An interview with a Football Manager obsessive, my friend, Tom Dyson

tom picI can’t deny that Football Manager was one of the things that helped Tom and I become friends. Men generally aren’t the best at making conversation with other men but if you have FM in common there’s always something to fall back on!

In one of our chats about what we do on the game, Tom surprised me when he explained some of the things he does when he plays the game, such as pacing up and down an imaginary touchline and saluting the supporters as he ‘walks from the tunnel’.

I thought some of his tales were too amusing to keep to myself so I interviewed Tom in more detail about his FM habits…

FMS When and why did you start playing FM?

TD I started playing Football Manager about 2008 and it was recommended to me by my friend from university. He was demonstrating the game one day and I immediately fell in love with it.

The game he was showing me was actually from about 2005 and the players on the pitch were traffic cones. How times have changed! I then bought a copy and straightaway went on to 2010, a game I still play today.
What struck me was the overwhelming sense of power from being a manager of your favourite team. It was like real-life. The imagination wanders and I had this vision of players looking up to me and the fans supporting me because I made the decisions and I called the shots. You get that sense of feeling important and worthy when things are going well, and huge pressure when things aren’t going well. New players can either work well or not work well, depending on how savvy you are in the transfer market or how well you can integrate the players into your team. I also have to learn to deal with the consequences of my actions if things go wrong. It’s amazing how much a game can have a such an impact on your overall mood for the day and ultimately take over your life.

Football Manager is another world where entertainment is concerned.

FMS How do you decide what team to manage?

TD My team to manage has to be my beloved Leeds United. With the game I have, the year is 2009 when Leeds were still in League 1, so there is more of a challenge to get them to the Championship, then ultimately the top flight. But I never seem to last that long in the job to get them in the Premier League.
When I get sacked, I get offers from other clubs, but I just start again.

Depending on how I feel, I sometimes delve into the depths of the conference clubs, or even lower. I always seem to favour the Yorkshire teams because I come from Leeds, so I may manage Harrogate Town or Bradford Park Avenue. There is such a big challenge with those teams and very different from managing a money-orientated top flight side because the smaller ones have little or no cash and you need to make the most of the resources at your disposal. You can also see young players and follow their progress (depending how long you remain in the job) as they become potential world-class stars, moving through the ranks and footballing hierarchy, and I can be delighted at being the one who nurtured that player.

This may come as a surprise but I haven’t really managed a top-flight club with any passion or for very long. This is because the club I want to do it with is Leeds United, so I am being incredibly patient because I want to experience the joys of Europa or Champions League with Leeds, so there is a whole other world out there that I haven’t experienced. It will be something worth savouring. I did get Leeds up there a couple of times but any success was short-lived.

FMS How do you like your teams to play?

TD I like my teams to play in a very attacking way. I am still trying to get that balance right between attack and defence, because we do leak a lot of goals, but I set the team up this way for the entertainment value and the fact we can score goals this way. I often witness 5-2 and 4-3 scorelines in games, which puts me on edge. I can be a nervous wreck after a typical match.

I love awaiting the League Cup and FA Cup fixtures, which gives me the opportunity to work out how I want the team to play. I still want to retain that attacking ethos but I know the formation needs to be different, depending on the opposition.
The furthest I have got with Leeds is quarter finals for both cups, so I still don’t know what it’s like to win a major trophy. This is something else to experience, so I can never get bored of playing the game. I have won the League 1 title nearly every time, but only the Championship title once.

In League 1, I am a typical 4-4-2 guy and it works all the time and very few teams in that division are a real threat. At Championship level, I like to mix between 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. I like to make more use of wingers at this level because pace is everything and the tempo is generally much quicker. I also like to make sure the midfield and defence are well-supported, so I tend to purchase a defensive midfielder in the transfer market, and depending on how the game pans out, I maybe like to push the full backs higher up or just play a more direct game that’s fluent and not disjointed. At the end of the day, I am the manager and love the power of making these decisions.

FMS Describe what an average session on FM is like. Do you have any remarkable customs or habits?

TD An average session would be me managing Leeds. This is where things get weird. I like to play the game behind closed doors, so to speak, so nobody can see what I’m doing because my managerial transformation is quite sad.

I hear the announcement in my head that Leeds have appointed Tom Dyson as manager and the fans go wild. Not that I’m trying to big myself up or anything. I meet the players, start making signings and try to get them playing my way. My assistant does the training (If I did, there wouldn’t be time for me to even eat) and I look in more depth at set pieces. I like to be consistent when on the training ground and make sure everything is covered that has to be.

This is where the sad part comes in. I like to hold a press conference in my bedroom and imagine I’m talking to the media world about an upcoming game. This is the power that FM holds over me.
On matchday, I walk round my bedroom and wave at the imaginary fans just as I enter my makeshift technical area. If only I had a blow-up dugout or something. I always stand during a game, so the fans can really see who’s boss. As I see the game unfold, I often gesticulate to the referee or maybe the opposition’s manager, depending on how wound up I am. Sometimes decisions just go against you and it gets frustrating.
Even managing at Championship level, I feel the pressure and the cameras can often see me with a forlorn look, a desperate man, a man on the edge. When I am interviewed after the game, I just speak the truth and I imagine that all the fans are tuning in to listen to me speak on the radio. I am the manager that wants to make a name, be successful at the top, and that only drives me further as I look to keep improving.
If there is a defeat, and let’s face it, managing Leeds brings a fair few, I look back at what went wrong and how we can fix it. Worried messages from the chairman spur me on. Sometimes I think, could this be my last match in charge?
All these quirks get me into the game and make it exciting. The red cards, the last-minute winners. They are all part of the fun and games.

FMS What has been your favourite save and why?

TD Winning League 1 with Leeds and immediately winning the Championship was the best. It was a good squad with a striking force of Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio and Tresor Kandol, backed up by waves of attack in Jonny Howson, Robert Snodgrass and Andy Robinson. I strengthened successfully in the summer by signing Anthony Pilkington, Rory Delap, Cody McDonald, former player Shaun Derry, Mark Gower, Alan Tate and Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Very few players left the squad as I tried to build on the foundations of a good competitive team. Plenty of clubs came in for £4m Fabian Delph but I wanted to keep him on.

After winning the Championship, I knew I had to let players go because the squad was simply too big and we needed fresh blood who had plenty of experience. I didn’t recruit as well as I could’ve done and fans were getting on my back asking for more players. I panic-bought and ultimately paid the price for lack of transfer activity after winning only one Premier League game out of 15. I never resigned or spoke about quitting. I was simply sacked. It was a shame as Leeds United obviously came up too quick. A year in the Championship wasn’t long enough and it meant I still had players from League 1 competing two divisions higher, some players not having the experience. It’s difficult to say goodbye to certain players so I was reluctant to do it. That is something I need to learn from. I thoroughly enjoyed that opportunity and will start afresh again after the dust has settled.

FMS Is there anything you would change about the game?

TD These days, FM is complicated. There’s too much going on. That’s why I stick with the same one. I know the set-up and everything is straightforward enough to handle and it is still enjoyable. There is nothing I would want to change currently but at this rate, it will take about a day to play a full game the way things are going. Just make life easier for people.

FMS If you could give the manager of your favourite team some tips based on your FM experience what would they be?

TD I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I must have the tagline of worst manager in the world, but I would tell the current Leeds United manager to give 100%, enjoy the game and make the most of your time there because you never know if it will be your last game in charge.

On a more serious note, I would tell him to inject as much passion as possible into the players because they are playing for a great club with huge potential. Also, make shrewd dealings in the transfer market and integrate new players into the squad as early as you can so that they can familiarise themselves and have plenty of time to train together before the season gets under way. Love the players, love the game, love being a football manager.

Thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer my questions. Readers, I hope you enjoyed it! Please let Tom and I know what you thought of this chat through my Twitter account and/or in the comments below.

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