Du Malone writes: Some time in middle childhood, I bought a Subbuteo set. Pretty soon, I’d invented my own club.
I forget their name, but I had them playing in the United Counties league. I used Rothman’s Football Yearbook to identify the teams to play against and to calculate where we would have finished once we’d played them all twice.
The team wore a kit based on a memory of watching Corinthian Casuals in the FA Cup: it consisted of shirts with pink and brown quarters and black shorts. Painting the players must have been a fiddly job.
To begin with I invented players’ names, but as the team prospered I imagined signing RW players from various Isthmian and Athenian league teams I’d watched.
Eventually, based on back of the envelope calculations concerning gate receipts, we signed a couple of former Football league players.
The first was Les Massie, a Scot who plied his trade at various unglamorous northern clubs. I knew about Massie because I’d read an article about him in the weekly newspaper, Inside Football.
The paper was unparalleled as a source of news about the world of the lower leagues, including non-league. It provided news not only of the teams and players, but also from behind the scenes — backroom staff and club administration.
I don’t know what the FA would have thought of us paying part-time wages in a supposedly amateur league — but then probably everyone was at it to some degree.
Around this time I discovered some sources of ideas and information about tactics. One was a little paperback by Brian Glanville, which provided a history of the main formations. Coming from a non-footballing family, I found this a revelation.
My United Counties team began by playing 4-2-4, but pretty soon I realised that the 2 were getting over-run in midfield (a phrase that may be familiar to you). Since this was the age of great 4-3-3 teams — notably Harry Catterick’s Everton, with Ball, Harvey, and Kendall in midfield — you might have expected me to follow history by pulling one of the forwards back into midfield.
Instead, I pushed one of the centre halves forward. We then lined up with three defenders on the edge of the area, three defensive midfielders ahead of them, two deep-lying wingers, and two strikers who I liked to keep close to each other.
The wingers were based on players like Stewart Scullion.
Whenever there was a opportunity to do so, I’d ensure that we regained our shape. We weren’t into pressing, of which I’d never heard.
Our pattern of play was predictable but nonetheless successful. First, short-passing between amongst the back six; then out to the wingers, who would take the ball up the pitch (with luck, transforming themselves from Scullions to Jimmy Johnstones) and cross it for my mobile forwards (modelled on players like Alun Evans) to run onto.
There was no way that I could have foreseen the development of a game like Football Manager (FM). I didn’t even own a calculator.
But I realise that what, in effect, I was doing when supplementing Subbuteo with imaginary features was prefiguring FM.
People like to use FM as a sandpit for exploring tactics. The same applies to Subbuteo.
FM has a create-a-club feature. With Subbuteo, you could do that with a paint brush.
In place of the FM database, I had Rothman’s and Inside Football. Waiting for the annual volume of Rothman’s was like waiting for the advent of a new edition of FM.
Inside Football also filled the space occupied on FM by the staff and the board.
There were two big differences though. First, for some reason I went, not from real players to newgens, but the other way round. Second, with FM there is no risk of seriously, or even fatally, injuring your players by accidentally standing on them.
There are many reasons for the attractiveness, even addictiveness, of FM.
I’m wondering whether I’m the only person for whom one of the sources of attraction is a nostalgic one, in which FM functions as a mightily sophisticated Subbuteo 2.0.
I don’t know, but I’m guessing not.