Rory Gallimore plays Football Manager
It's a chilly winter's morning, and I've just received a devastating email. I've been informed that the man mountain that is Romelu Lukaku – Derby County's leading goalscorer every season since 2016 – has rather strangely decided that he no longer gets on with club legend and strike partner Alberto Bueno.
A brief conversation with the big Belgian makes matters worse, as my delicate attempts to tell him to carry on playing football and stop being such a melodramatic dick only serve to anger the star striker. He promptly hands in a transfer request and obviously I reject it, but with only 5 months remaining on his contract, I despair. Soon he'll start talking to other clubs and I'll be left feeling like a hapless cuckold. This is the worst day ever.
Of course, many people cannot sympathise with the pain of this situation. To many people I sound like a delusional tool who has taken to projecting my weird sports-based fantasies to others for no good reason.
Many people are probably right. However, they have almost certainly never become engrossed in the phenomenon that is 'Football Manager', and so I do not value their opinion. As winter continues to grip Durham in its frozen clasp, we can all look forward to more quality time indoors, partly thanks to the good folks at Maiden Castle cancelling scores of college sport fixtures due to frost/excessive dew/a nippy breeze. I am convinced that the best possible way of spending this time is on FM.
For those philistines who have never experienced the joy of steering a lowly football club to eternal glory, allow me to help explain its irresistible lure. Sports Interactive, the masterminds behind this much maligned series of masterpieces, really are a remarkable company.
The attention to detail shown at FM's every level is nothing short of incredible. They employ around 1,500 scouts in 51 different countries who collectively generate a database of players, staff and clubs that is bordering on obscene.
Staring at this veritable galaxy of statistics for too long can have some odd effects outside the game for the user, as you become weirdly accustomed to being provided with a comprehensive description of any individual at first glance.
I disturbingly find myself surprised by the absence of people's height, weight and technical ability on their facebook profiles, and begin searching for the 'history' tab just to see where they started their (clearly floundering) careers.
Such is the addictive power of these games that they have been cited in over 35 divorce cases in the UK since 2004. This suggests that many women become agitated when their partners spend more time worrying about agent bonuses rather than elusive feelings or anniversaries, or declaring their love for Danny Shittu more frequently than their supposed soul mate.
But quite why it has to have earned a reputation as a home wrecker is beyond me. An aptitude for the game demonstrates unflinching commitment, responsible financial control, an ability to nurture youngsters and a willingness to work through rough patches.
Indeed, it may help your 'real' career too as it rewards pure persistence and graft . If more employers knew the skill and dedication that it takes to transform Crewe Alexandra into a European superpower, then my CV would be littered with references to my managerial achievements.
Of course, it's not everyone's cup of tea. If you're used to the instant gratification that games like COD bring by means of shooting American children in the face, then you may well consider it to be a grossly glorified spreadsheet that is simply boring. But this is a damn good spreadsheet. Ultimately it's all about creating your own universe, and that's why it's so popular.
For whatever reason, everyone feels like they can do a better job than the professionals and the sheer depth of FM provides you with the only opportunity you'll ever have to prove that irrefutable fact. Beating your friend on fifa when you're Yeovil and they're Barcelona feels completely hollow compared to a victory of that magnitude on FM. As a manager it would be the culmination of a great deal of work in your own sporting universe; whereas your fifa friend probably has no thumbs.
It can even be entertaining when you ignore the drama of the unpredictable matches and just use it to privately pursue grudges. After all, I wouldn't regard myself as a fanatical football fan by any measure and would readily concede that the actual football side of the game can become a bit tiresome.
For example, when big Sam Allardyce had the bare-faced cheek to tell the press that he was 'not a fan' of my finely honed managerial tactics, I did what any self-respecting man in the public domain would do and begun a vitriolic, sustained campaign of verbal abuse against him. Every Monday without fail a journalist is summoned to speak to me, I promptly tell him just how inept/fat I think Mr Allardyce is, and send him on his way. The press lap it up.
However, thanks to the sheer amount of time it takes up, enjoyment from FM comes at a price. Occasionally the flicker of your harrowing reflection in the computer screen may well catch your eye, causing you to ask yourself where your 'real' life has gone wrong. But luckily it's not as if I take it too far and – as some allegedly choose to do – wear a suit as I play: that would be pathetic.
My 'hands on approach' rating of 95% demands a tracksuit.