The Beautiful Game: Championship Manager - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Beautiful Game: Championship Manager

With the January transfer window now in full swing, Christopher Morley tries his hand at football management... via a PC or console that is....

Aptly enough given the rapid ascent of the Premier League as the summit of English football, 1992 - the year of its formation - served as fertile turf around which developers could really start to bring the experience of management to those who wanted to try it minus at least a decent enough playing career & a good few coaching badges. Perhaps the best remembered of them is Championship Manager, Everton-supporting brothers Oliver & Paul Collyer having founded Sports Interactive from their bedroom in Shropshire & originally releasing the first edition for the Amiga & Atari ST.

It featured every division, at least in old money, from One to Four, with the Premier League itself not coming into play until the 93/94 version, the game's engine subsequently used by Ubisoft to develop a version for French fans dubbed Guy Roux Manager after the then Auxerre boss, allowing for Ligues 1 & 2 to become playable for those on the other side of the Channel. This was then quickly followed by Championship Manager Italia which also made use of the parent game's 93/94 nuts & bolts to fashion an equivalent for devotees of Serie A & indeed B in the wake of Paul Gascoigne's move from Tottenham to Lazio, Channel Four deeming the resulting upswell in interest significant enough to debut Football Italia on September 6,1992 with highlights of Sampdoria against Lazio- the home side boasting Gazza's fellow Englishman Des Walker among their ranks.

It wasn't until 1995, though, that we got several of the features we now associate with the golden age of Championship Manager! Optional audio commentary was provided by Clive Tyldesley, whose dulcet tones can still be heard during ITV broadcasts of England matches, alongside the standard scrolling text updates as a starter.

A greater variety of playable leagues, though, was probably the clincher! Those north of the border could now step into the Scottish dugout of their choice, with Spain's La Liga, Holland's Eredivisie & Germany's Bundesliga also added in for the first time.

Championship Manager 96/97 was arguably where things got real, though! As well as reflecting rule changes across the board including a greater complement of substitutes in the Premier League, upped to five, the Bosman ruling came into force. In effect it legalised the free transfer, & is so named thanks to Jean-Marc Bosman, a Belgian midfielder who successfully challenged his club RFC Liege's right to receive a transfer fee for him after his contract had ended.

You could also cheat to work your way into the national team job of your choice simply by entering the name of the current manager of the country of your choice as your own! In simply entering Glenn Hoddle, say, as your own moniker you could manage England straight away without having to literally make a name for yourself at club level with or without help from a faith healer as Glenn himself tried by introducing Eileen Drewery into proceedings!

The following season went even further towards paving the way for Football Manager, the next step for the Collyer brothers after a parting of ways between Sports Interactive & Eidos. 97/98 was the first Championship Manager to include a data editor & greater number of playable leagues, now upped to nine which was three times as many as previously available.

The scouting side of player recruitment & changing face of the wider football media were expanded upon in time for Championship Manager 3, as was the general player & staff database - well over 25,000 playing & non playing personnel available to cast your eye over.

Steady progress was then maintaned until Championship Manager 4 broke records upon its release on March 28,2003 to become the then fastest selling PC game on its first day of release! Like many teams fast out of the traps on a Saturday afternoon, though, the momentum couldn't last & Season 03/04 was the last entry in a series which had rapidly picked up a cult following.

Coming off the bench in its place, at least, was Football Manager. Sega stepping into the void left by Eidos as Football Manager 2005 gave the Collyers a second wind & allowed them to carry on reflecting the ever changing business of running on-pitch affairs with a new matchday game engine, increased input from coaching staff & the chance to indulge in press conference style mind games with fellow gaffers.

Whether or not Jose Mourinho, the current master of such, is a keen player when not attempting to rejuvenate Spurs, nobody knows! The series itself continues with Football Manager 2020, released last month in case Christmas money still currently burns a hole in your pocket.

Ten years previously the Collyers were jointly awarded the MBE for their services to video games & would tell their local paper, the Shropshire Star, of the origins of what would become Championship Manager via a BBC Micro. Paul would recall of that day in 1983 that...
 “We didn’t even have Teletext back then as we had such a terrible TV signal. I would listen to the radio to get the results, then type them in to the computer and it would update the league tables on the screen. That was my first venture into football programming.”
He would add that they never said...
“...let’s make a football management game. We just kind of did it. Brothers are like that sometimes, you don’t analyse things, you just sit and do it. It was only really for us.”
Oliver's own background as a former maths student also came in handy, as did a select group of test players.
“Our friends were telling us it was a really good game and we’d spend hours on it, having fun. We thought why not send it off to publishers and see what happens? What’s the worst that could happen? They could say no–which most of them did to be fair.”
Paul himself also initially played, his favourite season seeing him completely transform Burnley's fortunes for the 93/94 season!
“I remember being bottom of the division after 10 games. I couldn’t get a win or buy a goal so I set the team up to be really negative to get a bunch of draws. We finished mid table, got promoted the next season and I got them all the way to the top division. It’s funny when you look back on playing the game like that. You start to understand why real managers act the way they do. I was stubbornly determined to prove myself right, and it’s just like that in real life.”
The stuff that dreams are made of, no?

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