I am Nobody - An FMM2020 Career Story
A bad FM player badly role-plays playing FM, probably badly.
Who am I? I am nobody, really.
I never had the chance of a playing career, despite my lifelong love for the beautiful game. I couldn’t get a whiff of grass on the school or college teams. A few anonymous performances at full-back for a Sunday League side to start. Played as a goalie for two years after that, and only dropped the ball in front of the opposition striker a handful of times; I’d call that a success. Retrained as a False Nine; turned out to be pretty good at it. 4 assists in 5 appearances. 7 attempts off the woodwork too; just my luck. In my sixth appearance, bagged a brace. That was 3 years ago, and I haven’t played since.
Never considered myself to have much of a footballing brain, either. Didn’t have an eye for talent, as such – the first player I ever got printed on the back of a shirt was Chris Eagles for Manchester United. Stoke City’s Nick Powell is my favourite player. I played Football Manager, like every self-respecting armchair philosopher ought to, but I never set the simulation alight – the best team I’ve ever managed is Norwich City, and my all-time top goalscorer is Ajay Leitch-Smith.
When I told my mother I was thinking of a career in football management after college, she told me to, quote, “get real.” But you don’t need to be good at football to be a manager, I protested; look at Jose Mourinho. “You’re not Portuguese,” she replied. Fair enough, I thought, and that was that; I got a proper job. But one of my mates, Pete, did a bit of voluntary community youth coaching for Shrewsbury Town, and taking his advice, I went on to the do the same – first at Ashton United, then Oldham Athletic, before moving up to Tyneside for work.
While doing some community coaching for Hartlepool United, I met a former player, Jason Ainsley, who was the manager of a small non-league side, Spennymoor Town. He was a convincing chap – first convincing me to attend a professional coaching course (and convincing Hartlepool United to pay for it), and then convincing me to come over and work part-time as a coach at Spennymoor. Sadly, despite taking the club up four leagues as manager, Jason wasn’t quite convincing enough to talk the club out of firing him for betting offences.
As the only Spennymoor staff member with a coaching license, I suddenly found myself in the role of Caretaker Manager and the most senior figure at a club whose squad’s average age was higher than my own (27) – completely out of my depth, in other words. Nevertheless, when the Chairman discovered that I had never gambled, he offered me the job. “Don’t you flipping dare,” my wife warned me. “It’s a pay cut, and I want a new kitchen.”
I guess she’ll have to wait.
S1E1 - I am Dirt Poor (Spennymoor Town, June 2019)
S1E2 - I am an Administrator (Spennymoor Town, July 2019)
S1E3 - I am the Problem (Spennymoor Town, August 2019, VNN, 20th)
S1E4 - I am a Crewe Fan (Spennymoor Town, September 2019, VNN, 22nd)
S1E5 - I am Questioning my Life Choices (Spennymoor Town, October 2019, VNN, 18th)
S1E6 - I am Emboldened (Spennymoor Town, November 2019, VNN, 15th)
S1E7 - I am Altering my Perspective on Cups (Spennymoor Town, December 2019, VNN, 15th)
S1E8 - I am Foreseeing Problems (Spennymoor Town, Christmas 2019, VNN, 15th)
Impressive start. Spennymoor are a lovely little club. Hopefully with some degree of success, they can be tempted into turning the caretaker position into a permanent role.
I am Nobody
S1, Ep1 – I am Dirt Poor
(June 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN)
My “first day at the office” for Spennymoor Town is purely idiomatic; with almost no facilities to speak of, my new “office” is simply my personal laptop and an update to my email signature to read Manager instead of Coach. Still, taking 1000 abandoned FM saves as a cue, I load up the club’s records and set about creating a plan.
To call Spennymoor Town “dirt poor” would be to greatly trivialize the value of dirt. If you want to get your bearings at the helm of a new club, the first place to start is your backroom team – the theory being that it’s a relatively minor and inexpensive task to offload any sub-standard staff and replace them with people who reduce the need for an immediate, radical and expensive squad overhaul. That is, unless the contract release fee for aforementioned sub-standard staff is a measly £10’000 your club nevertheless doesn’t have. Then, you quickly realise your first step to building a strong foundation for success must be a backwards step – offloading valued assets.
Fortunately, I don’t believe there is really such a thing as a key player outside the professional leagues. Sure, there are players who make tremendous impacts upon a team’s results; but the marginal differences in talent being largely inconsequential individually, the loss of one allegedly key player in a squad of 25 basically-just-as-bad players is nothing to weep about. Who to let go is often a more anxious matter, unless you happen to receive an email from an allegedly key player, full-back Carl Magnay, welcoming you into your role and informing you that he can’t and won’t respect or listen to a manager with my level (or lack) of experience. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that: Transfer List.
Being a supporter of Manchester United and Crewe Alexandra, it’s predictable that I have an affinity for youth development. Obviously, I’m not expecting Spennymoor Town to be running a wonderkid factory hidden inside their Brewery Field stadium; that said, it is of some concern that the average age of the squad is 27.7, with our oldest player almost clocking 38. With limited funds, it’s unlikely I’ll be filling the squad with budding club legends, but our 6 long-term loan allowance will give us the opportunity to add some hungry prospects to an otherwise, um… experienced squad.
I close my laptop after two hours of copious note taking on the squad, the finances, transfers, training routines... I rub my eyes, thoroughly unconvinced at the standard of my efforts. I suspect I will spend most of my first season as a manager staving off doubt about my suitability for this line of work… that is, if I haven’t been sacked by then.
Carl Magnay is a great player at that level so it's frustrating to see him immediately be a pain in the proverbial. You don't stand for any intolerance though, I respect that. The squad does consist of some very good players so with the right management they could push for promotion once again. Good luck!
I am Nobody
S1, Ep2 – I am an Administrator
(July 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN)
At heart, I’m an administrator, not an innovator, and with a lack of management experience, there is an obvious and glaring gap in my abilities between tasks which require administration versus innovation. With Spennymoor Town in a budget deficit, squad construction falls strictly into the administration category – we had basic positions to fill with young talents we were evidently lacking, and with a negative wage balance, this meant finding clubs willing to pay loanee salaries for us. With a stack of scouting reports in front of me, I made short work of identifying clubs and targets within them, and within a matter of days had concluded all of my key business. This included the quick sale of the arrogant full-back Carl Magnay, whose £8’000 switch to a local rival brought our weekly balance back into the black.
IN – Loan – Full Back, Kevin Berkoe from Oxford United
IN – Loan – Full Back, Joseph Halsey from Luton Town
IN – Loan – Defensive Midfielder, Markus Assarsson from Bolton Wanderers
IN – Loan – Attacking Midfielder, Ethan Dekel-Daks (AMC) from Nottingham Forest
IN – Loan – Striker, Brandon Thomas-Asante from Salford City
OUT – £8K – Full Back, Carl Magnay to Gateshead
Although I’m feeling pretty content with my administrative work, I nonetheless remain thoroughly uncertain about my vision for the squad and club in general, for the innovative aspects of the role that are the spark of progress, rather than mere stability. As I looked through the training schedules, I felt unable to decide upon what I expected of each player, and with my eye cast on a blank tactics board, I myself came up blank. As it were, our pre-season results were as I had feared – largely uninspiring, and lacking any real substantive clue as to where I might improve.
(4 – 1) Maidstone (H)
(1 – 4) Gloucester (A)
(1 – 4) Oxford (A)
(1 – 4) Accrington (A)
Lining up – with no small touch of embarrassment – in a simple 442, I watched as my team played in the most indistinct fashion. First, we walloped a team with a similar reputation; then, we were walloped by a team with a similar reputation. Two similar teams, identical tactics, but opposite results – what was I to glean from this? Next, we faced two League One sides, and were expected to lose. We lost. Ultimately, as our opening VNN match against Alfreton approaches, the tactics board remains blank. Perhaps it needs a better manager to fill it in, but Spennymoor Town don’t have one. They have me.
A lot of things to work-out in the opening few games of the season. Best of luck.
2020-03-10 11:14#267594 ScottT :
A lot of things to work-out in the opening few games of the season. Best of luck.
Indeed. Still finding my feet in FM20, as this is my first career on the game after moving over from FM16. Relying a lot on the staff, which seems to be a recipe for getting fired before Christmas because their advice is so inconsistent. But I guess that's lower league football for you!
I am Nobody
S1, Ep3 – I am the Problem
(August 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN, 20th)
I splashed cold water onto my face, watching my reflection in the bathroom mirror as my reddened complexion settled to a calmer tone. I had just returned from Farsley, a 150 mile round trip, having just seen my team slump to a third consecutive defeat in the league. And not just any defeat, mind: a pathetic drubbing masked only by a kind scoreline. This was not the late penalty that cost us a point at Alfreton, or unfortunate lapses in concentration in an otherwise even match against Gateshead; it was an embarrassing capitulation, pure and simple.
(0 – 1) Alfreton (A)
(0 – 2) Gateshead (H)
(1 – 2) Farsley (A)
The problem, of course, was obvious: me. It didn’t take a great footballing brain to understand that. I thought back across the three games we’d played: about our direct-from-deep approach, our narrow formation, the lack of forward runs from the full-backs – in short, a negative and under-confident approach for a team who had, under the previous manager, finished 4th the season before. This had to change.
“I haven’t shown you the respect you deserve,” I told the squad at our next training session. “Starting now, we’re not playing it safe and simple by default. You’re better than that.” We worked on a shorter, more expressive passing game, on unifying the phases of our game to close the gaps we had allowed our opponents to exploit, and on a more complex formation.
(0 – 0) Gloucester (A)
(0 – 1) Chester (H)
(3 – 3) Altrincham (H)
(2 – 1) Telford (A)
I lined the team up, against the advice of my assistant manager, with three men at the back, protected by a deep-lying midfielder in a 3-1-4-2. Although this forced us to play slightly deeper and narrower than a more aggressive side might, it also meant we had more bodies in forward positions, and this was vital to retaining the possession which was so crucial to our revivified approach. It remains too early to say how successful this tactic will be long-term, but the early signs are encouraging – we enjoyed majority possession in all four of our following games, and were deeply unlucky to walk away pointless after a late goal against the league leaders, Chester.
Certainly some more encouraging results in the last set of games, but there's still work to do done. Perhaps the win against Telford could be the turning-point, though.
I am Nobody
S1, Ep4 – I am a Crewe Fan
(September 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN, 22nd)
After a late training session, one of my lesser used midfielders, Jake Hibbs, approached me. “I’d like to consider Wrexham,” he stated bluntly. Early that day, we had received a small bid for the player from the Welsh club; I didn’t recall, however, telling Hibbs that information. “I already have,” I replied, “and we have a pretty decent balance in the squad here already. I’m not sure that…” Hibbs cut across me: “But that’s not fair!” The tone in his voice made me half-expect the player to throw himself to the ground in tantrum. I frowned at his outburst quite deliberately, but Hibbs continued on quite unperturbed. “You could replace me.” I nodded, having seen and heard enough petulance to make the decision easy. “Yes, I could.”
OUT - £3K – Midfielder, Jake Hibbs to Wrexham
IN – Loan – Midfielder, Oliver Finney from Crewe Alexandra
Hibbs’ transfer to Wrexham presented a chance to greatly strengthen the midfield. For this, I looked to my hometown club, Crewe Alexandra, and to a promising young midfielder, Oliver Finney, who wanted more regular first team football. Finney being an on/off starter for the Railwaymen meant his weekly wage was not insignificant, and the club were unwilling to part with the player without a financial contribution from Spennymoor. The sale of Magnay and Hibbs had freed up almost £1000 in the wage budget, and the small fees received had been used to bargain for a slightly higher salary cap, but there was still only limited room to make salaried additions to the squad. After some deliberation, I decided Finney was worth a sizeable outlay, and we agreed a £500 weekly contribution with Crewe Alexandra.
(0 – 2) King’s Lynn (H)
(2 – 2) Boston (H)
(1 – 3) Darlington (A)
(0 – 2) Brackley (A)
(4 – 3) Leamington (H)
Despite ending the month with a victory against Leamington, the mood within the club was decidedly subdued as September passed. Early positives in our experimental 3-1-4-2 system had dissipated quickly, and team morale was crushed by hugely disappointing results against King’s Lynn and Darlington. After the Brackley defeat, I consoled the players and promised to return to the tactics board for our next game.
At first, it appeared that returning to 4 at the back against Leamington and playing more direct was to our distinct and unassailable advantage, the boys taking us 4-1 up in 70 minutes, including a goal from debutant Oliver Finney; however, every man on the pitch knew that we were lucky to make it to full time with all three points. What could’ve been a thumping victory and a much-needed boost for a squad beginning to doubt itself instead brought a palpable anxiety to our congratulations in the dressing room afterwards. A desperate three points won; still much to be done.
This has not been a good start at all. Improvements will need to come quickly or I fear the board will be considering their options.
I am Nobody
S1, Ep5 – I am Questioning my Life Choices
(October 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN, 18th)
I had been in football management for barely three months, yet as October rolled around I found myself questioning whether this had been the correct career decision. Although the board had been conciliatory in their handling of my poor start, it was clear that my understanding with the fans, players and club hierarchy was beginning to fracture. I began to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, bereft of original ideas, and, especially, alienated from the staff who worked under me.
Budgetary constraints has thus far meant that a much needed reorganisation of coaches and consultants was impossible, and this meant I was stuck with a backroom team I was quickly growing to dislike and distrust. I always suspected bad blood from my appointment, and no wonder – after all, I had effectively been tunnelled in to the grassroots of the club, exploding from the ground as a lowly community coach to take the position of manager from a coterie of long-established expectants.
Though I had no proof of sabotage, I noted that training reports, tactical analyses and squad ranking charts were highly inconsistent. I decided I needed my own man, someone from whom I could expect honest advice, and to whom the squad could look as a symbol of trust and unity in their manager. I’d also noted that I was failing to get through to my players in a very real, raw way – praise and criticism slid off the proverbial duck’s back – and, after a few brief enquiries, brought in a motivational coach, young Spaniard Joaquin Gomez.
(1 – 1) Kidderminster (A)
(4 – 1) South Shields (H) FA Cup, Q3
(2 – 1) Southport (H)
(1 – 1) Hereford (A)
The addition of a motivational coach to compliment three points against Leamington Spa acted as a springboard as we began our October fixtures. Although we were expected to thrash non-league minnows South Shields, we were rooted to the bottom of the table and were by no means guaranteed points against Kidderminster, Southport or Hereford. We stuck to a quick, direct approach, but adopted a variety of formations – 4-5-1, 4-4-2, 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-1-1. The latter turned out to be the most promising as a focal point for future squad building – particularly, when playing down the wings, our Target Man (Glen Taylor) would draw defenders towards the goal line, only for a late arriving Shadow Striker (loanee Brandon Thomas-Asante) to meet crosses unchallenged.
(1 – 0) Chester (H) FA Cup, Q4
(2 – 1) Blyth (H)
(0 – 0) York (H)
The next three games would be tough: Chester, Blyth and York are currently sitting 2nd, 4th and 1st respectively in the league. Against my natural instincts – to play deep, disruptive football and hope to snatch goals on the counter - we decided to maintain our positive 4-4-1-1 approach. 4 more points pulled us out of the relegation zone for the first time this season, but our progression to the First Round of the FA Cup was the catalyst for a surge in morale amongst the squad. Desperately out of my depth in the first months of my appointment at Spennymoor Town, I feel for the first time a modicum of control over my destiny.
Things are looking up at last! Progression into the first-round proper in the FA Cup will be a massive boost to the club's coffers.
I am Nobody
S1, Ep6 – I am Emboldened
(November 2019 – Spennymoor Town, VNN, 15th)
Despite – finally! – a run of games unbeaten and the subsequent boost in confidence within the club, I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I wasn’t enjoying my time at Spennymoor Town. This was curious, as I found myself beginning to actually enjoy the act of managing a team, even through high-pressure difficulties; I have always had an affinity for puzzles, and the constant evaluation and evolution of tactical options pitted against the wits of other sides had begun to capture my imagination.
Sadly, around every corner of my winding journey were reminders of the limited scope of the job I had been given. Despite my best administrative efforts, the club remained persistently, almost endemically in financial turmoil, and this is turn squashed any notion of beginning to plan a future at Spennymoor Town. I knew, of course, that this wasn’t FIFA or Football Manager – that most managers, least of all me could expect to leave anything resembling a legacy at a lower level club, much less enjoy the kind of meteoric rise commonly seen in computer games. Even so, how ought a man to develop an affinity for a club when there’s no sense of permanency in a squad propped up by loaned youngsters, no hope of investment in a backroom of mediocrity?
To alleviate this feeling, I decided to stamp some fragment of myself onto the club. Having helped to inspire the squad through a number of key victories, I promoted Joaquin Gomez to Assistant Manager, much to the irrelevant chagrin of his dislikeable predecessor. I didn’t care. Longevity, I wagered, was partly a matter of intention – and if I intended to stay at Spennymoor Town and make a long-term success of the job, it would pay to act like it, even at the risk of annoying the legacy staff, who would be dropped at the first opportunity in any case.
(1 – 0) Bradford PA (A)
(2 – 2) Maidenhead (H) FA Cup R1
(1 – 1) Curzon Ashton (H)
(1 – 0) Maidenhead (A) FA Cup R1R
We’d entered November enjoying the best form in the league, but we still only teetered three points above the drop zone. Bradford Park Avenue, sitting directly beneath us, represented a potential banana skin; to come away from the Horsfall Stadium with a six point gap gave the squad some absolutely crucial breathing room.
The big dilemma within our latest run of fixtures was to come against Maidenhead in the FA Cup. Being in the league above ours, my instinct was to rest key players in the expectation of a loss; however, emboldened by a nine game unbeaten streak, a Home fixture and the poor league form of the opposition, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take the game to our higher-ranking opponents. Fielding my strongest XI, we opened the scoring early through Glen Taylor, but despite a close fought game and an increasingly aggressive attacking focus, we were forced to snatch a replay with an injury time leveller.
An away replay beckoned, but the team had sniffed blood: Maidenhead had failed to win a single game in their last 6 outings, and the resting of key players against Curzon Ashton had reinvigorated our hopes of progressing. This was a game to remember for our defenders in particular, as Maidenhead played a very wide approach, attempting plenty of crosses to which my men were more than equal. It fell, fittingly, to a defender to break the deadlock midway through the first half – Scott Harrison, having a poor season generally, performing when it mattered to come away with a goal and the MOTM award for a stellar performance.
I could slap myself in the face: in my first season as a football manager, we’re through to the second round of the FA Cup!
The contrast to the early-season form is fantastic. I'm really pleased to see you've turned a corner lately.
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