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Love Letters: Championship Manager 01/02 October 31, 2007

Posted by Rob in Articles, Games, PC.
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Every Autumn, a new Football Manager game is released, and every Autumn said game is proclaimed to be the most complete football management game ever made. This is true, but I can’t be the only person who sometime yearns for the pure simplicity of pre-Eidos/Sports Interactive split Championship Manager.

Championship Manager 01/02 coincided with the best Manchester City team I have ever seen, so my affections for the game stem, in some small part, from the fact that a 100-goal rampage to the Division One title was almost guaranteed every time I started a new game. (Managing anyone other than City was, and is, out of the question in any management title.) But it wasn’t just 6-2 wins over Crewe that elevated the final PC edition of the CM3 engine to the upper echelons of my ladder of games, which may or may not exist. It was tight, focused, and got everything it attempted spot on.

In 2003, Sports Interactive unveiled their long-awaited 2D match engine in Championship Manager 03/04. Whilst such a development was a natural evolution for the series, it took away the drama and suspense of a text-based CM 01/02 match. Instead of the game being played out by 22 small dots on the screen, it was played out in your mind, and it was gut-wrenching and exhilarating in equal measures with the emotion usually depending on which team had the ball. Of course, if it all got too much, there was the Very Fast text speed setting, where “Bonazzoli… / GOAL FOR MAN CITY!!” flashing past my eyes prompted a leap of joyous surprise from the chair.

Emiliano Bonazzoli, a signing from Parma, formed a fearsome partnership with Luca Toni in my first season in the Premier League, and often the greatest pleasure in CM 01/02 came from signing a player, and watching him make a big move in real life later on. For example, Toni was the top scorer in Serie A in 2006, and moved to Bayern Munich this summer. Morten Gamst Pedersen, a £250k bargain from Tromso, joined Blackburn in 2004, and popular signing from Hacken, Kim Kallstrom, moved to Rennes in 2003 and Lyon in 2006. However, it’s always slightly worrying when you find yourself uttering “oh, he’s good, I signed him on Champ Man” whilst surveying tabloid transfer gossip.

Not all my signings came via scouting reports or the Player Search screen, though. I once signed a South American forward after seeing an agent link me with him out of nothing. I’d never heard of his name before, and I certainly can’t remember it now, which tells you everything you need to know about how successful he was. Still, being linked to a random player – just like real life – and not just players on my short list added a whole new level of immersion to proceedings. It was this immersion that compelled me to pen a strongly-worded letter to Sports Interactive asking them to explain how my £15m strike force had mustered just seven goals all season in my ill-fated 2003/04 Premier League campaign. Thankfully, I never got round to sending it off.

Perhaps the main reason why Championship Manager 01/02 was so beloved by me was because it was the first time I found myself actively thinking about a game when I wasn’t playing it. Sides of A4 were filled with potential tactical moves and names of players were copied down from newspapers as possible transfer targets. I’ll always remember cheering on the USA in the 2002 World Cup as Clint Mathis (one half of the aforementioned £15m strike force) scored against South Korea in Group D – and then wondering why he never showed the same eye for goal under my management.

Football Manager is undoubtedly getting better and better with each release. Championship Manager 01/02, however, remains my favourite entry into Sports Interactive’s softography, and as their games become more detailed and more in-depth with each passing Autumn, it’s highly doubtful that there’ll be another game quite like their 2001 release. Perhaps the saddest part of this tale, though, is that since upgrading my computer CM 01/02, much like the panic deadline-day signing of Trevor Benjamin, just doesn’t work.

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