Reading Football Club are the exact kind of team absolutely no one cares about. They put the supporters through an emotional Gladiator gauntlet whilst the rest of the world walks on by, unaware of the fact that the team somehow failed to score against a Yeovil Town team with three red cards.
Looking back at my time as a season ticket holder, there’s been some unbelievable highs. When Mikele Leigertwood sent the Royals to promotion by bundling the ball in against Nottingham Forest, I was one of those kids who invaded the pitch afterwards. It’s the feeling that you’re part of something larger than yourself, surrounded by jubilant fans and family, while other fans look on in jealousy.
It’s also because those moments are fleeting. For every pitch-invading victory, there’s also about four defeats at Wembley, falling at the last hurdle before promotion or a cup final. To support a team like Reading, you have to be extremely ready to deal with mountains of disappointment and sadness just to feel something every so often, like that time Pavel Pogrebnyak chipped the West Brom keeper deep in stoppage time to clinch a hilariously undeserved victory.
The thing about Football Manager is that these rare moments are compressed. Want to feel like I did during my years in the east stand at the Madejski Stadium? Don’t want to deal with the disappointment of standing in the freezing cold drinking scalding coffee and watching the revolving door of managers fail to inspire the team like Brian McDermott once did? Football Manager 2012 was the first game to scratch the sportsball itch for real. FIFA lets you scam your way to the top with easy difficulty modes, but Football Manager forces you to take the rough with the slightly-less-rough, and makes victories feel genuinely earned when your team’s iteration of Adam Le Fondre comes in extremely clutch.
I got Reading to win the Champions’ League in FM2012, and it’s still one of my greatest achievements in gaming. And in life, to be honest. I still remember the generated player from my youth academy, Zhang Wan, getting a record-breaking season and scoring a well-deserved winner after I’d worked for seasons upon seasons to craft the perfect squad. You’ll get attached to footballers who don’t exist, ruthlessly sell off your favourite IRL players, and achieve an overinflated ego on your ability to actually be a manager of a football team. Or a manager of literally anything. It’s really good.