Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession by Iain Macintosh book cover
Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession (2012) is a walk through the cult that is Football Manager by journalist and addict (to the game) Iain Macintosh. Football Manager (previously Championship Manager) has been a big part of life for many football fans over the past two decades. Hour upon hour, day after day have been devoted to pursuing that illusive cup win, or battling to survive certain relegation, in what is, in essence, a stats-based simulation of football management. Of course, to players, Football Manager is much more than a giant database and pixel-generated imitation of real-life and, finally, there’s a book for those dedicated players. This isn’t about the glitz of the top leagues and star players, this about the love of the game, the heroes that never made the back pages of the weekend papers, and the fans who play for the joy, the horror, and the unrivalled thrill of (simulated) football management.

Any long-term fans of the Football Manager games will instantly empathise with the author and the contributors – there’s a wonderful sense of shared experience as famous (in-game) players are discussed, personal tales of success and failure recounted, and the joys/pitfalls of FM-obsession shared. The nostalgia these stories invoke in the ardent Football Manager fan is perhaps the strongest feature of the book.

There are interviews with the Collyer brothers, inventors of the game, and current studio director, Miles Jacobson, too. These, while limited, offer some historical information about the game’s development. The relaxed working conditions in the early years are remarkable, but what comes across is the sheer pleasure that all involved take in producing the game. However, much more could have been done with the interviews, and I think fans will have expected something a little more in-depth than a brief outline of the game’s early history.

There are long sections of the book made up of short pieces from Football Manager scouts from around the world, and players discussing their own saves and Football Manager related anecdotes. While these sections all create a sense of community and shared passion, they are also far too long and unfocused. One could have stood a little more background on the development of the game rather than these bloated sections which amount to little more than a collection of forum posts. However, these short pieces are often amusing, and really demonstrate the commitment of players and producers of the game, alike. When one player describes setting his bin on fire to create atmosphere for a crucial tie against Galatasaray, one can’t help but laugh and applaud in equal measure.

There is a section that catches up with real players who were once labelled as ‘wonderkids’ in the game. Again, it’s interesting to read how their real careers have panned out but after a while these stories become repetitive and offer very little. The book closes with a short story about a fictionalised managerial career, written by the author. This feels like filler, but worse it is self-indulgent in the extreme.

The collection of short pieces that make up the book aren’t brought together particularly well, leaving the Football Manager Stole My Life feeling disjointed. Many of the short articles appear to have been left unedited, and this is a real disappointment. That there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors only enhances the feeling that the book has been slung together. Even the interviews conducted specifically for the book are not written up particularly well, and overall one gets the feeling that a lot more thought could have been put into how to pull the various elements of the book together. One thing that is absolutely to the book’s credit is the design, which is interesting and presents the information more as a magazine would than a book. This engages immediately.

It goes without saying that this is a book exclusively for fans of the Championship Manager / Football Manager games; throughout there are jokes that only avid players will understand, and even those that have played obsessively may be hard-pressed to comprehend all the references (many relate to the period around the turn of the millennium).

The games have influenced real football, educating supporters to the nuances of the sport, normalizing the use of statistics in discussion of football, and the ever increasing professionalization of the sport. Football Manager’s (most voluntary) scouting network, too, is the envy of many small clubs, and has even, at times, been utilised by clubs with limited resources.

Football Manager is more than a game to many players – it’s a break from reality, a comfort, and a source of joy (as well as pain). Almost any avid player will admit that far too many hours are wasted in pursuit of transient goals, but the ups and downs are all captured in Football Manager Stole My Life. It’s not the perfect companion to a near-perfect game but it’s in the spirit of the community and understands what brings players back to their laptops year after year.

If you're a Football Manager fan, there aren't a look of alternatives in print. This is a reasonable revery to a game that has obsessed many - fun, but doesn't reach its potential.

Useful Links
Reviews of Football Manager Stole My Life on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of Football Manager Stole My Life on Amazon (US)

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