Where can one turn with an addiction? Hallucinations form, images appear where there is nothing, thoughts drift rapidly, inexorably, back to the same place. One’s mind cannot focus on anything, anything other than where the next fix is coming from. I have suffered. I have suffered greatly. Not heroin, not cocaine, not Toblerone. My hands shake as I unwrap the packaging, press the button on the side of the laptop and try to insert the disc. The disc, that thin sliver of joy and despair, slips. I gasp, but eventually it’s in. Load. Load, God damn you, load. I am, of course, talking about Football Manager addiction, and as a new version is imminent, it is a problem more prominent than ever.
Those who have not tried it will never understand. “It’s just a game, it’s stupid, you don’t even do anything, you just click buttons, the computer does most of it”. How I laugh. They have not felt its grasp; the cold, clammy hand that greets your every move. You kick the addiction for a few months, then names come flooding back. Cherno Samba, Tonton Zolo Moukoko, To Madeira, Yaya Sanogo, Khouma Babacar. Legends to a man. Oh the halcyon days. You wonder where they are now. Plumbing the depths of the lower leagues, retired, working in Lidl, fictional, sitting on the Arsenal bench? It does not matter. They are immortal.
Just one quick game. Half an hour, maybe an hour, before bed. You get through the opening transfer window. What’s the time; 10/10:30pm? It is 4am. No point stopping now, just plough through until tomorrow. No sleep? It doesn’t matter, you have signed Bojan. That’s what counts.
There are others out there. You may not see them; they are shamed into retreating under bridges, in alleyways, away from the glare of the real world. They are not helped, they are scorned. I have sought help, but members of Narcotics Anonymous do not take kindly to one’s presence. I tried to explain to them how my addiction was just as damaging as theirs, but if anything that just made the situation worse. They did not listen. I will not hide any more.
There are others who have it worse. There are stories of players dressing in suits for matches, playing the Champions League theme before those big European nights, shaking hands with the opposing manager – the doorknob. Football Manager has been cited in more than 35 divorce cases. My proudest moment was not my graduation; it was an incident a few weeks prior, when Everton renamed Goodison Park ‘The O’Connor Stadium’, having seen their team win 3 consecutive Champions League titles.
I have grown since my younger days. That’s what I tell myself. At 23, my Football Manager time is restricted to playing the Kindle version while travelling. I am currently in my 5th season and on the verge of the title with Leicester City, having brought them up from the Championship. The board have been patient and they are reaping the rewards. They are in the Quarter Final of the Champions League, and have a manager with a proven track record. The Leicester City faithful have never seen 5 in midfield, 2 deep lying midfielders dictating play, a fluid front line, out and out wingers one game, inside forwards the next, one ball playing centre back, wing backs bursting down the flanks, a deep lying forward bringing others into play, crisp, short tiki-taka passing. This isn’t your average side – we are building something special here.
Since I have moved to London and, most importantly, been living with my girlfriend (I have learned something from those divorce cases, and she has been a rock through my battle with addiction), Football Manager has taken something of a back seat. It is secondary now, but nothing can take away those memories. That 2011 Everton first team rolls off the tongue of every football fan on the planet: Areola (not only was he the best keeper in the world, but his name allowed for lots of comedy “Areola makes a tit of himself/boobs it up” remarks on the very few occasions that he made an error), Azpilicueta, Chiellini, Otamendi, Criscito, Hamsik, Sanchez, Pastore, Ozil, Babacar, Sanogo. The heroes.
Yes, my life has progressed, as have theirs. We have gone our separate ways. I have faced my addiction, and Football Manager no longer controls my mind as it once did. Now I can go for hours, even days, without needing my next fix.
As I walk down the streets of London with my girlfriend, hand in hand, in love, the sun shining, I think of all of the beauty that the real world has to offer. We may nip into a pub for quick refreshment on our jaunt around the city. There is football on the screen. Arsenal are playing. I hear the team sheet, and my heart flutters. Yaya Sanogo. I bow my head and a smile creeps across my face. 52 goals in a season. I can feel the glint in my eye, tears welling, my bottom lip trembling. Yaya Sanogo. An idol.