Are These The 7 Greatest Vintage Football Computer Games Ever?



The first fizzing, replicating, protocell of the genre, hand-knitted in an attic by the original bearded genius, Kevin Toms. The players were rated from 1-5 by a single attribute: Skill. At the end of every season, the ratings randomised to keep you on your toes.

The graphics were cutting edge for their time; tiny stickmen striding around in front of goals the size of aircraft hangars. But, by thunder, it drew you into its world and never let you go. Just as every living human can trace themselves back to Mitochondrial Eve, a 200,000 year old woman from Africa, so too can every present day Football Manager geek find their origins here.


MATCH DAY - 1984

Gigantic sprites borrowed from the 1983 hit ‘Bear Bovver’. Colours that bled all over the pitch. All the energy and excitement of Germany vs Austria in the 1982 World Cup. But for all that, Match Day was one of the first genuinely playable football games that necessitated some sort of primitive passing style.

It only took six minutes of screeching cassette to load and it had a hideous version of the Match of the Day theme tune, cranked out before every game whether you liked it or not. You don’t know you’re born, kids.



(This is actually how Roy Hodgson found out he’d got the England job)

The first of the great geek games, Tracksuit Manager had a database of hundreds of real players, including Diego Maradona, Michael Laudrup and Bobby Mimms. The games were played out with pages of written commentary rolling silently up the screen.

You could execute actual tactics, make substitutions and narrow down your national pool of players for the World Cup. Most importantly, you could insert the names of you and everyone at school and then refuse to take people you didn’t like to Italia ’90. I am not the only person who did this.


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KICK OFF - 1989

Like throwing a ping pong ball onto an ice rink and ordering Tinkerbell and 21 of her fairy mates to sprint after it. Kick Off was the fastest football game on the market in the 1980s, if not necessarily the most realistic. Those tiny players could reach eye-watering speeds, but were entirely unable to change course without losing the ball. Frankly, they’d have done better to call it ‘Tony Daley Simulator’ and be done with it.



It is a little known fact that the present day FIFA games use the same number of buttons as it takes to land a Boeing 747. Sensible Soccer used one. Tap to pass, hold to shoot, rip back the joystick to add aftertouch. You could learn how to play it in under an hour, but mastering it took far longer.

The database had dozens of real teams, but you could edit them from top to bottom, even creating your own garish kits. Later editions brought commentary from Jonathan Pearce and sophisticated management options, but the purity of the game itself was all you ever needed.



It was wholly appropriate that the first thing you saw when you picked the Championship Manager box off the shelf was an angry man in a tracksuit glaring out at you from the cover. This wasn’t like all the other games, the nice, friendly ones that revolved around you.

This game didn’t even need you. If you weren’t good enough, this game would sack you and carry on without you. “You want to play this game?” sneered the angry man. “Well, I don’t think you’re good enough to play this game.” 22 years on, we’re all still trying to prove him wrong.


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Here was the first footprint of the giant. A snazzy, well-funded football simulator with an emphasis on tricks and overhead kicks that was quite out of keeping with anything you saw on Match of the Day at the time. It was clunky, it didn’t feel as authentic as Sensible Soccer, but it oozed class. From the bright, well drawn sprites to the mood-enhancing crowd noises, you could sense that a path was being mapped out here for the future.


Read Iain's New Book, The Football Manager's Gude To Football Management