Image credit: ‘The daily commute’ © FM manager Seattle Red
Du Malone writes: I was first attracted towards Seattle Red’s work by the evocative black-and-white photograph that heads the From the Cheap Seats website that he runs. And then I was further attracted by the quality of his own writing on that site.
My interest was further spiked by the interview he did with FM Library. After reading that interview I found there remained questions I’d like to explore — hence this interview, the third in our series.
All interviewers can do is pose questions and then hope that the interviewee plays their part by being forthcoming with their responses. As you’ll see below, Seattle Red turned out to be a model interviewee.
I’m grateful to him for participating so generously in this interview, which was conducted in early April.
In the real world
- Before we focus on FM, I’d be interested to hear about your involvement, in whatever role, with non-virtual football…
|I played competitively through college, here in the States. I was a goalkeeper, and grew up idolizing Kasey Keller – he was several years older than me, but we were from the same town. As a youth player, I played with the State Olympic Development Program teams and was invited to the Region IV camps (encompassing the best age-group players in the western 14 States). In college, I was the starting keeper for 4 years and, up until recently, held the record for lowest career goals-against average. So, I played to a decent standard.
After college, I moved back to the Seattle area, where I’ve lived ever since. I played on various competitive amateur teams, until I destroyed my ankle in 2003. There’s a whole saga surrounding this injury, but the bottom line is this – after 7 surgeries in 5 years, I was left with chronic pain and instability in the ankle, with the latter being so bad that I was walking with a cane before I turned 30 (my wife bought me a very stylish one, at least). Fortunately, thanks to some innovative physical therapy, I’ve been cane-free for a few years now, albeit not pain-free.
These days, my non-virtual football involvement primarily revolves around our kids. We have 3, 2 of whom play competitively. Our oldest son is a goalkeeper; our daughter is a beast…in FM, I’d retrain her to be a libero with an attack duty without even thinking twice.
I’m just “Dad” with them, though. I decided not to go down the coaching road. We’ll talk about the game all day, but I try to avoid “coaching” them. Their coaches are brilliant. I get to stand on the side-lines and be proud. Although being the parent of a keeper is its own special brand of anxiety.
- Help us to imagine you playing…
|The beauty of FM for me is that I can play it anywhere, because you can so easily put it down and pick it back up.
On a busy day, I can leave FM sitting in the background on my laptop for hours, switching over only occasionally, while still making a tiny bit of progress.
Usually, real progress is made during my commute (sitting on a train…) or in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed. It’s how I unwind and relax.
But you might find me playing a cheeky match during lunch, at the courthouse in a full suit, with a cup of coffee in the morning, or late in the evening on the coach with our dog and a few jelly beans.
I’m a big music guy, so I will usually have that playing in the background.
- Your blogging has given plenty of attention to your assistant managers. What do you most look for in your Assistant Manager?
My assistant managers always have a dual purpose – practical and narrative. Practically speaking, given that I have a fair number of demands on my time with work and family obligations, I delegate a fair amount of tasks to my assistant. In particular, he has to be good at dealing with the media. That, and training. Too many clicks for me, these days. I want to keep the season moving along.
As anyone who has followed my saves knows, there’s also a narrative going on in my head that is integral to my love of the save. My assistant is always at the heart of it. Whether it’s Zlatan doing Zlatan things or a fictitious person, the assistant will have a massive role to play. They may just be comic relief. They may be supportive. It really runs the gamut, and in all fairness most of my assistants would probably be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, if one were so inclined.
Most recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been my go-to assistant manager for various reasons. This started during an FM18 save documented on the official SI Games forums, when I hired Zlatan as my assistant at Jönköpings Södra. It was brilliantly insane. I’ve tried to hire him in every save since. He’s everything I could ask for as an in-game character. Although, truth be told, at times I am disappointed when the real Zlatan doesn’t follow the narrative in my head…
- How do you select a save?
|I’ve been playing FM for far too long… Up until the FM15 cycle, I would pretty much do the standard “pick a club and win everything with them” approach. During the FM 15 cycle, though, I found that I was falling out of love with the game.
It turns out that wasn’t quite accurate. I’d simply stopped enjoying that kind of save, a save where the only goal was winning for the sake of winning. I needed a broader objective, however loosely that might be defined.
I took a leap of faith and began documenting a youth-academy-only save with IFK Malmo in the Swedish 4th tier. I haven’t had to look back since.
What was missing? A sense of purpose. A reason for doing whatever it is I’m doing, in-game.
In selecting a save these days, that means identifying a goal at the outset, and trying to accomplish it. Sometimes it is a tangible, well-defined goal – the Nearly Men is a perfect example of this. My latest save, titled The Fourth Glass, is equally straightforward – a club/country challenge where I started with FC Duruji Kvareli in the Georgian 5th tier, which will hopefully see me also take over the Georgian national team at some point.
At the same time, the “goal” can be purely driven by the narrative in my head. I had a wonderful journeyman save on FM18 where my manager was a young Basque footballer, struck down by injury, whose sole motivation was to avenge Real Sociedad’s rejection of him as a youth prospect. A hipster version of the apocryphal Mourinho-hates-all-things-Barcelona story.
- What characterises the way your teams play? To what extent is there a Seattle Red style?
|Since the FM17 cycle, I’ve played almost exclusively with strikerless tactics. I love doing something “different.”
I also prefer to play aggressive, attacking football. One of my favourite tactics of all time was a very fluid strikerless tactic on FM 17, with a libero, inverted wingbacks and an overload mentality.
On FM 20, one of my favourites has been the deep-lying, strikerless 3331 setup with a very attacking mentality developed in collaboration with Guido Merry and Gareth Clarke. I also loved breaking down Nagelsmann’s sharkmouth principles, and applying them to a strikerless setup.
Writing and reading
- In your FM Library interview you mention that you keep an extensive notebook. Go on, tell us more…
|There are typically two elements to a narrative in my save – the day-to-day madness, and then the broader, overarching themes and story that are woven in on a semi-frequent basis. The broad, overarching story is told through offhand comments that readers won’t necessarily catch (right away), in addition to the more obvious constructs.
Of course, the way my mind works, the story is rarely constructed or written in a linear fashion. I needed to have a way to keep track of both the overarching story, and for jotting down the little asides, quips and comments that pepper the narrative.
So, I started taking two separate sets of notes – one set for each component of the narrative. This began as a simple “notes” file on my phone…until I reached the maximum file size the program could handle.
Last year, I moved my notes Google Docs. As of today, I have a 4-page, single-spaced outline for the broader Nearly Men narrative (which encompasses the Toothless Bob story). This helps me keep track of where we are in that broader story, where it’s going, and – most importantly – how we’re going to get there. It also identifies the inspiration for certain elements of the story.
The second file is much more chaotic – a 24-page, single-spaced mix of ideas, quotes and madness, all of which could serve as the creative spark for some element of the narrative. Not the broader story, just something going on, in-frame.
It might just be a single line I want a character to utter at some point. For example, in the Nearly Men I’ve referenced Zlatan’s desire to host his own Burning Man festival, ZlatanFest, as well as Zlatan’s desire to create a Swedish version of peyote. So, of course, Zlatan needs to express some real consternation at some point, when everyone has made the wise decision to not sample his creation: “Guys, nobody is eating the Swedish peyote. Will you guys break the ice, and eat the Swedish peyote?” It’s a line and concept inspired (if not “borrowed”) from HBO’s utterly brilliant Silicon Valley.
There’s also a line that simply says “Zlatan, crystal skulls. Peep Show.” Because, in my head, it makes sense that Zlatan would believe in the healing powers of crystal skulls, akin to Cally, the woman on Peep Show who signs Jeremy and Super Hans’ band, before booking them to play a Christian music festival. It’s one of my favourite episodes of a brilliant show. There’s a 3-4 part narrative that could be woven from this point, nothing more needs to be said. I just need that reminder.
There’s an entire page of ideas for fake Nicklas Bendtner tweets. Because reasons, that’s why.
- FM player who happens to write or writer who happens to play FM?
|Writer who happens to play FM.
I’m a lawyer. My practice is pure civil litigation, representing children and vulnerable adults (e.g., the elderly, the disabled) who’ve suffered extreme abuse and neglect, and going after the people who hurt them (or failed to protect them). But it isn’t like what you see on TV – I spend 95% of my time reading and writing. As much as I love time in the courtroom, we don’t get to argue on our feet as often as I would like. Instead, the heart of my job is telling a coherent, compelling story on paper, backstopped by a persuasive, thoughtful legal analysis.
That being said, legal writing isn’t creative writing. And I’ve always had a strong creative streak, through playing/writing music, primarily. Writing about FM scratches that creative itch for me. Even when I’ve deliberately not set out to write narrative (in The Fourth Glass, for example), you’ll still see hints at the narrative I’m weaving in my mind.
- You’re an inventive writer who, praise be, moves beyond the conventional blow-by-blow save account. What influences have there been on your narratological approach, either from FM writers or literature more generally?
|Tremendous question, that I’m not sure how to begin answering.
I don’t know that I have a consistent narratological approach, beyond trying to convey a story about the save I’m playing, beyond the results on the pitch. If you were to start talking to me about third-person omniscient, my eyes would glaze over.
I approach every instalment of the narrative differently, depending on what it is. I’ve done Hollywood-style scripts, with stage directions. First-person narrative, from the point-of-view of a deranged, homicidal assistant manager who resents the main character (me). I’ve done entire narrative arcs that are inspired by episodes of Community, You’re the Worst, Peep Show, and the Shawshank Redemption, just to name a few. The broader Nearly Men narrative over the years has included numerous references to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere (Hoid has appeared on several different occasions), and even Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The inspiration usually derives from whatever it is that I’m reading or watching, at the time I sit down to write. Or when I pull out the notes file to find something specific.
- From the Cheap Seats is one of a smallish number of FM blogs that takes a collaborative approach. You host several writers. What’s the thinking behind that approach?
|Over those years on the forum, I’ve become close friends with a group of frequent posters on the Career Updates subforum – following each other’s saves, delighting in successes, mourning failures, and chatting off-forum about everything under the sun.
At the start of the FM20 cycle, though, I wanted to do something beyond the forums, in terms of documenting a save.
I decided to go down the blogging road, and immediately invited friends from the forums to join in, as little or as much as they’d like. The other writers are the guys from this group of friends, who’ve decided to take the leap and see what this blogging thing is about.
Half of the fun of FM for me is the community – being able to share my obsession with others. The blog is simply another way to support this group of friends, something we could do together that wasn’t tied to the forum.
- What plans/concepts do you have for future saves?
|I really want to give the Nearly Men a proper run in both Africa and South America. (During FM18, I started a “Nearly Men” save in Africa, but didn’t advance very far – I still regret abandoning this save.)
I also have two ideas for a club/country save that closely tracks my objectives in the Fourth Glass – conquering the football world with an obscure clubs in a “smaller” European country, while also pursuing World Cup glory. I’m not going to mention the clubs by name, though, because they’re relatively unique, intriguing places, and I’m hoping to get there eventually!
- What’s your vision/aspiration for From the Cheap Seats?
|*laughs evilly* *casually gestures to plans for underground lair*
In all seriousness, my sincere hope is that someone out there is interested in and enjoying the stories we’re telling, as incoherent and insane as they might seem sometime. Nothing makes me happier (relative to FM!) than when someone catches a reference I’ve made, or sees “ahead of the curve” and figures out what’s going on based on the trail of breadcrumbs I’ve sprinkled about. If we could inspire someone to create something of their own…that would be the ultimate compliment.
Similarly, over time my love for FM has evolved. For many, FM is about “winning” trophies in-game. That’s fine. These days, I tend to look at it from another perspective – the journey being more important than the destination. My love for the game is so much stronger, as a result. Maybe someone out there is falling out of love with FM. If we could inspire that person to re-engage with the game, from a different perspective, that would be a “win.”
- What else should I have asked you?
|When Nicolaj Bur rolled the dice in the first edition of the Toothless Bob story, did he really create multiple timelines?! Which one are we in?! What is the deal with the statue outside of Athens in the Nearly Men, and the miniature version Nicolaj Bur found?! Why is there also a miniature female statue, that resembles Selene?! Who is Selene, anyways?! Is there a full-sized version of the female statue, somewhere?! Who was waiting for Bob, on the other side of the redstone door that was in the bowels of the Bernabeu?! More importantly…where does that door lead?!
Read and find out. If the answers aren’t revealed in the FM 20 Nearly Men, they will be revealed in a later edition.