I used to read books on my train journey to work. That felt valuable to me. Like I was doing something worthwhile with some otherwise-dead time. Recently though, my commute has been consumed by something else. Something on my phone. Something that threatens to devour my time, my thoughts, and possibly my sanity. That thing, as if you don’t already know, is Football Manager.
It’s weird that, in my 30s, this is where I find myself. I didn’t think this was what adults did. I thought we went to dinner parties and built flat-pack furniture and made cutting cynical remarks about the political climate. I didn’t think I’d be sitting on a cramped train, watching pixels move around a tiny screen while I grow increasingly agitated about Right-Back Pixel not getting high enough up the park or Trequartista Pixel not dropping deep enough into the hole. I should be shrieking at my phone, “YOU’RE NOT REAL! NONE OF THIS IS REAL!” But I’m days away from the opening of a wholly imaginary transfer window and I can’t bring myself to break the spell.
I never should have downloaded the app. But I just wanted to take a quick look, to see what it’s like these days. In my early 20s, I had to physically throw out a PC version of Football Manager so that I could get my life back. I’d been literally sitting up all night, convincing myself I’d play just one more match, and one more match, and one more match, until suddenly it would be 5am and I’d realise I hadn’t blinked in seven hours and I couldn’t move my legs.
It had been like that on and off since I was a teenager. In the early days, of course, it was Championship Manager, a game that was perhaps more basic but certainly no less addictive. My days (and nights) would be consumed by my efforts to lead Stirling Albion to Champions League glory. Once I’d achieved that, I’d send ripples through the football world by quitting on a high, snubbing offers from AC Milan and Real Madrid, before taking the Accrington Stanley job so I could start from the bottom all over again. You might not even be aware of this, but I was kind of a big deal. Sadly, what I gained in fictitious success I lost in spinal health and sunlight.
And now, here I am, back where I started, addicted to this absolute life-sapping bastard of a brilliant game, looking up from my phone only occasionally to glare at those smug grown-up swines sitting opposite me with their so-called books. I used to read books. I used to be like you. Now look at me. Look. Look at what I’ve become. I’m basically Gollum, but where he has that ring, I have a three-year plan to get into the Europa League with Leyton Orient.
So where do I go from here? I’ve promised myself I’ll pack it all in at the end of my 30th season when, apparently, the game forces you to retire. Yep, I’ll do that. There’s no way I’m downloading the next version. I’ll finally get my life back, right? I’ll go for walks. I’ll eat healthily. I’ll do a terrible job of putting together an Ikea bedside cabinet, but dammit I’ll be happy. I might even pick up a book again. Anyone read anything good lately?