The other day I was mindlessly browsing the web, clicking on links almost at random, as the time passed me by. I was back visiting my mum in Essex, and was perfectly happy in my zoned-out, ignoring X Factor kind of way. It was at this moment I said something that would start an awful, awful chain of events.
“Ah cool, Championship Manager 2001/02 has been made legally free to download”.
It’s a week later, and I’ve not done anything else.
In my 20 years of playing the series, I remember this game as the best of the bunch. Maybe I’m nostalgic, but to me it highlighted where football-management games hit a zenith. It was all downhill from there. You could almost draw a line at this version to mark when they went from harmless, easy, straight-forward games to becoming all encompassing, relationship-threatening careers. So to say I was excited when installing the game would be an understatement.
The first thing you’re asked to do is confirm your settings. You have a choice of font, and one of them is “Futuristic”. Look at what that actually means:
Apparently in the future we will use tiny capital “E”s instead of normal, lower case “e”s. What a time to be alive.
I love this game already.
(By the way, who even ARE those guys in the background? I mean, I know the one at the bottom right is Bradley Walsh, and the guy above him is Andre The Giant, but apart from that?)
Now, I don’t want this whole article to be me shouting “wasn’t 2001 WEIRD?”, because that would be a pretty terrible article. But seriously, check out these notes I took on the database:
- Wayne Rooney is 15.
- Cristiano Ronaldo is 16. On a scale of 1-20, he has 9 for pace.
- Xabi Alonso is 18. On a scale of 1-20, he has 18 for pace. Yes, he’s twice as fast as Cristiano Ronaldo.
- David May is still at Man Utd.
- The second best player at Manchester City is Darren Huckerby.
- Wimbledon a) exist, and b) are in the First Division.
- There’s a First Division.
- There is also a Third Division. Swansea, Bournemouth and Hull are in it.
- Nigel Martyn is England’s second choice goalkeeper. Behind David Seaman.
- Southend’s best player is Graeme Jones (okay, maybe it’s just me who cares about that).
The future is looking bright, England.
Now, I know I shouldn’t be shocked at how young people are in a game that is based 3 months before the England- Germany 5-1 game, but I’ve actually had to cut down on the amount of things I wanted to say. I could have just sat there looking through each team, occasionally yelling “oh my God, Raul is 24!” and been perfectly happy all weekend. And that’s exactly what I did.
To be honest, if I’d just been sent screenshots of the database I would have been entertained for three days, so actually have a game to play as well is an absolute treat.
The gameplay takes some getting used to if you have been playing more recent iterations. The fact that the match engine is totally in text format is incredibly jarring, and it takes quite a few games before you can gain any idea as to what is actually a good performance and what isn’t.
It’s also weird having so little input from scouts or coaches, and there are no team talks or real tactical changes you can make during a game. There are no press interviews (thank God), and 5 substitutes seem woefully few when you’ve got used to 7. Each player is assigned a position (Steve Stone can play Midfield Right, for example) and you have no idea if they can play anywhere else (such as Midfield Left), or if there is any reason not to play them wherever the hell you want (probably on the bench, given it is Steve Stone).
Steven Gerrard: Better than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, worse than Mikael Forssell.
In essence, there’s so much less to game than the later ones. And that seems to be a good thing.
The problem with the current Football Manager games is that it would be less work to actually manage a professional football team. With Championship Manger 2001/02, you can start a new game (which takes about 45 seconds for it to set up), and within half an hour you’re playing competitive games (unless you spend a fortnight yelling “Robbie Fowler is 26!” like I did). In the current iteration of games you need to take 2 weeks off work and work on it for 18 hours a day just to get through pre-season.
But after a while, it appears the novelty of playing David Batty and Jason Wilcox in midfield for Leeds starts to wear thin. The initial appeal of there being nothing to do starts to become a restraint. Do I really just click “Continue Game” a couple of hundred times in a row? Do I really just read flashing text to watch the games?
It would be like jacking your job in to go back to doing a paper round. At first the freedom and lack of responsibility would be a breath of fresh air (literally, if you’re doing a paper round). But after a few days you’d start to realise that that was all there was, and it wouldn’t change. You couldn’t have a job in which you had responsibilities and required energy, then go back to your childhood part-time job. Much like you can’t have played recent versions of Football Manager, with scouting requirements, team talks and job interviews, and go back to something this stripped down.
Oh, sure, they get a font from 2050, but that picture is the best they could find for the exit screen.
The game is still fantastically fun, but I’m already starting to get a little tired of it. For the sake of my relationships, this is a good thing. But for that nostalgic perception that things were better in the past, it feels like a shame. It turns out you really should never go back.
Still, it’s bloody good fun while it lasts.
Championship Manager 2001/02 Rating: A French national team with Barthez, Thuram, Desailly, Vieira, Pires, Zidane and Henry. But in 2015.
EDIT: Since this review I have taken on the challenge of winning England a much overdue major international tournament. To start the adventure with me click here.