After the disappointment (and inappropriate drunkenness) of our visit to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, I turned my hungover attention for the rest of the weekend to computer games, notably my career mode on FIFA 2013. Obviously, and to the dismay of my top-flight supporting housemates, I've been controlling the virtual Brighton and Hove Albion. We’re not doing well on my Playstation to be honest, languishing just three places and four points above the Championship relegation zone (although we did beat Palace at Selhurst). It got me thinking that this must be the first time in my life that a virtual Albion side in some form of computerised game are being outperformed by their real-life counterparts, Hillsborough performance aside.
It all started in the late 1980s, before a time when all youths play on the Internet and with computer games. It was EPYX's Street Sports Soccer on the Commodore 64 (which somehow has this uploaded video on YouTube). It was long before you could edit a team to represent Albion legends of the day (Kevin Bremner was one) but it made my Dad and I realise that fun could be had through football computer gaming. Street Sports Soccer was a corking way to spend leisure time - you could play either on the street or down the park with three players on each side. It took us at least six months to work out how to score during every attack, which we then did without fail so the game became obsolete. I must admit, however, that watching this video doesn't do it justice - it had been a step up from Pong at the time but computer games have advanced so much since then, it doesn’t look great nowadays.
You see, my love affair with the Albion in computer games was, in the past, very much a manual operation. Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper whiling away my youth on the Amiga 500 and Sensible Soccer, I had to create Brighton and Hove Albion myself because they shockingly weren't included by Sensible Software - the makers of the game. It was always enjoyable once you went through the time consuming editing process to add blue and white striped shirts, shove Kurt Nogan up front and put Robert Codner in the team (before editing him out when he served time in Lewes prison). The editing mode was basic 20 years ago and caused serious problems when Kerry Mayo became a regular - you could only make players blonde or black haired. Poor Kerry was blond in my version of Sensible Soccer.
Following Sensi, one game we all had to purchase (and something that came up when I interviewed him for TSLR a few years back) was Tony Meola's Sidekicks Soccer, available on the Super Nintendo. It was released in 1993, around the time the mullet-headed USA goalkeeper had been at the Goldstone on-loan. Whilst you could alter the team's 'roster' (Albion shockingly weren't included, again), there was no ability to custom make a whole team. The graphics did, however, implement a better 3D style than Sensible Soccer but it was truly awful to play. Hilariously, Meola's name wasn't enough to adorn the Japanese version of the game - it was instead endorsed by Ruy Ramos (under the obvious title, ラモス瑠偉のワールドワイドサッカー). As soon as it was made clear to my younger self that I couldn't play Sidekicks Soccer with a version of the Albion, that game - and, indeed that console - bit the dust.
To be honest, I turned my attention back to Sensible Soccer and the blonde haired Mayo from 1993ish onwards. That was up until around 1997 when a Playstation One landed in my birthday lap. With it came a football game I'd never heard of, but would soon dominate my life: International Superstar Soccer (or ISS) Pro. It was the second of the franchise and if you know what would ultimately become Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), you will understand that realistic team and player names rarely featured, even for the top sides. By now the editing process was far more advanced - I was able to recreate an Albion side facially very close to that of the time. ISS and Pro Evolution Soccer got me through University, and it was there I thought this story would end.
But, no, after an unexplained absence of football computer gaming (I tried to get my life back), I have returned. And returned to the dominant FIFA franchise (they stole many of the Pro Evo computer game making team in the 2000s, apparently). In FIFA 2013, and many versions of the game since they reclaimed the best computerised football gaming crown from Pro Evo, the Albion are included. It has errors, of course - in a previous incarnation of the game, Fran Sandaza was clearly our best player. But at least I don't have to bother creating my own Albion team this season. It even connects to the Internet and downloads the latest squads for me. That means that whilst I'm still struggling with my FIFA Albion career mode in the virtual December 2012, it won’t let me play Leonardo Ulloa until he formally joins in January 2013.
There are other factual errors too - on my FIFA 2013, Vicente keeps staying fit, and telling me that he should be playing more and we're still too close to the relegation zone. Luckily, the Albion are faring better in the only form of football that really matters: reality.