Hi I’m John, and I’m an addict

Addiction, Arsenal, Football, Football Manager, London, Yaya Sanogo

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.

A Tale of Two Cities

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When you live in one city for 22 years, it will become home. When those 22 years comprise your entire life, it will become part of you. It will imbue itself on your being, to the point where you forget there is a life away from it. It permeates through every pore, you see everywhere else as a foreign entity, unable to comprehend the idea that there are other lives, other people without the same surroundings, the same accent, the same upbringing, the same pubs and bars and clubs and towns. You have never lived anywhere else, and the unknown becomes almost unimaginable. It is an intangible concept, one that your logic says is normal, but that your mind cannot fully realise. Yes, you will visit other cities, holiday in other countries, but always in the knowledge that you will return. There will always be ‘home’, the place that you feel comfortable. It has been 8 months now since I moved away from that one city. Liverpool and London: under 180 miles, yet worlds, apart.

 

Superficially, the difference would not appear that great. Both are bustling, English cities, both filled with culture and heritage, sharing similar humour, tastes, fashion, music, and all other notions used to determine an area’s character. It is not a move from Liverpool to Thailand, Japan, Papua New Guinea, or Runcorn. The difference in lifestyle is not a chasm (I have heard rumours of sightings of Runcorn – talk of a bridge, even whisperings of a living species in the vicinity, but one cannot begin to imagine what actually exists there). I have chosen one of the easiest transitions available, a move that J.D. Salinger and Howard Hughes would have undertaken without a second thought.

 

And yet, the insignificance of the differences belies their magnitude. I do not have a southern accent. That is far from uncommon in London, one of the most multicultural, diverse cities on the planet. French, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Australian, New Zealander, Italian all mix as one homogenous entity, their differences appreciated and respected, much as they should be. I, however, speak in a tongue seemingly incomprehensible to all. I appear to have developed a rare ability to create a language barrier with people of the same nationality. My words are garbled, my tone deep to the point of inaudible, my lexicon alien. I am subject to a stream of awful Scouse accents, none resembling my voice in any way; a constant high pitched whine from all angles. A suffocating, incessant flow of impersonations. “Calm down, calm down”, “eee fuckk off”, “chickkkennn”. In the workplace I try to adopt a ‘phone voice’, conversing with the City’s professionals in my best attempt at the Queen’s English. I leave a voicemail: undetectable, no trace of an accent. It was perfect. The office receives a call: “I just got a voicemail. I don’t know the guy’s name, he’s from Liverpool”. I take the call. My sentences each receive the same response. “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that”, “can you repeat that?”, “sorry, it’s quite a bad line”. It is not a bad line. I am Northern. I know it. You know it. Do not humour me.

 

I go on a night out. No one needs to hear me when I’m out; the music will drown out my voice. My tone will sound like part of the bass. I take out £50. That was enough in Liverpool, that would get me through from 9/10pm to 5am. I enter the first bar. I am new, I will make the effort and buy the first round (that’s how they do it down here; bloody people with money). There are 5 or 6 of us. One round; my money is all gone. It didn’t used to be this way. It didn’t used to be this way at all. 3 shillings and a smile for a yard of ale – that’s what it was up North. I return from the cash point after a long absence, having walked around the unfamiliar streets. Faculty, La’go, Bumper – that was always the way. Now I am surrounded by other places, other buildings. None of the churches have irreparable bomb damage. The night is getting started; I am settling in, getting to know people, feeling more at ease. “Right, we’re heading home now”. I check the time; it is barely touching midnight. How can this be? What do they mean? Of course. Tubes. The fucking tubes. I calculate the cost of a taxi. No one lives anywhere near me, I would be alone. The taxi costs more than I have in the bank. I stride on to the tube station, going underground. It is quieter; a relief compared to the usual rush hour journeys, where individuals are packed in like sardines; iPad fixated sardines.  This time, I even get a seat.

 

I sit down and realise why it was free. The man next to me is shouting about Jesus. He is claiming that Jesus stole his socks. I am sceptical. He is wearing socks; they have just partially disintegrated. He is screaming at passengers, informing them that they are not his real mum. One is a 15 year old boy; I think he was already aware of this news. The man reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a can of Special Brew. My face lights up, I can feel the tears welling in my eyes. The nostalgia is overwhelming, my heart wants to explode. Memories flood back. Memories of the bombed out church, of Hardman Street, of Bold Street, of the PRM. Yes, that was home. Yes, maybe I can belong here. An alcoholic with a can of Special Brew. London and Liverpool are not too dissimilar after all.