In late 2008 a young and innocent Will Sharp tossed aside his well worn copy of FIFA 09 in favour of Football Manager 2009, eager to test himself against the juggernauts of managerial simulation. What he envisaged being a simple transference of skills and a continued domination of the digital football world soon descended into chaos as he found himself unable to even compete. Unsuccessful save after unsuccessful save cut short, the intervals between hopeful attempts grew exponentially until eventually he stopped logging on altogether. Truly vanquished, he vowed never to attempt to conquer Football Manager again. Until now.
Chapter 4: Requiem For A Teammate
Captain's Log, 27 September 2017. "Absolutely stupendous!" The commentator's choice superlatives erupt out of the subdued chatter as the ball makes a similarly dramatic 20-yard journey from Gary Hooper's right boot into the top corner of the Blackburn goal. I tear myself away from the celebrations for a second to jot down two quick notes in my journal: measure Gary Hooper, check prices on bronze.
Two minutes later Adam Reach makes the Ewood Park turf his stage as he performs his best Hooper impression, lifting the commentator off his seat once again. 2-0 to Wednesday.
Much to my delight, the commentator is soon waxing lyrical over a third Sheffield Wednesday goal; a towering header from Tom Lees at the back post, his first of the season, though it comes bookended by two Marvin Emnes goals that make the final five minutes absolute agony to behold.
Clutching a handful of my heart as the ball grazes our far post with just seconds remaining, I breathe a sigh of deep relief at the sound of the referee's final whistle. 3-2. Blackburn drop to 7th, we climb to 11th.
On the way back to Sheffield the on-coach WiFi deserts us so my assistant and I conduct an impromptu game of Top Trumps using the notes we have of the squad players.
Our elected time-killer is predictably subdued, especially as Bullen insists on spending "as long as it takes to make each card exactly the same size" to "prevent either of us cheating". I tell him to get a life and take to Twitter to continue ridiculing him publicly before I’m met by the app’s refusal to refresh. Then I remember why exactly we’re playing homemade Top Trumps in the first place.
The game doesn't last long, we're almost home by the time Bullen is done preparing, but as my Marco Matias is beaten by his Barry Bannan on 'estimated market value' my attention is brought to the astounding fact that Bannan is considered to be worth around £10 million.
Come January, should we find ourselves in need of some new faces, there'll be no prizes for guessing who’ll be following ol' Wallace out of the door.
Back on the promotion push, on 1 October, we invite 2nd place Brighton to Hillsborough, eager to build upon the solid foundations of our current two-game unbeaten run. Pre-match opinions are divided, the bookmakers labelling us favourites while the pundits edge the game towards the in-form Brighton.
I consider numerous midfield combinations, struggling to choose just two of Lee, Jones, Bannan and Poyet but eventually, I opt for my most trusted combination, Lee and Jones, and my decision is vindicated in the most emphatic way.
Jones puts the ball on a plate for Lee, ten or so yards from an open goal, allowing Lee the oblige with the opener, before Jones grabs his own with a stunning effort from a free kick.
Our devotion to on-field philanthropy imperishable, we allow our opponents their own period of celebration, Tomer Hemed's goal just before half time the subject, but we hold on thanks to a defensively sound second half performance and catapult ourselves up to the dizzying heights of 8th.
Unfortunately, my high spirits are dampened somewhat by an email that finds its way to me from Mr Chansiri informing me that due to the amount of debt owed by Sheffield Wednesday at this current time only 35% of funds produced by future player sales will be retained as transfer revenue. In English, this means that Bannan is only really worth around £3 million to me. Suddenly my desire to cash in on the Scot diminishes by approximately two-thirds.
As we prepare for our potentially tricky tie away at Huddersfield I am warned of the potential threat from Terriers' striker Elias Kachunga so, naturally, I take the earliest opportunity to single him out as one of our opponent's weakest links. My psychological expertise tells me this should cut the cord on his confidence and force him to horrendously overcompensate in our coming fixture; overplay, underperform. I certainly can't see it firing him up or inspiring him or anything like that.
Upon reflection, my pre-match posturing may not have gone completely as planned, as Kachunga responds to my comments by notching twice, each goal a finger up at my attempts to unsteady him. Thankfully, though, we have two fingers of our own, one named Forestieri and the other named Jones, whose goals are enough to secure a deserved 2-2 draw.
A couple days later we fly the nest again, this time en route for Cardiff. The game that follows will likely go out on the Football League Show post-watershed with a warning that it contains scenes of a violent nature. Much like a variety of native berries such as holly, sumac, cedar, dogwood, mulberry and elderberry; we are willingly devoured by the Bluebirds.
Four goals from four different scorers, Cardiff's flying recruits take it in turns passing around the stick with which they beat to death our waning hopes of gaining anything from the match. And, to compound matters, Hoop-Dogg exits the scene on a stretcher, watched by grief-stricken children peering through shielded eyes, ending the horror show on a tragic and uncomfortably sombre note.
Steven Fletcher replaces the crocked Hooper and is able to grab a consolation late on—his first goal of the season—but nobody cares. Fletcher’s cheery grin is an unwelcome scene at Hoop’s candlelit vigil. Not now, Steve.