A Football Odyssey – Emlyn Hughes International Soccer

To keep me entertained during the brief, flirting moments I get to myself, I want to build up a compilation of the different football games that have been obsessions for me over the years.

This may take some time and I may miss some out, but I want to examine all the games that have contributed to the rich tapestry of knowledge I have about football. Honestly, I think my passion for the game was fed at times by being able to play incessantly at home, often alone. Of course when a friend came over, there was pure joy to be had and I have wasted days, if not months of my life hunched around a TV or monitor playing football with nothing more than a joystick and a mate.

The first game that gave me unadulterated joy was Emlyn Hughes International Soccer on the Commodore 64. The C64 wasn’t my first computer, I originally had a VIC 20 which started my video game journey, but the games were (obviously) very basic and good football simulations were a million miles away. Then, one Christmas, I got my C64 and Emlyn Hughes as we just used to call it. Mind. Blown.

It was the first football game to have sponsors and a crowd, to have named players in positions and even changes of kit. For a football geek such as myself, it was a dream come true. I once ran a fantasy football league, before Baddiel and Skinner, whereby my mates traded Pro Set cards to build their teams. The difference between real fantasy football and mine was instead of using actual matches, I made the results up and pretended I’d simulated them on Emlyn Hughes. Once, I even set a video recorder up and taped a game from the C64 to take into school, so my mates could watch their team.

The story might seem irrelevant, but that is an indication of how great this game was at the time, that it felt like a proper simulation, one of the very first. I remember the first time I saw it run on a 16-bit machine, the Atari ST, round at my mate Jason’s house. That was the first time I suffered from computer envy, looking on as the players seemed to move like real people. I would go home, spark up my little ‘ol C64 and dream bigger. The same happened every time I got a new machine – Jason got one better. He wasn’t billy big bollocks about it, but it always left me aspiring to more.

My brother, who wasn’t as much of a football fan, had a ZX Spectrum and occasionally I used to see it on there and I was thankful once again for my own mid-range computer. The point I’m making is the same game was so vastly different on every machine that it was barely recognisable, and yet it still inspired the same awe; I might have been crap at the real thing, but here was a platform on which I might become a world superstar.

I wouldn’t. Online gaming was a long way in the future and whilst I’d occasionally win on tournaments on my own computer, I’d always lose to Jason on his. I spent my time being amazed at the graphics and sound, whilst he whipped my arse, and he rarely wanted to come to mine and slum it on a lesser machine. No, eventually I was consigned to playing against the computer (a phrase I still use to this day) and claiming win after win. Once, in my first year of secondary school, I tried to impress a girl I knew by explaining to her the exact way to guarantee a goal from kick off every time. I learned a very important lesson that day.

Still, the game endured for me and although I wouldn’t think to sit and play it for more than a few minutes now, I can’t hear the former Liverpool player’s name without thinking of the game. It started my passion for football games off thirty odd years ago, and although the depth of choice these days is woeful, it led me down a wonderful path in the years between which I will hope to take you on over the next few weeks, or maybe even months, given how I always moan about being busy.

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