I haven’t always been a football addict. Anyone who knows me understands that my life is very much dominated by the beautiful game but it hasn’t always been like this. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed football growing up but I never truly obsessed about it until the 1997/98 season. The point of this blog post is to explain why I became a football addict but first some background…
Before 1997/98 I had a few United memories but despite being 11 years old when United won the Scottish Cup in 1994 I didn’t really ‘follow’ football so it didn’t have as big an impact on me as it probably should have (especially as we had to wait another 16 years for it to happen again). I played football in the garden, at school and in the street but it didn’t take up much of my life. The first proper season of me following Dundee United was the season we spent in the First Division and that year does still contain two of my most vivid ‘flashbulb memories’ (a name devised by Psychologists to describe a particularly strong snapshot memory). The first one of these is the 2-2 draw with Greenock Morton at Cappielow on the last day of the season. It was my first big away trip and going back there always brings back my memory of standing behind the goal wondering if we were going to win the league or not and I spent a fair bit of the game looking out for the helicopter that had the league trophy. Obviously we didn’t win the title and it comes as no surprise that my second big memory from that season is the Playoff Final Second Leg against Partick Thistle at Tannadice.
The 1996/97 season was the first season I really engaged with football and it helped that after a disastrous start we somehow ended up having of the best campaigns in recent history with one of the most gifted squads we’ve had in my lifetime (and Lance Key). The 1-0 victory against Rangers at Tannadice was a particular highlight and it was one that saw the emergence of one of United’s all time cult heroes, Erik Pedersen. A 4-0 thrashing of Aberdeen on the 1st of January will also go down as one of my favourite ever games. The year after saw us play in Europe and start the season as well as we finished the last. Unfortunately from about November onwards we ended up having a pretty disastrous campaign but in a weird way this is what kickstarted my footballing obsession.
In late 2017 my family bought our first ever PC. Big news at the time and with a whopping 1.2GB hard-drive it was pretty cutting edge stuff. At first I didn’t really have much to do on this new computer but when I got some money at Christmas and we travelled to my Grandparents in Largs I managed to get a chance to pop in to a computer games shop to see if I could make the most of our new household piece of tech (I was massive console gamer but had not idea about PCs). It was during this visit that I stumbled across a game called ‘Championship Manager 97/98’. I had never really thought about the idea of a game that didn’t allow me to actually play football but I thought I would give it a go considering United’s terrible form and my hope that I could maybe do better. A mere 20 years later I have, and I can happily admit this, bought every single version of the game since 1997 (the game has been called Football Manager for a number of years now). I don’t want this to become a standard “I’m obsessed about Championship/Football Manager” type story but it is probably accurate to say that I have this game to blame for much of my obsession with football and it is maybe the reason why I over-analyse every aspect of the game (and why I always check any new United signings on Football Manager first to get a heads up before seeing them play).
For me 1997/98 was when it all started so I wanted to do something a bit different and show you what the Dundee United squad looked like in the eyes of the developers at Sports Interactive and what my own memories of some of these players are. Over this post and two to come I’ll hopefully allow United fans of a certain vintage the chance to reminisce (especially, if like me, you are a fellow ‘Champ Man’ fan). There are actually now a few real-life proper football teams that use the Sports Interactive scouting database to help analyse potential signings and discover new talent but it wasn’t always like this and when you look at some of the stats for the United players in 1997 there may be some of you who disagree somewhat with the ratings given to the squad at that time.
If you are unfamiliar with the format the way the game is structured means each player in the database is given a selection of attributes rated between 1 and 20 (1 being the worst possible and 20 being incredibly strong). Each of these attributes covers physical, technical and mental skills with the 97/98 version featuring 19 for each player. The later versions of the game have obviously become more complex (too complex for many) so you now get ratings for 36 different attributes plus a plethora of other stats, facts and things to worry about. Below is a screenshot from the orignal compared to the newer version (and for those of you interested the second screenshot is of United’s new Austrian midfielder Cristoph Rabitsch).
Anyway that is about it. If you are bored by now then I promise that the next two posts will be much shorter and to the point (with more stuff to look at). To get an idea of what is to come, below is a picture of the United squad when Championship Manager 1997/98 was released. Given the lack of internet at the time things became quite outdated quite quickly so this was just the squad on a given date when the game was published. The game also had a tendency at that time to fill squad slots with players that didn’t exist so there may be one or two names on this image below you don’t recognise (and maybe a couple that you would like to forget).