It's the spring of 2006 and the computer room of St.Theodore's RC Sixth Form in Burnley is a hive of activity. Transfer activity. I've just brought Pep Guardiola to Parma on a bosman while Taribo West has just been lured to Turf Moor by a delighted sounding Burnley manager Jimmy Gray and, from what I can gather from his incredulous "OH FUCK OFF" , Al Norwood has just been told that Alexander Farnerud has turned down his offer of a contract at Spurs.
A-Level revision could wait, some hero had installed Championship Manager 01/02 onto the library commies and we were all binning off higher education for a life in a virtual dugout, dishing out bollockings to a series of flashing bars during each angst ridden match. Mrs. Keighley, the ancient, worn out librarian would wander in to announce "Only academic work on the computers!" Jog on, miss, David Prutton's just spanked in an 89th minute free kick to maintain my 100% start to the Serie A season, you think I'm arsed about finishing my Business Studies coursework?
No one's ever discovered who it was who sabotaged the St.Teds' library computers, legend has it that it was a bored teacher's assistant on a mad one on their last day of work placement. Whoever it was, if you're out there reading this love letter to the greatest football management game of all time, you're a hero. And you're also responsible for about a dozen lads having to go through clearing to get into uni.
Anyway, fast forward 10 years (Christ I'm fucking old) and tomorrow marks the release of the latest effort in Sports Interactive's most beloved franchise, Football Manager 2017. Alright, it might be fun discovering a couple of wonderkids and picking up the odd bargain but whereas Champ Man 01/02 could be breezed through at the speed of Sam Allardyce angrily polishing off a six pack of snack sized pork pies, each new edition of FM brings with it a more meticulous set of skills that need developing. I don't actually want to be Pep Guardiola, lads. I'm sat here in last season's Valencia away shorts and a pair of Sampdoria flip flops in front of my laptop, do I look like the sort of person who gives a shiny shite about whether to play Wayne Rooney as a false nine or a trequarista?
The beauty of Champ Man 01/02, aside from the aforementioned Bosman duo of Guardiola and Taribo West, was that not only was it released during a golden era of European football, before many of the era's prodigies had had a chance to develop into underachieving disappointments or money obsessed arseholes, but it was also straightforward enough to enjoy without thinking you might need to take an emergency UEFA A License course to understand how best to set your team up for each game.
Pre-seasons could be prepared and enjoyed within a couple of shrewdly negotiated hours; Hire Kit Carson as your assistant manager, leave all the boring shite to him, bring in Swedish duo Stefan Selakovic and Jonas Lunden, make a move for Julius Aghahowa, keep tabs on a young lad at Sao Paolo called Kaka and try to figure out how Serie A co-ownerships work when weighing up a move for Parma and Inter owned Adriano. Before you knew it, pre-season expectations were being published and the middle of August had arrived, ready and waiting for all your newcomers to make heroes or villains out of themselves. During current incarnations of the game, by the opening game of the season, you're fucking exhausted from trying to figure out how to properly invert a set of wing-backs.
As for the aforementioned golden era of European football that I touched upon earlier, we were spoiled with a bevy of Serie A clubs with massive first teams and even more massive transfer 'warchests'. In La Liga there was more than just Rivaldo's Barcelona and a Real Madrid in the early throes of the Galactico era to enjoy - Deportivo La Coruna were a year removed from their first La Liga title victory and boasting the likes of Juan Carlos Valeron, Diego Tristan, Roy Makaay and Djalminha while Valencia were equally as tasty, with Canizares, Baraja, Kily Gonzalez and Pablo Aimar in their ranks.
Even weaker leagues such as the Netherlands' Eredivisie were worth exploring, given that this was the age in which Rafael Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robin van Persie all began to rise to prominence. As if that wasn't enough, Sweden was pumping talent out, with Kim Kallstrom and the now iconic, almost mythical Kennedy Bakircioglu stealing the show for Scandinavia on the game.
And then the lower leagues, those fucking glorious lower leagues filled with bargain beauties like Matthew Spring from Luton, Cherno Samba from Millwall, Lewis Buxton from Portsmouth and 16-year-old Justin Geocerlin from Northampton Town.
Contract negotiations were a doddle, with relatively few clauses needing to be inserted and no arsehole agents to be dealt with. While such additions to later games obviously add a realistic slant to the modern experience, who wants admin in a video game? I had an easier time understanding the plot to 'Interstellar' than I did renegotiating contracts on FM 16.
Even though the interface of the game was essentially a glorified spreadsheet, it was, and still is, strangely endearing. Clutter free and resplendent with background photos that will land you a fair amount of retweets and likes given some half decent caption work on social media:
Champ Manager 01/02
Champ Manager 01/02
So while Sports Interactive have revolutionised the very existence of the football management sim, evolving what they and Eidos Interactive achieved so impressively between the early '90s and mid '00s, they'll never recapture the passion and enjoyment that was derived from the endless hours lost to this game. They'll also never recapture the hours of revision that were ignored at St.Teds' sixth form during the spring of '06. Again mate, if you're reading this, there's a fair few of us who owe you a pint or three.