I'm going to take you back through the history of the Football Manager series, identifying some of the major developments over the years and sharing a few of my own personal memories from the football management simulator that has outlasted them all.
The Championship Manager Era
For those of you who didn't know, Football Manager used to be called Championship Manager back in the day and didn't become the Football Manager we know and love until 2005.
In 1992 the first in a long time of Championship Manager games was released and while I didn't join the craze until CM 97/98, it is vital to talk about the original version of the game as without it my would be very different. Championship Manager wasn't an instant success in terms of sales, but it did enough to start a franchise.
Improvements such as real-life player databases were added to Championship Manager '93 and Championship Manager 2 was launched in 1995 and added another level of emersion to the franchise with the inclusion of photographs of each ground. Championship Manager 96/97 followed and was the first game in the series to feature one of the other major European leagues, Serie A of Italy.
My First Championship Manager game
Championship Manager 97/98 introduced a 13-year old me to the franchise, and I never looked back after that. I remember standing in Game in Chester looking at CM 97/98 and the new Premier Manager game, trying to decide which one I wanted for Christmas. Thankfully I went with CM 97/98. The game itself was much bigger than before as it included nine playable leagues, three of which could be loaded up at the same time. This particular version of the game remains one of the most popular in the series with fans of a certain age and can still be played today on most PCs and laptops. I was the first of my friends to play CM 97/98, but once I introduced them to the game it wasn't long before they became fanatics as well. I put some many hours into this game and got so many great memories out of it that CM 97/98 remains a personal favourite of mine.
Being a fan of CM 97/98 I couldn't wait for Championship Manager 3 to be released in 1998. This version of the game looked very different to CM 97/98, much brighter and more welcoming. CM 3 added extra media involvement and more interaction with your board, improvements were also made to the scouting system. The MLS was added to CM 99/00 as the franchise and its fanbase continued to grow and grow. CM 00/01 included a further 10 leagues that you could choose to play in and it introduced us to the editing system for the first time. I never liked using the editor as it felt like cheating to me, but the number of times I would go round to my cousins and see little scraps of paper with teams names and their original transfer budgets written on was too many to count.
The Best and the Worst of CM
Championship Manager 01/02 is still to this day played regularly by fans of the CM/FM series and was certainly one of the very best versions of the game ever released. I tried my very best not to revert to the 4-1-3-2 formation that almost seemed like a cheat tactic in CM 01/02, but most of the time I did. CM 01/02 introduced us to some of the most memorable ‘cheat' players such as Maxim Tsigalko, amongst others. Maksim Tsyhalka, as it should be spelt, was a young striker than guaranteed a huge number of goals and was available for around £1m. I enjoyed so many saves with Maxim in my sides and was very sad to learn of his passing on 25th December 2020, aged just 37. Maksim Tsyhalka was a hot prospect in his early career and scored a lot of goals but sadly he failed to live up to the hype and retired in 2010.
CM 4 arrived in stores in 2003 and broke all previous records. This instalment of the franchise introduced us to the top-down match engine view, or 2D view, that many of us know and love. CM 4 had an amazing 39 playable leagues and added a further four in one of the updates. However, the game itself was not unconditionally loved by all of the fans due to the game running slowly, some bugs and some issues with realism when managing lower division clubs.
Championship Manager: Season 03/04 proved to be the final instalment of CM franchise as we know it, though the game continued on using the Championship Manager name without Sports Interactive through to Championship Manager 2011. CM 03/04 got rid of many of the bugs that plagued CM 4 and added more new leagues, but isn't remember by the fans as a classic in the series.
The Football Manager Era
Football Manager first hit the shelves in 2004 and took with it the majority of Championship Manager fans in the process. Football manager moved forward in terms of what it delivered to the hardcore football management simulator fans and Championship Manager couldn't live with them and eventually died out.
Football Manager would go on to introduce the 3D match engine, though even in FM21 this needs major improvements. Football Manager was released on the Xbox 360 in 2006, but couldn't offer the same as the PC version and never really made the grade. Year on year FM improve on their current content and add new features to keep the game feeling fresh and moving forward. Football Manager 2021 has seen the franchise return to Xbox, proving just how big their fanbase is and how much demand there is for the game. There are even successful mobile and lite versions of the game for the more casual players and they certainly offer more of a ‘CM' style playing experience, one which you can pick up and play quickly without having to go too in-depth and taking up too much time.
The series continues to go from strength to strength and thanks to the level of detail and the amount of effort put in by the all of the people involved in making the game, FM doesn't look like it's going to fade into the abyss like Championship Manager did.