youths on it) that I'm a bit worried that all this nostalgic pseudo-respect for the game may be dissuading me from the glaring obvious conclusion that by modern standards, it's absolute rubbish.

Because, let's face it, it is absolute rubbish. Even if you can forgive it its crummy screen displays, long waiting periods and repetitive nature, let's just ask, precisely, what do you have to do to win? The answer, on all but the easiest skill level is, boringly enough: Write things down. Why? Because the game is so poorly programmed that you can't call the information you need when you really need it the most. For example, when buying a player, you're prevented from quickly scanning your players to assess their relative skills (and prices) in comparison. The only way you can possibly make an informed choice is to keep a paper-based copy of them updated next to the Electron itself. The same with the 'attributes' - there isn't enough room for the comparison chart and the pick/deselect chart on the same screen so you have to keep making choices and then reacquainting yourself with it whilst simultaneously "remembering" what it "used" to say.

As for the financial impact of taking out a loan, well, those interest payments you're automatically charged seem highly suspect to me!

Still, in what seems now like the parallel universe in which it was released, it got rave reviews. Electron User said, "I doubt that this game will ever be bettered" and Acorn User found it simply "excellent". The original, small box, release of Football Manager has become hard-to-find over the past couple of years but the later double-sized version still comes up pretty regularly in the usual places. Except to pay between £1-£5.

Dave E

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