Shropshire Star

Talking Telford: The power of a football video game to forge real life connections

Anyone familiar with the hugely successful Football Manager series of video games (or Championship Manager for the real veterans) will understand the kind of fire-forged love they can create for a league, a club or a player.

AFC Telford United’s New Bucks Head stadium

There are real life German and French teams whose results I look out for purely because I once spent a virtual season or two (or 20) managing them on my computer. I spent time getting to know those squads of players - or virtual facsimiles of them - and coming up with tactics to suit their abilities, duking it out with teams from all four corners of the land over a long, punishing campaign in pursuit of league and cup glory. And when the dust settled and the season ended in triumph or despair, I would always have memories of last-minute winners, heart-wrenching defeats and controversial red cards. It may all be numbers on a screen, but the emotions feel real to me and to millions of fellow Football Manager addicts around the world.

This is the part where I admit that my relationship with AFC Telford United, my local club, mostly exists through Football Manager. I can count the number of matches I’ve been to at the New Bucks Head on one hand, yet every season, in every new edition of the game, one of my most anticipated jobs is taking on non-league Telford, running the rule over the players available to me and plotting a course to the Champions League, however long it might take.

Alright, so I’ve not yet managed to scale the heights and bring European football to Wellington in time to move onto the next year’s game and start all over again, but even amid all the heartbreaking defeats I’ve made memories and imaginary bonds with the players I’ll always have a soft spot for. I might never meet Theo Streete, but I’ll always fondly remember his no-nonsense defending getting me out of jail in crucial playoff games. I wouldn’t recognise Brad Bood if I saw him in the street, but if I was ever introduced to him I’d buy him a drink to thank him for his devastating crosses from the left wing powering me to a league title. It may sound silly, but being a football supporter is often very silly, and comes in many flavours. After disturbing scenes over the weekend of violence at the home of the club I support, West Brom, I’ll take some wholesome digital fun with my hometown team any day.