As we edge closer to the 20th annviersary of the release of CM9798, I’ve got another treat for you in the CM9798.co.uk interview chair. 90s nostalgia is very much in at the moment, and that suits us down to the ground. Today I’m joined by Michael Marden, who you may know as the ‘Director of Podcast’ over on the Quickly Kevin, will he score? podcast. The podcast sees Josh Widdicombe, Chris Scull and Michael join forces with a guest to discuss various aspects of football in the 1990s. I’ll let Michael explain further…
Thank you for joining me, Michael. For anybody uninitiated, please can you explain the concept of Quickly Kevin, Will He Score?
Hi Dave, pleasure to be here – any opportunity to wax lyrical about the greatest invention known to man (the Champ/Football manager series, not the ‘Quickly Kevin…’ podcast!!) is one I’m happy to be a part of.
I guess the best way to describe the podcast is it’s a willfully niche exploration of what is for us, the most important and interesting decade in British football – the 1990’s.
We wanted to take a nostalgic look back at that period and get the answers to questions we were obsessed with during our formative years (and still are if I’m honest) and make it a funny and informative, sideways look at the subject. We didn’t want to hear the same answers to the same questions we’ve all heard before. We wanted to treat it a bit like the old fanzines of that decade and offer up a different take on the period in question from a fans perspective. So if you love 90’s football then hopefully you’ll find something of interest in there for you.
How did the podcast come about? Have the three of you been planning this for a while?
The genesis of the show came from Chris, who used to co-host a West Ham podcast, and was looking to branch out and explore a broader subject. We’re all friends and on most nights out we’d inevitably end up in the corner talking about some niche aspect of 90’s football. From shirt sponsors, episodes of Football Italia, to what we imagined happened behind the scenes during that time. So whilst on holiday together last year we thought why not try and translate this obsession of ours into a podcast and see if there was an audience for it. Luckily it’s been well received and we’ve been able to pass off our desire to ask Matt Le Tissier about Saints shirt sponsors as some form of legitimate journalism.
For me personally, it was also a way to validate the many years spent ‘wasted’ poring over Panini sticker books, transfer gossip and old VHS recordings of Match of the Day goal of the month competitions. Because lets face it, if you’re not obsessed with finding out if Chris Bart Williams does have tiny feet, if David Batty was really paid in cash? Or if Efan Ekoku did steal a Drifter chocolate bar from a small child on a school trip then frankly, you’ve been wasting your life up until this point.
What is it about 90s football that makes you look back on it so fondly?
Partly it’s to do with age, I was ten years old during Italia 90 and completely fell in love with football during that tournament. I remember watching my ‘Every Goal of Italia 90’ VHS over and over until it wore thin and disintegrated inside the machine because that was literally the only place I could see those matches and goals again and again. Then the gentrification of the game that happened in the coming years with the creation of the Premier League, followed by the influx of foreign players and managers as the success of the league grew and the increase in revenue wasn’t far behind. How exotic and exciting everything seemed when on the back page of the newspaper every day in the summer a club was linked with a player you’d seen at USA 94, Euro 96, or had signed on Champ Man but in reality knew absolutely nothing about.
All of this at a time when the internet was very much in its infancy, so the access to information and instant gratification didn’t exist. All these factors led to this perfect alchemy to create an obsession with the game that was in a state of evolution in a way in which we will never see again. A documentary as brilliant as The Impossible Job, or even something as simple as a clip of Aston Villa players listing their favourite food and drink isn’t something you’d ever have the opportunity to experience in the modern game as everything is so protected and the players and staff are so media savvy and trained. It was the last generation where the clash of cultures like Arsenal’s infamous Tuesday club and Arsene Wenger’s sports science revolution will ever collide.
For many, the game has become too sanitized now, and although the seeds of that were planted in the 90’s, the decade is a fascinating document of how and why football has evolved the way it has. And not just for listeners of a particular age either, we get lots of messages from people of all ages from around the world who didn’t experience it first hand, but are interested retrospectively in the decade. You don’t have to know anything ahead of time about Bobby Gould’s time as Wales manager to enjoy the episode as a fascinating character study and exploration of a period in football that feels so simultaneously near yet paradoxically so far away.
Series 1 was very well received, what can we expect from series 2?
The usual mix of ex-footballer, broadcaster, and comedian guests old and new taking an irreverent look at any and every topic that peaks our interest. We’ve got Frank Skinner coming on to talk about Fantasy Football League and Three Lions, Darren Anderton talking about his time at Spurs and with England for Euro 96 and France 98. And referee Dermot Gallagher’s thoughts on the garish cream Liverpool FA Final kits and what it was like being in charge during the infamous David Busst leg break. Basically, if Quickly Kevin Series 1 ticked any of your boxes then expect more of the same, but better. We’re hoping to avoid the cliched ‘difficult second album’ syndrome and deliver ‘The Bends’ as opposed to ‘The Second Coming’. And due to mild popular demand there will be the traditional end of series ‘Quickly Kevin 90’s Football Quiz’ complete with trademark factual inaccuracies.
There are also some exciting extra curricular events being announced soon so if you don’t already then follow us on twitter, Facebook, Instagram and join the mailing list to get the latest on those. But basically, series 2 will be more of the same. If you’ve always wanted to know what kind of coin referee’s use during the toss, or how Hoddle broke the news to Gazza and the team about his omission from the France 98 squad then make sure you tune in. The first episode is out on 18th September.
There is an episode about Championship Manager where you spoke to Miles Jacobson – as a fan of the series that must have been pretty exciting?
They say never meet your heroes, and as someone who has played the game in every incarnation under the Collyer brothers and then Miles, it’s safe to say he was up there as this mythical gatekeeper who controlled the Champ / Football Manager world. But he couldn’t have been nicer and that episode was for me, an absolute delight. To get to pull back the curtain and clear up the legend of To Madeira, how the scouting for the game worked back in the early days and what they had planned for future versions was amazing, and Miles was interesting and engaging and a fascinating man to chat to. All I need to do now is convince him to put me in the game as a regen youth player and I can die a happy man. If any of your readers aren’t familiar with the podcast but do have a passion for Champ Man then I’d recommend starting with that episode (before going back and listening to all the others of course!) as it’s a really great insight into the evolution of the game from the man who was there at the forefront.
What is your history with the series? Where does CM9798 rank for you in the all-time list?
I first began playing way back in 1993 on the Amiga 500+ on the first release to have real players. So I’m 24+ years deep into the addiction as we speak and I don’t see it fading anytime soon. Life gets busy as you get older, so the entire weekend long sessions are a thing of the past, but I still try and squeeze in a few hours here and there when I can. I’ve done all the classic cliched things over the years – dressed in a suit for a cup final. Did press conferences in the mirror before they were a part of the game. Even had the name of my favourite newgen printed on the back of shirt. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’ll be surprised if the pride of holding my first born child in my arms will ever feel as good as when Callum Cleaver, the prodigious wonderkid I developed through the youth ranks from 15 years old, scored the winning goal in both the Champions League and World Cup final in the same season, dedicating both to me. Unless one of my offspring win an Academy Award for writing and directing a Zombie Western, that moment will be tough to eclipse.
I’d say CM97/98 is in my top three versions of the game. You never forget your first, so the ’93 original with the three bars for Def / Mid / Att and the virtually unobtainable foreign players transfer list is up there. Towards the end of it’s life the floppy disk drive on my Amiga broke which meant I couldn’t save any games. My way round this was to leave the computer on 24 hours a day for close to 2 years and I got about 90 season into that one game. The problem was, the algorithm back then was so simple you could overload the match engine by playing a 1-5-4 formation (or some variation of) so although you’d concede a few goals you’d win almost every match as your midfield and attack were so powerful. I was basically playing a more successful version of Keegan’s Newcastle tactics in the 90’s, but with Nii Lamptey instead of Faustino Asprillia.
What happened on that first version as well though, was once you moved to another team your old club kept the formation you used that made them successful, which with each managerial move made it increasingly more difficult to win the league as you were essentially facing off against ever increasing versions of yourself. All with the same game breaking formations. If you’ve ever wanted to experience a computer simulated version of what pre-war football was like before they tactically inverted the pyramid, then load a copy of Champ Man ’93 and play for close to 100 seasons. And let me know if you ever manage to sign Gazza or David Platt from the foreign players transfer page, I’m still chasing that great white whale…
I’m also always a big advocate of whatever the latest version is (I’m currently 12 seasons deep with Leyton Orient on FM17 and fighting for a European Place with Rashford at the heart of my attack and Rooney as assistant manager) but 97/98 has a special place in my heart. The data editor played a big part, being able to update the game with all the new transfers was a huge deal for me, there was nothing worse than starting a new game and having someone score against you who should have been in your squad at that point. I also loved the ability to be able to play multiple leagues across Europe. Friends and I would draw randomly from a hat which league and then which team we would start a save as, and I still have a love for Real Betis because of a particular save we played. Going so far as to track down their original shirt from that season (a lovely green and white Kappa number) which has pride of place in the vintage football top collection.
Everybody has one save that takes over their life – can you share yours with us please?
Where to begin! There are so many over the decades to choose from, but probably the most ridiculous one actually comes from 97/98 so is an apt choice for here. In the summer of 1998, just after finishing our A-Levels, myself and two other friends had started a three player game. I was Nottingham Forrest, they were Derby and Wolves respectively. The aim being to return these fallen giants to their former glories. So instead of celebrating the end of our school education before heading off to university in the usual manner, we spent that summer side by side in my dimly lit room endlessly playing Champ Man 97/98 until the early hours, living off a diet of Frazzles, Lilt and Wine-gums.
So engrossed were we in the game that once our A-level results came in, the impending disappointment of going our separate ways to different Uni’s and not being able to play the game became too much to bear. We hatched a plan and decided to tell our parents that we weren’t happy with our grades, that we’d fallen short of the UCAS points required to get into our top choice university and rather than end up at some sub par institution our time would be better spent deferring a year and going to college to do another A-Level to fulfill our ambitions. Seduced by the maturity and forethought of our decision, the parents signed off on this mad plan and before we knew it we were attending a single two hour Media Studies A-Level class per week with the rest of the time free to go deep into the Champ Man 97/98 save. It was, I can safely say, one of the happiest year of my life and although we’re no longer regularly in touch, on the rare occasion we do see each other it isn’t long before we’re reminiscing about the glorious three way battles we had for the Premier League and Champions League season after season. One of us attending to their scouting and tactical business as the other two played Goldeneye or Mario Kart on the N64. Switching turns until match-day. Some people take a gap year to see the world, get a regrettable tattoo somewhere in Asia and ‘find themselves’. Grow up. I spent mine making Tommy Svindal Larsen the most decorated midfielder in English history. And I don’t regret a single day.
The series has of course evolved into Football Manager, what do you think of the more modern releases? Do you still play them or the older games?
I’m still a huge fan of the series, I know for some people the game has become too complicated and involved, but I feel the opposite. Despite a few bumps on the way with the odd version, the evolution of the game over the last three decades is one of the things I always look forward to. Although quite rightly they’ve avoided the option to micro manage the minutiae of a football club – like setting the price of pies on match day as you could on the likes of Ultimate Soccer Manager. However, I’m still waiting for the version of the game where you can dictate exactly where your full-back stands when the opposing team has a throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch in their half.
The level of tactical control you can attempt will never be too deep or too involved in my mind.
I remember fondly a version of Sensible World of Soccer where the pitch was broken down into a grid system and you could tell your player exactly where to stand for each variation of the balls pitch position and phase of play. I once spent an entire weekend dedicated to just this process alone, without playing a single match, in the hope of developing an unplayable team of perfectly drilled footballing T-100’s, able to crush everything before them with their relentless tactical and positional perfection. I was then sacked before Christmas as my team more closely resembled a group of inept Under 9’s, headleslsy chasing the ball round the pitch regardless of opposition intent or positioning. It was a harsh lesson, but even Guardiola had to start somewhere. So when Football Manager brings that type of detail I’ll be delighted to take a shot at dictatorial tactical redemption.
Who do you support in the real world? What do you think of their chances this season?
I am, for my sins, a Manchester United fan. And no I’m not from Manchester. In fact I’m not sure it’s possible to be born in a hospital in England geographically further from Manchester than where I was born on the Isle of Wight. But in my defence, if one is required, I started supporting them at the end of the Ron Atkinson and start of the Fergie era so were it a glory hunting land grab I’d have pinned my flag to the Anfield mast. Which I openly defied despite the best efforts of my Liverpool based Uncle sensing there was another young and undecided fan ready to be swayed. His twice yearly Xmas and Birthday gifts of Crown Paint sponsored Adidas Liverpool shirt gifts were sadly futile as Clayton Blackmore and Mark Hughes had already won my heart.
As for chances this season, I think there will be a genuine title challenge for the first time post Fergie. Which is the minimum you’d expect from the club with Mourinho at the helm and the money spent. I think the squad is a few signings away from being able to challenge on multiple fronts, but the easy group stage should see us comfortably into the knockout stages and then it’s the luck of the draw. We’re not quite back up there again with the elite clubs in Europe (yet!) but I’d expect Jose to build towards that next season and onward if he can get beyond his third season syndrome.
I believe the days of legacy building managerial dynasties will die out with Arsene Wenger, when his sad little bastion of ‘football played the correct way’ fizzles out with a whimper soon. After that, with the money in the Premier League, it will be an endless cycle of elite managers at elite clubs content with, at best, one league title every few years as long as they remain competitive in the Champions League so they can be considered for the inevitable breakaway European Super League within the next decade or so.
One of the regular discussions on QKWHS is strange places people have seen/met footballers. Have you ever had such an encounter?!
Sadly never an encounter with a footballer in a strange place, I did however meet the 1990 Liverpool Squad on my 10th birthday as part of said Uncle’s attempts to turn me to the Mersey-side of the force. I didn’t care about the likes of Barnes, Beardlsey or Daglish – it was Steve Nicol who was a hero of mine and I remember his confusion at me wanting a photo with him over the more popular flair players. I had also, for close to 20 years, been telling people I had a small kick-about with Ian Rush. Much to their disbelief. When I eventually found the photo in my mum’s loft decades later it turned out it wasn’t Ian Rush at all, but similarly moustached striker John Aldridge.
Seeing as we’re celebrating 20 years of CM9798, I need one name from you. Favourite ever CM player?
That is a huge question. Like asking which of your children you prefer. If we’re talking 97/98, then the aforementioned Tommy Svindal Larsen was arguably the first name on my ‘to buy’ list, but if I had to choose only one as my favourite, it would be the inimitable Ibrahima Bakayoko. Playing behind the front two he was devastating for me season after season and I remember once a friend and I getting into an actual fight over who would sign him during a multiplayer save, such was his allure. I felt Walter Smith’s pain when his signing for Everton didn’t work out.
Thanks again to Michael for joining us, series two of Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? begins on the 18th of September and there will be weekly episodes. You can follow the podcast on Twitter @QuicklyKevin or Michael himself @_Michael_Marden. The podcast is available on iTunes or on Acast