by Chris Boothroyd

As a youngster I was an impressionable child, a dreamer, somebody who lived so far away from the real world that looking back now I am almost embarrassed at how naive I was back then. But, like many children in the early-nineties and indeed like many children (and adults) today; I played a lot of video games.

I was always starved of a games console until the Playstation had become obsolete and then, finally, I was rewarded with one. In the more recent days I used my student loan to ensure I had a Playstation 3 and thankfully I am financially secure enough to know I will be getting a Playstation 4 soon after release, whenever that may be. But I have always been a PC gamer at heart.

Football Manager is my true love. One year at University I spent an entire month (game time totalled 29 days) on one save. And in that ‘career’ I didn’t even win one league title. I just continually shuffled aroundthe top three. Some people might brandish that a failure, but not me. Pages and indeed a book have been written about that beautiful game but my passionate encounter with a football game was a one that came out in 1991. When I was just four.

Back in the early-nineties wanderlust was installed in me that burned away for many a year. I learnt about teams such as Lokomotiv Plodiv of Bulgaria, Aarhus of Denmark, Hamrun Spartans of Malta and Flumantari of Albania. These exotic teams, unheard of in this country on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis filled my weekend mornings. I have been a Leeds United supporter all my life, but the game that shaped my childhood and my views on football came from the wrong side of the Pennines.

Manchester United: Europe.

That game might not mean anything to people these days. Even Manchester United fans I have spoken to in recent years have no recollection of that game that was released for Acorn computer systems as well as the Amiga amongst other consoles.

The premise of the game was simple. You could only play as Manchester United and at the start of the game you could chose whether to enter the Champions Cup, the Uefa Cup or the Cup Winners Cup. You played through the competition until you either won it, lifting the virtual trophy aloft in a blaze of glory, or were knocked out and you sulked for a few minutes. Then you started a new game and so on.

This meant that you rarely came across English side to play against; true you could face Arsenal or Nottingham Forest on your travels, but the bulk of the action was against teams from foreign lands. Soon geography mixed with football and I learnt about all these different countries and cities in Europe. That in turn meant I picked up a slightly quirky knowledge of football teams without realising it.

The good thing was Manchester United was customisable. I rarely played as them, instead Mark Hughes became Chris Boothroyd and other members of my school football team magically made their way into the Manchester United squad. True, the team played in red and had the badge and name of Manchester United, but one week it was my school team and the next it was Leeds United. The game also taught me tactics. You could change the way the team went out, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 5-3-2 or my favourite, the 1-3-3-3. Altering things on the fly was impossible, but play the game enough and you knew certain teams from certain countries favoured a certain formation.

Opposition players were random, all with made up names and generally speaking quite evenly ranked. In simulation the bigger nations of Germany, Italy and Spain would tend to reach more finals but once you were pitted against any side the difficulty didn’t change if you were playing Glentoran or Juventus.

Now when I load up a new career in Football Manager in a different European nation more often than not I do input my favourite team, because Manchester United: Europe introduced me to so many clubs. 

In these times when FIFA rules all of simulations, everybody is besotted with being the Milan’s, the Barcelona’s or the Real Madrid’s. Turn off the internet! Get rid of ‘star ratings’! Make all the teams equal and let natural curiosity lead the way. The result is I would much rather see Honved than Roma. I have my favourites and it is all down to that team.

For that I thank them. For everything else, well, that’s a different story...

Chris Boothroyd is first and foremost a Leeds United fan, though the current chairman and managerial combination severely tests that relationship. Away from the English football though Chris writes extensively about Czech football for his own website The Czech Up amongst other publications and podcasts.