Having become something of a self-appointed poster boy for the game, I even embarked on a ten-day publicity tour of the Far East with two of the Sports Interactive team. During one particularly fractious afternoon, myself and Oliver Collyer beat up a stuffed gorilla at a deserted Singapore theme park.
Still the games came. Winters passed me by in a blur of fixtures. I was always managing Chester City, the game providing a compelling counterpoint to my real life obsession. By now I was in deep. I even wrote two books about the game.
So where did it all go wrong? How did I fall out of love with Football Manager?
There was no dramatic turning point. I didn't have an affair with FIFA Manager or anything like that. It was simply a gradual erosion of trust that began when they started introducing rudimentary graphics and culminated with the arrival of the 3D match engine.
For years Championship Manager/Football Manager was a game that existed largely in my mind. The text commentary conjured images of blood-and-thunder encounters played at breakneck speed.
To see my heroic players portrayed as ponderous, moonwalking stick-men cheapened the experience and broke the spell. It was like Dorothy looking behind the wizard's sleeve. By way of sporting analogy, it's loosely comparable to the exquisite tension of listening to Test Match Special's cricket coverage on the radio, as opposed to the great swathes of televised nothingness offered by Sky. And I write this with the full hypocrisy of having watched practically every ball of this Ashes series live.
Every year I would play the game for a shorter period after reviewing it. The ultimate insult came when the task fell to a younger man. I didn't even get sent the games any more, dropped like a hot turd after a decade of unbroken support.
While I may have invested hundreds of hours into the game, I certainly wasn't going to buy a ****ing copy. There was, however, an intense period of relapse, when I stumbled across a copy of the simplified PSP version. It offered everything I needed, and I rolled back the years with a solid month in bed before the bastard disc broke.
The final nail in the coffin came when the real life club I had supported for a quarter of a century tragically went out of business, and consequently out of the game.
They have successfully reformed as Chester FC, but while Football Manager's database is a terrifyingly exhaustive beast, it doesn't quite stretch to the Evo-Stik League First Division North. As such, I currently have no reason to play Football Manager. I couldn't care less about managing anyone else.
That said, I was recently asked to review the latest release. I tried to make myself care about Queens Park Rangers, something I have unconvincingly been considering doing in real life. Bewildered by an unfamiliar squad and stymied by the elaborate interface, I randomly clicked on things in the manner of a pensioner being introduced to the internet before giving up in frustration.
I know there's an extraordinary game in there somewhere but I no longer have the time or inclination to tease it out. There are few things more pious than an ex-addict, but I genuinely feel I'm better off without Football Manager in my life, which really is too short.
Dear Football Manager: it's not you, it's me...