Dan Mountney talks to a Farnham-born gamer who has turned his pastime into a lucrative and hugely successful career.
Just over a month ago, I was followed on twitter by sports journalist Chris Darwen. I knew a bit about Chris from Sports Interactive, the creators of the highly addictive Football Manager game, and their documentary ‘We are the Managers’, as well as his books on the game.
After getting in touch with Chris to write for his websites, I quickly learned that he now lives in Spain but was originally from Farnham. I also wondered what kind of journey he must have been on and wanted to know more about his work.
I decided to find out – and it turns out it’s quite incredible.
Born in 1978, Chris lived in Farnham till the age of 16, attending local schools Weybourne, William Cobbett and Heath End. He also represented a number of local youth football teams, dreaming, as all young football fans do, of playing professional football.
“All my childhood was in the town. My first football match was for Weybourne First School against Badshot Lea First School, we won 2-0 thanks to a brace from Jonny Wilkinson who, amazingly, never made it as a professional footballer. My first football club was Heath End Wanderers.
“At that age, I was still very much dreaming of playing in goal for England. In my teenage years, my sights had lowered and I was hoping I might play for Aldershot Town or something.”
Although sports writing was not on his mind in his childhood, Chris does remember writing match reports for William Cobbett school football team.
“I do recall very clearly writing some school match reports when at William Cobbett – I must not have been picked that day – and I am sure Mrs Miller, if she was alive to remember me, would recall some of my creative writing when taking on some of the more mundane writing assessments we did back then.”
All of this drove Chris’ passion for the beautiful game but, it was one day back in 1992 that would broaden his footballing horizons and change his life forever.
“The first time I played the game, Football Manager, or as I knew it when I was a kid, Championship Manager was when Simon Saliger showed it to me on his Amiga in about 1992. As a result he received a dedication in my first book, Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager.
“This happened in Farnham, incidentally. It was addiction at first site, and I, along with many of my peers, put it far higher in the importance table than many other things, like homework and GCSE’s.
“I played the game addictively until 2000, my last year at university where I took over a friend’s bedroom for long spells as he had the only computer on the floor.”
Chris studied at Manchester Metropolitan but only remained in the north-west for 18 months. However he does have fond memories of his time there, which of course, involved a lot of football.
“The 18 months were fantastic and despite leaving without a degree and with a debt, I did get to represent my university first team for football, and that side went on to be runners-up in the national football tournament at the top level.
“Although I was not in the squad for the final, I also got to play in a national final that year in the 4th team, the only side we had left in the competition after the regionals. So, I played a lot of football, drank a lot of beer and learned how to sell – believe it or not, at least one of those things have helped me in later life.”
After departing university Chris decided to move into sales, remaining in the trade until 2014, when his love for football saw him move into writing. Published in 2014, Chris’ book Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager chapters the managerial career of ‘Johnny Cooper’, at the control of Chris, manging Mansfield Town in the 1999-2000 version of Championship Manager.
In order to write this book, Chris played numerous older versions of the legendary simulation game, essentially reliving his childhood. This led to Chris playing the latest edition at the time, Football Manager 2015.
When Chris and his partner Jess decided to move to Spain that year, they had narrowed it down to two locations. To decide, Chris took the bold step of putting their future in the hands of Football Manager.
“My partner, Jess, had narrowed our location down to two towns – I said that whichever I could get promoted to La Liga first would be the town we move to. I started with CD Torrevieja and did it in straight seasons, so we moved there. The other place didn’t even get a look in.”
Once in Torrevieja, a city in Spain’s south-eastern Alicante province on the Costa Blanca, Chris immediately looked to immerse himself in the club he had taken to Spain’s top division in the virtual world, grabbing the attention of FM’s creators, Sports Interactive in the process.
“When we moved here, I went to watch CD Torrevieja and got talking to the club, telling them I wanted to help. I ended up being their Commercial Director for 13 months as a result, and Sports Interactive flew out to film my story for their ‘We are the Managers’ series.”
Alongside his role with CD Torrevieja, Chris decided to use his love of Football Manager as inspiration for his latest writing venture, creating his own website, the higher tempo press
. Chris blogged regularly and extensively about all aspects the game, also contributing to other sites across the web.
In the midst all of this, Chris approached Spanish newspapers to write about the Premier League, a decision that would turn out to be a good one.
“When we moved to Spain I approached one of the local English-speaking newspapers offering to write a weekly roundup of the Premier League football. They accepted, and with no pre-planning Tales from the Top Flight was born.”
“I found my writing voice to be fairly sharp, sarcastic and, on a good day, witty. This became the writing style I adopted and at the end of the 2015-16 season I turned the weekly columns into a book by the same name.
“The column and book had a few people wanting more, so I created talesfromthetopflight.com.
with the aim of brightening up the daily commute that I had left behind in April 2014 for people, writing a daily column.”
The success and popularity of Tales from the Top Flight led to Chris writing for some well-respected publications and even making his television debut with FANTV.
Then came the moment that all of Chris hard work, effort, and countless hours enjoying Football Manager.
“I joked in passing to Jess that it would be really cool if one day a media company took interest in what I was doing – and a matter of days later I had received an offer from Falbros Media Group to purchase Tales and, by default, me.”
Despite selling his websites, he decided to stay on and work as editor but, he quickly came to an agreement with FMG to take over their already expansive site portfolios.
“I agreed to stay on as editor, and having worked with FMG for a week or so we agreed I could do a lot for the other football websites in the portfolio – which included club sites for Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United for example.
“Within three months, we have grown the portfolio to 10 football sites of which I am very proud. I am now editor-in-chief across the portfolio and have recruited a team of fantastic writers – to which I am always looking to add more by the way!”
Despite the portfolio being in its infancy compared to other football blogs and established publication, Chris is determined to redefine sports writing and challenge some of the industries mainstays expressing his excitement at what may lie ahead.
“What are the plans for FMG? Basically, to redefine the way football media is delivered. We are passionate about taking on the likes of the Mirror and the Telegraph, as well as the other more established football blogs and we want to raise the bar to a new level.
“How? That is the fun bit. The ideas we have today may not be what we see in three months’ time, six months’ time. In the short space of time we have been doing this, things have evolved beyond what we thought on day one so we can only really plan a week at a time which is very exciting.
“One thing that will always be at the heart of what we do is top quality content. This will never change. What that content is? That’s the exciting bit as it will keep changing. We need to first of all catch up, and then race ahead.
“In a year’s time I want people to look at the FMG portfolio with an element of ‘wow’ and for it to be a standard bearer. Anything is possible if you have the right excitement levels around things, and we are proving that every day.”
With Chris and FMG seemingly on the right track to success, it will only be a matter of time before it hits the mainstream of sports writing.
For now, Chris, FMG and the extensive writing and editing team will continue to work hard, producing quality content on a daily basis to achieve the unified goals.
Despite his busy schedule, Chris still finds time for the game that started it all and has played a hugely important role in his life.
“I am lucky enough to play the game often, yes. In fact, I am lucky enough to be paid to play the game, having spent many months telling Jess I needed to play the game so I could blog about it more, so I could sell more books.”
We’ve heard stories before of Football Manager being used by gamers on their CV’s when applying for roles in football but, for Chris it’s different.
His hard work and love of the legendary football simulator has written his CV for him, taking him on an amazing journey with many stories to tell.
He will continue to work hard, write and edit as he strives to redefine sports writing but, he will always find time for Football Manager, not knowing what the game is going to decide for him next.