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p4head.jpg (8375 bytes)   September 2000

Never ever wanted to be with you/The only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in!/Ooh-ooh ooh! ("Hello viewers!")

This month, chums, it’s time to talk once more about realism. Or rather, football. And spods.

Stop your brain thinking for 168 seconds and listen.



Luckily, all of these issues can be conveniently addressed in one handy topic, namely: Championship Manager.

Recently, between shows at the Edinburgh Festival, I found myself reading some games magazines, one of which included an interview with Paul and Oliver Collyer, the people behind the hugely successful football-manager franchise that is CM. And during that interview, the boys accidentally divulged the secret that revealed just why it is that normal people find the game so tedious, and spods love it so.



The quote from the CM authors that let the cat out of the bag was this one:

"Our manager always plays as Watford and I’m really gutted when I find out he’s won the European Cup after 15 seasons. That shouldn’t happen in the game because it wouldn’t happen in real life. Villa, Tottenham or Everton, yes. Watford, no. We see that as a flaw, so we go back and rectify it."

Don’t see anything wrong with that? Does it sound realistic and fair to you? Let me tell you a story.



For my sins, viewers, I support Aberdeen FC. That probably means nothing to you, so let me fill you in on some background, using the randomly-selected year of 1969 as a start point.

Aberdeen FC are a small provincial Scottish side who in 1969 had been in existence for 66 years. In that time, they’d won the Scottish League exactly once, in 1954, and never played in Europe. They’d also won the Scottish FA Cup just once, back in 1947. It’s not an impressive record, is it? So let’s jump forward, say, 15 years.



15 years, remember, is the time in which the authors of Championship Manager believe it’s utterly impossible for a little team to scale football’s heights and win a European trophy.

15 years in the history of Aberdeen FC takes us from 1969 to 1984. At this point, the team was managed by (now Sir) Alex Ferguson. They won the league that season, taking their tally of titles from one to four (the extra three all coming in the last six seasons). They also won the Scottish FA Cup for the third time in four seasons.



But most importantly, in 1984 Aberdeen were the defending holders of both the European Cup-Winner’s Cup, a trophy they’d won by defeating the mighty Real Madrid in Gothenburg the previous year (having also knocked out Bayern Munich in an earlier round), and the European Super Cup, won the same year by beating European Cup holders SV Hamburg.

In other words, in 1984 Aberdeen FC were, officially, this: The best football team in the whole of Europe.

Let’s jump forward another 15 years.



Moving on 15 years takes us to the 1999-2000 season. Sir Alex Ferguson has long departed, and it’s a decade since Aberdeen won a major trophy. Indeed, the team has declined so badly that they are propping up the rest of the Scottish Premier League, having failed to win a point or even score a goal in their first eight games of the season.

As the season ends, Aberdeen finish a distant last in the league. Despite steady crowds, the club is so poor that they remove the toaster from the players’ lounge to save money. (True.)



It’s a harrowing tale, isn’t it? (Although believe me, it’s not as harrowing as some of it was to watch.) But in case you were wondering, here’s the point.

In just two 15-year periods, Aberdeen went from skint fourth-rate provincial nobodies to being the best football team in Europe, and then back again. That’s reality. The authors of the world’s most successful football management game, though, are so obsessed by the mathematics that they say such a thing’s simply not possible.



Indeed, so obsessed with mathematical "reality" are the authors (and, by extension, the players) of Championship Manager, that when someone playing the game does what Aberdeen (and countless other sides in the past) really did, in real life, for real, they regard it as an "unrealistic" flaw in the game, and actually program it out.

I can’t even begin to explain to you, viewers, how much that depresses me, or how hard I want to smack these people around the head with a fork-lift truck.



If the authors of Championship Manager had been in charge of Buck Bumble, they’d have made it a platform game, on the grounds that, mathematically, bumble bees can’t actually fly. (True.)

Luckily, the bumble bees don’t know this and spend their whole lives happily buzzing about in the sky. And so, metaphorically speaking, should you. Play games that are FUN, not some clueless nerd’s soulless idea of what’s "realistic". Because programmers have as much of a grasp of reality as bumble bees know about European football.

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