This week we’re delighted to welcome That’s Liquid Football’s first guest contributor. Perhaps best known for quenching the thirst of retrophiles everywhere with his fantastic CM9798 blog, on which he’s completed a host of football manager simulation-based challenges and even held his own World Cup, Dave Black is also the author of two Championship Manager themed books, a Fantasy Premier League columnist, editorial assistant for The Offside Rule podcast and regular contributor to the Man On The Post podcast. To celebrate the upcoming twentieth anniversary of Championship Manager 3, Dave takes a look at how the third installment of the world’s most famous management franchise not only provided a change of gear from its predecessors, but also paved the way for one of the most-loved editions of the series.
The Championship Manager series changed the landscape of football management games forever. So often the debate about the best in that particular series boils down to two. CM9798 or CM0102? Whilst that is a discussion for another day, it’s time to pay homage to the bridge between the two. Twenty years ago, Championship Manager 3 was brought into our lives and changed the series forever.
The reason 97/98 and 01/02 are so highly revered is that they are the final version in the CM2 and CM3 series respectively. That means they are the most polished versions of an already exceptionally popular series. Both have incredible replay value and are still played by a large number even today, whether it be on the original databases or incredibly on updated databases maintained impeccably despite the huge number of changes required. The simplicity compared to the more evolved Football Manager series means they retain popularity among the fan base, but things were about to change for the better in 1998.
The plan to make CM9798 an unlocked game – meaning it could be played without the CD once installed – meant Championship Manager was in more households than ever for the launch of CM3. I remember marvelling at the screenshots revealed in the build up to the release date on the old Sports Interactive website. For the first time, you’d be able to check the latest scores of matches whilst your match was going on. Squad numbers were included for the first time and the match screen offered more lines of commentary than ever before. Crowd noises were introduced as well as a live league table. They all seem so obvious now but back in 1998 it was the stuff of dreams.
The biggest change of all though was the change in layout. For the first time since the series began, the boxes that made up your options were replaced by a side menu, something that remains to this day in FM19. News now came to you via an inbox meaning you could go back and read something if you accidentally clicked past it like in the previous games.
It was a totally immersive managerial experience. Coaches and scouting were included (though scouting was present in the first few CMs you now had more control over them in the fact you could hire them and they had names) and you were able to go back to matches from previous seasons, something we take for granted now. The game also introduced reserve teams for the first time along with increasing the maximum squad size to 50. The novelty of managing the reserve team soon wore off but it was very useful to be able to send players to the reserves for match sharpness or to make a point!
Training was also added for CM3 giving managers more control over the development of their squad than ever before. There was no equivalent of this in the CM2 series so this really was a big addition. With coaches having their own statistics you could really improve players or even have them learn a new position and see your backroom staff earn their money – or more likely, the player will boot off about how training is going.
Finally, CM3 was the first game to include a network facility. Connecting using IP address meant many frustrating hours trying to work out which ports needed opening on your router to allow players to connect, but this was a whole new world. Until this point Championship Manager had been mostly a single player experience, save for occasions when you were allowed friends over, but game time was limited to the duration of their visit. The network facility brought a social aspect to the game and with internet forums really beginning to take off, it was quite easy to find other Champmaniacs to start a game with.
Of course all of these new features required a more powerful computer. The one downside of CM & FM over the years is that there’s an awful lot of data to process so playing on a low spec computer would mean even longer waiting times. As a 10 year old, I was actually devastated our knackered old AST desktop computer was too low spec to handle CM3. Having seen the screens and read the reviews, I couldn’t handle that I wouldn’t be able to play it. There was no way my parents were going to let me fork out for a game that wouldn’t work and so it turned out that CM3 was the only game in the series from 1995 to the present day that I didn’t own…until I recently got it on eBay for a fiver.
I remember downloading the demo, which in itself took about 3 hours on the old dial-up internet to try and prove that it would work. Even playing just the quick start game took forever to load up, the cursor which was meant to be a football was just a black block and it took an age to advance even a day. I think my parents were right on that one. As it was, I just spent more time on CM9798 which worked out okay in the end and by the following year, when CM 99/00 was released, we had a better computer.
CM3 might not be remembered as one of the best, in fact I very rarely see it mentioned amongst the retro community. When you look back at it though it definitely signified the change in the series from the old fashioned original into what we have today. Of course it blazed the trail for CM01/02 which I begrudgingly accept is the most popular version of the game, possibly helped by the problems encountered in launching CM4 which was delayed until March 2003, giving 01/02 a longer shelf life than most.
You might be young enough to have never played these early iterations of the game so next time you’re tweaking your perfect training plan to prepare for the festive schedule or you’ve sent your underperforming midfielder to the reserves to think about what he has done, you can thank CM3 for bringing management games in to a new era.
Thanks to Dave for bringing a slice of PC nostalgia to the site. You can delve into his treasure trove of CM9798 challenges here, or follow him on Twitter @cm9798 to keep up to date with his vast array of work.
If you’re interested in becoming a guest contributor for That’s Liquid Football feel free to leave a comment or send a DM to @ThatsLiquid on Twitter.