Book Review | The Men Who Stare at Goals

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An interesting characteristic of Football Manager (FM), and of its predecessor, Championship Manager (CM), is that the game generates a good deal of writing. Much of this appears, naturally, on forums and blogs. But in addition there have been a number of books — for example, the “Johnny Cooper” books by Chris Darwen (the founder of this blog). Now a new book is out: The men who stare at goals: an FM anthology, edited by Alex Stewart.

The book comprises ten chapters, each by a different author, plus an introduction by the editor (the owner of the well-known Put Niels In Goal blog) and a foreword by Iain Macintosh. Currently it’s available only as an eBook (in three formats — ePub, Mobi, and PDF), though I gather from the editor that a print edition might perhaps follow.

The book’s a real ragbag. That’s to say, the writing takes the form of several genres. Perhaps the most conventional genres are the largely narrative accounts of particular saves, celebrations of particular players, and an analytical guide — Lee Scott’s explanation of how to think beyond player positions and roles when building a team.

Other genres include a think-piece, by Dave Black, on the role of FM as a catalyst for writers, and a mock interview on Sky (dated 2033!) with manager Sam Kelly (the contributor) and his assistant manager, Phil Neville.

When I say the book’s a ragbag, I mean that in a good way. Until you start reading each chapter, you have no idea what you’re going to find — and that makes it fun (variety as spice). The variety enables the book to function as an introduction to the kinds of FM writing available (if a print edition follows, I hope the editor might consider adding an annotated reading list to point readers towards the sources of further writing) and also as a celebration of such.

I enjoyed reading all of the book. From a personal angle, three pieces (by James Williams, Alex Stewart and Chris Darwen) engaged my interest especially strongly. Each is rooted firmly in the first person and sets the playing of FM in the context of the broader life of the writer.

Williams provides an engaging account that takes us from the genesis of his interest (on an Atari XL, circa 1987) to a trip to watch in real life a team he has managed, for over 500 matches, on FM, namely Amiens in northern France.

If Williams provides us with great light entertainment, Stewart and Darwen provide much darker content — and, with it, gravitas. Both, in contrasting ways, explore autobiographically the relationship between playing FM (and CM) and the experience of, and struggle against, alcoholism and mental illness.

They should be saluted for doing so. My bet is that their contributions represent the tip of an iceberg: if by writing about these issues they make it easier for other people to discuss such matters, that will be a fine achievement.

The publication has been used in part to raise funds for CALM, a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. In the final chapter, Jonny Sharples explains how a celebrated newgen, Ivica Strok, has been to used to raise awareness of and funds for the charity and movingly reveals a personal involvement with this issue.

There are, then, several reasons why this publication should be welcomed and read. It’s available (here) for approximately the cost of a latte. Treat yourself.

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