The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
A new version of Football Manager is released today, which makes this, in my house at least, a time of hushed reflection. The old era is passing away, the new era is rising up before us. Everything we knew and loved is sliding into the sea, while before us, like a mountainous country, is thrust a terrifying and exhilarating possibility. Just like every day, really, but the arrival of a new FM makes it that much clearer. Here is the past, there is the future. Eurogamer gave it a 9, but wished more had been done to fix the press conferences.
And with that, we end the ongoing saga of Pro Vercelli, or anyway we sort of end it. I’m not retiring from the team or deleting the game. I might go on playing it (I’m not rushing out to get FM2010, but then, after 14 seasons in Vercelli, I need a break), and I might even post the occasional update if anything interesting happens. In our imaginations, tomorrow is just another day at Cheers. But any new developments from this point forward will be firmly in the realm of epilogue.
Even if the story is only sort of ending, though, the appearance of FM2010 makes this a good day to look back over everything that’s happened since I first picked up FM09 and proposed to “make up some crazy stories about these little people who live inside my screen.” In the 14 seasons—5066 days, from summer 2008 to spring 2022—since ursus arctos first recommended Pro Vercelli as a possible team, we have:
But it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about the people who contributed to making those numbers so very, very impressive. I don’t mean Walter Colombo, obviously, but everyone else, from Marco Conchione, the veteran striker who kept us afloat during that difficult first season, to Jorge Ibáñez, the high-strung lower-league genius, to our longtime mainstay Carlo Saba, to Messi of Waifhofen/Ybbs, to the ever-dependable Miguel José, to the confidence-shorn Luca Neri, to our goalkeeping coach, the dimension-hopping Oliver Kahn, to the long-serving Landry Akassou, to the tormenting Senad Ibrahimovic, to our great captain Michael Dogan, to the temperamental Teixeira, to our young stars like Paolo Martini and Riccardo Caprioli, to the affable Alexander Zech, to the Ferj—all of these tiny imaginary men played a role in our success and left a mark on our story. Today, I can even spare a fond thought for our most memorable adversaries, from the ageless Francismar to the haughty Vito Scialpi. I hated them and wanted to destroy them, and that made everything more fun.
When I introduced this series a year ago, I wrote that reviewing Football Manager was like reviewing Buddhism—you can do it, but you have to take your time. A year and a horrifying number of hours spent playing later, what continues to amaze me about this game is its ability to generate a story. The marketing and the reviews always talk about its realism, which, when we come right down to it, is nonsense—for all its depth, playing FM is nothing like managing a real football team. What the game is astonishingly good at is creating the feeling of realism, dropping you into a world that behaves both consistently and surprisingly, that’s small enough that it’s roughly comprehensible but large enough that it always seems to be vanishing at the edges. And within that world, if you pay attention and play with a little imagination, there is an endlessly unfolding narrative which you are capable of influencing but not of controlling, a story whose fantastic twists and high-stakes conflicts are more engrossing because the outcome hasn’t been planned in advance. And that, I suspect, more than the fact that it gets all of Tottenham’s roster moves down right, is why this series is so beloved. That probably tells us something about the appeal of football, too, though in another sense, the appeal of the game really isn’t about football at all.
I started the Pro Vercelli story on a whim, thinking it would be fun to write a weekly update about an FM team that treated the imaginary world as if it were as important as real life. It wound up being by far the longest (nearly 100 posts!) and by far the most popular series we’ve ever run on the site, and as far as real life went, I wasn’t the only one who ended up being as fascinated by the actual history of Pro Vercelli—learning about which was easily the most satisfying part of writing these posts—as by its imaginary FM future. So the last thing I want to do, on this day of commemoration and renewal, is to thank everyone who followed the series and delved into the world of Silvio Piola and Guido Ara with me. Spending a year exhaustively recording the exploits of a video-game soccer team would have been a significantly weirder thing to do without your support.
A follow-up project is in the works.
by Brian Phillips · October 30, 2009