This article originally appeared on VICE Italy
Football fans are generally pretty decent people. But if there's one uniformly annoying thing about them, it's that they have very specific ideas on how their favourite teams should be run, and they're keen to tell you why, exactly, they know better than the people in charge. That, thankfully, is where management games such as the Football Manager series come in – they give supporters a chance to (pretend to) take control of their club of choice and see some results, instead of just going on about it at the pub. Of course, most gamers give up after a while – often because the realisation sets in that the only thing worse than being frustrated with your actual team is being completely infuriated by your fictional one.
Two Italian gamers, who call themselves "N.R." and "L.C.", aren't like most. Fourteen years ago, the friends started a game of Premier League Football Manager 99, which they'd play every day after school. They kept at it, and logged their achievements on their Facebook page, which garnered more than 15,000 followers over time. Finally, in August of 2017, they finished the game, having reached the year 3000. The guys are both turning 30 this year.
I spoke with N.R. to find out how their fictional football universe worked out, and what it was like to commit to one game for almost a decade-and-a-half. He wanted to remain anonymous for the interview, because he feels that "names don't matter". What matters, he told me, was their plan to conquer the game.
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VICE: Why did you choose Premier League Football Manager 99?
N.R: At the time, it was the simplest and most fun management game on the market. We loved its little quirks, such as the way it misspelled players' names and the constant technical glitches – it wasn't trying to be fancy like other modern games. As soon as we started, we just couldn't stop.
How much time did you dedicate to the project over the years? Like, how long did it take you to finish a season?
It took us two years to complete the first 100 seasons of the game. We were still in school when we started playing, so we spent entire afternoons and evenings setting our formations and tactics. As we got older, we would rush through matches a lot quicker, but we were still playing it almost every evening after work and during holidays. By the end, it took us about one year to cover 100 seasons in the game.
Did you ever ask anyone else to play for you?
Occasionally we would let our friends play when they asked, but one of us would always be there to supervise. The game meant a lot to us – it really was our pride and joy.
In all those years, did you ever think about quitting?
Yes, there were some difficult years. After we played it past a certain point – around the year 2300 onwards – we entered what we called the "nonsense seasons", when the game stopped making much sense. The game had established a retirement system for the players, but the new generation of footballers were terrible. If you didn't have one of the handful of players who were any good on your team, you were guaranteed to lose – or at best draw 0-0. Due to the imbalance between teams with so many terrible players, the game was constantly throwing up scores like 10-0 and 11-0. Most of the time, one team would barely make it past the halfway line.
By 2480, Reggiana had the only good player left in the game, so they ended up winning 39 consecutive Serie A championships. Also, for a while, the game wouldn't allow substitutions, so if a player got injured, the match was over. But no matter how weird it got during the nonsense seasons, we never considered giving up.
Do you know of other people who have done something similar?
We're pretty certain no one has done it with Premier League Manager 99. We've heard of people using more advanced games to simulate thousands of years of football, but that's very different to what we did. We never simulated a season – we experienced everything.
On their Facebook page, the boys have posted an in-play video of a match in the year 3000.
Did you ever contact the creators of the game to tell them about your project?
No. We were so focused on getting to the year 3000 that we never really cared about anything else. Besides, I think that Gremlin, the company that produced it, went bankrupt in 2000 – right after the game was released. [After being bought by Infogrames in 1999, Gremlin did in fact close down in 2003].
Were there any players you were particularly fond of? And did the game produce any surprising results and stats?
We fell in love with hundreds of completely fictional players. One of our favourites was Alen Votava, who played until he was 62, alongside his sons Scot and Guy Votava. Elio Bergkamp was special to us because he shared his name with one of our all-time favourite players. Interestingly, Perugia was the team of the millennium – winning 83 championships, 45 Champions Leagues, 37 Coppa Italias and 46 Anglo-Italian Cups. In comparison, Barcelona won one Champions League title.
Is there a moral to this story?
If you look at it sensibly, all we did was waste lots of time on something incredibly pointless. But when you don't take on fun projects because of what other people might think, you could end up spending all your free time just watching TV. We're proud that we never gave up, and that we achieved such a big following on our Facebook page. So many people wrote to us just to say how much they admired what we were doing. It shows that you should not belittle your dreams, no matter how useless or nonsensical they might be.