The memories are hazy. I know that I would lie on the floor of my bedroom, which I shared with my older brother. I remember the notebook was red. I think I was Glasgow Rangers.
What I mainly remember is the game itself. I had written down a league table, created a fixture list, and I would roll a die a couple of times to determine the score of football matches. Then, for the one team I had deemed mine, I would write an imagined match report in the notebook – assigning goals to favourite players, describing wondrous crosses and terrible fouls – and then update the league table accordingly. I was playing a rudimentary pen-and-paper Championship Manager – or, maybe depending on my age, pen-and-paper Sensible Soccer. I remember it was an act of obsession.
We always had computers in my house when I was growing up, but we tended to only have one at a time. Or perhaps I simply lost interest in the old Amstrad in the cupboard as soon as we got an Amiga. In any case, this meant there were long stretches when I couldn’t play on them because someone else in the family was using it. Without TV or phones or anything else to turn to, I continued to play the football games I obsessed over in my imagination. I filled whole notebooks with terrible match commentary.
When I think back on it now, I wonder how much real football I’d actually seen or heard. We didn’t have Sky Sports, I didn’t listen to the radio, my memories of terrestrial football coverage is mainly of slow ticking text and dull voices on Final Score. I remember friends doing impressions of Chick Young, whose distinctive voice made him a heavily parodied football pundit, but I didn’t know who he was. I’m fairly certain that the commentary I wrote in the notebooks would have been inspired by that which I’d seen or heard in football games of the time.
I don’t remember precisely what age I was when I was doing this. I remember that I would cheat. There were few if any rules to the game: just random dice rolls to determine the scores for every team in the league, adjusted up and down at a whim to what seemed reasonable. But as I’ve written before about Football Manager, what seemed reasonable was whatever told the story I wanted to tell rather than any arbitrary idea of fairness. The story I wanted to tell was of me winning, again and again.
I remember that this notebook-bound football management was just an extension of a series of related activities which weren’t strictly inspired by games. I remember drawing cities on paper, erasing parts of them and re-drawing the buildings half-destroyed as if by bombs, then erasing and rebuilding them new again. I remember inventing my own Star Trek series’ in notebooks, with new ship designs and crew biographies (but no stories, only worldbuilding).
I remember that the notebook game was just one of many game-inspired football activities. For example, my friends and I would call out football commentary about ourselves as we passed the ball around down the park, but we’d include the names of fictional Championship Manager regens among the Roberto Baggios and Romarios of our early-’90s kick-arounds.
I remember that I had a lot of obsessions like this, growing up. I think they were a good thing: in each instance, they steered me towards creative pursuits, ways of entertaining myself when I was alone, and of spending time with people when I wasn’t. Hooray for being obsessed by videogames.
This article was originally written in October for the RPS Supporter Program.