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 Post subject: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 12:37 am 
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Some of you may have heard of the Scottish football magazine 'Nutmeg', which this month features an article about football play-by-mail games, mainly reminiscing on the glory days of the 90's. They asked me for a bit of game info and a few thoughts, although I only saw two quotes re: Soccer Star. Still, the article is an interesting (though very long) read, which I'll post below.

You can get a physical copy of the Nutmeg from their website. Looks quite good actually.

Anyway, here's the article. Apologies for the wall-of-text, it's a bit unedited due to being pasted from an email.

MY mum can still remember the call as if it was yesterday, even though almost three decades have passed.
“Can I speak to the Athletic Bilbao manager please?” – a request made even more surreal by the fact it was delivered in a high-pitched tone that suggested the cruelties of puberty were still a few years in the offing.
Yet she somehow managed to resist the urge to laugh, politely asked the caller to hold and beckoned me down the stairs to conduct another important piece of transfer business.
Such was life in the household of a play-by-mail football manager in the early 1990s, when thousands of calls like this were taking place across the UK.
Most fellow bosses had acquired the social skills to ask for you by name, unlike the young English lad who took the more formal approach of requesting an audience with the San Mames figurehead.
However, the fact you would field calls from people as diverse as 10-year-old school boys and those clinging on to middle age by their finger tips summed up the universal appeal of the game.
In the days when the internet was still the preserve of academics, everything was done by pen and paper. Each week you would be sent a bundle of documents through the post that contained a match report of your last game, results from the rest of the league, injury news and details of players up for transfer.
If you wanted to add to your squad, or move on any deadwood, you would have to pick up the phone and strike a deal with your opposite number.
The paperwork for the transfer would then be sent back to HQ, along with team selection and tactics for the next fixture, with a few pound coins sellotaped to the back as your weekly dues.
As a football-mad teenager from Dundee, I found the whole process intoxicating – and I was not alone.
Around 13,000 people joined me in playing the M&E Sports simulation in that era, including Richard Skeen from Norfolk.
He started off as the schoolboy manager of Norwegian side Lillestrom and can vividly remember the thrill of waiting for the weekly update to drop through his letterbox.
“Everyone who played it back then has the anecdote of trying to catch the postman before school – or the misery of seeing him when you’ve just got on the bus,” Richard said.
M&E Sports was just one of several play-by-mail games operating at the time so the total figure of postal gaffers may have been closer to 40,000.
Glynn Carey, one of the original pioneers in the mid-1980s, set up his Soccer Star game in Nottingham at the age of just 16, having been inspired by the rudimentary football manager simulator on his ZX Spectrum.
“Soccer Star was conceived in 1986 and, as far as I’m aware, it was the first play-by-mail football game,” he said. “I franchised the game out to family and friends in 1991 which was a very stressful experience. But the game thrived with well over 100 leagues and 10,000 managers at its height around 1993/94.”
Grant Baxter, from Stirling, took his fledgling steps as a manager in that era, playing another game called Premier Simulations, which operated out of glamorous Biggleswade.
“My first team was a Hungarian side called Kispest Honved,” said Grant, who’s now 39. “I can still recall most of their players – in fact I still use one of them as my password for certain things.
“I was bored one night and went on Wikipedia to see how some of my Honved players got on in real life. Sadly, none of them managed to recreate the careers I carved out for them.”
I formed the same bond with the Bilbao players who took me to title glory in my second season as manager, most notably the precocious winger Francisco Luke who disappeared without a trace in the real world.
I had inherited just one star in the shape of Julen Guerrero yet moulded a team that would take on all comers, although our success may not have gone down too well with the traditionalists, given I ended the club’s proud policy of only fielding players from the Basque region.
Signing Chris Sutton from Blackburn was my Mo Johnston moment but the big man had big enough shoulders to deal with any death threats from ETA and became the bedrock of that title-winning campaign.
Yet when Los Leones ran out the following season to begin the defence of their crown, I was no longer in the dugout, having been tempted away by the computer game Championship Manager.
The purchase of a family PC provided the gateway for an instant hit of my opiate, instead of having to wait for the postie to feed my addiction.
The rise of Championship Manager, which was created by Shropshire brothers Oliver and Paul Collyer after they grew frustrated with the limitations of play-by-mail games, should have sounded the death knell for its predecessor.
I only gave play-by-mail passing thoughts over the next few decades and assumed it had joined Teletext, Clubcall and sideburns in the digital age’s football graveyard.
Yet a handful of play-by-mail games still exist and some are even thriving. Among them is Glynn Carey’s Soccer Star, although he admits most of the managers now taking part are those who played during its 90s heyday.
“I now only run eight leagues, although they’re very stable and it’s still a great one-man-business,” said Glynn, 49. “I’m down to around 50 managers and they are almost entirely long-termers or returning managers from the 90s. It’s still my job, although it doesn’t take up much time. Luckily, when it was thriving I paid off my mortgage and saved up some money, so I’m kind of semi-retired.”
The big player these days is Ultimate Europe, which was set up 20 years ago and now boasts 500 managers. It’s owned and run by Ben Paget, who claims the game’s success is down to the fact they don’t try to slug it out with the Collyer brothers’ behemoth.
“We never really tried to compete with them in terms of complexity,” he said. “We tried to make the game a bit more like a board game in some ways. A weekly deadline means you can plan, discuss transfers, look in detail at your opponents tactics. You can’t just press continue. It also offers a world with lots of other real managers.”
That social aspect is the underlying appeal for most managers. The game has even helped to strengthen family ties, with Charles La Rochelle and James Harman operating as a father-and-son dugout duo.
Charles was a devotee of Italian football when he started out in the 1990s and is now the Giovanni Trapattoni of the play-by-mail fraternity, still going strong into his 70s.
He’s one of the few players who still receives match reports through the post instead of via email and playing the game keeps him close to son James, who has moved from their Essex base to London.
“It has strengthened our relationship,” said Charles. “Jay being where he is, I don’t see him very often but we have always done the football together. We have always been extremely close and the game has been a bond between us.”
James, 38, agrees and fondly remembers the days when they would anger his mum by running up huge phone bills talking to fellow managers.
“My dad was once on the phone to one of the other managers for about 45 minutes, at national rates,” he said. “When the itemised phone bill came through my mum went mad and dad would blame me instead.”
Charles still insists James was the prime culprit but he soon devised a system to get them both off the hook.
“Rather than just running our bill up, Jay and I went to a local phone box and used that,” he said. “We spent a long time talking to people.
“We would talk about the game, what they did for a living and just what they were interested in. We got on very well with a lot of the boys.
“All sorts of different people were involved when we started. There were supermarket workers and one of them was an actual footballer. We grew up with them and knew them. In one game they even used to have a weekend away once every year.”
They weren’t the only managers meeting up on a social basis, with alcohol the only thing clouding Richard Skeen’s recollections of a golfing weekend 13 years ago.
“About nine of us met up,” said Richard, who now plays the Ultimate Europe game. “We all had that common denominator – a love of PBM as well as drinking. The game itself is a bit of a sideshow – there is always great banter when you are playing your friends.”
Grant Baxter has been part of the Ultimate Europe community for the last three years and insists it gives him an escape from the pressures of his job in financial services.
“It takes you back to your childhood, a time when you didn’t have to worry about bills and a job,” he said. “It has been a good distraction from stress at work – it lets me take a break from all of that.
“There are WhatsApp groups and although some of us act like we are still 12 years old with silly arguments and bickering, it’s a good place. Sometime people can get other things off their chests with relative strangers. A big issue is metal health at the moment and this group has really helped some people out.”
It’s a sentiment Matthew Maksimovic would echo, having admitted to his own battles with depression. Now 37, Matthew, from Taffs Well in Cardiff, set up the first internet forum for Ultimate Europe, only to later be banned from the same platform after clashing with fellow managers.
“Most men by nature are competitive and interacting with the opposition gives us the enjoyment we crave,” he said. “Over the years I have developed quite an outspoken and opinionated attitude which meant I frequently used to bite when getting wound up.
“I’ve mellowed with age, becoming a father, and I also suffer with depression. So I get involved in the bare minimum of fall-outs now, although sadly you will always get some guys looking to fight and argue.”
That much became clear when I decided to relive my teenage years by signing up for Game 121 of Ulimate Europe, although I was denied an emotional return to the Basque country as someone had already been named Athletic Bilbao boss.
As manager of Italian side Livorno, I logged on to the WhatsApp group and soon found my phone bombarded with messages, even though it was only pre-season and the new game was still weeks away from starting.
Old Firm barbs made their depressingly predictable appearance, even though most of the managers came from England, and there were so many messages I eventually had to disable notifications.
When the season finally began, I switched the notifications back on, only to be engulfed by literally thousands of messages.
It was all a bit too overwhelming, with many managers spitting the dummy after missing out on transfer deals, and I started yearning for the days of polite phone calls from suburban school boys.
Those who have remained loyal to the game have seen this evolution take place more slowly but it hasn’t made the change in etiquette any easier to stomach. Instead of a 45-minute phone call, Charles La Rochelle now has to deal with people who rarely communicate in more than 45 characters.
“They don’t want to talk to you now, they are very introverted,” said the game’s elder statesman. “People are more interested in themselves and it’s an inward-looking thing.
“Now I don’t know what people do, they hide behind a screen because it’s all done through computers. If people want to talk to you it comes through text or computer, not on the phone.”
Son James comes from a generation more in tune with technology but also admits communication in the social media age has taken away some of the game’s magic.
“You got to know everyone back in the day because you would phone them up,” he said. “Now there are so many keyboard warriors.”
The 1990s were more innocent times, however, and James points out that phoning up schoolboys would now rightly set off more than a few alarm bells.
In a society where grooming has become depressingly prevalent, the game has been forced to move with the times to avoid attracting those who would use it for their own evil ends.
“With all the issues surrounding child protection, you can’t call up a 13-year-old kid and say I want to sign your player,” said James. “There are so many people out there who would use this kind of thing to set up an interaction. It shouldn’t be like that but unfortunately that’s the way we are.”
I was that 13-year-old when I filled in a team sheet for the first time and waited on tenterhooks for news of how things had panned out at San Mames.
The envelope didn’t even have time to bounce off the doormat before I whisked it away, the anti-climax of a 2-1 defeat doing little to curb the enthusiasm that would build with each passing week.
Waiting for an email to drop with news of my maiden assignment as Livorno boss, a Southern Fourth Division blockbuster with Entella, failed to elicit the same sensations, my sense of wonder dulled by three decades of building cynicism.
Yet I still felt my pulse race when it finally popped up on the screen and instantly transported me back to 1993.


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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 12:56 am 
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Good article, although you aren't 49 any more :P

Belated Happy Birthday for last Friday !!

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:47 am 
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Belated birthday greetings. A great read and the best publication I have come across for us folk north of the border.

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 12:49 pm 
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Thanks for sharing.

Back in the early days of SS under DMW games I had a team imaginatively 'Leicester City'.

I was trying to arrange a transfer deal so I called the landline. I was 14 years old.

His Father picked up the phone 'Who's calling?'
"The manager of Leicester City"
I heard his Father p :D ss him self before shouting up the stairs: "Craig I've got the manager of Leicester City on the phone for you".

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 1:05 pm 
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Dutch_Uncles wrote:
Thanks for sharing.

Back in the early days of SS under DMW games I had a team imaginatively 'Leicester City'.

I was trying to arrange a transfer deal so I called the landline. I was 14 years old.

His Father picked up the phone 'Who's calling?'
"The manager of Leicester City"
I heard his Father p :D ss him self before shouting up the stairs: "Craig I've got the manager of Leicester City on the phone for you".


Weren’t trying to do a deal with Deportivo La Middlesbrough of the British Conference League were you?! :oops: :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 1:59 pm 
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It was a another Craig from the West Midlands :D

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:02 pm 
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Those were the days, racing home on my bike at lunch time from school to see if my turn had arrived lol

I cant remember the league (maybe ROE?) , being delivered on a Saturday morning... If it didn't arrive hoping for the 2nd post, failing that Monday... :lol:

Roll forward approx 26/27 years, 40 in Feb... Crazy but good fun... :D

Si

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 9:02 pm 
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Happy Birthday Glynn and I love checking my e-mails on a morning before I go to work now but nothing beat receiving those white or brown envelopes two days after the games had been played however the December turns were annoying when you would receive the turns late.

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2020 6:28 am 
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Good read :)

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2020 10:29 pm 
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Great to read. Always remember the brown envelope dropping through the door. Was a weekly treat. First joined in 91/92 I think. I’m sure it was Sherwood Games back then on the league I was in ran by Jonathan? Always remember my first team All stars in the ESA. Had a team later on in the ROE but can’t remember the name.

Great to look back at this though.

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2020 7:05 am 
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My first team was 'Newry Rovers', Used to be on 4 pages, way back 1990 ish with the stats of players being just one number for example 13, 14 was considered good, best players were 25 ish. Wish I'd kept them to look over for nostalgia, I also used to regularly hound the postman for my brown envelope when it was changed to accommodate the 10 stats they all have now on a roll of paper, with 'Borussia Dortmund' my first of that version, I had the best midfielder in the league he was 20 (even remember his name Walter Menzo) and worth 935K all V/go and Good's....... Not an All Bril player in sight for many seasons. oh how times have changed!

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 Post subject: Re: Nutmeg Article
PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2020 7:14 am 
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Great read. I remember many times of taking a handful of coins to phone book with my team sheets and a paper and pen and asking for 'the manager of....' Often it was Eastleigh Saints as I remember chatting to Paul every few weeks (wonder what he is doing now).

Great days when life seemed a lot less complicated.

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