Championship Manager 01-02: Fantasy football enthusiasts getting their fix

By Alex BysouthBBC Sport
Thierry Henry, Mark Viduka and Ruud van Nistelrooy
Who would make your 2001-02 fantasy football team?

Do you pick Thierry Henry or Ruud van Nistelrooy? Captain Mark Viduka or take a punt on Georgi Kinkladze? And what's that? Patrick Vieira's joined Barcelona for £36m? And Paolo di Canio has been dropped by West Ham?!

It's football, but not quite as you know it…

While we're all missing the genuine thing, many have also been left craving a fantasy football fix.

To fill the void, fantasy football enthusiasts Dave Perrins, Andy Martin, Jamie Prentice have reimagined the much-loved concept by simulating a season on iconic management game Championship Manager 01-02.

You still get the joy of that cheap defender returning huge points or the crushing disappointment as your big-money captain is dropped, it just comes via virtual reality fixtures streamed online.

More than 1,000 people have signed up, using a spreadsheet system to select their squads, choose formations and captain players - sticking as close as possible to the Fantasy Premier League format.

A screengrab of the Championship Manager league table after two gameweeks
Manchester United have made a strong start to the virtual 2001-02 season

"I really put the idea out there as a throwaway tweet just a few weeks ago," Perrins told BBC Sport.

"With football and sports suddenly disappearing from everyday life, it was just a bit of a crazy idea for something that could fill the gap."

After hours of hard work, multiple simulations and spreadsheets documenting almost 500 players, the trio managed to turn the initial idea into "an all-singing, all-dancing fantasy football game" in about three weeks.

Perrins credits Prentice as the technical whizz, while the fantasy football community has also chipped in with feedback, but he says one of the biggest tasks was creating a pricing system that proved both challenging and fun.

"Should Alan Shearer be more than Steffen Iversen? Is Olof Mellberg as good as Mario Melchiot?!" he added.

"We still have a list of improvements we'd like to make but we're really proud of what we've put out there, and the joy it's bringing to people at a difficult time."

In this version of the game, Manchester United's Van Nistelrooy and Arsenal forward Henry will both set you back an eye-watering £13m, while Leeds' penalty-taking left-back Ian Harte is owned by 75% of managers - although the £6.5m-rated defender did miss from the spot in the opening gameweek.

The game has conjured up the real-life tribulations of injuries and suspensions - Liverpool striker Michael Owen and Newcastle forward Shearer have already faced spells with the physio and Derby talisman Fabrizio Ravanelli missed their opening-day win over Tottenham, a fixture in which Gus Poyet was sent off inside the opening 12 minutes.

It has also offered a shot at redemption for some stars whose moves didn't go to plan.

"A big one is Juan Sebastian Veron," said Perrins. "He really struggled at United but in the game he is incredible, and is the third most-expensive player at £12m.

"Christian Bassedas (Newcastle) and Sergei Rebrov (Tottenham) are other high-priced assets who never made a mark on the Premier League in reality.

"The game has also thrown up some unlikely heroes, partly because of little pricing errors by us. Aston Villa defender Steve Staunton is our equivalent to this year's cult hero John Lundstram at £4m."

More than anything, the creators are delighted to be able to offer a sense of escapism and community during lockdown.

"The cancellation of all sport leaves a big hole for many people, not just removing a major hobby but also taking away the rhythm from many people's weeks," explained Perrins.

"One of the big reasons we're happy to give so much time to it is to bring joy, fun and a bit of positive distraction to people at a difficult time.

"Although it's all just a bit of fun, I really don't think you can overstate how valuable it is for people to have something enjoyable to look forward to, and an interest that brings us all together when we're in isolation."

Go to @FantasyChampManexternal-link to take a look for yourself.