When we're not writing about football here on Roker Report, we spend most of our time reading about it. Any other spare time, and we'll probably dabble in playing a game or two.
Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there was a book being released covering the rise and rise of the Football Manager series. This was a game that I've grown up on since a youngster, when a big blue box with yellow lettering spelling out 'CM3' made its way into my present pile on my eighth birthday.
Since then there have been long nights and gruelling games, all adding up into far too much time wasted in front of a computer screen. But, refusing to stop FM taking over my life just yet, I quickly got on the blower to the book's publishers, desperately seeking a review copy.
They kindly obliged, so here we go...
Really, what is most surprising is that it has taken this long.
Football Manager - and its previous moniker, Championship Manager - has been a part of the footballing consciousness for two decades now. Year after year, week after week, day after day and hour after hour, previously sane football aficionados have sat in front of a computer screen, willing on a bunch of virtual men. The game has ruined marriages, destroyed social lives, and some enterprising souls the platform from which to apply (unsuccessfully) for real life jobs in football management. It is completely barmy - and yet completely understandable too.
Now, finally, someone has written a book about it all. Football Stole My Life is the perfect title for a work on the history of the game and the experiences it has brought; 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession is undoubtedly an apt sub-title.
Where the game itself is largely an individual labour of love - network games with friends were fun, but lacked the longevity of solo pursuits - the book is a collaborative effort. Both Neil White and Iain Macintosh had previously tried to get a book on topic published, to no avail.
Macintosh (a sporadic guest here on Roker Report) moved on to other things, but White's optimism remained. Unable to find a publisher, he promptly set up his own company - BackPage Press. Now, under that label, he and Macintosh have been joined by Kenny Millar, another FM obsessive, and used the experiences of the thousands of other loyal gamers to put together this compelling piece.
Football Manager itself is a strange game from the offset. As Macintosh details, one of the reasons it so convincingly reels in the punters is that, simply, the game doesn't need you. Whereas almost every other computer game known to man is entirely reliant on the user continuing the game experience, this franchise dispenses with the niceties, just as the real football world does. One bad run of form, a few dodgy signings - bye bye Mr Manager.
Hence, the book is not just the work of the three main authors. Instead, it relies heavily on contributions from the legions of FM fans. Whole sections of the book consist entirely of anecdotes and tales offered up by the average Joe - with mixed results.
On the one hand, the personal touch provided by this decision allows the book to resonate with its audience. Indeed, the funniest pieces of this 200-odd word tome are those stories offered up by what can only be described as "FM nutters" - the lad who set his bin on fire ahead of a Champions League tie in Galatasaray to make the game 'more atmospheric' deserves particular praise.
The drawback is that the writing suffers in places. The anecdotes have been left untampered with by the three main writers, and rightly so, but the problem with that is that each tale is told in a different manner. Good writing requires a continuity of thought and process - the book perhaps stretches itself a little too far in hoping that writings by a host of different amateurs would go together seamlessly.
That said, it is a minor complaint, and one that scarcely takes away from the quality of the book overall. The pieces contributed by the three main authors are sterling pieces of work that really add some depth to the topic at hand, as does the book's initial stage where the game's founders are interviewed and tell the tale of its progression from bedroom to the wider world. One of the best sections comes at the very end, with Macintosh's 'Heidenheim Chronicles' - a story built around his troubles when managing a lower division German side, one which has you simultaneously guffawing and questioning the author's mental sanity.
The book mirrors the game in its style too. Just as when playing, the reader can easily dip into this work every now and then, with the book being split up into clearly defined sections that needn't be read in any particular order. Accordingly though, again like the game, once the book takes hold it is difficult to put down, and many will find themselves rattling through it before firing up FM for 'just one more game'.
The individual sections differ wildly, showing the extent of the game's influence over the past twenty years. There are pages discussing FM's charity work in Africa - through the 'War Child' cause - while a whole segment is devoted to catching up with the game's stars in real life. This part is especially interesting, if only because it allows those players to wonder what their lives would have been like if they could have lived up to their in-game potential.
This is by no means a perfect book, nor one that will go down in history as one of the greats. But it strikes a chord with its unique audience, and will get readers hankering for that FM fix once more.
It is hard not to think this is exactly what the authors intended.
Football Manager Stole My Life is available at all good book stores and some crap ones too; alternatively, you can order it on Amazon from HERE