The opening line of The Men Who Stare At Goal instantly resonates with every single Football Manager fan, lover or former player. Why do we love Football Manager? I, like many I’m sure, have spent countless hours of rage at the simulation game. Why aren’t my tactics working? Why does my star player want to a transfer? Does he not know we’ll build something special here?
In truth, Football Manager is like that old jumper or the banger sat on your driveway. You move on, you buy new jumpers and you could buy a new car, but you keep on going back.
Yes, Football Manager is like an old pair of socks. You’re probably better off without it, but you’re still here playing the game and wearing the same socks.
The Men Who Stare At Goals captures the emotions and love that so many have for the video game. With writers spanning generations, it proves that Football Manager captures the heart of its player like no other.
Few capture the emotions of playing Football Manager like Iain Macintosh, who provides the foreword to this book. Iain seems to put words to paper that bring to life his virtual managerial career. In fact, he seems to thrive in the despair of Football Manager:
“I’ve played thousands upon thousands of computer games across 32 years of gaming on over a dozen computers and consoles, but only this one has made me want to repeatedly headbutt the screen until the glass breaks and blood loss renders me unconscious. And yet I keep coming back.”
Iain is well known these days as not only a fantastic football journalist but for his FM trials and tribulations on The Set Pieces. There, his journey with Everton on Championship Manager 01/02 captured the hearts of the community before his FM17 failure with the same club broke them.
Now, he’s managing Celtic; sharing his journey alongside Alex Stewart, who is managing Rangers. It’s his foe, Alex, who has put together and edited this Football Manager anthology.
Alex is no stranger to those in the community, with his Moneyball series on The Set Pieces the stuff of legends. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the way in which Alex approached his Bristol City save changed the way I play the game. Adopting the Moneyball approach to recruitment, Alex set about taking Bristol City up to the Premier League and beyond with a strict set of recruitment policies and rules.
Following in Iain’s footsteps, the pair is carrying the torch for Football Manager writers. There is a rich pool of writers in the community, many channelling their experiences on their own blogs, whilst many still use forums. They, though, look up to Steward and Macintosh as, despite their somewhat questionable record at present with the Old Firm teams, they give hope to the community that it can be more than a game – something I’ve been telling my parents and now my partner for over 20 years.
The anthology features some well-known names throughout the community, including poster boy Chris Darwen, expert tactician Lee Scott and Jonny Sharples, who took things further than most by bringing his star newgen to life, but more on that later.
Stewart leads the way with his introduction, which instantly grabs your attention as he tells the story of 2001’s save with Napoli, where star man Sergey Nikiforenko, a Belarusian attacking midfielder, led him to the Serie A title, the club’s first in over 20 years.
From there, he takes us through his journey – as many of the writers do – where he fell in love with the game, despite a Formula 1 loving family, in 1997 with Champ Man, as it became affectionately known.
Napoli through to Livorno, Bristol City and now Rangers, Alex recalls the saves that make the game special to him, developed his skills as a writer and was the springboard for him and can be for others.
Following on from Alex is a pool of talented writers, each of whom write about their own love and experience with the game. David Black discusses the range of writers in the Football Manager community and how, with the increased media focus on the Premier League, talented writers often get lost. He talks about the main different types of saves, updates and writers in the community, from those offering tactical analysis to the diary saves. He discusses the best ways to get exposure for your articles, the people to connect with and the ways to obtain traction for your work. It really is a useful chapter for any budding Football Manager writer.
Aptly following on from David’s chapter is one from Chris Darwen, who really has lived the life many would’ve dreamt of. You may know Chris, an avid gamer and blogger, from the FM’s official #wearethemanagers video adverts.
Chris opens his paragraph with the following:
“You’ll never get anywhere if you spend all your life playing those bloody computer games!” – My father, approximately every year between 1989 and 1999.
It’s a situation every single player of the game can resonate with. To this day, my father still says “you’re not still playing that game are you.” Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I would sit next to my Dad at a Cardiff City match ever single week and roll off facts about our own and opposition players. “They signed him from Doncaster last year”, “he’s got a great header on him” and even "his middle name is Paul.” He and his friends were amazed by the knowledge and random facts I possessed about players they had never heard about. “Football Manager” I’d tell them.
Chris’ chapter will have you bellowing with laughter throughout, as he describes his addiction to Football Manager with his dry sense of humour and numerous anecdotes. Then you realise what he’s achieved as a result of FM and you’re left in total awe. It really is a story you must read.
In his chapter, Simon Harrison takes you through his journey with Blackburn Rovers, giving a season-by-season updates of the highs and the lows. Sam Kelly, Twitter’s resident Argentinian football expert, explores his love for one of his players, Pablo Hernandez. The chapter, written in an interview format, is a classic look at how Football Manager players invest both their time and their imagination into the game.
Joe Devine tells the story of his failures as Manchester United manager in A Man Who Is Really Bad At Football Manager, whilst Nathan Hindered follows in Kelly’s footsteps with an ode to his favourite FM player, Jay Dasilva.
There are chapters from Alexander Nathan and James Williams, whilst an expert article from Lee Scott takes you through recruitment techniques in Football Manager. He talks about how he uses Player ID’s, something which incorporates a player’s physical, technical and mental attributes, to mould both his recruitment and tactical planning. It really is a fascinating article from one of the community’s best tactical thinkers.
The final chapter in the book is by Jonny Sharples, who tells the story of Ivica Strok, his newgen on Football Manager 2013. If you don’t know the story already, I recommend you go and read it now, as it will have you baffled but equally as impressed by how someone could totally immerse themselves into the virtual world of Ivica Strok.
The Celtic striker, who grabbed 836 goals during his virtual career, has his own Twitter page, has been interviewed by Joe.co.uk, the Bleacher Report and more, and was the subject of a blog written by Sharples. His virtual manager really did throw himself into the character like no FM player ever has – it makes excellent reading.
Strok is also a supporter of CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – a UK charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. The Men Who Stares At Goals is also giving 10% of sales to CALM – all the more reason to buy this book.
The Men Who Stare At Goals: An FM Anthology is simply fantastic. For any Football Manager lover, it is a real life reflection of your journey with the game. Your ups and downs, success and failure and love-hate relationship with the game is personified perfectly by the twelve writers.
Football Manager is an addiction and this book is a reminder that you’re not alone.