Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things – an ode to Sid

Oh that it has come to this. Publically asking for help from a man you don’t know – in this case Sid Lowe – though feel as if you do because his writing inspires you and forms a bond that only football and the written word combined can achieve.

One of the cardinal rules of writing or selling anything is to never put yourself down. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, this is harder than you may think for me.

Alas, I must break this rule because of the context. I do not feel like and have not felt for some time that I have the ability to do that which I would love to do most. Journalism.

I finally at the age of 35 plucked up the courage to join a course which I attended daily. I would name the course but they recenly signed up with a newspaper whom I have less than no time for and would not give them the satisfaction of the publicity (i.e. the same few people who always read my stuff and keep me going) I’ll just say I’m from Liverpool and you can probably put the rest of that puzzle together for yourself.

I am forever thankful to some of the tutors on this course. They were kind, understanding and some felt more like friends by the end of the course. They even provided help for me when my anxiety was at its worst, I am truly grateful.

Despite this, around the time I was preparing for my final and most important written exam, I had a serious health problem. I don’t want to go into too much detail but the dreaded “c-word” was mentioned. I couldn’t focus, I had a panic attack in my exam.

I then sat the exam again and failed. I got a D. I know I’m better than that, even with my self depricating nature I know there were circumstances outside of my control which led to this.

You can dress it up any way you want but the fact of the matter is, I failed. I finally got the guts to go for what I wanted and I couldn’t get there. I spent thousands (which I was still paying back until recently), they even asked me if I wanted to come back and I just mentally was not in the right place and so declined the offer. Depression can be a cruel mistress.

Luckily, I passed a more important test and the results came back as all clear. No big C.

The truth is that mental health issues have plagued my life. I believe I would be in a much better position than I am now if I did not have them. An obvious statement but an important one. A more important one to make however is that I am one of the lucky ones.

There are people out there without the support network from family and friends I have and it is for them that I continue to tell my own story, at least as much of it as I can bring myself to.

It didn’t happen overnight that I was able to admit my failings and health problems. Again, an important message: If you’d have told me when I literally would not leave my room for months other than to eat when no one else was in the house, I would never have believed you. Things DO get better if you let people help you.

I guess that’s why I’m asking for your help, Sid. I would much rather have preferred to do this privately, however that didn’t seem to be an option available to me, so I thought I’d combine the two issues of my mental health problems and my need for direction in life.

Anyway, I digress somewhat as it is my tendancy to do. What am I asking? No more than advice.

I am not unrealistic enough to imagine I can ever be in your position, however, I would love to do what you do to some degree.

I have only ever had two constant passions in my life, writing and football. Sports in general but always football first.

I want to be the best football writer I can be. I don’t even really know what I’m asking for. Just any advice, as much as you can give about writing.

What was your journey? What courses did you undertake? Who were your influences? Why do you love what you do? Who do you support? What is the most important thing in your opinion for a writer to learn?

There are a million questions I could ask. I suppose as the title of the piece says though, I’m just looking for hope. I don’t want to give up.

I’ve had nothing but time recently, like many of us and all I want to do is write.

Whether you read this or not, whether you reply or not I would just like to thank you once again. It is always a joy when you pop up on a documentary to give further insight and your written work for multiple publications is something I have come to follow all but religiously.

You are an inspiration to me and thousands like me and the passion, knowledge and integrity you bring to your work is something that is perhaps more important than you know.

Muchas gracias amigo.

If anyone reading this suffers from mental health problems and feels they need help. My advice would be to tell family and friends and contact one of these wonderful organisations:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

I did and it is probably the main reason I am here today. There are people willing to help, you just have to ask!

Istanbul was Bosphorus reds in 2005 but how will I fare in 2020?

With that awful but irresistible pun out of the way, we begin our journey into Turkish football which starts and all but ends in Istanbul.

The “big 3” of Istanbul

No offence to any of the other sides, but finding out much or anything about the majority of you is an exercise in futility with few exceptions.

When you have three teams in one city that have won no less than 56 of the 62 titles available since 1957, they have earned the right to be called “the big 3”.  

The outliers? Trabzonspor, a team from Trabzon who have won 6 Super Lig titles and Bursaspor who won their solitary title in 2010.

The only teams to have won the league outside of Istanbul

As if to laden the point further as to how dominant the “big 3 plus Trabzonspor” have been, only four other teams in the whole of Turkey have ever finished as runners up. That’s 4 teams out of a possible 68 making it to second.

BESIKTAS

Located on the European side of the Bosphorus are the “working man’s club”, Besiktas.

Besiktas or Besiktas J.K (Jimnastik Kulubu) started as you may have guessed as a sports club and as it shows on their badge, they were founded in 1903 as a multi sport organisation but only became a football club in 1909.

Besiktas celebrate their 14th title – the season after they would make it 15

The Black Eagles have won 15 league titles, 9 Turkish cups and once made it to the quarter finals of the European Cup in 1987 and twice made it to the same stage in the UEFA Cup/Europa League in 2003 and 2017 respectively. 

Besiktas circa 1957 – the first recognised champions of the nation of Turkey and winners of 3 of the first four in 1957, 1958 and 1960

Super Lig (previously Mili Lig) is the first professional nationwide league established in Turkey and was officially recognised in 1959. Despite this, Besikas requested that their 2 league titles in the previous seasons of 1956-57 and 1957-1958 be counted towards their nationwide trophy haul. As Besiktas represented Turkey in those seasons in Europe and only a “national champion” was afforded that honour, this request was granted.

GALATASARAY

Also located on the European side of Istanbul, are the current champions of Super Lig, Galatasaray. The biggest club in Turkey, it is estimated that 1 in every 3 Turkish fans is a Galatasaray fan.

Galatasaray (seen as the “academics club” historically at least) are so named after “Galatasaray High School”.

The team formed in 1905 and was made up entirely of students. You may have heard of their old stadium, the Ali Sami Yen – or “Hell” as it was also affectionately known due to its intimidating atmosphere – which was named after the first president of the club.

Ali Sami Yen stadium – without doubt one of the most intimidating sights and atmospheres in European football

Galatasaray are not only the biggest club in Turkey, they are also the most successful with 22 league titles to date.

20 years ago Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup after beating Arsenal on penalties 4-1

They also have a record 18 Turkish Cups and are the only team in Turkey to win a trophy in European competition, the UEFA Cup in 2000.

FENERBAHCE

Which brings us to the final side in the Istanbul “Big 3”, the only side of these located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Fenerbahce.

Fenerbahce is a name taken from a neighbourhood of Istanbul meaning “lighthouse garden” which I’m sure you’ll agree is quite nice and a million miles away from the animosity that roots itself in their rivalry with their greatest foes, Galatasaray.

The picture-esque area of the eastern entrance to the Bosphorus that features the lighthouse that lends its name to Fenerbahce

Fenerbahce were founded in 1907 in secret to avoid persecution from the Ottoman authorities and their strict rules. It was not until 1908 when they registered afte a law was passed forcing all clubs to do so.

Fenerbahce are known as “the rich club” despite their formation being shrouded in financial problems. They are not shy of spending money, but I don’t see a huge difference between them and Galatasaray in terms of income or expenditure over sustained periods to be honest.

Fenerbahce won the inaugural league back in 1959

Fenerbache have won 19 league titles, 6 Turkish cups and made it to the quarter final of the European Cup in 2007/2008 where they were knocked out by Chelsea ins the semi final of the Europa League, where they were beaten by Benfica.

So there you have it. The three biggest clubs in Turkey are all in Istanbul. Galatasaray hate Fenerbahce, Fenerbahce likewise hate Galatasaray and Besiktas hate Fenerbahce.

Stadium, Kits, Fans, City.

It’s at this time that I have to use my tried and trusted formula:

So, let’s get to it.

STADIUMS

The stadiums in Turkey are a thing of beauty. In my time of searching for teams outside of the top four league in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Italy), I think they are my favourite.

A bit different given the dominance of Istanbul, I will include all three of their teams and then I will suggest others if they really stand out. As always, thank you to TFC on YouTube. 

All beautiful stadiums in their own way but the Istanbul contest? I’m giving it to Besiktas.

While I’m not a fan of the sponsorship on the outside, the shape of the stadium just lends itself to what I believe would be an amazing place to watch a game of football. Of course, this is purely based on aesthetics and there is the surrounding area.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMeeQHgihdo

Does it win overall though or do one of our two challengers take the first round against the odds? 

No. The sponsorship is enough for it to just miss out to a more boldly designed stadium, namely the Medical Park stadium of Trabzonspor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOz5uQB4kUY

Despite being officially called Medical Park Stadium, the stadium is also known as the Senol Gunes complex. While being sponsored in name, they have resisted the urge to plaster it all over the building like in Besiktas and that coupled with its austentacious design, location and overall “feel” of the stadium makes it my winner.

KITS

In the battle of Istanbul, I have to give it to Fenerbahce’s brave new home top.

Why brave? Fenerbahce are synonymous with their classic yellow and blue stripe design and this was a modern take which some loved an some hated.

Galatasaray’s strong home effort is enough to grab them second while once again it’s bad news for Loris.

Nothing personal, I like a lot of the old Besiktas kits but this lineup doesn’t do it for me so it takes the bronze

Can anyone beat Istanbul, particularly Fenerbahce for kits?

That’s a resounding yes from me.

The away kit for Sivasspor definitely deserves its props but our winner is a team that has done something I’ve never experienced in that they’ve made four kits in the same season which I absolutely love!

Antalyaspor with the most dominant victory in the kit stakes I’ve ever seen. If that’s all that matters to you, this surely has to be your team?


Fans

They’re all mental. I’m not touching this one other than to post these videos and let you decide:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDg5YB3T-3k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es29cNb7v04

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cgwWMoO9x8

Our entrant from outside Istanbul? That has to be these guys:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydFFUfTGuAQ

City

An incredible view of Turkey from the Bosphorus

This one isn’t too hard is it? There’s nothing that Istanbul does not have. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to and I am gutted I only got to spend a day there but travelling over to it on the Bosphorus is something I will never forget. I mean would you forget that view? 

Trabzon is a lesser known beauty in the North East of Turkey

Outside of Istanbul? There is Trabzon which is insanely beautiful in a more natural way. It looks more like something you’d find in the Swiss Alps, but I assure you it is very much found in the North East of Turkey. 

There is no winner or loser in this battle. These two places are far too awe inspiring to pit against each other. I’m just going to admire them both.

Erdogan and the new team in Istanbul

I didn’t want to, but you simply can not talk about Turkish football without mentioning him and Istanbul Baseksehir.

Because I personally don’t want to, I will simply enclose this excellent YouTube video for you to watch, if you wish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E4mahNldhY

The Decision

I will definitely be taking more of an interest in Turkish football from now on. While the passion can overspill, it is passion which I miss most about our game.

Football without fans may not be “nothing” but it’s pretty close.

In terms of overall, I get a feeling for two clubs, namely Besiktas and Trabzonspor.

Trabzonspor is beautiful, it has a resurgent football team that are finally being ran properly and is supplementing “big name” signings like Daniel Sturridge and Jose Sosa with home grown talent like Ugurcan Cakir and Abdulkadir Omur, both of whom have been linked with a host of European admirers and rightly so from what I’ve seen.

I would love to support them – especially as relative underdogs, but in the end I am choosing not to and the reason is politics. I’m not saying I’m heavily into Turkish politics but I know a little about world politics and any region that votes overwhelmingly in favour of Erdogan’s party? That’s just too much for me to overcome.

Let me make sure I’m being understood here. I don’t blame the people of Trabzon, I couldn’t possibly begin to know or scratch the surface on who they are or why they vote as they do, I am just saying that I feel that another club is more inline with my own political beliefs.

So for the reason that Besiktas fans are known for their conscience, their dissension, their atmosphere, their wit and humour. For their history, the club and the many examples of what I liked about them as stated above, I will henceforth be a fan of Besiktas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh61JFQR_hg

I don’t even have to say “if they will accept me”, they are one of the most welcoming clubs, if not the most welcoming in Turkey for people like me.

It is important to note that Istanbul is in the majority against Erdogan and this obviously includes fans from all of the clubs in the city, just none more so than Besiktas.

I can’t wait to get back to Istanbul in the future, once again my trip will be primarily based around football but this time, it will be to hopefully see a game in the home of the Black Eagles.

Yakında görüşürüz İstanbul ve özellikle BeşiktaşTeşekkür ederim ve güvende ol.

I fell into a burning Ring of Fire – the frustration that leads to passion in Japan’s top league

Given Japan is known for it’s adherence to set rules and servitude, you would be forgiven for thinking that it isn’t the best place to look for football passion. In its own way though, Japan has adopted the beautiful game and made it their own.

If you followed my previous piece on how I find my teams you will know I have a formula which allows me to narrow it down. By chance, this is also quite a nice way to give you a simple overview of the league.

Stadium, Kits, Fans, City.

It has served me well thus far, so I shall stick with it but like with my Korean team, I didn’t end up where I would have expected and it again came down to the last two of these critera.

To be honest “Stadium” thins the herd, kit is a nice little addition but once you’ve seen you like the stadium the important part can begin with “Fans” and “City”.

If you are supporting a club and you don’t know anything about the fans or the city, you’re not really supporting the club.

In terms of stadiums, none really massively stood out other than for the views (i.e. backdrops) they provided. I was surprised at that but basically I just allowed for stadia without a running track and as in previous examples this narrowed it down.

Japan has the curious distinction of the stadiums that appeal to me most being spread throughout their lower leagues,other than one outlier and the clear winner for J1 at least, even before we take into account its insane light shows.

Panasonic Stadium Suita (39,694)

The Panasonic Stadium, home of Gamba Osaka, is my kind of stadium. A “less is more design”, clean lines and a great view of the match. I really don’t ask for much from my stadiums. It shocked me though how much more unique the stadiums were in Korea.

If you want to see more about the light show by the way, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljmKEn31D-o

It’s of no real consequence to my decision, but it’s still pretty cool.

In terms of J2? Well here’s where I prove my point. I find it much harder to split the following stadiums :

And again curiously J3 also has more to offer in the stadium stakes than J1 and competes quite well with J2 based on the scenery alone.

Truth be told, Iwagin stadium has no place on this list other than the view. As a J3 stadium it of course is one of the best in my eyes but a capacity of less than 5,000 just doesn’t get it done.

There is one stadium that has it all, though you may not be able to see that from the pictures abovem. Minami Nagano Sports Park Stadium, home of AC Nagano Parceiro. For a J3 team, this stadium is ridiculous.

Don’t just take my word for it though, here is a video by the fantastic “Lost in Japan” (defo worth a sub) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_Slx0da5-M

Also, all the stadium pictures were courtesy of TFC, which can also be found on YouTube.

The backdrop to our winning stadium. The only stadium in J League to have it all

Next up, kits. I know a lot of people love this part and boy does J League deliver! Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find J2 and J3 kits easily so I’ll narrow it down to merely J1.

First thing you notice is that Yokohama are well represented on this list. Be it the J League Champions and City Football Group plaything Yokohama F. Marinos – who if it went on body of work would win this – or the team that formed as a protest group against them FC Yokohama after the disbanding of the wonderfully named Yokohama Flugels.

In third place – YFM away kit. It’s just clean, I like that.

In second place – Gamba Osaka away. Really like this kit. It’s unique in its style which appeals to me. A play on the “sash” that I’ve not seen before earns it a worthy second place.

My winner though – Consadole Sapporo. They have missed out on the Levain Cup (Japan’s answer to the League Cup) but a slight – alright extremely scant – consolation for them is they have won my kit competition.

The contrast of the gold and dark blue, the sponsor, the badge and the real clincher, the island of Hokkaido where the team are from on the back. If it wasn’t already winning, that personal touch set it apart. Well played Kappa, she’s a beauty.

Now comes the tricky part. Fans.

I’d like to start if I may by dissauding the original notion that Japanese football teams don’t act out. Some of them do. The most notable of whom are Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka.

Urawa Reds are the most hated team in Japan, apparently. They are considered the “Manchester United” of Japan. Many people say the reason United are “hated” is because of their success but if that were the case here then Kashima Antlers are the most successful side, so why not them

What is it that makes Urawa so hated? Perhaps it is their partizanship. I have no issue at all with this or the fact they don’t care if other teams like them.

What I do have an issue with is their xenophobic bordering on – if not already – racist message that was displayed in their stands back in March 2014. “Japanese Only” it read in English.

The Japanese FA were quick and decisive in their reposnse. Urawa were made to play a game without any fans in attendance. It isn’t fair to accuse a whole team or area of racism, that’s certainly not what I’m doing.

When asked the fans said it was to discourage non Japanese fans from sitting in their section and ruining their chants. I’ve certainly seen this sentiment throughout English football, so judge not lest ye be judged.

Urawa Reds as an organisation however can be judged because they apparently didn’t see this as an issue at first and allowed the banner to hang. It was only after it was flagged up and the people of Japan in particular made it an issue that Urawa responded.

So to Gamba Osaka. A small group of fans waived a flag with a Nazi like “SS” logo. Gamba’s staff immediately took action and had the flag taken down, thankfully.

The J League rightly fined Gamba for for not preventing this from happening but Gamba were more pro active in their approach. Gamba banned all those associated with the flag from attending any games and banned the use of flags or banners within the stadium, a ban which at the time was indefinite. Banners and flags allowed again and are more strictly controlled.

Like them or not though, it’s hard to argue that there are any more passionate fan bases in Japan than Gamba and Urawa, which is probably part of the reason they have the rivalry they do.

I’ll let you decide for yourself which one you prefer but it’s a two horse race for me. Much like Liverpool and Manchester United being the biggest game in England, so it is that Urawa Reds v Gamba Osaka rivalry is the biggest game in Japan. So much so, this game is referred to as “the National derby”.

Is it a derby? Well no, not really, neither are. While you could say that Liverpool v United is at least a North West derby, Urawa in the east is approximately 400 miles away from Osaka in the west.

Both “derbies” are built on the old adage of familiarity breeding contempt of course but from what I can guage, while Liverpool and United’s is about being the two most successful teams in their country, Osaka and Urawa’s is simply about having two passionate sets of supporters who don’t like each other.

Again, the brilliant “Lost in Japan” sums it up much better than I ever could:

http://lostinfootballjapan.com/saitama-a-football-mad-corner-of-japan/

Other teams are available of course but a lot of Japanese support is too tepid or “support by numbers” for me from what I’ve seen. That is certainly not the case with either of these.

So now we come to our winner, which one did I choose and why?

Adding up the scores, you would think Gamba Osaka. They had my favourite J1 stadium, my second favourite kit, and were top 2 in the passion of their fans. We’ve seen before with my Korean choice that is it not always that straight forward.

Well this time, it actually is. There were a few concerns. The SS sign was a big red flag – or in this case Nazi flag – but it was an isolated incident from idiots that were removed and banned for life. I can’t hold that against the club. In fact I admire the way they dealt with the issue and there have been no such incidents since.

I was also a bit worried about the “Italian” influence. I don’t like it when teams try too hard to be something they are not and I certainly don’t like it when they are trying to be Italian hooligans, or any hooligans for that matter.

Luckily having read the excellent Ben Mabley’s piece on this https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/article/gaijin-gamba a lot of my concerns were allayed and he also goes into a far more nuanced reason of why this frustration for some with Japanese culture, manifests in the way it does with Gamba in particular.

Ben’s article told me all I needed to know about the Gamba fans, and how basically they – just like us – were looking for an outlet for the frustration of their working week and football is it. That’s where the passion comes from, no different than our own when football was still a game for the prodominantly male working classes.

Every video I watched and article I read there was a common theme running through them all, people from Gamba are cheeky, funny, passionate and friendly. It sounds very similar to another part of the country over here I know. This coupled with having always wanted to visit Japan and with me now knowing that the place I want to visit most is not Tokyo, but Osaka. I have found my Japanese team.

I could only sign off with a haiku:

A forced spring lockdown
Can a man have too much time?
Gamba Osaka!

Thank you South Korea – a love letter from football and the world

At a time when the world needs understanding, kindness and compassion, it seems there is more squabling and divisivness than ever before or at least it does if you are living in Britain or paying attention to the U.S. for example.

And yet, a shining beacon of hope comes to us from the Far East, South Korea to be more precise in the form of the K League.

The K League – thanks to the selfless nature and actions of the people of South Korea – is now playing professional football once again.

I’m obviously aware that at a time when great strides are being made to unify Korea and its people, that speaking uniquely about South Korea may be seen as some as somewhat polarising, but to my knowledge there are no North Korean teams in the K League… yet. (We live in hope)

So with that said due to a combination of overwhelming gratitude and passion for the game, I set about finding myself a K League side.

There are some simple criteria that have served me well when finding a foreign football team and through years of practice I have developed somewhat of a formula.

Stadium, Kits, Fans, City.

Choosing a stadium usually narrows it down hugely. If you have a running track, I’m not interested. In my opinion a football stadium should be made for football first and foremost.

Now I understand that due to financial constraints or location or many other factors that is not always feasible but I have to stay true to myself here. It’s no offence to those who can’t have a football specific stadium, merely a personal preference.

So how many teams in the K League have a stadium I in my infinite wisdom deem suitable? Seven. Out of the possible twelve, I’ve already nearly halfed my choices.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF55KaAtJT8

Which teams do they belong to? Daegu FC, Pohang Steelers, Incheon United, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Suwon Samsung Blue Wings, Ulsan Hyundai and the team of the capital FC Seoul.

My personal favourites are the stadiums of Ulsan Hyundai and Incheon United. In terms of which “wins” it depends which you prefer.

Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium

Despite the breath taking scenery of Ulsan (I can think of few places I’ve seen more beautiful) this is about football and that Incheon Stadium is a work of art that any team would be proud to call home.

The kits? Again it’s all about personal preference but for me there are four that stand out above the rest: Daegu FC, Pohang Steelers, Ulsan Hyundai and Suwon Samsung Blue Wings.

To be honest, I counted the Blue Wings out because they are a bit too “Chelsea” for me (though the away kit has a French flavour and is extremely nice) but I wanted something more uniquely Korean.

Again Pohang kits are nice but have a “rugby” feel about them as well as the colours reminding me a lot of Flamengo, not that all kits won’t remind you of something in some way but these two are obvious in that manner.

So down to two for the prize of best kit.

Daegu FC kits – less is more

I’m tempted to give this one to Daegu just for “Korean Spock” who is clearly the leader of this no nonsense K-pop meets gangster rap group. We know he is the leader because he’s wearing a polar neck. I can’t be swayed by this though…

Hummel have absolutely smashed it out of the park with this. Yes it is sponsor heavy but you know what, in this case it just seems to work. Sorry Korean spock, but it was only logical that these clean cut kits got the “W”.

So if you’re keeping count that’s Incheon winning the battle of the stadiums and Ulsan just missing out and Ulsan going one better in the battle of the kits with Daegu just missing out.

Fans. I won’t judge the fans in the K League for one simple reason, Respect. I like to show respect in all cases where I can but I am inclined to do so even more as we owe a debt of gratitude for all of them bringing football back into our world.

One team did stand out to me in terms of what I was looking for. I won’t reveal them as they ended up being the team I picked.

Again in terms of Cities, I can’t really go into too much depth. I’d have no problem visiting any or all of them and I’m sure they all offer something unique but it’s time to reveal our winner.

Ulsan Hyundai have it all, a team competing for titles, a specifically built World Cup stadium, as beautiful a backdrop to a game of football as you could ever wish to find and a kit that could go head to head with any I’ve seen in the world

So it stands to reason that I picked Daegu FC. Wait, what? Yep Daegu are the team I will be following in Korea.

For everything that Ulsan has and boy is it a lot, as I watched videos of the city of Daegu, I fell in love with the place. It just seemed different to everywhere else I saw.

Being from Liverpool living next to a river is a big draw, also music and Kim Kwang-Seok – the most beloved folk singer of Korea – was born in Daegu.

Kim Kwang-Seok

As an added bonus were I ever to go to Daegu, they also have a Baseball team, which also obviously is now my Korean baseball team, the Samsung Lions. The most succesful team in KBO (although they lost 12-4 at time of writing to the KIA Tigers) they are sometimes referred to as the “New York Yankees of Korea”, this isn’t something I like but we’re Daegu now, so we move…

The Daegu Samsung Lions

In terms of the City itself, it looks effortlessly beautiful and authentic and it just oozes culture even in the snippets I have seen.

Daegu NEED fans as well. They are not one of the bigger sides in Korea, they are perennial underdogs despite overcoming the odds in 2018 to win the Korean FA Cup (yes that is what it is referred to as, I’m not just being lazy) they only came back into the top division in 2017 having spent three seasons in the lower league.

Economically, Daegu was the commercial centre of the Korean peninsula but sadly as the textile industry declined, so did Daegu’s economy which as it stagnated also led to a decline in population.

The heart of the Covid-19 outbreak in South Korea? You guessed it, Daegu. These guys can’t catch a break!

Fans of Daegu FC

The fans though from what I’ve seen seem as passionate as any in Korea and if they will have me, I will be proud to visit their city, experience and learn from their culture and of course stand next to them one day and sing:

“We are Daegu FC”.

Championship Manager a journey through time – S2

Season Two – Que viva Espana

Before we get to Spain, I have to start by saying 95/96 was a glorious season for me personally as a true fan of the game because I had gained a new team from the previous season.

You often hear the song “they’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen”. I’ve sang it myself but if you ask me now, as a neutral: “who are that team?”, my answer would be AFC Ajax.

Ajax 95-96

What they have given football is absolutely incredible and to my mind worth more, and more impressive than any trophy haul the game has seen (sorry Bob).

Part of growing old is to understand and experience change. The older we get, some of us try to hold on to things that we knew, it brings us comfort and this is why Ajax means so much to me.

As the football landscape has changed so much – and not for the better in my opinion – there is one institution that refused to change with it.

I could wax lyrical about Ajax and at some point in the future will do, so consider this an apperetif but unfortunately, and while Ajax are available on Championship Manager 2 (CM2) – and while I did play as them time and again when I was a kid – they are not available on the download that I have. The only teams available on this downloadable version are Spanish, so that somewhat decides for me.

Which team though? Well Atletico won it but just as before, I won’t be taking the “easy road”. I feel more confident in terms of the challenge this time around but a quick look at the Segunda doesn’t inspire any great nostalgia so I turn my attentions to La Liga.

la liga 95-96

Valencia finished second and a cursory glance throws up three memorable names in Andoni Zubizaretta, Predrag Mijatovic and Gaizka Mendieta. Something to build around, possibly.

Next team up is FC Barcelona. Carlos Busquets (dad of Sergio), Nadal, Albert Ferrer, Guardiola, Popescu, Figo, Bakero, Prosinecki, De La Pena and even a young Franciso Rufete of Valencia fame. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t my choice as they finished 3rd 7 points off champions Atleti and this was a time when Barca were still “mes que un club”.

Real are a mad one, how they finished sixth is beyond comprehension when you look at the players they had at their disposal. Canizares, Hierro, Redondo, Michael Laudrup, Luis Enrique, Guti, Ivan Zamarano and Raul. Funnily enough, a player I don’t remember but did know that he played for them also makes an appearance, Quique Sanchez Flores. I can see why they didn’t win it, but SIXTH?!

Finally the wild card, Deportivo La Coruna. I used to LOVE this team, mainly due to the heavy Brazilian influence and the way they played. Donato at the back or in midfield with Mauro Silva, Fran – a player who had one the best left foots I’ve ever seen and Bebeto up top. This is pulling at the heart strings.

Deportivo 95-96

The lure to take Depor from their 61 point 9th placed finish to greater heights is just too much. There are just too many players I will always remember fondly playing in this team.

If you really want to come on this journey with me, you need to watch this excellent 18 minute documentary:

If you can’t or don’t watch it then I’ll sum it up quickly. Depor’s rivals are Celta Vigo. Depor have 6 major trophies, Celta have zero. Both sides fans consider themselves more “Galician” than Spanish. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones, they are probably the closest thing to real life Iron Islanders. They are born by the sea, they live from the sea and then they die by the sea.

At this point in time in real life, Depor are sadly in the Segunda and facing potential relegation, Celta are in La Liga but also in a relegation battle. From a personal point of view, I hope both are able to stay up and we can get this amazing derby back, for football’s sake.

One last thing, there is genuine animosity but much like Liverpool and Everton as much as that exists they put it to one side when it matters. Unlike Liverpool and Everton or any derby I’ve ever seen they have an anthem for their area that both sides sing at the start of every derby together. Oh and while I think on Irureta managed both sides at their most successful, he left Celta to go to Depor and so Celta fans hate him and Depor fans love him.

I’d still say watch the documentary, it’s fascinating but hopefully if not I’ve covered the main bases.

So here we go.

The game already has the look and feel I am more accumstomed to at the peak of CM powers. Stats are neatly laid out and far more realistic although this will still need to improve in future releases and to be fair it does.

The values of players are now shown as 2,000k to represent 2 million. It’s not the way we know but it is a step in the right direction.

Unlike the previous game, this one demands more thought and more respect. I can already tell without my team kicking a ball that the decisions I make will be represented far truer and so I will devise a plan.

In the actual 95/96 season, the clear issue for Depor was that they did not score enough goals to compete. Their 44 goals against was more than respectable and was the fourth lowest in the league with the 3 teams better in this department all finishing ahead (Atleti, Espanyol and Barca).

Deportivo starting squad

It’s not hard to see why they were so solid defensively, no less than SIX centre backs. It’s also not hard to see how they struggled to score goals. One average player on the right wing, I don’t see the balance needed to employ a 10, two strikers and get the defensive stability needed.

I decide to take a page out of the masterful Irureta’s book and move to a 4-2-3-1. Defensively, Paco and Lopez Rekarte both have the pace to get up there to support the forwards but Lopez Rekarte lacks the stamina. Unsurprising really as he is 33.

Centre backs are obviously not an issue but outside of the fantastic Mauro Silva, centre midfield very much is. From Aldana who has 19 injury proneness to Vazquez who has tackling 1. No Galician is accepting tackling of 1 from a centre mid!

Let’s see how the game responds if I put everyone of my attackers up for sale who isn’t numbered above.

I need more creativity and a backup for Fran. A 19 year old Brazilian left winger called Claudinho seems a good bet for £700,000. My scout also recommends a central attacking midfielder who can also play on the right called Fabian Estay who I bring in for £450,000. I sign them both with little hassle but then remember that the game won’t allow more than three foreigners in the starting line up or on the bench at any one time. D’oh!

First game is Barcelona at Depor’s home stadium, the Riazor. There are few stadiums more intimidating than the Riazor, as AC Milan found to their cost in 2004 when they took a three goal lead to Galicia having won 4-1 at the San Siro only to lose 4-0 and crash out 5-4 on aggregate. It’s a tie and a performance I will never forget and you can enjoy revisiting it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3Sb_a1RVKE

https://thesefootballtimes.co/2019/08/08/the-warm-riazor-evening-when-deportivo-tore-ac-milan-apart/

Can the 29,000 inspire Depor to get their first 3 points on the board?

First game v Barca (H)

Of course they can.

Having taken down Valencia and Barca, I thought I was on to a winner.

Depor v Valencia (A)

But then in the shadow of the great Alfredo Di Stefano, I was brought back down to earth. It wasn’t losing to Real Madrid, that happens to the best but to lose when they play with 10 men for 54+ minutes? That’s not good enough.

Depor v Real (A) first defeat

depor - 1st league defeat

Sadly this was followed by the first league defeat of the season. An early own goal and a 75th minute sending off was just too much to overcome. Changes need to be made, the team is not performing how I would wish. If Edu were free, he’d have been a waste of money.

I switched up my tactic from a passing 4-2-3-1 to a more direct 4-1-1-2-2:

Depor formation

The more eagle-eyed amongst you may also notice a few signings have been made.


The result?

Depor v Celta (H) Spanked Vigo

Depor v Real (H) Rewenge

Potentially looking like a much different prospect now and feeling far more confident in smashing my preset 61 point target.

Depor - 10 men v Espanyol

What a result. 2-0 down and with a man sent off after 5 minutes, Depor fight back for a memorable comeback and a statement win.

Depor - top the table Compostela

Depor raise serious questions that the unlikely leaders Compostela are unable to answer

A quick look at the table after 11 games (at least for Depor):

Depor - third after 11 games

I now feel like I have this team running the way I want it and I have my plan B and C.
That is to say if I need to see out a game, I have a tactic for that and if I need to go all out attack I have that too. Sell a few of the deadwood and bring in young players for the future and I could really be onto something with this team.

As you can probably tell from the change in tone and amount of content I now feel like I’m playing Champ Manager again. Yes there are a few tweaks that are coming in later additions that will be welcome but overall, CM2 is good enough to get you that original CM experience and given this is only the fourth installment in a game that has run for two decades, that’s all power to the Collyers.

15 games in and the table has new leaders:

Depor - table 15

Forget 61 points, I’m going to decimate that if I keep on at this rate. I think I should at least be looking at Champions League football now, at least! I lost Fran, my captain and didn’t skip a beat and wne on to win 4 games in a row, that has to be a good sign for my squad depth.

Perfect example of how I believe I have control over this team and subs. 2-1 down to Zaragoza poor performances all around due to players out of position with Fran and Terejo now both injured.

Full time:

Injuries now mounting up as Fran, Terejo, Gustavo and Varela are all on the treatment table. Terejo is the one that is irreplacable but the sheer numbers are going to take their toll given I don’t have the biggest squad and only trust about 16 of them in total. The next few games before the window opens will be critical, as will people wanting to buy my players so I can reinforce positions of need.

Injuries force my hand and the out of favour and transfer listed future Sporting Director of Man City, Aitor Beguiristan (or Txiki to his mates) comes in on left wing. After a tight encounter he breaks the deadlock. To be fair the only reason I don’t fancy him for my side is he plays on the left, as does Fran, and he’s 31. He will remain on the transfer list but he has increased my trust should he need to be called on in the future.

Depor - Txiki's game v Tenerife

What run this team is on. Injuries to no less than 5 players – 3 of which are first teamers – and they don’t break stride. The fans of the Galician side are beginning to dream of trophies. Manager Irureta says it is too soon to be thinking about that but admits he is proud of the resilience of his team.

Next up the real life champions Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon:

Depor - 6-3 Atleti

A banstormer ends 6-3 to the top of the table side. Bebeto simply too much to handle and the return of Fran a welcome sight. Most encouraging is a near man of the match performance from the Spanish winger Luis Perez who up until now had failed to settle for his new club and the return of midfield enforcer Tejero.

For many teams the prospect of a trip to the Calderon can be a daunting task but this Depor team have no such worries. Four wins from four in the middle of an injury “crisis”.

I’m unable to get the defensive midfielder I feel I need before the transfer window closes so it is imperative that Terejo stays fit. I do however see a striker at Zaragoza who has low confidence and chance my arm. He seems like he could be a good goalscorer to replace Bebeto when the time comes and 700k is within my budget.

It’s tight and is a final day transfer but I get the tall target man. Welcome to Deportivo, Fernando Morientes. The only bad part of the deal? He has a spine injury that will keep him out for no less than TEN months. It didn’t say that and the fact I was able to sign him comes as a shock but so be it, as Klopp said “like a good wife waiting for her man in prison, we will wait.” I couldn’t get anyone else I wanted anyway so the only real negative will be the board might be unhappy, so what. Sack me, I dare you.

It’s obvious I will be continuing this save at some point but the chances are you won’t even get to see how that plays out with Morientes as I have to continue my journey to reach 01/02. Then again, if the other games are not as fun, I will simply return to this. I’d say a ten month investment suggests I’m “all in” to return to this save though, wouldn’t you say?

Quick reminder of why I can live with the decision:

So, we fail to strengthen and the transfer window is now closed. This is the squad we have and it’s not the squad I want by any means. I’m still confident for Champions League qualification but I can’t see the title now.

Depor SEVEN

There may be a day when I bemoan my lack of squad depth, but it will not be this day…

Biggest win of the season sees Depor hit the halfway mark on 48 points, 3 clear of Real Madrid in second.

Depor 2-2 v Barca

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The red card changes the game, Barca still end up with the lead but Perez starts to repay his transfer fee with a 90th minute equaliser.

Depor 4-0

Another impressive result as Depor roll on despite Mauro Silva’s suspension. Perez’s best game in a Depor shirt.

Depor - SF Copa Del Rey - 4-1

Donato has just been immense all season but it was Txiki and Radchenko that put this tie firmly in the favour of Depor.

Depor - 1-2 CDR 2nd leg Valencia

Depor seal their place in the final, is the double on?

Depor - Celta (A) 4-8

Breath taking Bebeto bring Brazilian magic to the Galician derby as he smashes 4 past Celta and Depor get no less than 8 (eight) goals in total.

Depor - the Bebeto show

It was a game for the ages. Depor as usual found behind at some point but the firepower they have is just too much to handle for La Liga and was certainly too much for Celta in the Balaidos. You had to feel for Sacristan Eusebio who could do no wrong and on any other day would have had the unwanted honour of man of the match on a losing side.

Bebeto though was on another planet. The rating on Prats was harsh as it seemed he was making save after save, but if you concede 8 goals, history will simply not remember your performance kindly I suppose.

Through to the final of the Copa Del Rey, the Semi Finals of the Cup Winners Cup surely (with a 6-0 lead over some team from Luxembourg – the draw was kind) and 9 clear at the top of La Liga. Talk of the treble abounds around the Riazor. Irureta maintains that nothing is won until it is won. His team are simply irresistible in their current form though and there are those that already think that a win at the Bernabeu would be too much for even Los Blancos to come back from.

Depor - 4-1 v Sevilla

Depor - 4-1 v Sevilla (2)

After Davor Suker gave Sevilla the lead and the clock ticked to 78 minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking that all good things come to an end. The undefeated run that began back in September of 95 looked seriously under threat and then, it wasn’t. Deportivo simply flicked that attacking switch and left Sevilla in the dust, as they have with so many teams this season. 11 to play, 11 points clear now. Surely the title is heading to Northwest Spain?

[annoyingly the game crashed at this moment. I went back and beat them 3-1, this time I had 10 men after 66′ will missing Txiki in the next game against Real come back to haunt me?]

Depor - 3-2 - Champions elect

Forget the title, it’s done. 14 points clear with 10 to play and Depor are simply not slowing down. 2-1 down at half time in the bernabeu, they go more attacking as is their m.o. and win 3-2. The Bernabeu was left shocked and in silence other than those that were applauding the opposition. The only other sound was that eminating from the away end: “Campeones, Campeones” too soon? The travelling Galicians don’t think so.

After the match Richie Irureta was interviewed and was beaming with pride. When asked if the title was over, he simply replied with a smile he could no longer hide: “Sin comentarios”, no comment.

No comment was needed:

Depor - Champions elect table

Depor - unbeaten run over

The unbeaten run is over. After taking a 2-0 lead in their Cup Winners Cup tie against Dinamo Moscow, a tired Deportivo ran into a determined Compostela.

Irureta was quoted as saying: “all things come to an end, but then they begin again”.

Depor - Campeons del Copa

“Capeones, Campeones” once again was the refrain from Deportivo fans, only this time they were at home and they were actually celebrating a retained trophy that will be staying in their cabinet at the end of the season. The holders were too much for Almeria as Mauro Silva put on a midfield clinic and old stalwart Lopez Rekarte was impeccable at the back.

Lopez Rekarte said: “This could well be my last season, I don’t know but it if its it is beautiful for me to leave with another trophy. Of course, I still have my eye on at least one more and who knows … maybe more?”

Depor - EDU!

With 8 games to go, Edu finally has his goal! It’s a where were you moment for fans of Deportivo and of course after waiting so long for one, he bagged a second in the same game. 7 games left…

Depor - Semi final CWC second leg

It’s official. Deportivo will have a shot at the treble, against AC Milan. Edu the scoring machine seals it … he couldn’t, could he?

Depor - La Liga Campeones

6:15 onwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCP1mwdMQFk

The Liga and Copa double is complete. Depor rested all of their first team players and still won 3-0. Milan are all that stands in the way of a historic treble. Oh and Edu scored his fourth of the season …

Irureta: “When I first came here, I knew we had the potential in this team to do something special but I needed more squad depth. Once we got that and the boys started to adapt to what I asked of them, I started to think we could even maybe challenge for the title but to win it, in the manner we have? That’s a testament to the character and ability of this team.”

When asked if he believes they can beat Milan, Irureta replied: “We just won the title, not Barcelona, not Real Madrid, us. We respect Milan, they’re a great side, but right now? We fear no one.”

Depor - TREBLE!

Triplica! Or in English, the Treble. Deportivo La Coruna have made history by winning three of the four competitions they entered at the beginning of the season. First the Copa Del Rey against Almeria, then the league was wrapped up comfortably with a month to go and now arguably Depor’s greatest achievement, the Cup Winners Cup.

For context, even the might Liverpool did not and can now never win the Cup Winners Cup and to do it against the greatest side of the 90’s? The Galicians are rightly beaming with pride.

An 18th minute strike by Luis Perez gave Los Branquiazuis (the blue and whites) an early lead but was cancelled out in the 82nd by Marco Simeone.

Sometimes the heroes don’t come from the place you expect and so it proved again as Txiki Berguiristan – in from the cold after his poor start to the season and Irureta being unimpressed – scored twice in extra time to make the dream of Super Depor a reality.

An onlooking Bebeto – who was suspended having been sent off in the first leg of the semi final – said: “This club will always have my heart, what a club, what a club!”.

Fernado Morientes watching in a back brace commented: “The heart and character this club has shown is incredible, for them to take a chance on me the way they have just sums up how much trust they have in each other and now in me. I can’t wait to get out there but for now I am just so happy for my team mates.”

Txiki Beguiristan showed his class also saying: “I spoke the manager and he told me I was not in his plans, I appreciated the honesty but I still believed if I worked hard and kept myself available, I had a part to play. The manager has many tough choices, I’m glad on this ocassion I was able to prove him wrong and I thank him for rewarding the hard work I put in.”

Finally the last word had to go to Richie Irureta: “I heard Txiki’s comments and he’s right, I was wrong. I can’t always be right but I didn’t hold any grudges I just did what I thought best for the club and when he gave me no choice but to play him, he was given the chance to prove me wrong. Txiki’s is the story of our season, he never gave up and neither do we. All the talent in the world means nothing without a winning mentality and that’s what runs through the veins of all the players and this club and I’m just proud to be a part of that”

1:27 onwards:

The procession now continues with Depor having nothing to play for 11 points clear and already champions with 3 to play.

Depor - precession

What a way to greet your fans. Edu the man who has become a cult figure at the Riazor bags another two as he finishes the season on a tear.

Irureta said: “We had the three trophies but we did not want to parade them before kick off because there is still a match to be played. I heard many people say there was nothing to play for, but in life as in football there is always something to play for. We are unbeaten at home this season, I want that to remain in tact and clearly so do our players. For me, this result is my favourite of the season. For the players to show this level of quality and focus after achieving everything asked of them and more, I could not be more proud of them.”

Depor it seems do not do days off.

Depor - 3-2 the legend of Edu

The legend of Eduardo Arnau Vilata Edu continues to grow as in another for all intents and purposes meaningless game – but don’t tell Irureta – the Spaniard wins his side all three points in the 88th minute. All over a sudden his 8 goals in 14 appearances looks impressive for a third choice bench striker.

Real 2-2 United

Real Madrid’s miserable season continues as goals from Steven Maddison (?) and Roy Keane are enough to see United through to a penalty shootout in which the great Dane Peter Schmeichel is the hero for the team from the north west of England.

Depor - Lopez Rekarte day

As you would imagine it was party time once again at the Riazor but also with a hint of sadness as the Galicians said farewell to 34 year old Lopez Rekarte and 32 year old Bebeto.

Both players announced before the game that this would be their last season at the Riazor. Lopez Rekarte saying: “I was not here long but this club is in my heart” .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUTR4m_H3bY

After a video showing the greatest moments of Jose Roberto Gama de Olivera – or Bebeto to you and me – the great man himself addressed the crowd visibly emotional he said: “When I came here, you accepted me and treated me like one of your own, my goals were my way of saying thank you and to be able to say thank you with my last two today means everything. Viva Super Depor!

Depor - Annual Awards

Outrage at the La Liga awards as Camarasa beats Donato to the player of the year award. Deportivo had a season that broke the previous 107 goal season record held by Real Madrid 89/90 (albeit with 4 more games played) and smashed the record for a 42 game season again previously held by Real Madrid 96/97 (92 points) with their 101 points total and no one in this incredible side performed better or more consistently than their talismann at the back Donato.

When asked Irureta said: “Camarasa is a wonderful player and I am glad to see him recognised but I don’t see how the best player on the best team in Spain does not win this award.”

Depor - Tito young player

Bebeto leaves Spain with a golden boot to take with him after his 31 goal haul and the unanimous young player of the year Tito re-writes what it means to be a full back with no less than 12 goals and 8 assisnts from right back.

News from on high is that Depor are being given £10m to reinforce the squad for next season:

Depor - Money

With Mauro Silva signed up for another 3 years, Txiki and Paco rewarded for their seasons and Irureta pledging he is going nowhere, Depor have a bright future indeed.

Historic:

Depor - 101 points

What a season, Forca Super Depor and what better way to sign off than with a video set to crap music:

See you again I hope for our next game Championship Manager 96/97.

Championship Manager: A journey through time

Part One: That tricky first season

The Background

As the Premier League becomes a human rights abuse invitational, I thought I’d go back to a simpler time in my life when the beautiful game – for whatever reason – at least seemed more beautiful.

While I’ve always been a Liverpool fan, I always loved the game first and so when two football obsessed Evertonians from Shropshire designed the first Championship Manager  (CM) game, they opened up a world of possibilities for all the want-to-be future football managers like myself.

The first installment was released in 1992. It was a far cry from the game we came to know and love but it was the first rendering of what was to become a staple in every young football fan’s life.

Where it all began

The original game did not have the real players’ names, that came with CM93, the update disk came along in 93/94 but before that we got Championship Manager Italia and this – as a keen 10 year old – was where my CM journey began back then and hence where it will begin now.

The Decision

As anyone will tell you who was alive back then or has a grasp of Italian football, Serie A was THE league. In 1993, Marseille – European Champions against the odds – had some quality players of course but sadly it was revealed years later that Marseille President, Bernard Tapie was – as we now know – fixing football matches.

Bernard Tapie: Scoundrel

There are varying beliefs as to the degree it affected an impressive Marseille side and how much it played a part in Europe. Rangers in particular felt hard done by to say the least. What is undeniable though is that it will have given an advantage to the French side on and off the pitch and because of this, their European Cup of that year should be returned and stricken from the records, just as their French League title was.

There is an excellent piece on this scandal here: https://footballchronicle.co/2019/03/13/the-success-and-scandal-of-bernard-tapies-marseille/

Anyway, Milan were THE team and everyone knew it. They would go on to prove this a year later when they trounced a Barca side containing no less than Nadal, Koeman,  Romario, Stoichkov and one Josep Guardiola. The score was 4-0.

The Rossoneri at the San Siro

I don’t want to go AC Milan though, that would be “too easy”. So I decide to scan through the history books and what do I see but Fiorentina languishing in Seria B.

La Viola

Fiorentina had been relegated the season before managing just 8 wins and 30 points.

They were to return the next season, with Francesco Toldo, Francesco Baiano and the legend that was to be, Gabriel Batistuta.

I couldn’t resist taking charge and trying to emulate their first placed 17 win, 50 point season.

CM Italia! – The beginning

The overwhelming issue for Fiorentina in real life was the 56 goals they conceded. So suring up the backline is the main issue here. I place every defender not part of my chose back four on the transfer market and many of the poor or unwanted midfielders with them.

No one seems to care. I was wondering if there would be a backlash from the board but none is forthcoming.. Dunga is gone, a big miss but Steffen Effenberg is still here. Not exactly defensive minded. I mean he was defensive in the idea that if you got near him, he’d try and hoof you ten foot in the air but his real skill was moving the ball forward and happily CM Italia agrees.

Up front Brian Laudrup is nowhere to be seen. A real shame for me. I assume he’s made his way to Rangers but unfortunately the search function won’t allow me to look into this further. The game is very limited in that aspect.

So what I really need is a defensive midfielder. Giovanni Tedesco has just signed from Reggina. I remember him being a no nonsense player but a bit of a journeyman. A plan begins to form.

I don’t have the defence or defensive midfield options I want and I can’t seem to buy them as £3 million is my budget and no one I want is affordable or wants to come.

I decide I’m going to have to sell someone. Who though? Of the players who have any value, Effenberg is the one at 4.5m and for realism (actually I should say he’s 4500000 as CM decides this annoying way of viewing numbers is the way to go, it’s no doubt a programming issue rather than a conscious choice of course) and he actually did sign for my German team Borussia Monchengladbach at the end of this season in real life.

I need a cheaper attacking midfield replacement and while perusing I see none other than  Maradona available for £2m. It’s madness. I must have him but surely the computer won’t allow him to sign for a Serie B team? 

Welcome to Fiorentina, Diego Armando Maradona! Didn’t even need to haggle.

None of my players are bid for, despite the fact clubs are interested.

The team is all over the shop and the options tactically are limited:

I don’t care, I’m in Serie B and I have a front three of Baiano, Maradona and Batigol. I’ll work the rest out when the window opens if the game will let me.

The Anglo-Italian cup comes to an abrupt end as Maradona is sent off for punching an Ascoli player and then Carrobi joins him for looking at the ref the wrong way or something equally stupid.

Not happy with that. Ah well, we will always have smashing Tranmere and Sunderland.

Next game and Danna is sent off for spitting at the ref.

If there’s one thing that is annoying me most about this game it’s how many times a man is injured or them being sent off for the strangest reasons every few games. Despite being 1-0 down to Bari and with 10 men, we fight back for a valuable point to take us a point clear at the top. 6 more wins needed out the next 15 games to match Fio’s actual season.

As if to prove my earlier point my captain Bruno is sent off for punching the ref and we lose 1-0 at home to Pescara, our first home loss of the season and first goal conceded at home.

The Anglo-Italian Cup is decided. It should have been me!

Here we go again:

As  you can see, you can’t even put the players in the positions you want so once you lose players like this, it’s just a matter of time.

And yet somehow…

So with one match to go, incredibly I have a chance to beat the target I set myself.

Francesco Baiano scores the only goal of the game against Verona and his 23rd of the season to ensure promotion and hit the magical 50. For context the soon to be Derby County man managed 29 in 118 games for La Viola in real life. I got something very right with Francesco.

I can more than live with not winning Serie B, that was never the target but the Anglo-Italian defeat and more so its manner still stings.

Conclusion

All in all, CM Italia was frustrating. There was not enough tactical flexibility and a lot of the time you felt like you were leaving it to chance and hoping.

From the moment I couldn’t sell players I didn’t want or buy players I did, to some bizarre incidents throughout the season that were random and I had no control over, it wasn’t the experience it could have been.

It’s amazing how much the little things annoy you, things we have now come to take for granted. Being unable to click on other matches to see who scored or played well Being able to search for a player by name or something as simple as being able to order goals, assists, average ratings etc in ascending or descending order.

Goalkeepers feel like also rans as the only stat you can see for them is influence, so you’re left to guess if they are good enough or not.

It was fun finding out half my side ended up in either the Italian first team squad or their u-21 counterparts but it simply wasn’t enough for me to want to play another season.

Of the time, it was exciting but now you see it for what it was which was merely a stepping stone to the greatness it would become.

Given CM93/94 is merely an update, it’s at this time I will skip ahead to Championship Manager 2. 

Major League Soccer – Football’s diamond in the rough

With Liverpool top of the Premier League and European Champions, I’d still swap the Premier League for MLS tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool Football Club has been my life and will always be a huge part of my life and it is more than just a football club to me but what the Premier League has allowed English football to become – to me at least – is an abomination.

Even with the team performing as well as it ever has in my lifetime, I crave something that the Premier League especially has never really been able to give me. A level playing field.

Major League Soccer or MLS is far from perfect and is considered a “joke” to many over here and many in North America to be frank.

If people just gave it a chance though, they’d find out what I know – that while not without its own issues – it’s a wonderful league.

I’ve been ignorant in the past and while not disparaging of MLS, I never took it as seriously as I should. It was an afterthought, if that.

I “follow” teams from all around the world and from a young age I followed NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, so why not MLS? I honestly can’t say definitively.
In large part I’d say that ironically other North American sports were far more accessible over here.

If you ask any fan of American sports in Britain you will hear stories of their favourite US Sports shows that were aired on Channel 4, and Channel 5 when we were younger. Shows on free TV that were accessible to anyone with a set. We didn’t have that for MLS.

Obviously of course, it’s important to accept that the biggest reason for this was that the North American sports we watched were a superior product and MLS was – no offence – an inferior product.

The tide is turning though I’m glad to say. The amount of people following MLS in Britain grows by the game and while it is still viewed with disdain by many, there are those fans of David Beckham who came and stayed. My own friends who wouldn’t have entertained the idea previously even watched and attended LA Galaxy games because of Steven Gerrard.

And yet, it wasn’t Beckham that brought me to MLS, it wasn’t Gerrard, it wasn’t any single player. It was an idea, an idea that I should be more open to the experience of football in North America.

When I became a Columbus Crew fan, I found everything I didn’t even know I was looking for. When I started understanding what MLS is, despite its foibles, I fell in love with the league as a whole.

There are those who will say that MLS seeks to give big markets preferential treatment and from what I’ve seen and supporting a smaller market team myself, I couldn’t really dispute that as vehermently as I might like to.

What I would say is, it’s nothing compared to the disparity that exists in the Premier League.

There have always been teams like Liverpool and Man United in the English League that have had financial advantages, but at least they were earned to some degree. Now? Any team can become a contender overnight based on no more than a ridiculous cash injection.

MLS has rules and regulations which prevent money being the be all and end all for a club and I love that.

You only have to look at the teams that have won the Premier League and how much has been spent to assemble those sides. As a Liverpool fan, I’m immensely proud of what Klopp has achieved as honestly, I wasn’t sure we could overcome clubs that spend even more money than us and were threatening to dominate this new era before his arrival.

Despite what Liverpool have achieved and will continue to achieve (I hope), the majority of games we play, I expect to win and it’s more of a shock if we don’t because we have such a significant advantage over the majority of our opponents.

Liverpool fans and fans of other big clubs or big spending clubs in the Premier League are spoiled and what it leads to is bitterness, bile and hatred.

The club someone supports is used as a reason to dislike them regardless of who they may be and instead of bringing people together as the game should, it creates more disconnection in a world where we are already given more than enough reasons to blindly hate.

If you win in MLS, you don’t win because you were one of the teams that was able to outspend your opponents and therefore automatically gain a significant advantage, you win because you were able to assemble the best squad and perform at the highest level when it mattered most. It is for this reason that there’s a purity which people can at least accept and at best respect.

To me, that is the true spirit of competition at its absolute best and what football should be all about. 

Leagues across the world should take note and fans of the league should be more grateful,  MLS is a diamond in the rough.