Hello all. I’ve never been one for ‘foruming’ but I wanted to share my longest and most successful story on Football Manager and how my real life football life has developed from this one particular save.
I have been a Football Manager player since 2008 but it's only been in recent years I actually discovered how much enjoyment the game can bring.
What I hope to do it bring a story of a save I have been playing throughout 2013-2014 with a small team in Scotland called Hamilton Academical FC. While some of you might know them from the relegation on Hibernian last year and the amazing run they've provided in the Scottish Premiership this year, much like some of you, I had no idea who they were before Football Manager introduced me to them.
I have spend over 22 days on this one save and have just finished in the season 2027 which is an all time record for me.
I hope this story will be an enjoyable read and I am open to any constructive comments or criticism on my forum writing.
Note: A lot of the early things will be from memory and therefore may not be as detailed as later chapters
Picking the team
When I first got Football Manager 2014 I was going to do a normal save of my supported team, York City FC, as it always seems like a good idea for your first same. I completed one season but I found myself getting bored by the familiarity of my save in 2013. I therefore decided to venture away from England.
I’ve always been a fan of Scottish football and I wish the league had more recognition, competitiveness and wasn’t dominated by the two (and now one) teams. So with this, I decided to see if I could knock Celtic FC off the top of the Scottish footballing podium but I was struggling to find the team for me.
When looking through the Scottish Premiership teams there was no teams that were of an interest to me, as I like the challenge of working my way up. Therefore, I looked into the Scottish Championship and a few teams caught my eye; Dundee FC, Morton FC but none where more appealing that Hamilton Academical FC (also known as The Accies). They had been around for a while and have been up and down the leagues but the thing that interested me the most about this team was the Youth Recruitment which was rated as 'Established'.
Doing a little research I found that this well proved as in recent years they have produced the ex-Wigan talents of James McCarthy and James McArthur, both now playing in the Premier League.
I therefore decided that Hamilton were the team I was going to try out and give them a season trial (normally how long it takes me to commit to a save).
The beginning, Stephen Stirling and a respectable season.
The first season was going to be not an easy one. I was really hoping on getting promoted first time, as in the next season there was an extremely good chance of Rangers being promoted and then taking the Championship by storm, but it was never going to be a breeze as Dundee, recently relegated, were confident on being promoted at the first time of asking. I always remained positive nevertheless.
First of all the squad, full of young players with the ability to play at the level of the Scottish Championship and possibly higher and experienced played who had the maturity and knowledge of how to perform. The main prospects came in the names of James Keatings, Stephen Henrie and Andy Ryan.
The season started well only losing twice in 15 games using the 4-5-1 formation with Keatings scoring around 10 being our main threat. It was all going to plan as we were sat in third and only 4 points behind the leaders Dundee. Dundee then gave us a 6-1 drubbing just before the cluster of games before Christmas and we hit a spell of bad form with 3 losses and 2 draws with placed us in 5th entering the new year.
Then in January we signed Stephen Stirling from Morton on a free, a 23 year old who had good stats for a playmaker but with plenty of area to grow. This signing changed the way we played, changing from a 4-5-1 formation to 4-2-2-2 and instantly got us out of our bad run of games with a 3-1 win over the Queen of the South.
After this revitalisation of our belief we went on to only lose once in 15 games to boost us back up the table, giving Dundee a 2-1 defeat in revenge as we went all out to catch up with them. Unfortunately Dundee were also in great form and topped the table with only 4 losses over the whole season. Hamilton finished a very respectable 2nd and looked to the playoffs.
(The Scottish Playoffs are a very odd form of playoffs as they are different to the normal semi-finals and final. There are 4 teams that enter: teams 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the Championship and 11th in the Scottish Premiership. 4th plays 3rd in two legs, then the winner plays 2nd over two legs, and then that winner plays the team 11th in the Scottish Premiership over 2 legs and that winner either is promoted or stays in the Scottish Premiership.)
As we finished 2nd, we'd play the winner of the game between 3rd and 4th, which happened to be Raith. A very professional job as we won both legs 2-1 to win 4-2 on aggregate. In the final awaited Ross County and the difference between the Championship and Premiership was shown as we lost 0-1 and 1-3 in the legs, meaning we had to spend another year in the Championship. The season ended with us signing a few youngsters at the end of their contracts, most notably Xavier Hare from Swansea and Lee Desmond from Newcastle.
While this season was not as successful as I had hoped, there were many positives to gain from it: the acquisition of Stephen Stirling, reaching the Challenge Cup semi-final, reaching the quarters of the Scottish League cup and young players such as James Keatings and Stephen Hendrie developing to become acceptable Scottish Premiership players. While I took positives, the next season was going to be just as challenging, if not harder, than the first season I faced as we had Rangers coming up from League 1 and Hearts coming down from the Premiership.
Pre-season flaws, transfers and Rangers
The beginning of the 2014-2015 season started with a bit of carelessness from myself. At the end of the 2013/14 season, my assistant manager's contract ended and I was without an assistant throughout summer. This caused the club to only have two friendlies before the season started as my assistant used to be one who arranged friendlies for me.
During this time of pre-season I made four big signings:
- Ian Turner; the former Everton Scottish goalkeeper from Dunfermline
- Josh Carson; ex-York and Northern Irish international winger who can play both sides
- Ruben Lameiras; a young winger from Tottenham
- Artur Krysiak; a Polish goalkeeper who had been around the lower leagues of England.
I was extremely pleased to acquire Josh Carson as I have known him from York.
While the players coming in were a huge boost to my promotion bid, the players going the other way were key players and caused concern to myself and the fans. James Keatings and Stephen Hendrie both came to me within a week of each other asking if they were able to leave. I pleaded the case that I was wishing to get promoted this year, but both players were determined to leave. I was not going to stand in the way of two players who had great potential to leave the club. Therefore, Stephen left to St. Mirren for £245k and James, who had options from Scottish Premiership team, opted for Rangers for £425k. This was worrying as I would be facing against him in the upcoming season but I was pleased for how much we gained from his fee.
Once the season started the fitness of my players were nowhere near ready and was vital as we only took 4 points from our opening 5 games. I needed to boost my player’s morale. I gave a team talk but none of the players were agreeing with me. I therefore needed to change my approach to improving morale. I noticed that a lot of the player’s contracts were running out within the year, so I went on a mission to secure the main players for at least another 2 seasons. Andy Ryan, Stephen Stirling and Grant Gillespie happily signed two year deals, but had a great increase in their wages.
With these three players having their morale boosted by the signing of new contracts they began to play well and we won the 6th game 4-2 against Alloa. Upcoming next was a game that I had been highly looking forward to. My first time coming up against Rangers. This was not only be first time coming up against the fallen legend but was also the first time one of my league games was shown on TV (apart from the playoff finals). It would also see me come up against my former top scorer, James Keatings. With my morale high off the last victory my boys won the game 3-2 to see ourselves rise above Hearts into 5th position. This led to a series of victories in the league and cups, most notably a league cup 3rd round win over Partick Thistle, and going on a 7 games unbeaten run.
Season 2014/15 part 2
Now while only a few weeks ago I had played Rangers, the most successful Scottish team, I was going to be playing my first game against their bitter rivals, Celtic FC, in the League Cup quarter final. I was never expecting to come up against the giants so soon. The media were giving Celtic all the plaudits saying how they were expected to win by 4 or 5, but I never go into a game thinking that we never have a chance. We had home advantage and was expected a sell-out of 6,000 attendance.
Celtic were in control in the first half, scoring a classy goal you’d expect from the Champions of Scotland and regular European participants. The boys came out second half with a desire for victory and Andy Ryan scored an easy but tidy finish. We held them until extra time until the killer blow as they scored just before the half of extra time. The defeat was looking inevitable and Celtic were all over our defence.
But one small counter attack saw us drive into the Celtic penalty area and Andy Ryan was tripped and a penalty was awarded. Stephen Stirling took the penalty and scored in the 118th minute, sending the fans delirious. When penalties came around the corner, Fraser Forster was the man of the moment, saving two penalties and sending Celtic through to the semi-final (and they won the cup in the end). There was nothing I could criticize to my boys as they gave it all and pushed Celtic to the brink.
Winners, poor form and youngsters
Season 2014/15 part 3
A month after the Celtic match we had the first chance to win some silverware in the Challenge Cup final vs Morton. This was not an interesting game, a bore 0-0 all the way to penalties where we were victorious with Turner making the decisive penalty save at 4-4. This was a pleasing moment for myself, the players, the fans and the board as they were not expecting us to win the cup. It was also a nice addition to the trophy cabinet as if things went to plan and we were promoted we would not get another chance to win this cup.
The typical footballing stereotype happened to us in December as we suffered a ‘cup hangover’. Despite winning the cup we went on a slump of only receiving 7 points from 6 games, including a 3-0 loss to Morton, who were obviously seeking revenge.
The few months were pretty average; not signing or selling in January, beating Hearts for the second time and a very entertaining game against Rangers despite losing 3-4. We went on a good Scottish Cup run and reached the semi-final, recording wins over Aberdeen and Falkirk, but we were cut short as we once again came up against Celtic. There was no outstanding performance from my boys this time as Celtic were solid 4-2 winners, putting out a few reserves as they had an important European mid-week game.
After this game was the annual youth recruitment and to my surprise we had acquired a striker with the ability to play a few games straight away and the potential to reach the high divisions named James Anderson. It seemed that my prayers of getting a striker to replace James Keatings had been answered with a 15 year old boy who looked to have ambition. There was also a Right back called Scott Mitchell who also looked to have the potential of the higher leagues.
Coming toward the end of the season we met with Hearts for the last time and they gave us a 4-0 thrashing. This led us into a downwards spiral losing the last three games of the season, dropping us from 2nd to finish 4th. Rangers won the league with ease, with Raith finishing 2nd and Hearts 3rd. If we were to get promoted via the playoffs, we were going to have to do it the long way.
The two legs of Hearts
The 2014/15 playoffs part 1
The first team up against us was the team we had beat, drawn and been thrashed by, Hearts. Coming into this game Hearts were strong favourites as they were tipped to go return to the Scottish Premiership on the first time of asking. I had the same sense of fear going into this game, but at the same time was optimistic about our chances. The first leg was at home meaning I wanted a good performance to seal a win going into the second leg away. The game started in front of a sellout crowd and we started the better taking a few potshots and forcing a couple of good saves from their keeper.
Then disaster struck as Heart were awarded a penalty for handball in the 35th minute. The Hearts main man, John Marquis, stepped up. But SAVED by Ian Turner diving to his left and palming the ball out. This launched into a counter attack and before Hearts could recover from the shock, the ball was in the back of their net. Andy Ryan scoring after a low cross from Stephen Stirling to send the fans into a craze.
Amazingly, again before Hearts could recover from the goal and the penalty miss, we scored our second within two minutes of the first. Josh Carson was rapid down the left wing to catch onto a long ball sent by Grant Gillespie, cut back to the fullback charging forward Lee Desmond who smashed his first goal for the club into the top left side. This put the Accies firmly in charge of the tie and it should have been three before half time is it wasn’t for some incredible acrobatics by the Hearts keeper.
The second half was in traditional footballing fashion if there were goals in the first half, highly boring with not much action at either end. I was not too bothered when the final whistle called as we had secured a 2-0 win looking strong into the second leg. Another good point to come out this game was the debut of James Anderson, the 16 year old coming on for 5 minutes and playing things safe.
The second leg was approaching and the players all had good fitness, no one was injured and all morale was high, what could possibly go wrong? The team was the same as the first leg and Hearts has pretty much the same starting 11. The game started and it was obvious we were instantly on the back foot with Hearts coming at us with force. It was not 6 minutes before Hearts had their first goal with a header from a corner. I was no panicking as I knew that I had the players to see this through. John McShane, second top scorer for us this season, somehow managed to get a goal but going on an outstanding solo run taking on 3 players and scoring a low finish. With this goal our confidence grew and then this was 2-1. McShane getting the second after a poor pass back from the centre back which he latched onto and scored with ease. This made it 4-1 on aggregate and it looked inevitable for us to go through.
At half time I took the wrong approach, assertively telling the players not to get complacent and they all look confused and somewhat demotivated. I felt the idiot as it was obvious this had affected their game as mere seconds after the kick-off whistle Hearts had one back through a near post header. 4-2.
Hearts were all over us again and then a Hearts player was fouled what looked to be just outside the box, but the referee gives a penalty. The players were angry as they surrounded the referee, but he was not changing his mind. Stirling protested too much and got a yellow card. John Marquis, the player who missed in the first leg made no mistake and smashed it straight down the middle. 4-3.
I was not having the taken away, so I threw on a defender for a striker and put five at the back. But then, in the 85th minute, the worst could have happened. A ball was crossed in to the box, Turner went up to catch the ball, but it slipped through his hands and cross the line. An own goal and it was 4-4.
All the players had no motivation and low morale. We held on until the end. I needed to change my plan so I told them I wanted to see more of them, that they could produce more. McShane had picked up a small knock towards the end of the game so I had to bring on, for the second time, 16 year old James Anderson. Being a young player who has come through the ranks and supports the team, I could see his eagerness to play as he had superb morale.
Extra time began and James Anderson was running all over the place, winning the ball from their defender and the getting fouled to earn the defender a yellow card. It seemed that this young 16 year old’s attitude had raised the team spirit as everyone started to look motivated. We made it to half time and I made my last substitute, bringing on a penalty taker for just in case. I thought I wouldn’t need him as James Anderson ran down the wing creating space for himself and then crossing into Ryan who seemed to have an easy finish. He skied the ball clear of the bar and that took us to penalties.
I knew the ability of my player’s penalties as we had won the challenge cup on penalties, but in times like this even the best penalty taker can struggle to not be nervous.
Stirling was first, bottom left: 1-0 Accies
Ryan, down the middle: 2-1
MISSED as the ball clears the left side post: 2-1 Accies
Canning, top right: 3-1
SAVED, Carson’s penalty is saved to the left: 3-2
SAVED, Turner dives to his right and saves.
This was to win the first playoff game. Grant Gillespie steps us.
GOAL: Sends it to the right as the keeper dived left.
Accies were through to the next round winning 4-2 on penalties after nearly throwing it all away.
Next they were favourites against a Raith side who had been looking inconsistent in the last parts of the season.
You are reading "An English manager lost in Scotland".