N is for Football Manager Newgens by @_the_leveller

When I close my eyes, I see the faces of men I have loved.

Gareth Sambrook, his perpetually surprised eyes bulging ominously under an untidy fringe.  Alex MacDonald, a court artist’s sketch of Wurzel Gummage as a heroin addict. Roscoe Dujon, the 5’5” fifteen-year-old with the thousand-yard stare.

Hell of a left foot, though.

I’m obsessed with Newgens.

All football games have that wheeler-deal transfer market element, but what do you do to keep it fresh? To create that sense of personal achievement, that feeling that you’ve created something more than the sum of its parts, well, maybe it’s my age, but a lot of the options leave me cold.

Building my squad through endlessly clicking through packs of virtual cards and grinding away in search of a version of a player I’ve already got, but with slightly higher attributes? No thanks. You can keep your FUT unlocks; you can stick your shiny Ronaldo’s where your TOTW don’t shine. Give your players made-up names and horror-show faces, though, and I’m right there with you.

Nothing beats Newgen Day.

That glorious moment where your protégés come to life and the game spits out a list of players that will have short, disappointing non-league careers will be the future of your side. Who can resist the tension of cycling through one day at a time, trying to stumble upon the semi-randomised youth intake date, so that you can save-scum until you get a good intake savour the moment the game creates a crop of legends?

Newgens matter more, to me at least, because they feel personal; you appoint your Head of Youth Development. You carefully select your youth coaching team. You beg the board for an upgrade to your youth facilities. And finally, after years of painstaking progress, you get that gold-panning moment. You sift carefully through your intake, privately consigning the hopes and dreams of a teenage trequarista to the trashcan because he moves like an arthritic elephant and has the spatial awareness of a boiled potato. You lament the decent-looking winger whose personality means he’ll end up being flogged to the highest bidder. You pore endlessly over a series of numbers between one and twenty.

All this will be worth it because you’re searching for The One. You live in hope of finding that golden child whose career you will nurture, whose every loan move you will carefully plan, and whose training you will take personal control over. You will then inevitably lose to a big club when he insists on a release clause.

Newgens are possibly the single biggest factor that makes Football Manager work. For the simple reason that they give the world life. They ensure that no two playthroughs can ever be the same, and the random assortment of attributes and personalities creates characters and stories.

Gareth Sambrook

Gareth Sambrook was a dynamic right-back. Came through the academy before spending time on loan in the National League. Consistent and dependable, he was one of those FM players whose blend of attributes belies the star rating they get given.

I mean, yes, he was horribly one-footed, dreaded big games, and had a bit of a temper, but he was all heart. He would run for days and do anything for his teammates. He could mark; he was an absolute beast in the tackle; but he just loved to get forward.

And on the final day of the season, against Manchester United, he did just that. He might not have loved the spotlight of the occasion, but boy, could he rise to one.

With two minutes on the clock, he beat his defender for pace, cut inside onto his unfancied left foot, and fired low across the goalkeeper. The ball hammered against the inside of the post and rolled into the net. The crowd erupted, and we were champions.

Sambrook was part of my team in FM12 over a decade ago. But I remember that moment, and I remember him.

Football’s a fickle and heartless game.

Players and managers come and go, seduced by riches and opportunities or cast out after one poor performance too many. But the fans? We persist. We heap hyperbole on our heroes. We yell abuse at our rivals for the unforgiveable crime of being born in the next town over. We share stories; trading on tales of teams and games long-gone – triumphs, defeats, joys and heartbreaks.

You think it’s cold tonight? You should have been at Worcester City in 98, son. Birmingham Senior Cup. Quarter-final.  We got beat two-nothing, got back and Dave here had to piss on his car door to get it to open, didn’t you Dave?

FM’s the same. The game rumbles on; we pounce on new editions, hoping for tweaks to the match engine, graphical upgrades, or improvements to the set pieces.

But when old versions of FM are consigned to history, strewn across our Steam libraries like defeated cup-finalists, the fans and their stories will remain. Newgens are a massive part of what makes those stories matter.

Would I still remember that final day against United ten years later if the goal had been scored by a ‘real’ player? Maybe.

Would I have cared as much? God, no.

For previous A-Z entries, please visit: The A-Z of Football Manager.