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Retro Review – Premier Manager 98

Written by on Sunday, 12 June 20119 Comments

“I want-want-want you to go through the season and not lose one match” the game cries as you switch it on. Within moments you’ve selected a team, made up a bogus name and are ready to manage some football from 1997. And in case you’ve forgotten what game you’re playing, there’s a massive ball in the middle of the screen. This is Premier Manager 98 for the Playstation 1.

I cannot overstate how insane this game is. And equally, how brilliant this game is. But before we get to anything i’ll give you a brief background. It is a football management sim for the home console and, unlike the name suggests, is from 1997. As such it is chock-full of classic players of the era, back in the day when United were the top team in England and Chelsea were dead pants. It was a bit of a big-hitter for the football lovers with a Playstation and sold a fair few copies – though I don’t have any stats, I can tell you it was in the top 5 best sellers at my local Woolworth’s back in the day. So it is surely worthy of a retro review.

There are lots of ways to go about reviewing an old game, but I think the best way by far is to just jump right in and play it, documenting how a single season goes in the rollercoaster ride of unexplained results that is Premier Manager 98. I should note before we start that this game is multiplayer and a lot of fun is derived from playing with a friend, so if you yourself are thinking of picking it up, be warned – grab a friend and the game gets a lot more interesting. Right now, here’s how I fare in a single season of the PS1 classic.

This is not the kind of game where the chairman is going to give you a set budget to spend. You start the game, no matter who you are, with £10,000,000 to spend on players – nothing by today’s standards, but in 1997 it’s a pretty serious transfer kitty. The players on the transfer list are the same each time the game begins, which means it is imperative to begin by signing Miguel Nadel and Patrick Kluivert for a combined 6-7 million. And don’t try buying anyone not on the list. Because that ain’t happening.

Though I was able to sign Kluivert, Nadal couldn’t accept personal terms so that was that. Next time I checked the market he was gone, but with Markus Babbel in his place. Far more expensive, but that’s fine. I think you can put on aging in this game but, as it is not the default setting, in my game these players are going to be in the prime of their careers forever. Having a game where players don’t age is so far removed from the Championship or Football Manager series that it seems almost prehistoric. Despite having only been playing for two minutes the music is starting to irritate me, with that disembodied voice continuing to inform me that he wants me to “go through the season and not lose one match”. Still.

There is a ‘coaching’ area in the options where you can set the focus for individual training areas, but I’m unconvinced that it does anything other than look aesthetically pleasing. The same can be said for the reallocation area, where you can choose to up the focus on medical, scouting or youth team. For a game with aging turned off, i’m unconvinced that the youth team is too much of a big deal.

Still, i’m playing as a Liverpool side featuring the likes of David James, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler. Michael Owen is but a wee youngster and yet features in the game, though exactly why I can’t be sure. By looking over my team I spy a distinct lack of a left-midfielder, but again I question whether this will actually have any bearing on the whole thing. If you think i’m spending a little too long talking about pre-season you’d be surprised, as this is probably what you’ll end up spending half of your season focussing on. The actual matches can be a serious two minutes long but, for those of us who often click the ‘go on holiday for 1 day’ button on Football Manager, this game comes packaged with an ‘instant match’ mode accessible through the select menu (note, hit select to access).

How is it even possible to have 100% territory. And what does it even mean, for that matter??

Other than selecting the team before the match, I had absolutely nothing to do with this result. You will find that this is the best way to play Premier Manager 98, as sitting through two minutes of watching a clock is quite boring. Also, note that Inter Milan (the team I chose to play my four friendlies against) have Ronaldo up front. As a striker, it is less likely for him to score. For reasons unbeknownst to me, strikers do not score as many goals as midfielders or defenders in this game. It is a weird game.

After continuing through the other three friendlies, I found myself in a rather excellent position, having won them all. The music cut out briefly and I thought an angel had come to rescue me from this aural hell… instead it turned out the speaker cable had fallen out and I felt honour-bound to plug it back in (you know, in order to get the full Premier Manager 98 experience). This is one of the worst decisions I have ever made.

The second worst decision I ever made was to play my brand new signings on the first day of the season.

Someone always gets injured on the first day of the season.

Ugh. First game of the season and i’m against a Man Utd team full of world beaters, with two of the best players in the game (Schmeichel and Beckham). I’m not surprised that I lost, but it’s frustrating that I had four shots on target to their 3. Still, this train wreck is far from done.

I began to find my groove after this defeat and string together some good results. Not playing in Europe this season means that the team won’t get tired so easily, and after a 3-1 drubbing of Arsenal things are beginning to look up. Unfortunately, two 1-1 draws with Coventry and Leicester put me back in my place. This is the thing about Premier Manager 98 – it makes no god-damn sense. After losing 3-2 to Barnsley I want to throw the game disc under a truck and never look back. But no. This is in the name of science. I want to see if it’s possible to play through an entire season on your own without wanting to throttle someone.

I decide to employ a tactical surprise or two (jumping from a defensive long ball style to an offensive passing game) and things start to look up. The whole team gets a moral boost from Japhet N’Doram signing for a cool one million (he’s four stars as well. Cracking) as this game doesn’t subscribe to silly football traditions like ‘transfer windows’. You can just sign whoever you damn well please at whatever time you like. After knocking Plymouth Argyle out of the League Cup over two legs, the new Liverpool start racking up the results. Wins over Blackburn, Wimbledon, Milwall, Leeds and West Ham set up our dominance.

This becomes a bit of a winning streak, extended with a two-nil victory at Sheffield Utd. With a quick tactical change, i’ve turned losers into champions. And Liverpool just refuse to be beaten, defying logic by getting results at Newcastle, Derby and Peterborough in the League Cup. This ‘instant match’ setting allows you to breeze through all of this insanity in mere minutes, which is quite a confidence boost for yours truly.

Some strikers have started to score goals now, and this is refelected in the top scorers list – the more eagle-eyed of you will notice the top left, where i’ve opted for Hulk Hogan to manage Liverpool.

Things are getting pretty heated in the Premiership now. A draw at Aston Villa, a 2-1 win in the Merseyside derby (though the game has no comprehension of the importance of this match) before everything grinds to a halt when the board takes time out to congratulate me on the latest run of results. God damn it. Sure enough, the next match Tottenham win 2-0 and the Liverpool revival takes a big hit. Fortunately, a win at Chelsea is enough to bring back some confidence and it’s followed immediately by victories at Bolton and Southampton. Time to check out the league table, methinks.

Newcastle are winning. For those interested, Crystal Palace are 20th.

Not that I care, but I will never understand why Man Utd never win the league in this game. I’ve honestly never seen it happen. Still, things are looking pretty good for my team of world-beaters. The beauty of this game is that i’ve only been playing it for twenty minutes and i’m already halfway through the season. Any longer and I think i’d go insane – the music is now going up and down the scale like some horrifying 8-bit circus. I think it was designed by someone who HATES LIFE. I would turn it off, but I fear that if I was to lose the distraction, I might actually realise just how awful this video game truly is.

After losing in the league cup semi final to Bristol Rovers (Ian Holloway scored against me though so it’s cool; I like to imagine that after scoring he went on a rant about FIFA or UEFA being wrong), I am forced to rethink my strategy. But a win in the FA Cup changes my mind and I stick with the tried-and-tested attacking game, which turns out to be the correct move as attested by wins at Coventry and Villa.

The game does throw up some curveballs however. A winning streak will never last too long as Leicester swoop in with a random 3-1 burial, but Liverpool are soon back to winning ways, this time getting the 3 in that same result against Crystal Palace. A defeat at Barnsley is followed by a win against Blackburn and everything is terribly inconsistent. After getting a one-nil win at Arsenal, I accidentally hit the ‘view highlights’ button, and begin to question my own sanity.

I cannot press the exit button fast enough. I think I hammered it twenty times in a moment of sheer terror. This game has the worst highlights package in all of video games. Honestly, I don’t know why they included it. It looks like feet. Really, really ugly feet. My sanity takes another hit when the music starts over again after the highlights end. I resist the urge to pull out the audio cable or stuff my ears with cotton, instead struggling through it to get to the next match.

After a 4-2 drubbing of Barnsley in the FA Cup quarter final, i’m feeling pretty good. On top of the Premiership, two matches away from the FA Cup, things are looking good. If i’m honest, I still don’t know exactly why Liverpool are doing so well. I can only bow my head to this game and accept that the results it generates are so random I needn’t care. And after beating Newcastle 1-0, I feel like there’s nothing that can stop the machine that is Liverpool FC. I was hoping for some kind of disaster to strike that would make the game more interesting, but no such thing occurs. Liverpool just keep on bloody winning. Even when I play Michael Owen in goal as an act of defiance against the man who doesn’t want me to lose. And that was for the FA Cup semi-final, which we won 3-2 against Leeds. Finally, without my interference, we hit a dry patch and only get one point from three games. Time for action.

A quick visit to the local transfer market and there’s Carlos Aguilera, rated four stars and aged 33. Normally this would be an issue for me, but without aging I could care less. He’ll be four stars forever! I think I signed him from Penarol, but i’ve never heard of the guy. Nonetheless, results improve drastically with him up front. A 2-1 win at Spurs might even clinch the title for Liverpool and the Hulkamaniacs will be going wild with joy.

We lose to Chelsea but it’s all cosmetic now; the players are waiting for the big final game of the season against Middlesborough – the FA Cup final. I am reminded by my coach that McManaman’s contract is running low, and I remind him that i’m only here for a year and could care less. Draws at Southampton and Sheffield end my season with a whimper as it’s time for the grand finale against Boro.

And with that, it’s over. Though instead of giving me a transfer kitty for next season the chairman gives me nothing, leaving me with ticket revenue as the sole source of income. It doesn’t matter. In one season I won the Premiership and the FA Cup. Not bad. Of course, this is an experience i’ve lived out more than once.

You see, Premier Manager 98 is, at the very least, a strange and predictable game.So long as you make a transfer or change tactics everytime you’re losing, the game cuts you some slack and gives you a few wins. Sometimes a winning streak that is quite remarkably ridiculous. Though it is possible to be fired, you would have to be a pretty awful manager to achieve it. All of this was, ultimately, achieved in about half an hour of playtime. And I suppose therein lies the sole joy of this game.

Because, at the end of the day, it is fun to win. And it’s even more fun to win quickly and speedily, with little care for anything else. Name me another management game where a whole season can pass by so quick. I’m not sure what I gained from playing this game again, though I can tell you that I have a newfound respect/fear of my younger self, who was capable of enjoying this music. Ridiculous.

I would suggest Premier Manager 98 to anyone who wants a (very) quick football management fix. I would suggest its soundtrack to anyone who is looking for creative torture ideas. Here’s a link to that very audio, if you yourself are feeling masochistic:

And that, is that. I was Tom and I guided you through this week’s retro football game – Premier Manager 98 for the PSX.