INTERVIEW: DOMINIC BLISS
Last summer, three Football Manager obsessives decided to write a book about the game that has captivated a generation of football fans. We asked one of them how the idea for a book came about, what stories they uncovered and which players agreed to be interviewed about their virtual attributes…
Kenny, to begin with, tell us how the three authors of Football Manager Stole My Life - Neil White, Iain Macintosh and yourself - came together to write the book?
I knew Neil White because we are both football writers up in Scotland. He owns BackPage Press, the publisher behind Graham Hunter’s book on Barcelona and a few others, and he came to me with the idea. He asked if I would help out and then he put it out on Twitter that we were working on this book, which is when Iain Macintosh replied saying, “Damn, I wish I had done something like that.”
He had pitched a similar idea to a publisher a few years ago and was knocked back, so when we saw his tweet we asked him on board. That turned out to be a masterstroke because he was great.
Did you think it would be a success?
From a business-sense point of view, it was a no-brainer really because you have an audience of 20 million people. More than that, it was a game that we grew up playing at the same sort of time and Iain was head over heels hooked on it.
So it seemed crazy that you have got all these books celebrating different cult items and there was a 20-million-strong group of Football Manager players out there that we could write one for. It was people who had played the game writing for other people that play it, so the reader was among friends.
How much research time was wasted by you regaling each other with tales of your best Football Manager games?
Well, Neil invited Iain up to Edinburgh, where I was living at the time, and we went out for dinner, where Neil basically just broke down the chapters – he was very much the brains of the operation. He asked me to go off and find 20-30 legends from the history of the game, he left the really zany, offbeat stuff to Iain and he had the bits of football fan fiction at the end.
I think we must have spoken about the book for about five minutes before it very quickly descended into us basically saying, “Oh, you signed him?!” and talking about each other’s Football Manager games. It was hilarious and, although it was a very, very informal meeting, I think we knew that we were onto a winner with the book.
My favourite player on the game when I was growing up was Tommy Svindal Larsen (above). Please tell me that he made the book…
Tommy Svindal was key to the book. He was someone that we managed to crowbar into the book after the initial deadline because I tracked him to a coffee morning in Norway that he went to.
I had three or four contacts for him that hadn’t worked until I eventually got hold of him really late in the day and he is actually running his own football club now, in the bottom tier of Norwegian football.
If you liked Tommy Svindal Larsen on the game, it is worth buying the book for that section alone because he is growing a football club from the grass roots up, playing in this purist Barcelona way. He really was an impressive guy to talk to.
Well, he did have 20 for Creativity, didn’t he?
He did have something like that, aye! But he was such an engaging guy and he knew all about the game, so it was an easy conversation to have with people like him, who knew what I was talking about. Having said that, even in a real life sense, he is a really interesting guy and he is worth tracking down for a feature in his own right because he is a deep-thinking, proper football man.
Were there any players who were completely unaware of their status as Football Manager legends or who were a little offended by the idea that people knew them more for their virtual ability than their real life achievements?
It is a difficult conversation to have with somebody that starts with, “You were good on a computer game 20 years ago!”
However, the very first player that I tried to get hold of was a Scottish boy called Alex Notman, who was at Manchester United and Norwich. I had a phone number, an email address and I sent him a private message on Facebook, but he just wasn’t interested.
Another two spring to mind that snubbed us. Mads Timm, another Manchester United youngster, was up for doing an interview, but as soon as he heard what it was about, he upped and disappeared! Then there was a Belarussian called Maxim Tsigalko, who is a very private guy – he retired early through injury and just doesn’t do interviews, which I could understand.
There was an Icelandic player called Andri Sigƥórsson (below right), who is the all-time best player on Football Manager, and now runs a bakery in Iceland. We sent emails, Facebook messages, got local journalists on the case, but he just wasn’t up for doing it, at all. I had a root around and I haven’t seen him give any other interviews on the subject and I even stalked his brother (who plays for Ajax) on Twitter, but that didn’t amount to anything either.
In general, the response was great – I think I contacted about 40 people and we must have used 30-something of them in the book, so the vast majority of players were right up for it. A lot of them had played the game themselves, so it was an easy sell for most of them.
Tell us a bit about the people who played the game so much, they lost large swathes of their lives to it?
I’ve seen book reviews where it has been called Football Manager Ruined My Life by mistake, which is obviously a Freudian slip on their part.
There was one guy who had split up from at least one wife and one other woman because of it. The last line of his contribution was along the lines of, “It all worked out well in the end. It just goes to show the right woman is out there for you.” There was something beautiful and, at the same time, tragic about that line.
There were 35 divorce cases but on the whole there was nothing too bad and the positive stories outweighed the negatives. One Football Manager addict just randomly got into following Sevilla off the back of playing as them on the game and he actually talked his way into a job as a translator at Sevilla… without speaking a word of Spanish! Then there were stories from guys serving in the army, in Afghanistan and places like that, who said that Football Manager would keep them going.
However, there was one guy whose friends at university staged an intervention, where they held him down and broke the disc in front of him! Three of them held in down on the bed – and he’s just a wee guy, so he must have put a lot into his protest – and they snapped it in front of his face. Thankfully, they took a picture of the intervention, which is in the book.
Were you surprised that people were able to put the game down and pick up the book?
I’ve had a few people say that the only thing wrong with the book was that it forced them to stop playing to read it. I told them we deliberately made it a light read so they can skim through it while the game is loading!
I am cold turkey myself. I tried playing the game when I started writing the book and it very quickly became apparent that the book would never get written if I didn’t abandon the game.
When I was at my worst, I would micro-manage; I would take charge of the reserves and Under-19s teams as well, just to make sure they were playing the same formation as my first team and so that I could bring through the kids. So I could identify with a lot of people in the book, but I never got to the stage of one person in the book, who would shake the bedroom doorknob before and after games, pretending it was an opposition manager’s hand. I never wore a suit for the Cup Final, either, which was another classic. There was even a dad who lined up his daughter’s teddy bears and gave them a press conference, but my favourite story is the guy whose team was playing away in Ukraine, so he opened all the windows and put on a big jacket!