This is the story of one man’s valiant efforts to take the fledgling English side from the East part of Brighton, Whitehawk FC, up the English footballing pyramid in Football Manager 2017. This will not be pretty, but I will unflinchingly and bravely take the post and vow never to conveniently turn off my computer in the midst of a particularly dire performance. (Note: I’ll do my best to also explain some aspects of FM17 to those who don’t know the game, but if there are questions, throw them in the comments).
In Episode One, we met Doug, Whitehawk, and the plucky band of cast-offs he was assembling for the 2016-17 season.
By the time August 6th comes around, I’m caught unawares. I still feel like we’re not fit enough, we need more players (we’ve already signed 9), and I don’t know my best formation. Toward the end of preseason, I tried out a 5-3-2 with wingbacks and it worked against the minnow club of Godalming.
On the morning of the season opener against Weston-super-Mare, I throw up in the locker room. Thank god my players hadn’t yet arrived. Brindley hands me coffee with whiskey in it and goddammit I’m ready. I’ve convinced myself to give the 5-3-2 a try.
The team assembles, full of buzz, and I give a passionate speech telling them to get the hell out there and show me what they can do. Only new center back Jamie Harney shows any response. I make a mental note. The first half leads to no goals, but we’re dominant. The Super Mares or whatever they’re called haven’t had a shot on goal and we’ve drawn out a few good saves. I assemble the team and give ‘em a good yelling. “C’mon you right bastards, you keep knocking that door down!” This time there’s fire in bellies.
At this point, I am feeling confident in my Antonio Conte genius 5-3-2 formation. I’m a goddamned golden god.
That fire spills out onto the pitch as a good run of possession leads to an incisive pass to let in the right wingback Tosin Olufemi in behind their fullback. He gives a bit of a chip and voila, we’re up 1-0 in the 54th. We score again in the 80th when Danny Mills is denied by the keeper, only for the ball to fall at the feet of the loanee Egli Kaja, who sends it into an open net. Two goals from debutants. We finish with 20 shots to their six. I may or may not have read some Bobby Burns to the lads in celebration.
As I stood by yon roofless tower,
Where the wa’flower scents the dewy air,
Where the howlet mourns in her ivy bower,
And tells the midnight moon her care.
But there is no resting on laurels in the sixth division. On Wednesday we were back on the pitch, this time for our home opener. At least this time, I had my own personal toilet to throw up in. Yet again, we win 2-0, this time in more dominant fashion. Saturday, we’re back again and this time it’s a cagey 1-0 win over also undefeated Maidenhead.
At this point, I am feeling confident in my Antonio Conte genius 5-3-2 formation. I’m a goddamned golden god. And in that hubris, I went into the next matchup against also undefeated Ebbsfleet. Six minutes into the match our center backs fail to put pressure on the striker at the top of the box and BAM! It’s a goal for Ebbsfleet. In the end, that’s all it took. We outshot the bastards and yet we came away with nothing. Also, another man was sent off late in the match. I need to start making an example out of these sloppy center backs.
After a three game winning streak, my hubris collapsed over me. We went winless for four matches, pulling out only two points. Assistant coach Chris Brindley had to up the whiskey to coffee ratio and I was back to puking in the locker room on game days. Do I stay strong with my 5-3-2 or go back to the 4-2-3-1 that I had originally pegged for the team?
In the end, I lost two strikers to injury and was forced into the change. And it worked as we pulled out a 3-1 victory at Bath. Drinks on me, Brindley, old chap! The team went on to make it a three game winning streak, but I wasn’t a golden god this time. I moderated my champagne consumption.
After winning those three, we went on the road to Hampton & Richmond. The lousy London suburbanites are named The Beavers, for chrissakes. In the first half, our molasses-slow defenders were beaten on the counter three times.. The half also included [striker Danny] Mills-y putting the ball on the crossbar from three yards out. We went into the half 3-0 down. I gave them the hairdryer treatment, reminding them that their mothers would be so ashamed of them tonight that I wouldn’t get laid. I also shifted back to the 5-3-2 and this at least stemmed the tide. We finished the match 3-1.
On November 6th, we faced our biggest test yet: the first round of the FA Cup and a matchup against 6th division Chester. The Cheetahs, as I could only assumed they were called, were sitting 16th in the National League above us. They played a 5-3-2 and so I sat on it–drank on it mostly–and decided we’d go back to that original winning formula. We had a 21-year-old named Joshua Stockwell I’d signed in the summer and he seemed to pair well with Mills-y up top with Frankie Teardrop behind.
Within four minutes it was off to the races. It was so simple: “Warren G” [Dan] Harding, our left wingback stripped the ball in the box, sent it long to Mills-y at the halfway line, who sent his own long ball to Joshua “Dean” Stockwell to run onto and finish. 1-0 Whitehawk.
Chester Cheetah evened up at the 34th with their own long ball, but before the half Mills-y finished a cross at close range to restore our lead. I went into the locker room and passed out a bottle of whiskey. I gave my best goddamned William Wallace, “this is your destiny!”
Apparently their destiny included a shitload of goals. Mills-y struck again in the 63rd minute, but Chester pulled another back to make it 3-2 just a minute later. In the 70th minute, though, “Lynyrd” Skrzyniarz booted a long ball forward, our boys moved it around with a few quick flicks and Sergio Torres finished it off.
Of course, in the 76th and then 90th (the 90th!) minute the Cheetahs struck back and we ended the match 4-4. Braveheart was a shit movie anyway.
There were a few angry faces when I shared my disappointment. I don’t care if we were underdogs, they had victory in their hands.
A week and a half later, Chester came to Whitehawk. This time, I kept my whiskey bottle to myself. “Do ‘em proud,” I said and sent them out in another 5-3-2. There were a couple chances in that first half, but mostly all that was on display were nerves. We finished the half even at nothing after Frankie Teardrop hit the post.
The match stayed even and tense until the 89th minute. Our boys were stringing passes around the center of the box and central midfielder Joshua Favarel moved to the top of the box, received a pass with an utterly sexual backheel and sent in Mills-y who did the very Mills-y thing of ushering the ball into the back of the net. The match finished 1-0, Whitehawk were on to a second date with the FA Cup, a buxom lass named Wrexham.