Championship Manager 01/02 - Part 2: The Journeyman's Journey


On his Premier League debut, TheMorty's epic campaign continues in part 2

How will his side fare against the league giants Manchester United and Arsenal? And will the Magpies finally get one over bitter rivals SAFC?


When it comes to Football-based gaming, you could say I've been around the block a few times. The ultimate journeyman of the sport. The video-gaming equivalent of Steve Claridge.

Since playing Italia 90 on the Commodore 64, I've graduated from the school of Sensible Soccer, owned the entire EA-FIFA catalogue and invested/wasted more years than I care to remember flicking little Subbuteo pieces around the table in my garden shed. Yet, in all the years and all the games, this was undoubtedly the most pressure I'd felt to perform.

I'd played Chamionship manager hundreds of times and gotten teams to a fair few virtual cup finals along the way, but it was always in the comfort of the bedroom. Here, I was about to put my reputation on the line, knowing full well that my tactics and approach would be publicly available and inviting scrutiny. Before it was good fun but now it felt like there was something riding on this. Was I actually any good at this game? or was i just another football fan who talked the talk but hadn't yet passed his fork-lift truck drivers licence.

Squad vs Ipswich (Away)

Formation: 4-4-2

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, Distin, West, Dyer, Kallstrom, Robert, Shearer ©, Solano, Madeira

Subs: Harper, Acuna, Cort, Bellamy (on 82), Dabizas

Here I was, going into the opening Premier League game of the season and it was fitting I'd been given a fixture down at Portman Road to kick it all off. Facing one of Sir Bobby’s favourite clubs – Ipswich Town, where he notably won The UEFA Cup and FA Cup with the Tractor Boys. My chances to win the former were dashed by the qualifying defeat to Pribram, but to emulate the FA Cup run in my first season in charge would be a dream (some might say a fantasy). There were debuts for Said, West and Duff as my new look defence took shape and a first start for Kim Kallstrom in a 2-man midfield with Kieron Dyer – who is returning to face his former club in Suffolk for the first time since his £6m move to Newcastle in 1999.


The game didn’t go exactly as planned, but there were positives. A very low tempo 0-0 draw was the outcome, Shearer and Madeira both having a 6 rated game and nowhere near the level you’d expect from that calibre of striker. Yet, the defence were superb in keeping an in-form Markus Stewart at bay particularly the three new lads on their debuts. Sylvain Distin deservedly picked up the MoM award. However, as it would transpire - that would be his last game for the club…

Distin was always about money. In his teens, his lightening quick-out-of-the-blocks speed made him an Olympic hopeful for France. He could have been a sprinting great, but he saw his future in the mega-rich world of football opting to sign as a scholar in Paris. In 2002, he had the option to fulfil most players dreams and play Champions League football at either Newcastle or PSG, but instead opted to join newly promoted Manchester City and help them in their relegation battle – almost entirely because they were willing to pay the highest wages. So when the news flashed up that PSG had accepted a bid from Rennes of £1.1m, it was no surprise that we’d likely lose our loan man. And lose him we did, so off went the scouts looking for the ideal replacement. In the meantime, there was another game to prepare for...

Squad vs Spurs (Home)

Formation: 4-5-1

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, West, Elliott, Dyer, Kallstrom, Robert, Shearer ©, Solano, Speed,

Subs: Harper, Madeira (on 46), Cort, O’Brien, Barton (on 46)

From the North East of London to the North East of England come Tottenham Hotspur. A team filled with ageing – but still very dangerous – talent. Poyet, Rebrov and Sir Les Ferdinand were just a few names on the team sheet that had the ability to really punish us. With my team still very much a work in progress and finding their feet, I opted to go for a much more defensive approach. Bringing in Gary Speed as a second defensive midfielder and opting to go with just the one up top, Shearer being preferred to Madeira. Elliot comes in at LB with West moving centrally in place of the departed Distin.

The game gets off to a flyer, with Kieron Dyer banging in a volley from distance to put us 1-0 up on 25 minutes. 4 minutes later though and its only bloody Robbie Elliott (AGAIN) who gives away a penalty. The luck of the Irish was with us, Shay Given pulled off a wonderful diving save to deny Uruguayan striker Gus Poyet an equaliser. Spurs were having most of the possession, but I was reluctant to change things – the plan was to get to half time and regroup. But, typically, I didn’t get that chance. On the stroke of 45 Sergei Rebrov got on the end of a corner and powered a header past a helpless Given to make it ones-a-piece. While it wasn’t mentioned in the on screen text, one can only imagine it was Robbie Elliott that let his man go..

At half time, changes must be made. I switch back to my favoured 4-1-3-2 system, bringing on Tó Madeira to get his first taste of the atmosphere of the 52,000 roars inside St. James Park. Speedo makes way for a fresh striker and I haul off Elliott, moving Taribo West to left back and bringing Warren Barton in at centre back. It only took 9 minutes for my plan to work. Supersub Madeira scoring from close range after rounding the keeper to make it 2-1. After a couple of late scares (including Poyet having a goal disallowed for offside!) We edged over the finish line for the first PL victory of TheMorty’s reign.


One of the many, many things I love about Championship Manager is how easy it is to conduct your transfer business. There’s essentially 3 bits of criteria you need to meet:

  1. Club Asking Price

  2. Player Wages & Signing on Fee

  3. Player Ambition.

That’s essentially it. There’s a goal and assist bonus, a relegation/minimum release clause but they’re optional and only really needed for high-profile players who need that extra bit of convincing to join your club. In the latest iteration of the game (Football Manager 2018) there are far too many options and sets of criteria that need to be met. Seasonal landmarks, target-based wage increases, appearance fees, substitute fees, unused substitute fees. Fees if you win a trophy, fees if you don’t win a trophy. Fees for when they get international recognition and fees when they score international goals. Now, that’s all well and good, it’s modern day football and incentive based contracts are the norm, but when you play a 'game' you long for the simplicity, you don’t need every detail to be incredibly realistic. For example, in Call of Duty you hit ‘X’ to reload. You don’t go into a mini-game where you take out the clip, clean the chamber, replace bullets individually and then re-position the sights. The reason you don’t do that is because it’s supposed to be quick and it’s supposed to be fun. Championship Manager 01/02 prides itself on that perfect balance, you take care of the basics and the machine will take care of the rest. My foray into the transfer market here is exactly as I’d hoped – fun. I can buy, sell and sack whoever I want as long as I meet the three outlined standards and boy am I enjoying doing so.

I start throwing out offers to clubs in search for my midfield missing link. First Steven Gerrard turns me down, then Joe Cole at West Ham. Derby see Tonton Zola Moukoko as a hot prospect for the future and reject my offer and, despite meeting Blackpool’s asking price, the club cancel my transfer for ex-Man Utd starlet Richie Wellens because they think the money offered is unrealistic for an unproven youngster. Despite the setbacks, I’m having a whale of a time playing the young Harry Redknapp, trying to wheel and deal my way to spending the limited transfer budget that I have. After the relative success I had bringing in Kim Kallstrom, I turn back away from the English league and look to the Scandi countries, criteria being a midfield player under-21 years old with high work rate, influence, flair and finishing. Eventually, I make a breakthrough… Kennedy Bakircioglu is the name, the 20-year old arriving for £1.9m from Swedish side Hammarby. He’d scored 5 goals in 26 games the season before and been voted young player of the year in the Allsvenskan league. Not bad at all for an 8th of what Steven Gerrard would have cost me!

Squad vs Man Utd (Away)

Formation: 4-5-1 (defensive)

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, West, Elliott, Dyer, Kallstrom, Robert, Shearer ©, Solano, Speed.

Subs: Harper, Madeira (on 46), Cort (on 67), O’Brien, Bakircioglu (on 46)

After a great result against Spurs, I thought I’d try the same tactics again. Contain Manchester United as best I could, trying to nullify some of the best players on the game (and in the world at the time). Giggs, van Nistelrooy, Cole, Veron and Beckham were an attacking force to be reckoned with. If my defensive line could hold, get to half time 0-0, perhaps I could change things up in the second half and bring on some pace in Madeira and Bakircioglu and try to nick a win. Hell, settling for a point this early on at a place like Old Trafford where Newcastle hadn’t won since 1972 would be fantastic. Afterall, the scorers from that day, Stewart Barrowclough and John Tudor, were long gone from the Geordie squad. The plan was good… the execution however… was anything but.

Half time and we were 0-2 down. van Nistelrooy and Cole on the scoresheet as Man Utds front three were all having 10/10 games. I brought on Madeira and Bakircioglu at half time as planned, dropping Gary Speed and – again – Robbie Elliott who were both playing at 5s. Carl Cort came on with 20 minutes + stoppage time to go, but couldn’t stop serial dog-knocker-off-er-er Roy Keane from adding the icing to a very bitterly tasting cake. My first Premier League defeat against one of our oldest enemies. Needless to say, the board weren’t pleased.


Having had enough of Robbie Elliotts antics, I added him to the transfer list and dropped him to the reserves. He’d become a liability and as much as he's a top lad and fun to have a beer with, I just couldn’t risk against the leagues best anymore. I had to step up my search for a centre back and again took a trip to the Nordics. Young Swede Fredrik Risp fit the bill and soon became my latest addition to the squad in a £3m deal. Whilst scouting Risp, I noticed a player who had scored against him a week or two previous and had a 10-rated MoM game. Abgar Barsom. Another young Swedish player who was valued at only £70k! Similarly to Paiva, it was a risk free move to strengthen the reserve team. In the departure lounge, Bassedas was waiting for a flight to Spain as the Argentinian departed for a record fee of £9.5m to La Liga outfit Real Sociedad. Not that I really wanted to sell him, but he was surplus to requirements and that kind of money was just too good to turn down.

Growing up, my mother’s best friend lived in Falkirk. We’d often take trips up there to visit her and her family. She had a son my age and we got on really well (bonding naturally over football). In the summer of 2001, we were up there for the weekend and me and the lad went along to Brockville Park to see a game. I remember it well, because they were playing St. Mirren (who I was quietly cheering on, given they're my Scottish grandfather’s boyhood club). It was 2-2 and the game was into stoppage time, when suddenly out of nowhere the ball was in the back of the onion bag and The Bairns had hit a last-minute winner. The 7,000 fans inside the stadium were on their feet and cheering. It was a great atmosphere for such a small club. The scorer of that winning goal was Mark Kerr, and naturally his name rang around the terraces. I got CM 01/02 that year for Christmas and everytime I’d play, I’d always sign him – he was to me as Niko Kranjcar or Jermaine Defoe is to Harry Redknapp. For that one goal I saw him take – I’d take him anywhere with me in return. Keeping up that 100% record, of course he was the next body through the door - signing for my Newcastle project in a £425k deal.


Squad vs Fulham (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Given, Gavilan, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Bakircioglu, Bellamy, Shearer ©, Solano, Madeira.

Subs: Harper, Kerr (on 77), Lee, Barsom (on 77), Kallstrom (on 77).

Back to 4-1-3-2 and a return of the attacking intent. I was done playing to my opponents strengths – time to play to ours. Mike Duff missed out after picking up a training injury and Laurent Robert was very unhappy – he felt he deserved to be paid more and was asking for a pay rise. Much like the late Rev. Ian Paisley - I don’t negotiate with terrorists, particularly not those who’ve only been in the team for 5 minutes and are demanding to be the highest paid player in the club! So Robert got the naughty step treatment and would spend a week in the reserves to contemplate what he had done.

What an incredible game for the neutrals. We thought our luck was in when former Monaco midfielder John Collins got crocked in the 39th minute. However, his replacement Bjarne Goldbaek came on and made an instant impact, putting Jean Tigana’s boys 1-0 up before half time. We fought back with a goal from Bakircioglu on his full debut and we very nearly took the lead, but Shearer’s strike was ruled out for offside. Steve Marlet restored Fulham’s advantage before Madeira struck in the 75th minute to make the game all square. Heading for a draw, I made a 3-man substitution. A last roll of the dice. Kallstrom, Barsom and Kerr – the latter I had hoped would repeat his feat from the St Mirren game I remembered so fondly as a boy. Alas, the opposite happened. Fulham scored a 90th minute winner on the counter attack as we committed men forward. Sods law it had to be ex-nufc striker Louis Saha with the winning goal to cap his Man of the Match performance. Newcastle were on 4 points in 15th position and the board were not happy, making it clear that they expected us to be “winning that type of match”.


Squad vs Southampton (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Bakircioglu, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Solano, Barsom.

Subs: Harper, Madeira (on 77), Lee (on 77), Kerr, Bellamy (on 85).

What better way to bounce back than to record an away win, in some style. A first half brace for Alan Shearer against his former club allowed us to race into a worthy lead, before Kim Kallstrom’s strike sent us in at half time 3 goals to the good. We changed tactics at the break, opting for a more defensive approach and managed to see the game out for a 3-1 victory, horrible hatchet-man Kevin Davies getting their consolation.


Squad vs Aston Villa (Home)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Bakircioglu, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Solano, Barsom.

Subs: Harper, Madeira (on 46), Lee (on 75), Kerr (on 83), Bellamy.

Loathed to change a winning side, I kept the same starting 11 for the game against Villa a few days later. A 0-0 bore draw wasn’t the worst result, the point taking the team up to 12th position.


Having had multiple bids rejected for my #1 goalkeeping target, Sebastien Frey from Serie A team Parma, I went looking for a handy alternative. My search led me to Greece and a 20-something pair of gloves called Dionisis Chiotis at AEK Athens. He had a fantastic clean sheet record for someone so young and at just £1.1m I couldn’t resist. He accepted the contract, but sadly wouldn’t sign in time for the Everton game. While scouting Chiotis in Greece, I came across second division side OFI SC and managed to pick up their Costa Rican forward Ronald Gomez very cheaply. While he didn’t have the greatest of records, his stat of 20 for finishing would prove a good plan B from the bench. He signed in a £70k deal.

Squad vs Everton (Home)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Given, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Bakircioglu, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Solano, Madeira.

Subs: Harper, Barsom, Kerr (on 66), Gomez (on 59), Lee.

Another bore draw. Even with Gomez coming off the bench for the last half an hour we still only managed 3 shots on target in 90mins. The two points we’d obtained in consecutive home games wasn’t ideal. Results elsewhere meant we dropped back down to 15th as Aston Villa smashed Sunderland, Leicester got a shock result at home to Spurs and Fulham continued their good form.


Now, one of the best things about playing old football games is the benefit of hindsight and knowledge which you can accrue over time. I had amassed over 15 years of football trivia since this game was released – that’s essentially a players entire career. So I could easily spot a bargain or two and thought I’d search for a few players who might be young and cheap, but had turned into quality players IRL since the games release. I stumbled upon Ricardo Queresma. The skillful Portuguese winger who would go on to have a real-life career winning 7 league titles, 7 domestic cups and the champions league, while playing for iconic teams Barcelona, Inter and Porto. Imagine my shock when I saw this wonderkid available for £1.1m! I snapped off Sporting's hands and tied him down on a 5-year contract and put him straight into the squad for the next league game at home to Charlton.

Squad vs Charlton (Home)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Bakircioglu, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Solano, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Lee, Kerr (on 23), Gomez (on 85), Queresma (on 85).

After two draws and two defeats from the last 5 games, my form was looking more like the name of a Welsh mining village than that of a league and cup hopeful. With Charlton Athletic coming to Leazes, we had an excellent chance to add a big, fat W on the end of the form and really kick start the season. Get that W we did – and it came in emphatic style!

A bagged brace from Madeira in the first half well and truly got us on the road to victory. The first was a sublime finish from long range and the second a headed effort from a corner. An unfortunate injury to Bakircioglu with barely a quarter of the game gone wasn't ideal, but his replacement Mark Kerr played a blinder and netted his first goal for the club late in the second half. Chiotis had a fantastic debut in goal and managed to keep a deserved clean sheet – but no-one was taking that MoM award from our pal To up top.


After the game, our fantastic physio Derek Wright (famous for his exceptional pie cooking and eating skills) gave Bakircioglu the once over and found him to be out for around 3 weeks. Best get back to that transfer market... Surprise surprise, I'm back on an EasyJet flight to Sweden. Having had fantastic luck in the Nordic bargain bucket, I figured I'd go hunting again. One player that seemed to have all the attributes was Stefan Selakovic. 24 years old, 10 goals in 25 games from midfield in 00/01. I snapped him up from Halmstad for £1.4m.

Squad vs Leicester (Home)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Kerr, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Lee, Solano, Barsom, Robert.

For 89 minutes the game remained goalless. There'd been little in the way of attack but everyone had played well, Shearer, Madeira, Kerr and Selakovic were all having 8-rated games and I didn’t want to change them. For the first time in my managerial career, I didn't use a single substitute. Everyone played 90mins and that gamble paid off when Big Al popped up on the edge of the box and smashed home a volley in the 2nd minute of stoppage time. A last-minute winner to bring home all 3 points. Shearer had a knack of scoring against Leicester, in 1997, Alan scored his first hattrick for Newcastle against the Foxes and added to his impressive tally in epic style.


Squad vs Bolton (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Kerr, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Lee (on 30), Solano, Gomez (on 81), Robert (on 81).

Looking for our third win on the spin, we travelled to the North-West to play Sam Allardyce's Bolton Wanderers. Now, I've always had a bit of beef with Bolton. I'm not quite sure why... Maybe it was because they often beat Newcastle IRL. Maybe it was because I disliked Fat Sam's awful style of football or maybe it was just because they reminded me of the profoundly irritating Peter Kay. Regardless, I was desperate to get one over on them at the Reebok Stadium.

We couldn’t have dreamed of a better start. Madeira is through 1-on-1 with Jussi Jaaskelainen and the big Finn has a rush of blood to the head and comes racing off his line to bundle our Portuguese starlet to the ground. Former school teacher David Elleray points to the spot and gives the keeper his marching orders with a deserved red-card! Shearer steps up and, as always, buries the peno into the top corner. 1-0. As the game went on, it was all Newcastle and Mark Kerr trebled his tally for the term with a pair of strikes on either side of half time. Three zip the score and off go the Toon marching toward the top.


Squad vs Boro (Away)

Formation: 4-4-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Risp, West, Dyer, Kerr, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Barsom (on 79), Solano (on 79), Gomez, Robert (on 79).

Next up was the Tyne-Smog "derby", a word I use very loosely... see Middleborough have always hated Newcastle, basically because all of the other teams around the Boro had been relegated off years ago and their local rivals Darlington and Hartlepool were so far down the leagues they never contested any games. Newcastle and Sunderland hated each-other and Boro always felt like they wanted in on the action, but no-one really took notice of them. However, that had changed of late and Middlesbrough had been an ambitious team to watch. Boyhood fan Steve Gibson is an incredible chairman and had ploughed millions of his own fortune into the club, bringing in former England Captain Paul Ince and world-class centre backs Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate. Underestimate this team at your peril. Looking at their previous games, Boro would likely use the counterattack as their main offence, so I decided to change shape. Going 4-4-2 to protect the fullbacks while keeping the personnel the same.

As expected it was a tight game and ended 0-0. Paul Ince pushed over Mark Kerr in the 52nd minute and Boro were down to 10 men, but there was no way through that defence and Steve McClaren's mob shut up shop and made it difficult to get past their rear-guard. Even with the introduction of Gomez and Barsom in a 3-up-top formation, we still couldn’t score and disappointingly came away with a share of the spoils.


Having kept the same squad for the last few games, I could see the players were jaded and in need of a rest, with the next game coming in the league cup, it was the perfect opportunity to rest some players – and play the ressies in their place.

Squad vs Cambridge United (League Cup 3rd Round)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Pinheiro, Gavilan, O'Brien, Dabizas, Bernard, Robert, Solano ©, Queresma, Speed, Barsom, Gomez

Subs: Given, Dyer (on 91), Lee (on 91), Said, Paiva (on 67).

The League Cup by many is seen as a secondary competition in England as it lacks the prestige of the FA Cup. Mind, for a team like Newcastle who last tasted domestic success in 1955, this was a chance that we couldn't pass up. While Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier would often create their own banana skin by fielding the reserves in this tournament, I was determined not to lose an opportunity to advance into a cup where I could earn instant adoration from the Geordie public. My team was a perfect mix of up-and-coming youth with a steady spine of experience.

The game couldn't have started any better, fox-in-the-box Ronald Gomez dispatching a Solano cross within 6 minutes and giving us a 1-0 lead. His strike partner Abgar Barsom wasn't going to allow Gomez to steal the show and deservedly got in on the act, bagging in the 29th minute. We were cruising in the first half and started to go through the gears in the second. Barsom getting his brace before two late goals from top-trumpeter Nobby Solano made it 5-zip. A fairly easy game, but it was clear there was still a lot of work to do if we're to progress to a Wembley final. Particularly with some tough Premier League games sandwiching the next cup fixture, and there weren't many tougher than our next opponent... Leeds United.


Now, Leeds United have a fantastic squad, arguably one of the best in the game. The season previous they'd gotten to the Semi-Final of the Champions League. An extraordinary achievement for any club and one they'd achieved through heavy investment. Big money moves for Rio Ferdinand from West Ham, Robbie Keane from Inter were supplemented with a virtual David O'Leary signing Darren Anderton from Spurs at the start of the in-game season for £8.75m. Beating the Whites would be a very hard ask.

Squad vs Leeds United (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Dyer, Said, Risp, West, Lee, Kerr, Kallstrom, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Speed (on 65), Barsom (on 72), Queresma, Robert.

My preparations for Leeds certainly were not helped by a training injury to Mike Duff. It was too big a game to risk bringing in Barton from the cold, so with no recognised RB to speak of, I opted to put Kieron Dyer in as a stop-gap and bring Robert Lee into midfield.

It really was end-to-end stuff as two heavyweights traded blows in one of the most exciting games of the season. Leeds drew first blood when set-piece specialist Ian Harte rattled a direct freekick past the helpless Chiotis and straight into the top corner. Newcastle's skipper fought back, crashing home a header on the stroke of half time meaning we would go in at the break all-square.

Swedish Selakovic scored to give the mags an advantage before Irishman Keane made it 2-2. Barsom came on for the last 15 making an instant impact and scoring a thunderous strike in the 77th to give Newcastle the advantage going into the final 10 minutes... or so we thought... New signing Darren Anderton came up with an unlikely equaliser in the 80th to deny the lads all three points.


All in all, not a bad point, but the injury to Duff had left a gap that needed filling and it was time to delve back into the market to strengthen that defence. I wanted someone with potential, but who could also make an instant Impact. After looking at Mexes, Boumsong, Hofland and John Terry, I opted to sign "Super" Mario Yepes from River Plate. A right-footed Columbian centre-back who IRL would go on to play over 100 times for PSG and have great domestic success at AC Milan. To buy someone a little older and coming into their prime would cost me a lot more than I'd previously spent on a player, but at £7.75m I was getting a top-quality signing who would hit the ground running. At this stage of the season – sat in 5th position in the league – I was happy to splash the cash.

Squad vs Chelsea (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Dyer, Said, Yepes, West, Lee, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Queresma (on 90), Barsom (on 90), Kallstrom (on 90), Solano.

Stamford Bridge has always been a difficult ground for the Geordies, even before Abramovich's billions paved the way for a golden generation at the club. Particularly in CM 01/02, when Chelsea have an exceptional team and are always toward the top of the table. Toon Target John Terry was in fine form and Frank Lampard was scoring goals for fun in midfield. Up front, the deadly partnership of Eidur Gunjonsson and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink was one of the best in the business – the pair already on 15 goals between them by mid-November. I opted to bring in Yepes in place of Risp who'd had a shaky game at Leeds, Dyer continued at RB with Kallstrom being dropped to the bench for the returning Bakircioglu – whose return was a welcome sight.


I'd expected a difficult game, but it was little more than an unexpected formality. Mark Kerr had won the Young Player of the Month award for October and he'd continued his excellent form with another pair of strikes. One in the 18th minute and a rasper in the 84th. Infamous twitter gobshite Leon Knight grabbed a consolation in stoppage time, but in reality it was only their 3rd shot all game. Our defence switching off late on to allow him to score virtually unopposed.


Squad vs Fulham (League Cup 4th Round)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Risp (on 78), Barsom (on 78), Kallstrom (on 78), Robert.

Having started the season with a defeat at Craven Cottage, we had chance to finally get a result in West London and advance to the next stage of the cup at the same time. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't going to continue with playing the stiffs in this competition. Fulham would play their best team and I want a trophy, so we went full strength. Duff was back from his layoff and came into the team in place of Robert Lee. Despite the changes, the game did not start well. It dd not start well at all...

5 minutes were on the clock when Ibrahim Said was bizarrely sent off for HOLDING one of the players, it wasn't even in the box! That's the thing with Championship Manager, it often throws up a bizarre decision or two – rather like real life games I guess where stranger things have happened. I had a decision to make; change tactics or keep it as is and try to attack with 10 men. It's a cup game and could go to extra time... I opted to change things and earn my coin. I switched to a 3-2-2-2 formation. West, Yepes and Kerr filled the three centre back positions with Duff and Dyer as wing-backs. Kennedy Bakircioglu and Stefan Selakovic played as two central midfielders while Shearer and Madeira stayed unchanged.

We held on for 36 minutes when the deadlock was broken and Steve Marlet scored the opener. I couldn’t help feel this was it, the game and with it my cup dream would be over before half time. Just as I was thinking that, a lifeline. Selakovic smashed home a volley from distance to restore parity - hugely against the run of play. 1-1 going into half time was just what I needed. A chance to re-group. I dropped Madeira deeper into midfield and kept Shearer as a target man. Perhaps this would help us retain possession. We survived a few scares on the 61st and 77th minutes when Saha had TWO goals ruled out for offside. We were really hanging on by a thread.

I made three substitutions in the 78th to shore things up. Risp coming on for Kerr, Kallstrom for Dyer and Barsom for Big Al. If we could just survive until the full-time whistle, maybe we could take them to penalties... Just as I thought the game was heading for an extra 30mins of play, To Madeira came up with a moment of magic. From a corner to Fulham, Newcastle won the ball and raced away on the counter. Kallstrom played it into the channel and Duff picked it up. Duff beat his man and squared from the by-line across the box where Madeira was waiting to slot the ball home from 12 yards. Newcastle had the lead and within seconds of the restart the game was over. Newcastle had won against the odds and were into the quarter finals of the cup!


I got the obligatory message of congratulations from the Newcastle Board of Directors to say they were pleased with the result but we had no time to rest, the next game was against league leaders Arsenal. Whose league record currently stood at P13 W13 with 32 goals scored... for draw specialists Newcastle, getting a victory would be our toughest test yet.


Squad vs Arsenal (Home)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Risp, Barsom (on 67), Kallstrom (on 67), Robert (on 88)

Arsenal were a fantastic side. They had world class players approaching their prime. The season previous had saw them runners up to Manchester United in the league and get all the way to the FA Cup final. They were a fantastic outfit and IRL, 01/02 would see them go one better, winning the domestic double. If the game followed real life, they'd be an outstanding side that would rarely lose and be arguably the toughest opponents any player would face.

I'd love this to be the start of a David/Goliath story where we toppled them and inflicted their first defeat, but sadly, that was not to be the case. They made it P14 W14 beating us 2-1 at St. James Park. Our consolation coming in the sad form of an OG. Not the best day at the office... but, it was expected. This team wasn't yet at the stage of defeating giants and it had a long way to go. Anyway, it was all about the next game... the small matter of the Wear-Tyne Derby.


Newcastle v Sunderland is a rivalry almost as old as time itself. Some would say it goes all the way back to the 1600s where Cromwell's Parliamentarians (backed by those on Wearside) fought the Crown (backed by those on Tyneside) in a fierce battle on Boldon Hill. On the footballing front, Sunderland and Newcastle have a fierce record. Each has beaten the other 53 times in their history, with 49 ending in a draw – dating all the way back to the first ever match in 1898, where Newcastle ran out 3-2 winners.

This game in 2001 bears a significance for me. Growing up on the outskirts of Newcastle, we had a few Mackems hidden away in the woodwork and they all came crawling out in a state of irritating jubilation the previous season where Don Hutchison and Niall Quinn goals had given the red and whites a 1-2 win on Tyneside. The licencing and merchandising team at the Stadium of Light had gone into overdrive. I remember my teacher having a "we beat the scum 2-1" mug that he drank his coffee from for an entire year and I recall one lad at school bringing in the VHS widely sold for £21.21 (good one). It didn't matter if it was Football or tiddlywinks, Newcastle and Sunderland were desperate to beat each other in every arena and, knowing what it meant to the fans, I knew this was a game that I just could not lose.

One of the amazing things about Championship Manager 01/02 is that there's no complicated reserve league set up. Whoever your first team is playing, your reserve teams go head-to-head the day before. I watched on eagerly to see how our young lads would do and was delighted with the result. The Toon ran out 3-1 winners with historical Mackem haters Nikos Dabizas and Shola Ameobi (2) grabbing the goals. It boded very well for the main event, the bi-seasonal showpiece against Sunderland.


Squad vs Sunderland (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Ameobi.

Subs: Given, Risp (on 65), Madeira, Kallstrom (on 65), Robert.

I wanted to approach this game professionally and just like any other fixture but, I just couldn't. My heart ruled my head. Shola "The Mackem Slayer" Ameobi would go on to have a prolific goalscoring record – netting 7 times against the old enemy in 16 professional derbies. He was also in red-hot form, scoring twice the previous night for the reserves and remarkably had a high condition level despite completing 90mins less than 24hours earlier. As much as I knew starting Madeira was the smart move, I just couldn’t have left him out.

The game kicked-off and it was all one-way traffic. Tomas Sorenson was having the game of his life in the Black Cat's goal frame. First, he saved a fantastic header from Ameobi, then he stopped Shearer's effort from distance. He was already on a 9 rating and we were only 12 minutes in! I could hear the home fans making noise through my speakers, most of which were chanting nonsense about Alan Shearer's birth certificate. This was a game I had to read every moment of. I slowed down the game to a snail-paced speed so I could take in every effort, every offside, every throw-in. Games like this made me appreciate the simplicity and joy of text-based gaming and nothing typified this more than the next readable moment. Alan Shearer had beaten the off-side trap, he was through on goal, he only had the keeper to beat. "Shearer shoots at goal" the text read... what happened next felt like an eternity. Like I had time to go downstairs, make a coffee and get back before I'd see if he'd scored or if it had been saved. As I could feel the anticipation building, the text flared up on screen...

SHEARER SCORES flashed the text in black and white, fast enough to trigger a fit in anyone with Photosensitive Epilepsy. GET IN, I shouted, forgetting the Mrs was in the other room, the bairn was asleep and I was a grown man in his 30s. That’s what Championship Manager does to you, it sucks you in to a nostalgic world of your youth and makes you forget where and who you are whenever you're logged in.

I could see half time approaching, when I saw another flash on screen, this time in the dreaded colours of the opposition. VARGA SCORES. Oh FFS! Stanislav Varga? You're kidding me. Said had switched off for a moment and Varga nodded home Micky Gray's floated cross. Half time arrived and the key was not to panic. We'd been all over them in the first half, surely we'd have more of the same second?!

57 minutes where on the clock when Bakircioglu hits a crashing shot from distance. It hits Varga. Ameobi picks up the loose ball. Ameobi bore down on goal. Ameobi Shoots. GOAL!!!!! AMEOBI SCORES. The Mackem Slayer strikes again! A tactical masterstroke bringing Sho Time into the starting line-up for the greatest performance of his career to date. The fans (i.e me) are singing out loud Shola's name to the tune of the Hokey Cokey and Newcastle hold on for the win.


The board are delighted, the fans are delighted – my now-awake wife and kid are not delighted - telling me to shut up and let them sleep. Worth it though. Worth it.

The win puts us up to 3rd... as we go into December. We've achieved something special so far. Overhauled an aging squad, gotten to the Quarter Finals of a cup competition, beaten the old enemy on their own patch and have a team that looks like they can genuinely challenge for silverware. We can't rest now, but is there really more to come from this team or have we peaked too soon? Was this result was the beginning of something special? Or the last hurrah before the impending downfall. Check out next weeks instalment to find out...

#football #ChampionshipManager #TheMorty #Sports #epl #nufc

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