It’s unusual for me to use my Red Revolution column to lavish praise upon the opposition, but I believe there are certain things that Watford fans should feel very proud of having associated with their club.
Firstly, their manager, Gianfranco Zola, is one of the best players to have ever graced English football with his diminutive wizardry. Secondly, they have a firm affiliation with one of the country’s most celebrated musicians of all time – the great John Barnes – who some say is still Britain’s only real answer to Kanye West!
Finally, and most importantly, Watford FC boasts the most credible shirt sponsor in the whole football league.
If you are going to have a shirt sponsor, and I still long for the day when shirts are no longer tarnished by neon torchbearers of capitalist greed, then much better it be the iconic ‘Football Manager’ brand, rather than some soulless insurance company or scourge of the desperate, pawnbroker.
‘Football Manager’, formally known as ‘Championship Manager’, is an integral part of the modern game, giving the ‘football addict’ their fix long after Jeff Stelling, King of Football, is tucked up in his ivory mansion, smoking his regal pipe and supping at a glass of vintage Ovaltine.
For those unfamiliar with the secret society of which I speak, ‘Football Manager’ is a football management simulation game that allows supporters the chance to take the reins at a club of their choosing. You become responsible for team selection, tactics, transfers, training and even the takings at the turnstile. Sometimes the world of football can itself be a cruel mistress; us ‘football addicts’ often need an escape from the escape. Jeff need not even know about it!
What’s more, it allows all of us wannabe managers a chance to prove ourselves in a fantasy football world that is as close to the real thing as we’re ever likely to get?
Of course, there is a downside to this most marvellous of inventions!
Having finally taken Southend United to Premiership glory after eleven years in charge, I decided it was time for me to retire from the game I had grown to love so much. I felt I’d taken the club as far as I could … and made some powerful enemies in the process. Back in the real world, I had achieved nothing. As ridiculous as it seems, a successful career in computer football management, under the pseudonym Alberto Sanchez, is not something you can put on your CV.
So I gave ‘Football Manager’ up and passed the game onto my Dad – a much more sensible, less obsessive character. A week later I returned to see how he was getting on and was shocked by what I encountered.
Dad was wearing a tracksuit with his initials emblazoned over his fast-beating heart, clutching a clipboard that contained various tactical scribblings and a list of potential transfer targets. He had built himself a small dugout, using the cushions from the settee, and was pacing up and down what I can only assume was his technical area. The game had absorbed him, body and mind, to such an extent that around the 70 minute mark, he tapped Mum on the shoulder and told her to go and warm up. Worryingly, this is only a slight exaggeration of what really happened.
Dad had taken on the role of Forest Manager and was doing remarkably well. The year was 2042 and, according to the newsfeed, the planet had been taken over by apes, but Forest were on the brink of Champions League glory nonetheless. It got me wondering if my Dad could one day manage the real Forest team. Would his skills be transferrable to the glamorous world of Championship football?
After all, it’s already been established that you don’t need to have been a professional footballer in order to become a successful manager. Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, two of the modern game’s most prestigious managers, had very modest playing careers. Andre Villas Boas, who has a strong chance of giving Tottenham Hotspur Champions League football next season, has absolutely no playing background. Rumour has it that his rise to prominence was largely down to playing ‘Football Manager’ from an early age.
If you need further proof that you don’t need to have had a professional football career in order to be a successful manager, look no further than the 1994 World Cup Final – Italy versus Brazil. Neither Arrigo Sacchi nor his Brazilian counterpart, Carlos Alberto Parreira, had any professional playing experience and yet both led their countries to the crowning event of the football calendar. You are probably wondering how either man managed to secure a career in football management, long before ‘Championship Manager’ or ‘Football Manager’ ever came to prominence? The answer is, of course, that both were classically-trained Subbuteo players. Where else could they have mastered the art of football management?
If, without the aid of internet forums or performance enhancing drugs, you have forged a successful career on ‘Football Manager’ over a sustained period of time, then you probably have all the credentials to be a successful real-life football manager. Unfortunately, despite the aforementioned examples, the conventions of modern football are such that, unless you’ve had a decent playing career, you will never have your chance to shine at the helm of a professional football club.
My Dad is unlikely to emulate the success of his hero, the late Bertie Mee, who managed Arsenal to a league and cup double during his ten-year reign, despite never having kicked a ball in anger. But on the bright side, the whole family has agreed to come and watch his Forest side play in their forthcoming Champions League Final. Suffice it to say, Dad has hired a suit for the occasion. After much persuasion, he begrudgingly put the open-top bus on hold.
To all you wannabe football managers out there, I salute you. ‘Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it!’