Book Review & competition: Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager

Management. It's serious shit.

Management. It’s serious shit.

The other night I was having a chat on Twitter about how people pick their teams in Football Manager and the slightly manic affection it can subsequently engender. It’s the sort of choice that I, for one, agonise over, often starting abortive games hand over fist and cancelling them as soon as I realise the chemistry isn’t there. It’s like speed dating, except that that form of quick flirtation probably results in fewer relationships as deep and lasting as some Football Manager team picks. It might cause just as many divorces, though.

It was with a lot of pleasure and no little recognition, then, that I read Chris Darwen’s knowing and humorous take on the phenomenon that is FM. Titled Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager, Darwen’s novel falls somewhere between the South American crónica, the pseudo-autobiography of an obsessive, and knowing comic fiction. Sprinkled with football phraseology, Darwen’s book covers one infamous season for Mansfield Town, the mighty Stags, as written from the perspective of its moderately insane and fully committed manager, Johnny Cooper, as played in real life by Darwen on what was, back then I guess, Championship Manager (oh, those heady days – sitting in my study at school, sneaking smokes out the window and revelling for whole weekends in the world of Andri Sigþórsson and Sergey Nikiforenko, who joined my Napoli team and won the universe with me). Written as a sort of epistolary novel in a series of diary entries, it zips along with humour and well evokes the slightly studied banter of the world of football. There are knowing jokes, such as the suspected longevity or otherwise of a then Preston manager , one David Moyes (reminding me of my own attempts to Moyes a season of FM, as published in Pickles magazine). More than anything, though, the book manages to express that internalised narrative that all true FM/CM addicts create to more fully realise their experience. The highs and lows, the conversations with players, the frustrations at boardrooms, the pride of awards or prizes and the infuriating, puzzlingly real heartbreak of defeat, are all entertainingly captured with a clever use of form. It’s funny, too, and I genuinely laughed regularly, partly (and this is the cleverest part) at myself for seeing just how closely the fictive experience of Cooper based on the real experience of Darwen reminds me of my own, geekily deep engagement with the game. And that, more than anything, is why this book succeeds. It’s funny, yes, and light, but most of all, in a way you probably would never want to admit, it rings true. And no, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to play.

So folks, buy it here: 

BUT, and this is pretty exciting: you can also win a free copy. Just tweet your most innovative regen name to me at @AFHStewart by Monday 13th October 2014 to win. I will chose and notify the winner by tweet. Good luck, and do try to be funny.


  1. · · Reply→

    grreat stuff.

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