There is a variety of reasons why an individual may purchase a new suit. Some people buy a new three-piecer with the aim of chasing a much coveted job promotion. Others purchase such a garment with the intention of wearing it to a wedding, or other family arrangement.
There are also copious citizens, however, individuals who walk invisibly amongst us in daily life, who purchase a smart new suit intending only to wear it after guiding a newly adopted club to a Football Manager cup final. These are the people that spend their summer months discussing which footballers have been released from their contracts with the aim of identifying who the best freebie purchases will be when the new Football Manager is released.
The people who form stubborn opinions on certain personnel in the factional sporting world based entirely upon what has happened in the fictional, and the people who often go days or even weeks unseen without so much as a text or phone call to let loved ones know they are safe. Indeed, Sports Interactive’s scarily addictive simulator has been cited in a full 35 divorce cases, and the game has worked its way into the lives of many, including sports journalists Kenny Millar, Iain Macintosh and Neil White, who decided to take their passion for the game one step further.
This sporting trio began gathering up stories of managerial addiction, tracking down players who were once cult heroes, exploring the extent of certain fanatics’ issues, and putting it all together in their hilarious new book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession.
Brig Sport caught up with Neil White, co-author of the book and co-founder of the Back Page Press Company that published it, to find out what led to the production of the piece, what happened as the writing commenced, and what the future holds for sporting publisher Back Page Press.
White was pleased to declare that he is not currently under the control of a Football Manager-related addiction. “I have the game on my phone, but I haven’t been full on for a while,” said the co-author.
“When it first came out twenty years ago I was playing it pretty hardcore, and then I would have spells when I was off it; then I would go crazy on it again.
“I guess when I met my wife it kind of slipped suddenly; I wasn’t one of the 35 divorce cases caused by the game. You have to make a choice, I think: once you have a real life, and you’re playing the game, one of them has to give way. I just play it on the train now.
“There’s a chapter in there called ‘extreme FM’, and it tells you some of the things people get up to. I was never that bad. I co-managed with my little brother when I was younger for a long time and I think the closest I came to extra-curricular weirdness was when we would argue over who should play where and who we were going to sign.”
White was a founding member of Back Page Press in 2009, but notes that the idea for the book began long before this organisation emerged.
“Before me and my two partners at Back Page Press started up the company I tried to get a book about Football Manager off the ground with a publisher working through a literary agent,” said White.
“Nobody was interested in it though, so fast forward four or five years, and Martin and Jim, my partners at the company, decided to do it ourselves.
“I thought I could just do it to begin with, and get a few contributors on board, but we were really busy with the Barca book and a couple other things.
“Martin knew Kenny [Millar] and knew he was mad for the game, and Kenny is a really good guy for contacts and knows how to work a story, so we thought he could deal with tracking down cult players who are maybe way off the radar, and some of the cult heroes were way, way off the radar.
“We’re talking literally about goat farmers in Accra [the capital city of Ghana] and guys playing semi-pro in Sweden. That’s a hard piece of journalism to get a hold of those guys and get them talking, but he did it.”
Iain Macintosh was the last to join the team, after declaring his attempt to get a similar book into print upon the discovery that Back Page Press were putting it into production. “Someone else from the company tweeted that we were doing the book, and Iain Macintosh tweeted something like ‘I tried to get that book done. I knew that was a good idea,’” White continues.
“Straight away I called him up. I didn’t know him, but I got a number and said ‘tell me about getting the book done, what went wrong and what were you trying to do’. He had tried to get the book, a slightly different kind of book that was more his style, done.
“He’s a really humorous, kind of off the wall, new journalism style guy. I explained the book that we were doing, and said ‘look, there are three or four chapters that you could write, and would be great in your style’, so he said yes and I went down to Newcastle to meet him and told him that I was going to stalk him if he didn’t do it. He did a great job; his chapters deal with 10 years of playing the game, starting in 2001, which was like the vintage year of the game.
“Iain runs that for 10 years, reporting on the world of football in his own unique way, and he also unbelievably arranged for a psychotherapy session and reports on what the psychotherapist says about what playing Football Manager for 20 years has done to him.
“Kenny does the detective work, Iain was the funny stuff, and I went down [to London] on two occasions to interview the guys at Sports Interactive.
“We actually had to pitch the book to the Sports Interactive guys before we began. Friendly guys. If they didn’t want to do it, it wasn’t going to happen; the book is nothing to do with them, but it wouldn’t have worked if they were opposed to it. I wouldn’t say we have their blessing but they were loosely on board.
“With it being the 20- year anniversary, we kind of knew this was our window. The book had reason to exist. So we figured if we couldn’t get it done for the anniversary we weren’t going to get it done, but as soon as we had the unofficial green light from Sport Interactive, we were ready to go. It was good to get it done.”
With the book now on shelves, White has turned his head to the next story in line for Back Page Press, ‘Henrick, Hairdryers and the Hand of God’, a collection of intriguing and hilarious sports tales from a variety of experienced journalists.
“The vast majority of stories in [Henrick, Hairdryers and the Hand of God] are really, really good. If you’re interested in pulling the curtain on sports journalism it is a real hoot, and touching is parts too.
“It’s a totally non-profit book; all the profits go to SANDS, a charity that supports parents of stillborn children. The editor, and the guy whose idea it was, is called Brian Marjoribanks; he’s a sport journalist at the Daily Mail and he and his wife lost a child to stillbirth. He wanted to do a project that would raise money for the charity.
“After that we’re publishing a book about Sean Falon, who was Jock Stein’s number two during his time as Celtic manager. The guy behind the guy; a cornerstone figure in Celtic’s history. We’ve spent a lot of time with Sean, who very old now. Our idea is not to do straight up autobiographies that Theo Walcott writes when he is 20 and hasn’t even had a life yet – we’re trying to do things a bit differently.
“After that we’ve got some top secret stuff going on. We’re focusing on the one project and its going to be short form sports-fiction. It’ll be download only. That where we want to take it. That’s the way it’s going already.”