It may be over 20 years old but Championship Manager 01/02 is one of my favourite games even now. Over the next week, I will document my journey with Lincoln City in Division 3 on this classic game.
“I am delighted to be announced as the ex-Lincoln City manager!” exclaimed Alan Buckley as I took over his hotseat at Sincil Bank in the middle of July 2001 with the club expecting a tough season. To say I am a novice would be being kind but I sense there aren’t being many tears shed at the loss of Buckley. The backroom staff includes my assistant and City legend Keith Alexander.
The board informed me they expect a brave battle against relegation from the Football League while Keith Alexander tells me that fellow club legend Grant Brown would be better off seeking pastures new- this is fine but to complete my brave relegation battle, the board have sanctioned a massive £0 as a transfer kitty and Brown is worth £0 but would need replacing.
The first friendly was at home to Colchester using a 4-1-3-2 formation. Ben Sedgemore would come off the bench to score the winner as Paul Mayo was named Man of the Match.
I needed more firepower, big fan of Lee Thorpe but he needs more support. I brought in Joao Paiva, a 19-year-old Portuguese striker on trial. Paiva was discovered after an extensive scouting mission on the many social media pages dedicated to this game! He would take his place on the bench for the first game of my tour of Ireland against Derry. We got off to a great start and were 2-0 down inside the opening six minutes. The game would finish that way – a sense of impending doom surrounds me as I realise I am in for a struggle.
Away from my worrying start to the tour, Manchester United legend Gary Pallister was appointed manager at non-league Farnborough. Such delights this game throws at you when you least expect it.
The tour continues as we are 2-0 down at halftime against Galway United before fighting back to draw 2-2 thanks to goals from Lee Thorpe and Justin Walker. The big news, however, is away from Terryland Park in Galway and is the signing of a new three-year contract for key midfield man Walker.
Walker is the man I want to build my midfield and, to be quite honest, the team around so tying him down, albeit with a £2 million release clause, is massive. As one man committed his future to me, another decided he had had enough and headed for pastures new. I had, of course, listened to my assistant’s advice and agreed to let club legend Grant Brown leave. Brown had sorted a deal to join Conference outfit Leigh RMI on a free. Thanks for the service ‘ Hoof’!
As I approached the final friendly of my first pre-season in charge, I was left with a transfer budget of zero and needed a centre half. The final day of July provided a real lift as Paiva agreed to a three-year, £675-a-week deal and the loan signing of defender-cum-midfielder Shaun Derry from Portsmouth was confirmed.
Having beaten Colchester before a draw and two defeats (I tried to forget the loss to Monaghan United) on the less-than-successful tour of Ireland, we hosted Division Two side Brighton and Hove Albion. Debutant Derry rose highest after just three minutes to power his header home to give us the lead. A Bobby Zamora goal briefly restored parity before Walker, Battersby, Finnigan and Thorpe sealed a 5-2 win. We weren’t going to be good, were we?!
August – the curtain raiser
A mixed pre-season, a free signing, a loan signing, a key contract extension, a wave goodbye to a legend and a board who expect so little I pretty much have a free swing at this. As Rochdale were making their way across the country, my biggest decision was whether to squeeze into my suit or go for a more relaxed approach in the tracksuit.
The season opener proved to be a fantastic day for fans of the Imps, with Lee Thorpe getting on the scoresheet in the opening five minutes and a stoppage time Sedgemore goal handed us a 2-0 victory. A great start and then a big contract update with number one Alan Marriott agreeing to a new five-year deal – great news as without him I would have had to dig my gloves out.
In need of bolstering my squad, I made three attempts to sign players on loan with two offers made to Peterborough and one to Manchester City – if anyone under the age of 20 is reading this then City weren’t very good at this time and I made do with Terry Cooke. In reality, it was an awful decision as I didn’t and never intended to play a formation that would fit Cooke the winger.
Mansfield Town followed and that match ended 1-1 after Joao Paiva netted inside five minutes and the positive draw away from home then led into the first round of the League Cup at home to First Division Rotherham United. The Millers, who had Bob’s lad Andy Monkhouse up front, took the lead through Paul Warne but Lee Thorpe and Justin Walker sealed the win. Victory against Rotherham meant an away tie against Premier League Everton in the next round.
Peter Gain rejected a new contract offer before we ended up 3-1 down by halftime at home to Luton Town, the slightly raised optimism is beginning to crash and reality is back! Excitement levels raised again as we got back to 3-3 before I slumped into my sofa as Luton snatched it 4-3 late on. Emotions were high and in the post-match press conference, I was asked several questions that provoked deep thought. “You’re an old man and this game is over 20 years old, why do you keep playing it?” asked my partner as she assisted me off the sofa. I had no answer, Kevin Nicholl’s late goal had left me devastated. Thankfully, she had left the room before I erupted at what I thought was an 85th-minute equaliser at Southend only to see it chalked off and to be left broken once more.
That defeat at Roots Hall brought a close to August and a steady if unspectacular start to the season, including one win, one draw and two league defeats and progression to the 2nd round of the League Cup.