In an age of X-Box live and FIFA 11, it's easy to forget about football's computer game roots. Here we salute the genre's evolution from 8-bit Jimmy Greaves to Game Boy David Beckham
Football fans – we’re not the brightest bunch. If we see something to buy with football on it – we’re going to buy it. Just you try and stop us: towels, air fresheners, mouse mats, dish cloths and, of course; video games. It’s not our fault. We just get confused. We like football. We see a product with football on it. We must like product. We buy product.
This is why, since the early 1980s, we have dutifully bought skip loads of shite football games. And the more we’ve bought, the more they’ve made. We have misty eyed memories of classics like Sensible Soccer and Football Manager but we’ve wiped our memories of the other 475,000 games left jiggling on the subs bench. So let’s take a look back at some of these heroic no-marks; the Tony Galvin’s of the video games world.
5. Footballer Of The Year - 1986 (Spectrum 48k, C64, Amstrad)
This game was like a tutorial for aspiring footballers on how to earn a shit load of money with a limited amount of talent. It presented the world of football as viewed through the Louis Vuitton goggles of a player. You took control of a jug-eared rookie with £5,000 in the bank and 10 goals to your name. A successful career relied on the tactical flashing of cash. Chances on goal had to be bought and scouts’ palms needed greasing if you were to make a big money move. It was like one big Malaysian bunga bunga party.
There was a decent arcade bit where you took pot shots at goal but this quickly became a chore. It didn’t matter if your team won or lost – as long as you scored. The best tactic was to flit from one club to another, racking-up signing-on fees and pay increases. After a few seasons you lost track of which club you were playing for – it didn’t matter.
Interesting to note – Nicholas Anelka was seven-years-old when this game was released. The Spectrum 48k was dead popular in France. Hmmm.
- Alan Ball was the first domestic player to be transferred for £100,000 when Everton signed him from Blackpool in 1966.
- Footballer of the Year features a fictional British super league including the mighty Swansea Town and Irish Rovers.
- Nicolas Anelka is the most expensive player in football history with £87 million paid for his elusive talents.
4. Saint and Greavsie – 1989 (Spectrum, C64)
Saint and Greavsie was the Soccer AM of the 1980’s. In theory it was funny and mischievous; in reality it was excruciating and banal – but you felt compelled to watch. It was a Saturday morning show on ITV which took a “light-hearted” look at the football world. And like Soccer AM it traded on a life-sapping brand of matey football banter. The kind of banter in which any clumsy deviation from the usual football script was greeted with hoots of outraged laughter. And then Jimmy Greaves would put on a novelty hat.
Oh, Greavsie. Heh, heh, heh…
Thankfully the game version managed to beautifully capture this same mix of boredom and banality. It was made by Core Designs, who later blotted their copybook with Tomb Raider. This was a no-frills football trivia game in which every answer seemed to be Gary Sprake. Saint and Greavsie appeared only as digitized black and white images. The removal of colour from their golfing sweaters gave them a sinister Orwellian vibe as they probed you incessantly for names.
- American billionaire Donald Trump appeared on Saint and Greavsie to carry out the draw for the 1991-1992 Rumbelows Cup.
- Victor Lewis-Smith described Jimmy Greaves as: “A walrus in a woolly jumper. As illuminating as a taxi driver but without getting you anywhere.”
- Greavsie had his own ITV chat show called Greavsie’s Gaff: “If you wanna laff, call at Greavsie’s gaff”.
3. Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona! - 1986 (Spectrum, C64, Amstrad)
The Welsh and Scots weren’t the only ones dancing around like loons when Diego Maradona’s “hand of god” helped knock England out of the World Cup. Champagne corks were also popping in the London offices of a company called Argus Software who viewed Diego’s dodgy goal as their own marketing gift from above. Because, gathering dust on a shelf was a generic goalkeeping game called Peter Shilton’s Football.
Suddenly they saw a chance to sex-up the world’s dullest celebrity endorsement. They stuck Maradona in the title, bolted on a loading screen of a hand and a ball – clever – and hurled it out into the shops. The game itself had absolutely fuck all to do with Maradona or the semi-final in Mexico City. You couldn’t even play against an Argentinean team. This was either a loveable piece of cheeky opportunism or a fucking disgraceful attempt to con the public – which sounds familiar.
- The Tunisian referee who gave the “hand of god” goal, Ali Bin Nasser, claimed treatment for a piles condition had affected his judgment on the day.
- Maradona’s son, imaginatively called Diego Jnr, had a spell playing for Dunfermline Athletic.
- The Church of Maradona is a religious sect with a shrine in Buenos Aires and more than 120,000 followers.
2. Subbuteo – 1990
Computers have benefitted society in many different ways – the most notable being the eradication of table soccer. Before computers, weird nerdy types would spend their time flicking plastic buttons around a green tablecloth. This was table soccer or Subbutteo. It was a grotesque parody of football in which tiny constipated players threw themselves at a 30 foot-high ball. It played like a shambolic mix of curling, croquet and shove ha’penny.
The arrival of computers stopped this madness. Finally we had the ability to accurately recreate football on the computer screen. The green tablecloths were folded-up and shoved in the cupboard. So the release of a video game version of Subbutteo in 1990 seemed like a sick joke; some kind of Chris Morris piss-take. It was Margaret Thatcher crooning a tribute song to the mining industry.
All of the elements which made Subbutteo shit were painstakingly recreated in computer form – the tedious shunting of buttons and the fusspot rules. This represented a digital memorial. Lest we forget that however bad some footy games are – they’re still an improvement on flicking buttons around a tablecloth.
- Channel 4 covered the 1990 Subbuteo World Cup in Rome with the hope that the sport would become the next snooker.
- In 1994 Hasbro, the makers of Subbuteo, introduced a policy of including a minimum of three black players in each team.
- Subbuteo is the Latin name for the Hobby Hawk, the favourite bird of inventor Peter Adolph.
1. David Beckham Soccer – 2002 (PS1, Gameboy Advance)
There have been so many piss-poor celebrity-endorsed footy games that it takes something really special to slump below the crowd. It has to be something aggressively bad; so bad that it could inspire one American games reviewer to write a letter of complaint to his local congressman. That game is David Beckham Soccer – released in 2002 for the Gameboy Advance.
It really was that bad – a cynical piece of celebrity endorsed tat. It had no gameplay, no AI and no sound – games were played in an embarrassed silence. You had the ability to pass but there was absolutely no need because running in a zig-zag was unstoppable.
The David Beckham Soccer experience went something like this: Kick off. Run towards goal. Defender approaches. Change direction. Defender falls over. Shoot. Goal. Kick off. Run towards goal. Defender approaches. Change direction. Defender falls over. Shoot. Goal. You repeated this process until you were overcome with a desire to attack David Beckham with a giant mallet.
The football looked like it had been coded during somebody’s bog break but there was one area where love and affection had been lavished – the David Beckham story. Yes kids, here on the puny screen of the Gameboy Advance was a full five chapter hagiography to the life and works of Saint Beckham.
We learn many insights about the great man, including that his favourite meal is chicken with a light tomato sauce. If Beckham was a human, and not a corporate vampire, he would spend the rest of his days tracking down every single victim of David Beckham Soccer – and beg for their forgiveness.
- The biography section of David Beckham Soccer tells us that his favourite hobbies are: golf, car, family.
- Go! Go! Beckham! Adventure of Soccer Island was a 2002 platform game on the Gameboy Advance. Disappointingly, it was quite good.
- American reviewer Justyn Harkin was so angered by David Beckham Soccer that he wrote to his congressman asking for it to be banned.
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