Comedian Tony Jameson is currently touring the UK with a show about his lifelong love of the computer game: Football Manager.
To the uninitated this seems like little more than a confusing pile of statistics and as entertaining as a spreadsheet, but to millions of fans around the world it’s a way to enact all those armchair fantasies and “prove” they can do a better job than the real manager of their favourite clubs. So many have become “addicted” that the game has a nickname: The Widowmaker.
Following on from a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, The Football Manager Ruined My Life tour visits The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow on Sunday, September 28 and the Stand in Edinburgh on Tuesday, September 30.
We caught up with Tony to ask a few questions about this obsession and the show.
“I first got into Championship Manager (as it was back then), in 1993 when the first game came out.
“I’d always been a been football fan, and loved video games, so when a game like this came out, it was only natural that I’d play it. Little did I know, I’d still be playing this game 21 years later.”
Football Manager is a long-running game series and every year sees a new edition, with new features and a wealth of statistics for fans to get stuck into. It was this that caused Tony to realise how much of his life was taken up with Football Manager.
“When it was announced that the game was 20 years old last year, it made me realise that I’d played every version available and for some reason that struck a chord with me. I guess I’d never really thought about the amount of years I’d been playing, I always thought, ‘OK, the new game is out, guess I’d best go and buy it’.
“It’s probably siding towards an addiction more than a hobby now. I can’t really call the show what I’ve called it if it was just a hobby.”
Every addict reaches rock bottom and Tony’s “problem” has certainly had a notable effect on his behaviour at times. For example, he once learned the Cameroonian national anthem while managing a simulated World Cup campaign.
“Despite learning the anthem, we had a terrible outing in the competition and went out in the group stages. I resigned shortly after and went back to club management to rebuild my reputation.”
The vision of Tony loudly singing the Cameroonian national anthem at his computer screen gives an idea of how deep this rabbit hole can go. We asked Tony if he was still a slave to Football Manager.
“I’m still playing it. Football Manager 15 is out in a couple of months and I can’t wait. Stand up allows me a lot of free time during the day, so a bit of FM tends to work out quite nicely.”
Of course, Tony has been playing Football Manager so long can only wonder if he felt compelled to find a career which afforded him the time to indulge. We asked him what inspired him to translate his history with a computer game into a comedy show,
“I’m still not entirely sure, to be honest. I had a five minute bit, which ended up in a book called Football Manager Stole My Life. I then met Miles Jacobson (the director of Sports Interactive) who asked me what I was going to do with it.
“I joked that I might turn it into an Edinburgh show, and he basically told me to do it. From there, I realised that there was quite a bit I could talk about, and it appears I’m not the only one who’s let the lines of reality become blurred.”
With an Edinbrugh Fringe run and several touring dates under his belt, Tony has had many chances to meet people with a similar “affliction”.
“The show is essentially a support group. We’ve had guys come to the show telling me that they only manage second division Belgian clubs and decided to make their lads holiday a trip to Belgium to watch their teams play.”
But of course the show probably wouldn’t have been successful if it only appealed to Football Manager grognards. So what do those unfamilar with the game make of it?
“I think they have a mixed reaction. Part of their opinion is that my actions are ridiculous, but I think they also understand that the underlying story that links the show together is still easily relatable to non-FM players.”
Perhaps mercifully, Tony has never been inspired to place a long-odds bet on real football due to events happening in Football Manager.
“No chance. I’m bad enough on the accumulators without having to try and remember which division certain teams play in. I have bought a couple of shirts of clubs I’ve managed before though.”