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Why I Hate… Football Manager

Steve Hill on what happens when love turns sour.

It's a shame when relationships end but it's often for the best. Football Manager and me had it all - long intimate evenings, weekends away, the occasional holiday. I'd thought we never split up. But eventually cracks began to appear, the physical side deteriorated, and we became strangers.

As an early adopter of pretending to manage a football team on a computer (i.e. a semi-autistic weirdo), a chronic addiction to Football Manager seemed my inevitable destiny. My first taste was the original Football Manager on the ZX Spectrum, whose bearded creator, Kevin Toms, appeared beaming on the cassette case cover.

(Of course, it's practically illegal not to mention that he and Mrs Toms famously appeared in the Readers' Wives section of Fiesta magazine, an improbable snippet that caused unfettered playground delight.)

The game was a hugely addictive affair (it was even made by Addictive Games - have that, Panorama), arguably bettered only by the lesser known and graphically bereft Football Director.

I can remember once playing that game until the break of dawn; perversely on the same night that weatherman Michael Fish failed to predict a hurricane. While Britain almost blew away, and Hi-De-Hi star Gorden Kaye lay trapped in his car under a felled tree, I remained oblivious, attempting to steer a resolute Chester City side out of the old fourth division.

While I briefly dabbled with something called The Boss at university the Spectrum was eventually consigned to history. I concentrated on developing a debilitating addiction to Sensible Soccer on the Amiga, something that ultimately qualified me for a job on a PC games magazine in Bournemouth.

It was here that I first set eyes on Championship Manager 2. The game appeared in the office one day and spread like a virus. While normal people would have a quick game of Sensible World Of Soccer before repairing to the pub of an evening, a hardcore few would stay behind, transfixed by the green screens of CM2, each locked in his own personal struggle. I wasn't one of them. I dismissed CM2's spartan looks and esoteric gameplay in favour of more obvious delights such as Duke Nukem.

Not much of a crowd in.

The magazine eventually went tits up and it wasn't until some time later that things clicked into place, when I found myself writing a freelance review of an Italian League Champ Man spin-off. This is another event which has somehow been seared into my mind. Just as music is generally associated with a time and place, the same can be true of certain games.

By this time I was practically bed-ridden in a North London hovel. It's a period of misery intractably associated with trying to come to terms with an unfamiliar Juventus squad from the safety of my duvet.

The big breakthrough came in the early days of my lengthy association with PC Zone magazine. At the time it was manned by a couple of Championship Manager addicts, including the editor, who had the vision to put CM3 on the cover - compensating for the lack of graphics with a shiny gold background.

I had to see what the fuss was about. Of course I opted to manage my beloved Chester City, who I still regularly went to watch. My journey down the path to addiction was swift and painless. I was transported back to my nocturnal management habits of a decade earlier, with the key difference that I was being paid for it, though sadly not by the hour.

I soon took over reviewing duties for the game. I would annually bash out the 90 per cent scores along with obligatory previews and interviews with the game's creators, the Collyer brothers, who I came to know reasonably well.