How Football Manager was born out of Championship Manager’s potential
Before FIFA and PES revolutionised the gaming industry with their duopoly, significant advancements were made, despite no one knowing the end results.
In 1992, brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created a football game from their bedroom and published it under the name of Championship Manager.
The management simulator would go on to define the genre of football management simulation by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, but it was not the first game to attempt the feat.
At the time, Premier Manager – also starting in 1992 – were the main rivals and initially outsold Championship Manager.
There was also Football Manager (no not that one), which debuted a full decade earlier, which created the management genre.
This is the story of how Championship Manager defined how the game should be played, and how a dispute between developer and publisher led to the crown passing to Football Manager (yes that one) – one of the biggest series in football video game history and one of the three big names in football games.
Football Manager in 1982 – The origin of the football management genre
In 1982, Kevin Toms created publisher Addictive Games and published Football Manager, kickstarting the management genre – and it was an immediate success and went down as a classic game, especially on the ZX81 Sinclair.
Although primitive by today’s standards – mostly using text displays and images for goals – the game allowed the user to control a team starting in the fourth division and attempt to get promoted to the first division, as well as play in the FA Cup.
Players had fitness which went down with each game, skill ratings that changed come the end of the season and had to balance the finances.
For 1982, it was an in-depth and thoughtful game which also had its quirks – one notable feature was that after picking a team (which used real names and real players), they always started in division four and always had randomised players.
It sold 500,000 copies in the six years it was on the market and spawned three sequels – Football Manager 2 in 1988, Football Manager World Cup Edition in 1990 and Football Manager 3 in 1992.
Football Manager 3 killed the series off, though, with critics stating it was overpriced, had nothing new and was a downgrade in every way to Football Manager 2. Kevin Toms wasn’t even involved in the making of the game, citing “creative differences”.
It was time for a new football management game to take to the field, and whilst the stars aligned for Championship Manager to breach the gap, it would initially struggle to make a dent.
Championship Manager vs Premier Manager – The early 1990s
At the time of September 1992, Premier Manager and The Manager were already on the market, and Championship Manager missed the mark with their game.
It only sold 20,000 copies, and was slated for its graphics. Critics much preferred Premier Manager’s visuals and The Manager’s ability to watch the games in real time – when Championship Manager only featured text on coloured background.
Critics also found fault for a complete lack of sound effects, having generated player names (the other games at the time had real players) and an extremely basic match engine.
According to reports, EA Sports turned down the chance to publish the game, citing a lack of live action – so a line of text commentary was also included. Coming a year before the first FIFA game, imagine what could have been if EA had Championship Manager instead.
The sequel – Championship Manager 93/94 – was a vast improvement, featuring real-life players and the Premier League (missing from the original). It sold 90,000 copies, and built up a strong following in the UK.
In July 1994, the brothers who created the series would create their own company to take it forward – Sports Interactive – which would become a giant in the video game industry, and Eidos became involved in publishing.
Winning over the rivals – The late 1990s
Championship Manager 2 was released in 1995, and would be a success, showcasing that the series would be a mainstay for the foreseeable future.
The game would be updated for the following seasons all the way up to 1998, with each version becoming more polished and more loved by fans – they even released two other versions for other countries not included in the main game (France, Germany and Italy in one, and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands in another).
The 97/98 version in particular would gain a cult following with a simple interface and user-friendly database to allow for modding.
In Championship Manager 2, a second playable league was included, the Scottish Premiership, (although only one could be run at a time) and would be increased to nine countries’ worth in the 97/98 port.
Players were added when older players retired, creating ‘new gen’ players – a feature which was widely praised and creating unlikely cult heroes. It would be a feature which the current Football Manager thrives off.
Sports Interactive also added an editor to the game – another feature in the current Football Manager games – where users could add themselves into the game or make changes as they see fit.
It would also gain a reputation for being realistic in transfer dealings and on the pitch, gather better graphics as time goes on and signify their intentions of creating a global game – hence the increased playable countries and leagues.
At the same time, Premier Manager 97 was released, and would mark the downfall of that series in the long run.
Described as being “hard to get into”, the series would reach a highpoint in 1998, as Premier Manager 98 was the best-selling release from Gremlin Interactive.
Bugs and repetitive gameplay between new releases meant that Premier Manager was plagued by poor quality and after 1999 – when Gremlin Interactive was bought by Infogrames – would start to plummet against Championship Manager.
Championship Manager’s dramatic rise – The early 2000s
Championship Manager 3 was released in 1999 and both fans and critics loved the game, selling over 170,000 copies in the UK alone.
Building on the success of their previous generations of games, the match engine was improved, the database of players and staff reached over 25,000 and Local area network multiplayer was included for up to 16 players. For the first time, non-European leagues were included.
Subsequent updates added even more leagues, cup competitions and even an Xbox version was created in 2002 – the first Championship Manager release which wasn’t on PC.
As Championship Manager soared to new heights, their old rival – Premier Manager – reached new depths and faded out with a whimper.
Premier Manager 2002/2003 bombed, with one reviewer giving the game a score of just 14 out of 100, and the 2003-04 and 2004-05 releases did nothing to bring audiences back to the franchise.
The 2004-05 release would be the tenth and last game in the Premier Manager series, and nothing has been heard of the series since.
But Championship Manager’s best days were still to come, with their fourth-generation game breaking sales records and featuring a 2D match engine for the first time.
Championship Manager 4 was nominated for the “Sports Game of the Year” award – unfortunately, losing to Madden NFL 2004 – and went on to receive a Platinum sales award.
The update for the following season – the 03/04 version – had 43 countries and 92 leagues, over 200,000 players and a network of 2,500 researchers, but would be the end of the series as we know it.
The divorce of Championship Manager and the death of the series
In 2003, Sports Interactive and Eidos would part ways and the former joined Sega to create a new series. launching Football Manager.
Eidos continued to make Championship Manager – keeping hold of the interface and the name – whilst Sports Interactive kept the database and match engine, arguably the most crucial aspects of their success so far.
Jacobson: “At the time we felt there was a lack of respect for our work from Eidos. There seemed to be an attitude at the time in the industry that anyone could make games.”
“Eidos set up Beautiful Game Studios nine months before Championship Manager 4 was due to come out. Eidos told me that Beautiful Games Studios was making a platform game. I thought our number was up.”
Jacobson added that Sports Interactive were looking for more royalties, “Eidos wanted more control. We wanted more control.”
Football Manager 2005 would be released before Championship Manager 5 was, and at this point, Eidos’ series was second to the new boys.
Due to difficulties in coding the game from scratch, Championship Manager 5 was delayed until March 2005, giving FM05 an advantage to build on.
Their new database was full of bugs and unplayable, and fans criticised the release for the high number of general bugs.
It would only get worse with future releases, as the 2006 edition had a lack of common features – including international management – and sold poorly; and glitches would plague releases in 2007 and 2008.
The next game – Championship Manager 2010 – had a two-year development cycle due to their previous games performing poorly and they lost further ground to Football Manager.
This led Eidos to sell the game for a single penny (with a transaction fee for £2.50), and it is believed to be the first time this has ever happened.
Sales were improved, but the final release came with Championship Manager 2011, where the series died.
One news outlet said the reason for Championship Manager’s death was that Eidos sacrificed the simple interface that was well known for the series, against the backdrop of detail in Football Manager.
Despite their death, it was revived as Champ Man in 2013 by Square Enix (who bought Eidos), and for four years would see releases on mobiles only. However, this would also be short-lived as all servers and services were closed in 2018.
Other rivals in the 2000s – such as FIFA Manager (1997-2014) – failed to also live up to the hype, so it was left for Football Manager to push on and dominate the market, becoming the biggest name in the football management video game industry.
The irony was that, as discussed before, EA Sports could have published Championship Manager but turned it down, and their FIFA Manager just couldn’t appeal to their audience.
The FIFA series (now EA Sports FC) was developed for playing football and competing, whereas a management game was thoughtful and slower; and the series never challenged the other games.
But Football Manager would become more than just a game, and thanks to a development in scouting globally, it would redefine football in the real-world and change the way everyone looks at a football match.
For that, we will travel to the United States and into the world of baseball, on how the philosophy of “Moneyball” has transformed sports across the world, and how Football Manager was the perfect game for the revolution.
Join me next time when we explore how “Moneyball” would change the way transfers in football occur; how Football Manager’s scouting network would have real-world implications for the best teams on the planet, and how the game has become a cultural icon.
This is the second article in my video game series, check out the fall of FIFA vs PES here.
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