Harrison and Burden – First Two Club Legends

I said from the off that one of the main (if not the main) reasons I recreate my team each year is to follow the progress of my players. Now I’ve covered most of the “work” part, it’s time to have a look at some of the players that led to me making this decision, and some of the ones to (hopefully) look forward to in the future. Sadly, I don’t appear to have screenshots from FM16, so some of the early information is not available, but to start off with, here are two of the early legends from my legacy game: former club captain Malcolm Harrison, and record appearance maker Darryl Burden.

Both of these players started out by coming into my FM15 save with Southampton, and are among the key reasons for wanting to continue with the same crop of players. Ironically, I think the one player who really made the decision for me was a 15 year old Russian striker I had just bought from Zenit, who wouldn’t have the opportunity to make an FM15 appearance for me, and who didn’t amount to much when recreated into FM16.

By the time my FM15 career came to an end, Malcolm Harrison was a 22 year old centre back who hadn’t managed to displace the first choice pairing yet, and was about to go off on loan to Man City after previous loan spells with Newcastle and Wolves. He’d made a total of 11 appearances for Saints but had already racked up 7 (and a goal) for England. At this point, current ability was listed as 2.5 stars, but the potential was 4.5 and value was listed at £10m.

From the FM17 screenshots, all I can tell about the FM16 save was that Harrison broke into the first team when I switched over to Fareham, and made 199 appearances for the club in the course of 8 seasons. The first two were spent just getting into double figures, but after that he began to establish himself as a leader in the team. FM16 saw a further 200 appearances in 6 seasons, with a season of 29 league appearances being the lowest. I don’t have final figures for the first of my club legends as he retired before making it out of FM18, but by this point, 33 year old Harrison had totalled 410 club league appearances and contributed 23 goals. His final 6 seasons yielded 12 POM awards and an average rating of 7.49 in the league. On the international stage, he was just shy of 100 caps for England, and I recall him retiring from international duty in FM18 on 101 caps.

At 21 years old at the end of FM15, Darryl Burden had already racked up nearly 100 league appearances and 20 goals, including a season’s loan at Derby. He had played his way into the Saints squad as first choice right winger with 59 appearances and 18 goals. He was also scoring for England, with 6 from 13 caps, after hitting 7 in 7 for the under 21s. Current and potential ability for the 21 year old were 4 and 5 stars respectively, so I really wanted to see how far this one could go.

By the time of the next screenshot, Burden was 31 and still going strong. His club and international careers were both impressive, with a total of 134 goals in 465 league appearances and 54 in 139 for England. He’d also racked up 105 assists in the league diring the 6 seasons I spent in FM17, ranging from 15 in the first FM17 season to 21 in the last. Burden was a little quicker off the mark than Harrison, becoming a mainstay in the first team a season or so earlier, but by the end of FM17, the two had quite similar results bearing in mind I’m comparing a DC to an AMR. Burden wrapped up his 6 seasons in FM17 with 11 POM awards and a rating of 7.40 – just short of Harrison’s performance in both areas.

At the end of FM17, two new players just transferred to Fareham as I was finishing off the save, therefore joining the club at the start of the FM18 save. One of these was 19 year old Mexican starlet Francisco Javier Bravo, who was brought in as a direct replacement for Burden and would go on to become just as much a club legend. Burden ended his Fareham career with 541 appearances, and so far no one has got close enough to trouble that number. The player Burden overtook was a Danish left-back who I don’t have the screenshots for but got to about 450 in FM16. The second of the new players joining was his replacement, Russian left-back Alexey Seliverstov, who at 21 years old was just joining from Zenit, after making 30 club and 13 international appearances. By the time FM19 started up, Seliverstov had been installed as club captain and would be one of the players looking to challenge Burden’s appearance record.

Part 6. Using the Editor to Create the Database

I guess the majority of Football Manager players don’t spend a lot of time in the editor, unless maybe they are creating custom databases to make lower leagues playable etc (and massive kudos to the guys who do that!). This post will give a reasonably basic overview of how to use the editor to make changes, so I’m sure for some it will seem like I’m teaching you to suck eggs…

The most time-consuming part of recreating my team is the actual editor work, as you might expect. Once the editor has been loaded, it’s a good idea to save the datafile that you will be creating, and give it a good descriptive name. There’s a second description box that you can enter details into as well, so I do a two-file rolling save and use the description as well as the filename to differentiate between them. This way, I can save file 1 and check it in the game and the next updates will be saved as file 2, so if that one gets corrupted, I can always revert back to file 1 and have most of the changes still in place. (I use this method when playing the game as well, as I’ve been burnt a few times losing months of gametime due to computer crashes).

The first thing I do is the club changes, because there are less of those, and also I need to be able to play as the club in order to test the database changes. The process for finding things to edit is basically the same regardless of what you are changing. Start on the left hand list of database items – I’m going to select “Clubs”. It then gives a set of filters on the right, which for this change is going to require just a name search. Click on “Add Condition”, select “Name” and begin typing. Hit enter and the search results will be displayed in the bottom portion of the screen. There are a few columns here so if there is more than one result, you can scroll through the info to make sure you are selecting the correct club.

Once you have your club, double click on it and begin making (and regularly saving) your changes. Most of the changes are likely to be self-explanatory, it’s a case of going through the links to the left to look at things like records, affiliations, relationships etc and making whatever edits are required. There’s nothing that I would say is hidden, so if it’s on the screen you should be good to go. Kit changes are one of the options here as well, not just to change elements, but also to add a third kit if necessary.

One of the bits that is maybe a little less obvious is the team swap. You should always swap teams if moving between leagues, otherwise you’ll end up with too many or too few clubs in a division and it will cause issues in the game. To swap teams, I start in the club screen and choose “Competitions”, then double click on the link for the league on the right hand side. This takes you to the leagues menu (I find it easier / quicker than searching for the league in the same way I searched for the club). From here, go to “Teams” on the left, click on the club and then click on “Swap” at the bottom. From here it’s a case of searching for the club to swap with, and then going through and repeating the process until finished.

For players, I start off by adding one and then duplicate him once all the details are input, changing whatever is needed as I go. It’s easier than going through every single player and adding the contract with the club etc – I can just change things like the dates for this, plus obviously the actual player details themselves. On the database menu on the left, choose “People” and then on the right select “Add” and “Player”. This takes you to the screen to go through adding all the player details.

On the first player details screen, add the name and it will auto-populate the full name below. If duplicating players, make sure you check the full name as it might not update this when you change the first and second name later. You also have the option to add a “Common Name” – as it suggests, this is where you would put the common name, for those who do not use their full name. Again, check this when duplicating players. I remember one of these boxes not updating the second time around, but I can’t remember which. For completing the full player name section, it’s easier to just provide a screenshot:

For those players who are a part of my team already (not the youngsters who haven’t made their debut yet), I always make sure to edit the playing history as well. Appearances and goals can be updated here (but sadly not assists) as well as any previous (or loan) club history. If playing for two clubs in the same year, there is the option to put an order next to each of them so they show correctly in the in-game playing history. Tick the “On Loan” box if applicable for these moves. Creating a player from scratch who has been at the club for a few years isn’t too much of a drag here. You create the first line and then have the option to duplicate it, meaning you can just go in and change the applicable figures. Another screenshot to show how the playing history screen works:

It’s worth noting on any of these screens as well, that once you have searched for a club, nation, player etc once, the editor remembers it, so at least subsequent changes (adding different player nationalities etc) are sped up a bit. When ready to move on to the next new player to be created, I do a player search and find the first member of the team, then go to “Duplicate” (located at the bottom near the “Add” button) and start from there with the first players as a template. Every time you go back to this screen, the first player will still be there, so you only have to do the player search once.

Part 5. The Visual Element

Another little aspect of my continued game is the visual side of it. If a player is going to essentially be sticking with me for a long period of time, I like to be able to recognise him. Any time a player is recreated into a new game, he is treated as an “real” player, rather than one of the game’s newgens. This means there will be no individual face, just the default player face that comes with the game or the chosen skin.

Back in the days when I started recreating my club and players, newgen faces were a lot easier on the eye – the last few instalments of the game have given us some monsters. Previously however, the faces were simpler, 2d images, which also allowed the addition of a hairpack (with or without a shirt). As well as the players themselves then, I also recreate the player face, as much as I can.

I started this out by going back to an old FM15 save, and loading a skin with large faces in the player profile, I set a plain grey background behind it, deleted the hairpack from the game and ended up with nothing but bald newgens. I then went through and grabbed images not only of all my players at the time, but also of a sample of other random players for future use. This included black and Asian player faces to make sure I could recreate those when needed.

The next stage was to cut out the faces in Photoshop, where the Magic Wand tool was sufficient (thankfully) to quickly get rid of the grey background and leave a clean enough face on a transparent background. Using this method, I compiled a bank of faces, which in time I would add hair and shirts to (from the FM15 hairpack). As I was using the hairpack in my game as well, it was an easy job to find the correct style and colour to add to my existing players, and doing it this way left a cleaner image than leaving the hair on and trying to cut the background away from it.

Of course, there’s some artistic license involved. The way new faces are generated by the game now means I’ll never be able to find a perfect match for my players, so I have to just settle for something that’s close enough. There’s also (in my opinion) a lot of stupid hair in the game, so when creating my player faces I tend to tame that where applicable.

Overall I have something like 150 bald faces in the bank, plus about 100 with hair (some of which have been previously used and “retired”). That’s not including faces for the current batch of players. Because it takes a bit of time and effort to create them, my rule is only to do so once a player breaks into the first team and starts showing up regularly. Otherwise, I could end up using hundreds of faces for young prospects who never quite make it.

When creating my players in the editor to start the new game, each is given a UID, which will be one up from the previously created player. As well as a spreadsheet for planning my game, I also have another for putting the club’s facepack together. Rather than renaming image files, I find it quicker to have the faces labelled by player, then put the names into a spreadsheet with bits of code already entered and a concatenate formula at the end ready to copy and paste into an xml file. This way I can just put in the first player’s UID and then let Excel copy the numbers down for the remaining players (thus it’s important to make sure I am creating the players in the right (alphabetical) order!)

The next part of the visual aspect is the club identity. I taught myself how to use Photoshop basically by doing kit and logo designs on a couple of the FM Fansites. One of the early things I did for my legacy game then was to refresh the club logo, which I thought was a little dated. I kept most of the design elements, but just gave it a different shape, and put in the year founded and a club nickname. I also create new kits for the club in each new iteration of the game, just to keep things fresh.

Part 4. From Planning to Executing

The next step in preparing to recreate my game in the new instalment of Football Manager is to take a load of screenshots. As much as possible, I create players exactly as they were in the last season of the previous game. To do this, I generally take 3 screenshots per player from Football Manager – History Career Stats (used to copy a players appearance / goal history), Overview Information (used for place of birth, favoured personnel and languages) and Overview Profile (pretty much just used for the player profile picture so I can get the skin and hair as close as possible).

I also use Genie Scout (can be found via your preferred internet search engine) and take 2 further screenshots – Profile (used for the actual stats, including current and potential abilities) and Positions (used for position and feet ratings as well as preferred moves). For youth players, the number of screenshots may be lower, as there may not be a playing history yet. I also take screenshots from the game of the following club screens: facilities, general overview, profile and history records. The last screenshot is again from Genie Scout, showing the club information, in order to record facility / training ratings etc.

To give an idea of the amount of screenshots this process requires, my FM19-FM20 prep folder contains 5 club screenshots, 124 youth player screenshots and 115 first / reserve team player screenshots:

The arduous task is then to transfer all of this data in to the editor for the new game. To access the editor, for those not familiar, you need to install it via Steam. Open Steam, go to the Library, then Tools and scroll through until you find the editor:

When the editing starts, for the club, I have to do basically everything as I am practically starting the club from scratch. The club reputation needs to be changed to something more befitting a Premier League club (rep is in the club screenshot from Genie Scout), the stadium needs to be upgraded from the few hundred seater that’s currently in place, the contract types permitted need to be checked (so I dont find I can only sign on an amateur contract again)…

I used to update the competition history as well, but have stopped doing that for two reasons. One, being a successful club and playing 20+ seasons like this, we win a lot of silverware. Sooner or later the total titles won in a competition will end up being a ridiculous percentage of the competition’s history. Also the one thing that I can’t change is the current year – I would have to backdate all the wins, meaning I would have to overwrite another club’s competition history. After the first two migrations to the new game, I therefore stopped updating competition wins, beyond the last season if the club is the current holder of a league / cup title.

For players, the process is long and boring, I’m not going to lie. I generally start by creating a new player, entering all details and then cloning him and changing to match the next player on the list. That way I don’t have to change quite as much info after the first player has been created. Things to look out for are the ages and playing histories, as the year will be different so they need to be counted back (and checked in game once done) and the same for contracts / date joined the club.

The two biggest tips I can give are to save regularly (like when doing any work on the computer) and to test regularly. Nothing would be more frustrating than losing hundreds of updates because of a crash, or completing hundreds of updates only to find that there’s an issue and the whole thing fails to load. At least doing it bit by bit, it’s a lot easier to find where any issues might lie.

Part 3. Planning a New Legacy Game

The first thing I do when prepping for my next legacy game, is to update my “new game planning” spreadsheet. On here I list everything I can think of that I need to change, from details of the stadium, players to recreate (mostly for brand new youngsters who I haven’t committed to memory yet), Euro-coefficients etc to important things to remember to check. These include a run through of player ages (in case I calculated them incorrectly), nationalities, second nationalities, club contract types etc.

One of the real key things that takes some outside work / research is the team swaps. I’ve mentioned that I use lower league Fareham Town as my legacy club, and I put them in the Premier League. To do this though, I need to kick a team out of the league. I do this through a series of relegations, starting with what would be Fareham’s promotion league, I take the lowest placed team to have survived relegation the previous season, and swap them with Fareham. Then I go to the next league up and repeat the process until I finish by swapping the team who finished the previous season in 17th place in the Premier League, with what would now be Championship club Fareham Town.

For FM20, this means the club swap looks like this:

(Note that from the Southern League Premier, I will have relegated Tiverton Town. Following the pattern correctly would relegate Gosport Borough, but I will also move them up a couple of leagues in the same manner as they are local rivals to Fareham and have played against my legacy side from when they were members of the football league in their own right).

Doing the league swaps this way means that the relegated teams are only moving down one division, as if they were genuinely relegated. They will be able to fight to regain their place in the higher league during the first season of gameplay. Mainly though, it means that I won’t have moved a Premier League team (in this case Brighton) out of the football league by making a single, direct swap.

Another swap completed is in the Champions League. If my team would be scheduled to compete in European competition (it generally is) then I also need to swap out an English club who qualified for this, in order to maintain competition rules. If listing Fareham as current holders of the Champions League, I do a check in game testing first to make sure the club hasn’t been auto-entered as defending champions. If so, this step can happily be skipped. If not, it’s a case of completing another couple of swaps. For this season it would mean taking Spurs’ Champions League spot, moving Spurs into the Europa League group stage, moving Man United into the Europa League second qualifying round and removing Wolves from Europa League qualification – effectively moving everyone down one place in the final league standings from last season.

The rest of the planning spreadsheet contains the following details and reminders to add:

  • Club legends / icons / favoured personnel
  • League / Cup current champions (if applicable, especially Champions League if applicable for Club World Cup qualification)
  • Club reputation, balance, transfer budget
  • Club Euro-coefficients
  • Any players from the transfer centre who have agreed to sign but have not yet joined the club
  • Feeder clubs
  • Squad numbers (key players)
  • Captain / vice-captain
  • Stadium and training ground

And additional bits to check in game during testing:

  • Player ages
  • Player contracts
  • Player nationality / second nationality (if applicable – during the course of a career several foreign players will generally take up British as a second nationality to help comply with home-grown rules)
  • Player languages
  • Playing histories
  • Club contract types permitted (after setting up my legacy game in FM19, I got to the January transfer window before I realised I could only sign players on an amateur contract, and have to start the season again after correcting this in the editor)

Part 2. Why Choose a Legacy Game?

Before getting into the “how”, I’ll cover off some of the “why”. Or at least “Why I do it the way I do”. First of all, this is not in any way about “cheating”. My FM games are spent at the top of the world because they are built on 25+ years of success. Think Real Madrid having Sir Alex Ferguson at the reins for 20 years like he was at Man United.

There are two sides of cheating, to my eyes. The first is relating to my team, but the second is relating to others. My other philosophy on this then, is not to unfairly impact other teams (with one exception, which I’ll come to in the “new game planning” section later). This is the main reason for my team selection. I was playing as Southampton, but to start a new game and recreate what I had there, I would vastly bolster the playing squad, meaning some of the real Southampton squad would be pushed out. In the first iteration of my plan, I also had been buying players to improve Southampton, but in the next instalment of the game those players would be elsewhere and I wouldn’t see it as fair to move them to my team.

So I decided instead to create a new team to take forwards on this journey. Well, almost a new team. My local side is Fareham Town, sitting in level 9 of the English football pyramid. To avoid effectively taking over Southampton (where I also had an interest in seeing how they would do under new managers, with new players etc), I would instead put my recreated players into Fareham Town’s squad, where there would be no existing players to force out. I then perform a series of team swaps to move Fareham up into the Premier league.

The first attempt at doing this was the most difficult, because I didn’t have a full squad, reserves and youth players to draw upon. To really benefit from this technique, you probably need at least 10 years of gametime. I typically play for a maximum of 5 years per game – I don’t spend all my time on it, and I personally manage every match (excepting friendlies), attend a portion of press conferences, take part in transfer deadline days etc. Most importantly for me, I spend time recruiting and developing new talent.

So, the first time I did this, my team was pretty bare. The one helping hand I gave to the team in this instance then, was to bring in some “average” players to fill out the respective squads. I took some mid-table Premier league teams, and took average to below-average players from their reserve and youth teams. Rather than moving these players to Fareham (and being unfair to their real teams), I cloned the players and just gave them a name-change. From the second instalment of my legacy game onwards, the players have all been Fareham “through and through”.

Part 1. An Introduction to Legacy FM Gaming

I first began playing Football Manager under the Championship Manager banner – either CM4 or CM03/04 (I can’t remember) which I received as a signing on gift for some long-forgotten thing. I enjoyed this enough to buy the new game when it came out, which would have been FM07 or FM08 (CM was not the latest release when I got it) and have bought the game every year since.

My early experiences were much like those of any other player – starting with my own team (Southampton) and trying to improve the club’s fortunes. Each year though, I would grow bored before the new game was released, and would load additional managers to take control of clubs in different (mostly European) leagues, or a lower league club, or take on international management.

Then I began changing it up by managing different teams that I’d never tried before, but always sticking with the English Premier League as that’s what I know best. I did a game with Arsenal, the next with Spurs. Then I added the challenge of going full English – I did a game with Aston Villa and eventually got to the point of winning titles with a 100% English squad.

Still I was getting bored though, and I realised that one of the things that disappointed me a little was that I would always buy and develop young talent, but I’d upgrade to the next instalment of the game before they got a chance to break into the first team. I would spend time nurturing these players, without seeing the end result.

I think it was as I was coming to the end of my FM15 career that I decided I would do something about it. I was back with Southampton, with some great English talent coming through and just needing another season or two in order to make it big. When I got FM16, I made the decision to abandon the typical Football Manager experience, and create my own history – a team building on the success of the previous game, my star players from FM15 created in FM16 and continuing their careers. The players from FM16 created in FM17 and so on.

For the last few instalments of the game, I have managed just the one team. I’ve seen players come and go, lasting the majority of their careers under my tutelage. I’ve had great club success, but the key for me is that I’m now able to follow the players from academy to first team to international success in many cases. I’ve not lost interest in a game since I began this process, and indeed I look forwards to the new game each year, knowing that I’ll still have the familiar faces going with me.

This blog will detail the process I follow, which a number of people have shown an interest in. I will walk through the steps I take in planning for a new instalment of Football Manager, how I go about recreating the team, and why I made some of the key decisions early on in the process. I’ll also share some of the real successes throughout the last few years, and going forwards will share the new successes from FM20 and beyond.