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  • Author Matthew Higgs
  • Published June 13, 2014

The story of… football gaming

Even the most hardened England fan knows that the closest England are likely to get to seeing Steven Gerrard trot up the steps of the Maracanã to receive the trophy from Sepp Blatter is via a computer game. That’s where the fans can find solace – and computer games have come a long way in short time…


It’s in the game
Although the first football electronic game wasn’t invented until the 1970s, table football had been around since 1923 and they gradually became part of the furniture in pubs and amusement arcades. A simple game with metal bars attached to the player models, it became a big, competitive hit even among non-football fans.


Introduced in 1947, Subbuteo then took the world by storm and wrecked the finger-nails of an entire generation. Sitting on the carpet, players would flick the model figures at the ball to pass and score. Simple, and a bit of fun, over 500 million model figures have exited the factory since then and Subbuteo sets have become a collector’s item.




The first true electronic football game came in the 1970s with the bat and ball game on the Binatone TV Masters. Although it doesn’t really resemble football (more like the table ice hockey games you get in arcades), it was the first that could be played on a screen. This paved the way for many more football computer games in the 70s and 80s, including Intellivision Soccer which came with the tagline ‘so realistic, you’ll feel as if you’re playing on the field’.


As one of the first full colour games, it had players in coloured kits, a marked-out pitch and even a timer so you could play two halves. At the time it was revolutionary and several more similar games followed: Pelé’s Soccer (1981), Football Manager (1982) and International Soccer (1983) – one of the first available on a home computer (the Commodore 64, at the time).


At full pace
By the late 80s, football gaming was taking off and beginning to resemble what we see today. Kick Off (1989) was the first game with a top-down pitch view, copied by the popular – and hugely playable – Sensible Soccer (1993). The action became faster, more realistic and had more teams to choose from (168 in Sensible Soccer).




In 1992, the first in the successful Football Manager series’ was released under the name of Championship Manager. Players could now go through a whole season in the comfort of their home with their favourite club on the computer screen – it even had transfers and substitutions. Catching on to the ‘manager’ idea, an update of Sensible Soccer in 1994 included a manager mode, something which has now become a major part of modern football gaming.


The first officially licensed game came in 1994 with the debut release in the FIFA series (FIFA International Soccer), which included an isometric camera view, improving the realism of matches. The same year, International Superstar Soccer came out and has since been regarded one of the best 2D football games ever. That, combined with the FIFA and Football Manager series’, meant football gaming was now improving at a rapid rate.




A new dimension
Pushing the bar even higher was the first 3D football game, Virtua Striker (1994), and the four-player game, Actua Soccer (1995). The latter even featured action replays, proper stadiums and multiple camera angles. Over the next few years, gaming was becoming more and more realistic and passing, shooting and tackling was strongly mimicking real matches. It was 2001 that saw the first Pro Evolution Soccer game which included another first – commentary, courtesy of ITV’s Clive Tyldesley. Despite that, you did feel as though you were watching horse racing with the side-to-side sliding camera that replaced the pivoting ones you get in real stadiums.



With more consoles now on the market (Xbox, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2 & 3), football gaming was opening up to a larger audience rather than just those at the arcade on a Friday night. Football Manager began to focus on improving its player database rather than compete with FIFA and PES on gameplay graphics, leading the three of them to become undisputed market leaders in football gaming.


Now, it can often be difficult to tell the difference between a real football match and one played on FIFA, which has gradually edged in front of its rivals with its superior visuals. With FIFA matches now taking place over the Internet, we’ve come a long way since Subbuteo.


In fact, the creator of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, wasn’t even born when Subbuteo came out. The fantasy world of football gaming will always be popular. For most of us, it’s the closest we’ll get to seeing our team winning the cup.


Matthew Higgs is one of our new Rising Stars writers. You can read the rest of his stuff here >>>


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