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What I learnt from Merthyr Tydfil; How not to play Premier Manager 3

3 Jul

So where did it go so wrong? At one point 7th in the league, only six points off the leaders, yet after a disastrous second half of the season I manage to finish last, in 22nd place. I can’t tell anyone what the secret of success is, but I’ve figured out what went wrong for me… and these are the things to avoid.

1.) Neglecting the ground:

Early on I made a decision that as I was only interested in the short-term and that as Penydarren Park had ample capacity I would not carry out any work on the ground, diverting the money into the playing budget instead. This was a massive mistake as I kept getting fines for poor hygiene and poor ground safety which tipped my finances into the red.

2.) Relying on loan players:

After being frustrated numerous times trying to sign a player I relied on loan players. This brought some short-term success however, I found that after a point I was unable to loan any more players. As I hadn’t addressed the underlying deficits in my squad this resulted in me having a terrible final third of the season.

3.) Neglecting the little details:

By neglecting to check all the small details I overlooked the player contract section. It just so happened that one of my forwards, Tucker, was out of contract and the first I knew about it was the fax telling me he’d left for Runcorn. With a small squad anyway this left a huge gap.

3.) Bad luck:

Of all players to lose to injury it had to be Hutchinson (AKA The Hutch) who was not just my top scorer, but also the leagues top scorer. Injured in training just days after his netting to secure a draw against Telford. The bad news was delivered by fax which informed me that it was an achillies which would keep the Hutch out for an estimated eleven weeks. Being without my star player, and unable to source a decent replacement, was a devastating blow and Merthyr slid to 22nd in his absence.

4.) Not having a manual:

Without a manual my tactics were no more than a case just trial and error and it was halfway through the season by the time I’d even figured out what I was doing.

5.) Team choice:

One interesting thing is to compare my performance to the real Merthyr Tydfil. Premier Manager 3 is based on the 1994-95 season during which Merthyr’s record was:

 20th P 42 W11 D11 L20 F53 A63 Pts 44

Wheras my Premier Manager 3 record was:

22nd P42 W9 D12 L21 F35 A54 Pts 39

As you can see there’s actually not much in it; over the course of a 42 game season I drew one and lost one match more than the real Merthyr Tydfil managed. No doubt choosing a strong side can give you the best head-start. The top 5 teams that season were: Macclesfield, Woking, Southport, Altrincham and Stevenage

A Season with Merthy Tydfil (part 5)

3 Jul

The final installment. In part 4 it seemed Merthyr’s season had burst into life. With some new loan signings Merthyr had recorded a giant-killing in the first round of the FA cup and climbed up to 7th place in the league, ready for an assault on the top spot and a place in the football league (dependent on ground grading)

I manage only one win and one draw in the next four games including a 2-1 defeat to leaders Kettering Town. The one piece of good news is that I receive an unexpected phonecall from Bromsgrove offering me just under 75k for  Jones, a fairly poor defender who has no place in my plans for the season. I accept straight-away. One person shown the door I bring another three in; With just my assistant coach in the boot-room I decided to boost my behind-the-scenes team with the addition of handling, passing and shooting coaches at the rate of £50 a week each hoping that this investment will soon pay off in the form of improved performances.

It seems that environmental health have found something other than prime succulent steak in my ‘special; Merthyr pies; I’ve been hit with a £25k fine for poor hygiene  £25k which makes a big looking hole in my finances and just when I’m recovering from this I receive a fax to tell me that Tucker, who had been instrumental up-front alongside the Hutch had left me for Runcorn. I’d neglected the player contracts section of the game and not noticed that Tucker was out-of-contract, so not only had I lost a key player who would be almost impossible to replace, but I’d receive nothing in return. I immediately check all my player contracts.

On the pitch results are mixed. I lose 3-1 to Kidderminster with a defender suffering a broken toe, and am also knocked out of the FA Cup by Torquay in a close game which finishes 2-1. The feeling of confidence from earlier seems to have gone and Mertthyr are gradually sliding down the table again. Robinson’s loan comes to an end and he returns to Bournemouth. I try to renew, but am turned down by the club, so pick up another midfielder on loan from Brentford as well as an out of contract striker, Rogers, from Chesterfield using part of the £62 500 the FA have granted me for ground improvements to pay for the signing-on fee. Two wins see me move back up the table to 12th place. In the meantime  the manager of 4th Stafford Rangers , B. Phillips, becomes the first managerial casualty of the season. I look nervously over my shoulder.

Eleven points from the next nine games sees Merthyr consolidate their mid-table spot,  I receive another£25k  fine for poor hygiene which is annoying, but this is followed by some terrible, disastrous news. The fax machine bleeps and spits out a sheet of paper. The message is short and to the point, but its implications are massive; Hutch, my most influential player and league top scorer has been injured in training. I rush to the treatment room to assess the damage. It’s an achilles and he’s going to be out for an estimated 11 weeks. He’s just too important to lose, so I send him to Lilleshall for specialist treatment at the cost of £750 a week.

Without the Hutch and his goals Merthyr sink to the very bottom of the table before a 3-1 win against Gateshead lifts the side up.  The season has now gone so badly wrong that any thoughts of the the league Championship have been replaced by the simple objective of survival. In this battle I’m helped by Phillips a 33 year old attacker I’d obtained earlier from Exeter on a free scores a few goals, including a brace against Northwhich which serves to keep Merthyr off the bottom, but he’s no Hutch. Off the pitch things are also going from bad to worse. I get a fax to inform me of a fire at the ground which the police say was arson. I’m also fined £50k for ‘lack of safety precautions’ and after clicking the wrong button I’m ordering an extra 1000 seats. My finances are now looking bad indeed and to add to it all the board begin giving me votes of confidence.

For some reason I’m also unable to take any more players on loan, whether I’ve reached a limit, or it’s too late in the season I don’t know, but I’ve been left with a rather threadbare squad so I’m delighted when the Hutch comes back and for his part he obliges with a goal in a 1-1 draw with Woking. Finally it comes down to the last game of the season. Going into it I’m 21st out of 22 with Macclesfield Town occupying the bottom relegation spot. They have a game in hand over me, but are three points behind.

I receive my second vote of confidence ahead of the game in which a brave, battling Merthyr side, reduced to 10 men, go down 3-2 to Kettering thanks to a last-gasp penalty. Macclesfield who have won their previous game manage a draw. Merthyr finish bottom.

Final record:

22nd Merthyr Tydfil P42 W9 D12 L21 F35 A54 Pts39

 

The conference is won by Halifax Town whilst another fine for ground safety takes my overdraft to £342 k

Nottingham Forest  beat Southampton 3-1 in the FA cup final

PSV win the Champions league

I receive a vote of confidence from board.

The game tells me:

“finished 22nd in the conference. You are the worst team in the country”

Managerial rating 9%, Directors Confidence 9%, Supporters confidence 10%

I receive a bonus of £7500!!!!

The game crashes.

 

The End.

A Season with Merthyr Tydfil (part 4)

26 Apr

Part four of my attempt to travel back in time to save Merthyr Tydfil FC by travelling back in time to the 1994-1995 season. With the pre-season over its time to get serious….. 

The Merthyr bus is on the road

The Merthyr bus is on the road

And it starts at Huish Park, in Yeovil getting off to a dream start as Merthyr rush to a 2-0 lead, the goals scored by Tucker, a player who wasn’t wasn’t even meant to be in the starting line-up; in Premier Manager 3 unless you reset the line-up manually you automatically start with the team you finished the last game with so if you bring a sub on he stays in the line-up for the next match, but if I’m worried that this mistake means I can’t really take any credit for this piece of good fortune Yeovil make it academic by grabbing an equaliser in the second half. Still an away point isn’t bad. The pink bus can drive back to South Wales happy.

Back in the office the fax machine spits out some stats to help me make some sense of the game. I haven’t got an analyst on the pay roll so I can only guess there’s some intern lurking round Penydarren eking out an existence on discarded match-day pork-pies. What I’ve got isn’t quite Opta, but its message is simple and clear, my passing is awful: out of 63 passes only 28 were ‘good’, whereas Yeovil managed a more respectable 43 ‘good’ from a total of 69.

I’m not panicking yet, despite losing both my next two games; my first home game against Southport and a close 1-0 defeat to early pace-setters Stafford Rangers, but worryingly Merthyr are sliding down the table to 21st place. As it is only the champions who get promoted a good start to the season is crucial. I badly need a win to avoid dropping out of contention before the season has properly got underway. Some relief comes in my very next match against Telford. After going a goal down two second half strikes see Merthyr record their first win of the season, finally we’re moving the right way up the table to 15th, but I need to sign some quality players to keep the momentum going.

A 1-1 draw with Welling is followed by a 2-1 defeat to Bath and it’s looking like my win was just a blip. With the next game against another table-topping side, Bromsgrove, things aren’t looking good.  I decide to spend some time getting my tactics right. I decide on an uncompromising approach, setting all tackling to ‘hard’ and  I switch my defenders from zonal marking to man marking at the same time increasing my wide-men’s percentage of running over passing, but I have to confess that  I don’t know what I’m doing.

It seems however,  I must have done something right as despite going a goal down early the Hutch equalises just before half-time and Tucker then goes on to snatch a late winner. It finishes 2-1 for my second win. I’ve also managed to sign my first player a reasonable – though not remarkable –  young striker, Penney, from Crewe Alexandra who has an overal rating of  ‘Good *’. He costs me £48k and I give him his debut in the final 15 minutes of the Bromsgrove game. I’m still a long way from the squad I want though and continue to receive rejections from clubs and players alike.

In frustration I call Bournemouth and make a loan offer for a midfielder, Robinson. I’ve no idea what he’s like as I’ve not scouted him, but at this point I’m past caring.  My first approach is for 12 weeks which Bournemouth reject as being too long – agree on 6 weeks. Know nothing about him, just trying it to see what I get. He’s twice as good as what I’ve got with a passing rating of 44 – I now have my playmaker. Emboldened I get straight on the phone to Birmingham City making a loan offer for Steve Claridge and am turned down flat. Sights adjusted accordingly I persuade Bradford City to part with their third choice ‘keeper for nine weeks.

Next however, comes a truly bizarre, and slightly surreal turn of events. Having decided to appoint a new captain and vice-captain I carefully sift through the player ratings which seem most relevant. The top candidate is a defender, Gorman. With a high morale and aggression rating I reason that Gorman will be the perfect kind of grafting, battling and experienced leader to take on the robust rigours of the Conference. Fully confident I’ve made a great choice I click the mouse button to make him my new captain. The players response to this honor  A fax comes through just before the next match, an FA cup game against Third Division Hereford informing me that Gorman has for some reason best known to himself decided at this moment to take early retirement to to the Costa Del Sol.

I immediately hand the armband to my vice-captain Hutchinson and appoint tough-tackling defensive midfielder Benbow as his deputy. Fortunately the captaincy shenanigans have no effect on the team who record the best result of the season. Robinson scores on his debut and Tucker gets two goals. A late consolation from Hereford makes it 3-1 at full-time but I’m delighted with the giant killing. I know it’s only Hereford, but then I’m only Merthyr so it’s all relative.

Robinson is beginning to look like a great signing. Inspiring the side with a man-of-the-match performance he scores again in the next game against Farnborough with another goal from the new captain Hutchinson sealing a 2-1 win. Next up Merthyr beat Gateshead 2-0 a result which moves the team up to seventh in the table – only six points behind the leaders Kettering Town. Things are looking good indeed. If Merthyr can keep it up we’ll be challenging for the top spot.

Catch up on the Merthyr Tydfil story; If you haven’t already seen them parts one, two and three can be found here

A Season with Merthyr Tydfil (Part 3)

9 Dec

Final preparations completed, I arrive at the imaginary stadium, give my imaginary team talk and stride purposefully to my imaginary dug-out.  The referee blows his whistle and the 3D match engine bursts into life….

Or rather what happens is a set of stumpy figures blink and jerking  their way around the pitch. I almost feel sorry for the virtual spectators dotted around the screen, but most importantly, especially for a manager, it’s actually quite hard to tell what’s going on. I’m helped by a small commentary box in the corner and pictures which flash up on the screen – such as a goalkeeper gratefully clutching a ball to denote a save, but its hard to really read the ebb and flow of the game and nigh-on impossible to tell if my tactical-system is working.

The Northampton 'keeper tips a Merthyr Tydfil shot over the bar

The Northampton ‘keeper tips a Merthyr Tydfil shot over the bar

What the game does provide is a smattering of statistics; shots on target, tackles and pass completion rates, but this leads on to an interesting point – can you read a game of football through numbers alone? With it’s reliance on statistics the management-sim seems to emulate the methodology of one Charles Reep, a man whose work is credited with the popularising of the long-ball game. Later management sims do seem to address this issue and with more powerful computers watching a game in a management today is not too dissimilar to watching an actual match, but the legacy is still there – strip away the graphics and it’s still a numbers game at heart.

Despite this not knowing what’s going on I manage to blunder to a 0-0 draw against Northampton, a respectable enough result for my managerial debut against league opposition. Bath city however, punish my naivety and approaching half time I’m 3-0 down. A scrabbled goal just before the break saves a little face and the  game finishes 3-1. Looking for someone to blame the stats tell me that Drewett and Holtham both had bad games rating them 25% and 45% respectively. Feeling vindictive I set both their training schedules to hard.

Still no idea whats going on, but looks as if Bath City have taken the lead.

Still no idea whats going on, but looks as if Bath City have taken the lead.

I sense however, that the problem runs deeper than two underperforming players. I need to make a few more changes to the set up at Merthyr. If  Liverpool’s success was built from the boot-room then so will Merthyr’s be. I head off to the job centre with the aim of putting together my own crack back-room team securing the services of a head coach at £195 a week.

My first win comes in my first home game against Albania’s Partizan Tirana with Hutchinson grabbing both goals and the man-of-the match accolade. ‘Hutch’ scored his first after 9 minutes, not long after I decided that the grating in-game music which had hitherto been running on a loop would have to be turned off and though Tirana snuck one in before half-time to make it 1-1 Hutch netted again on 49 minutes for the victory. Granted the opposition are not the strongest the game has to offer, but at least I have turned a corner after the Bath City defeat.

I now feel I’ve spent enough time with my squad to have an idea of which areas I want to strengthen. On my shopping list is a new goalkeeper (mine isn’t bad, but it always tends to be an important position in management sims so I want the best my money can afford), a defender, and a mid-field playmaker.  As a new manager I also want to stamp my identity on the squad, to feel as if I am managing my team, not just one I’ve inherited. How you buy players is unsurprisingly a crucial part of a management sim. In PM3 for transfer-listed players there is a bidding system, rather like an auction, where if you decide to buy a player a biding war ensues with any other interested clubs also tabling bids. This takes place over several rounds during which the details of the bid can be amended. The details include transfer feel player fee, weekly wage and length of contract. At the end the player chooses the most attractive bid.

Signing a player is however, rather difficult. To stand any chance of improving my squad I need to sign a player from a higher division, but convincing anyone to take a step down – even for more money – is impossible. I bid on Hope, a midfielder with a rating of good**. Out of contract and therefore available on a free I offer  a 10k signing-on fee, £275 per week and a 2 year deal which is upped in the bidding-war to a signing-on fee of £55000, wages of £290 and a 4 year deal, but the player opts for the lesser offer from division three Bury. For these virtual players glory still takes precedence over hard cash.

For someone who has tended to seek success through the transfer market, rather than a mastery of tactics it’s frustrating and I head into my last friendly without making any additions to the squad. Home to Spora Luxembourg; the Hutch puts me into the lead at half time. Spora however, get one back to escape Penydarren with a  1-1 draw.

Pre-season now over it’s time for the real football to begin with an away game against Yeovil town. Can I sign anyone in time?

A Season with Merthyr Tydfil (part two)

8 Oct

Even with later generation of  management sims  there are still limitations to what you can do; I cannot take an axe to my predecessor’s desk, or tell my assembled squad to throw all their medals in the bin – though among the assembled Merthyr Tydfil squad these may be somewhat thin on the ground. I can however, sit down with a beer as I set about assessing my squad and with a little bit of imagination and the lights dimmed my sofa can be transformed into a dingy boot-room deep in the bowels of Penydarren Park.

As with any newly appointed manager my very first appointment is to meet my squad – and to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Within PM3 the player’s ratings are, at least by today’s standards, relatively, even refreshingly, simple; handling, passing, shooting, heading, control and fitness all on a scale from 1, the worst, to 99, the best. Ratings are also given for morale and form as well as each players preferred foot (right, left, or both). A cursory glance at my player’s ratings – in many cases closer to 1 than 99 – suggests I will need some to do some strengthening if Merthyr to achieve the tall order of promotion at a time when only the champions were promoted – and even then for three seasons between 1993 and 1996 nobody went up due to failure to meet ground-grading requirements.

Throw your medals in the bin: Meeting the Merthyr Tydfil Squad

In Barney Ronays book The Manager: the Absurd Ascent of the Most Important Man in Football he presents a fascinating account of how the figure of the manager was transformed over time from a rather peripheral figure to a god-like being at the very heart of the club. The manager sim can be seen as a reflection, or maybe even a cause of this. In Premier Manager 3, the manager is responsible for every aspect of the club; Along with full responsibility for first-team matters my job description includes dealing with all player contracts, managing the club finances, player insurance, hiring and firing back-room staff, setting ticket prices and building new stand and if this seems a lot then in some management sim’s the manager was even responsible for the pricing of match-day hot-dogs – No task too small for the omnipresent managerial deity.

So many things to do; The in-game menu.

This gives me a rather lengthy to do list; First I check-in at the bank. I have a balance of £163 160 and an overdraft facility of £250 000 which seems a decent enough war-chest by 1994 standards. I then scrub-up and put on my best suit ready to meet with potential sponsors, but It seems that only Amiga magazines, chiefly Amiga Action and Amiga Format, have any interest in hoardings; These days no doubt I’d be selling ground naming rights to a major global brand, or doing hoarding deals with blue-chip giants like Nestle, Sony, or Nokia but in 1994 most advertisers had yet to grasp the potential of computer games as a platform meaning gaming was something of an unspoilt wilderness.

Amiga Action; In game product placement in a more innocent age.

Even though I have the power to begin turning my ground into a modern 35 000 all seater, UEFA A-graded stadium if I so wish I’ve decided in advance that I won’t be spending a penny on Penydarren. A 10 000 capacity is, I feel, adequate for Conference football and as I’m only planning on serving one season I want to use all funds available for strengthening my first-team squad. As, according to Matt Le Tissier’s autobiography, Ted Bates, the long-serving post-war manager of Southampton FC, once observed ‘You win nothing with bricks and mortar’

Penydarren Park: “You win nothing with bricks and Mortar”

Next on my list is tactics. Premier Manager 3’s tactical interface is, even by later standards, relatively sophisticated ; I can tweak players positioning on the pitch, alter the height, length and direction of passes. I can also set each player to either zonal, or man marking, and toggle tackling strength. In fact it’s almost too much – despite my successes I’ve never been much of a master tactician, relying instead on building a talented squad through wheeling-and-dealing in the transfer market. This in mind I play it safe and switch the default 4-3-3 to a bog-standard 4-4-2 picking what, based on their ratings, looks like my best team – though with only 18 players available there aren’t too many choices in each area. I order Benbow, a midfielder with a relatively high tackling rating to play in the position just in front of the back four. I stick to zonal marking and choose, rather uninterestingly to play medium passes at medium height.

All that remains is to put this to the test in pre-season friendlies against Northampton Town, Bath City, Partizan Tirana and Spora Luxembourg.

Bring on the Cobblers.

A Season With Merthyr Tydfil (part one)

30 Aug

Can history be re-written? That is the question I have as I travel back in time to 1994 via Premier Manager 3 a long forgotten management sim from the days before Football Manager. Taking the reins at Merthyr Tydfil F.C can I defy history and steer the Martyr’s back into the football league and away from their inevitable demise?

During my teenage years, and well into my early twenties  I spent an inordinate amount of time playing football management sims. Entire days, weeks and months at a time would disappear into a black-hole as I sat staring at the screen sifting through the squad data of obscure Finnish football clubs in a search for undiscovered talent – hoping that MyPa 47, or Turun Palloseura would provide me with a world-beating striker, or a midfielder, one even more sublime than the legendary Matt Le Tissier, who would then sweep my team to glory.

The high-point in my managerial career came in Championship Manager 2 with my all conquering Ajax side dominating Dutch and European football for over a decade winning every prize there was to win from the Eredivisie to the World Club Cup, but sadly it wasn’t to last; Increases in computing power mean management-sims have become more in-depth than ever with thousands upon thousands of match-affecting variables. Getting through a season now takes almost as long as a season in real-life and the kind of work and family commitments which have arrived with age mean I just don’t have the time anymore – my time at Ajax having coincided with my student years.

Occasionally, like the desire to smoke a cigarette, I get the urge to pick-up the latest management sim,but this craving soon passes when I think of the time factor, but recently spotting one of my old favourites, Premier Manager 3, among the old manager sims sitting all dusty and unloved on an abandonware website the urge got the better of me and I decided to come out of retirement, if only for a very short spell – just the one season. Oh go on then.It was more than simple nostalgia though I also wondered what playing a game now some 18 years old could reveal about the management sim and even football itself, after all some of the players gracing today’s game would not even have been born at the time of its release. Premier Manager 3 isn’t just a game it’s a historical document.

The Premier Manager series, which still continues today, first began with the release of the original Premier Manager in 1992 with versions on the Amiga, PC and Atari ST. The third in the series Premier Manager 3 was released on the Amiga and PC (I had the Amiga version) in 1994 featuring data and league tables from the 1994-5 season. One feature of the early titles in the Premier Manager series was that would-be managers must begin their careers in the rather unfashionable Conference league – Premier Manager being one of the first management sims to even include the Conference.

Having the pick of clubs in the Conference I decide to choose a club which no longer exists, or rather who have reformed with a slightly different name. There are several to choose from; Farnborough Town (now simply Farnborough), Halifax Town (now F.C Halifax Town) and the club I finally choose Merthyr Tydfil (now Merthyr Town). It shows just how much changes that out of the 22 Conference clubs only six (Gateshead, Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Southport, Telford and Woking) feature in the division which has since been extended to feature 24 clubs. Shockingly of the original 22 only three clubs, Dagenham in League two and Yeovil and Stevenage in League one, now play at a higher level meaning that the majority, 13 out of the 22, now play at a lower level.

Merthyr Tydfil are among this last group. The club finally succumbed to extinction being liquidated, at the end of the 2009-10 season, whilst playing in the Southern league premier division – some two steps below the Conference. Re-forming as Merthyr Town F.C – the name of a club which graced the football league in the 1920s before folding in 1934 –the club were forced into dropping a further three divisions into the Western Football League Division One.

Can I turn the clock back and save Merthyr Tydfil from this fate?

Time will tell.

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