The year is 2035. I am the manager of Leeds United.
I have Football Manager 2016, but I’ve been struggling to find an entry point. Starting a new FM career is a little like starting a novel you know is going to take you a year to read. I started careers at Manchester United, sighed, and closed the game down; I already knew too much about that story. I started a career with Portsmouth, sighed, and closed the game down; I knew so little about that story that I had no hook to draw me in.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Football Manager is the alternate futures it paints across seasons of play. Stick with a single saved game long enough and the years will progress while all around you players retire and move into management, managers are fired and move across continents, and unlikely clubs are relegated and promoted. That sense of a world beyond your dugout creates the feeling that you’re just a single person within a system larger than you, one that will keep going without you. It also, no matter how unlikely the outcomes, keeps enough stats in memory that you can follow the plot threads and see the logic of how things became the way they have.
The problem: it takes a long time to reach a truly interesting future. Adam’s farewell to his Football Manager 2015 save earlier this week mentioned he was in the year 2052, but the furthest I ever get tends to be around 2030. That takes me a full year of playing the game.
But, inspired by Adam’s feature, I decided to start a new game, I decided to remain unemployed, and I decided to go on holiday. For twenty years. I vacationed from the game’s starting point in the summer of 2015 until December 31st 2034, while the simulation played out unnoticed around me. Then I started to play.
“Play”, of course, means “trawl through the database to see where my favourite teams and players have ended up.” I do this when I generate a new world in Dwarf Fortress, one full of the rise and fall of orc kingdoms, but it’s also broadly the same appeal as naming XCOM soldiers after your friends. Remember that time your mate Jeff panic-fired and killed your pal Dave? Remember that time Jose Mourinho had a five year spell in which took charge of Liverpool, France, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday?
I find this stuff fascinating and have so far been inundating Adam with speculative fiction. He seemed entertained, but I also have this guilty feeling that it’s a little like telling someone about your dreams. I dreamed last night that Everton player Kevin Mirallas would be manager of Chelsea come 2035. I dreamed that my lead striker at Leeds United would be agitating for a move to “bigger club” Brentford, EPL champions of 2030 who are currently 8th in the league.
Or maybe this fits the exceptions about dreams it’s OK to tell: as long as it’s about friends you both know making out, then all is fine. We both know Arsenal, right? So it’s interesting that Football Manager dreamed that Arsene Wenger retired in 2016 and was replaced by Diego Simeone, who remained in position for a respectable seven years. It’s interesting that Brendan Rogers is their current manager after previously having worked at West Brom, Southampton, Fulham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Norwich and for a dominant spell at Everton.
If nothing else, it’s interesting to me. It’s not the far flung future of the year 3000, but I’ve wound forward time to the point where every player is a computer-generated fictional character yet recognisable names are still playing an active role in football. It’s created a bedrock of backstory to the saved game from the very beginning, one which is more interesting than I could find in reality, and given me an entry point for beginning to play. I’ve taken control of Leeds United at Christmas as they sit on the brink of relegation, but my story won’t only be about succeeding or failing to keep them afloat, but about the slow discovery of a past I haven’t seen.
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