Guessed by @TruckOSaurus
I didn't initially think of including this on my list, let alone as high as it did, but eventually decided it had to be here because... well, it definitely does. If there was one defining game of 2020 for me, it was Football Manager. As it says up there on the card, I've played this for a very, very long time - I can't know exactly for sure how long because I bought the game with a friend and we're both playing it on a shared account - it's probably in the several thousands. There were so many times over the course of the year (including right now) where my daily routine consisted of waking up, turning on the PC, booting this up and suddenly it's 7 AM, of the next day. There are a lot of things that are awesome about Football Manager, and some that aren't quite as great, but the best of all is how when you get deep enough into it, it stops being a game and becomes a story.
So, what's my story? I wanted to begin differently from the ones I had in earlier Football Manager titles. In the past, I've had two long-term saves that were pretty cool, both of which were with Liverpool. I had tried my hand at managing smaller teams before, but it was too hard and it wasn't easy for me to withstand that frustration without any attachment to the club or its players. Still, I wanted to do something like that, because starting at the top is pretty boring - especially nowadays, with Liverpool being one of the best teams in the world and all (sure wasn't the case a few years ago!). Thus, I decided to start in the sixth tier of English football and work my way up - and in order to have an actual attachment to what I was doing, I realized I couldn't just pick whatever team looked cool. Instead, I created my own.
I'll put the story in spoiler tag, because it is long... and I mean like very, very long. Not expecting anyone to read through all of this, to be honest, but I'm writing it anyway.
Thus began the story of Wepkeer! I actually started playing this year, but it says 2019 on the logo because that's when the in-game season starts. Gotta keep it canon! I didn't actually create the team through the game's built-in mode, because it came with some weird limitations when it comes to the save file or something. Instead, I made it in the database editor, and because I was scared of breaking the database, I just kinda replaced the assets of another team from the National League South, and that's the team whose squad I "inherited". So, sorry Havant & Waterlooville, guess you don't exist in this timeline!
I got promoted to the fifth tier in my first season through the play-offs, and then remained in the fifth tier for 3 seasons until finally managing to win the division in 2023 (my first trophy!) and turn my club professional by entering the Football League. I thought it'd be a massive step up, and made my record signing at the time: Elliott Holmes, a Welsh young striker from a lower league team called Gateshead, for a whopping £25k! This guy was my team's top goalscorer in his first season, a season in which we surprisingly did really well in League Two, finishing in 3rd place and earning promotion!
I was hoping we'd do well in League One and get promoted immediately, but it didn't start nearly as well. Halfway through the season we were halfway through the league table, and that's when I made another key signing: Gary Connolly, a young Irish player from a lower league team called Bromsley, for £15k - he came to replace my aging right winger, and just like Holmes before him, was a really exciting prospect for the level of football I was playing at. We made a significant push in the second half of the season, but ended up finishing in 7th place, just one point behind the play-off spots. The following year, we had significantly more success, winning my second trophy (the EFL Trophy, not exactly the most glamorous competition) and finishing in 4th, earning a spot in the play-offs, which we won again!
So, in 2026, we finally made it into the Championship! This division was, as expected, a massive step up. The second tier of English football is filled with teams that have played in the Premier League somewhat recently, which means they have a lot of money and so their players are on a completely different level to what I was used to. I was still only signing free agents, because my team's finances were a complete mess (even though I rarely spent anything!), and the fear of going bankrupt only really ended with the new money brought in by playing in the Championship. We started the season off very poorly, getting consistently destroyed by all the stronger teams in the division, but eventually managed to pick ourselves back up and finished in a pretty respectable 13th spot, nowhere near the relegation zone. The following year, still unable to make many major signings, we started quite well in the league, but had a very poor second half of the season which took us from hopes of a play-off finish all the way down to a miserable 15th place finish. Finally, in our third year in the Championship, I had enough money to make some pretty significant signings and, coupled with my young players now becoming more experienced and reaching their best, meant we were finally good enough to challenge, and we did indeed spend a majority of the season locked in a battle for 1st place. However, with the end of the season drawing near, we started dropping some points, and on the final match of the season, we lost a game we were winning (because of a sending off), dipping down to 4th place and a play-off spot again. We lost in the play-off final, but I had no time for that shit and save scummed the game. Come on, we all did it... right? So, I won the play-offs and finally booked my place in the Premier League!!!
The Premier League was ruthless. We spent a majority of the season getting destroyed 7-0 by just about everybody. Halfway through the season, I bought Fabián Salazar, a young Colombian midfielder, for £4.5m, and he helped us on an incredible late season run which saw us beat top teams like Tottenham and Liverpool, earning us several points and taking us out of the bottom of the table, but it wasn't enough to escape relegation. So, we were back in the Championship, but this time with loads of money and some awesome players. The step down was equally as massive as the step up, and we completely destroyed the Championship, finishing in 1st place with 100 points, powered by 33 goals from Elliott Holmes, who looked as good a striker as any at the time.
We were back in the Premier League, and with the recent signings, better players, and just overall good feeling from the fantastic campaign we had the season before, I thought this time we were good enough to stay in the division. The season began poorly, we were losing a lot of games, but this time I was determined to keep us up. I started paying a lot of attention to tactics, had several different formations prepared for whenever other teams started catching up to what we were doing, began altering the training schedule to fit the team's needs and push them harder than my assistant did, and went all-out with the scouting in an attempt to find, and sign, the best possible players. Never mind the whole signing young players thing, this was about staying in the Premier League at all costs. Unfortunately, however, despite all my best efforts, the team never got going. Holmes simply wasn't good enough for the Premier League despite his earlier heroics, and we finished with a pathetic 24 points - including two 4-0 defeats to the bottom placed team, which somehow wasn't us. Despite all my efforts, we somehow did worse than the other year, and I found myself seriously questioning why I was still playing this game. The frustration was just too much at this point. So, I quit.
...I mean, that's not really where the story ends, of course.
But it did take a few months until I got excited about playing this again. Eventually, I did muster up the courage to bring it back up. I could either continue the save from where I had left off, just after getting relegated again, or go back to an earlier backup save I made. It did feel wrong to "retcon" my relegation by basically cheating the entire second half of the season, but at the same time, even after months of not playing the game, it was still too depressing to go through the second division again. So, I started over from the earlier backup, cheated my way to earning as many points as necessary, and finished that season in 16th place.
Fair? No. I didn't care at that point. It was time to continue the story.
So, in my second year running at the Premier League, I made plenty of signings, including two midfielders who would go on to become icons of the club (Fran and Antonio Martínez), and coupled with the signings from the retconned season, we did pretty okay. It was still very difficult in the Premier League all things considered, and it was also difficult to accept that Elliott Holmes just wasn't good enough for this level, not even as backup. We finished the season in 16th place again, with fewer points than the previous year, but without any cheating this time. All things considered, it was a pretty decent success.
The following season, however, wasn't anything like that. We began the 33/34 season brightly, with Connolly scoring lots of goals. At the time, I found myself thinking about how important of a player he still was for the club, despite his average in-game attributes, and how awesome it was that he was still doing so well at such a high level, being someone I bought all the way back in the third division. Then, my coach gave me an update on Connolly's development - he now rated him a whopping 4.5 stars, up from just 3 stars the day before (!!!). I thought it only made sense for my coach to have such a high opinion, given how well the dude was playing, but when I actually opened up Connolly's page is when the real shock came. He wasn't just rated 4.5 stars because he'd been playing well, no. His attributes really did improve dramatically in a very short time - I don't mean just one or two, no, literally every single attribute went up by at least 1 or 2 points. I'd never seen something like that before, it explained why he was doing so well! We were playing some amazing football, winning games left and right, and eventually we ended the season in an insane, unbelievable, 4th place finish!! We were going to the Champions League!!!
I thought for sure we weren't up to this level of challenge, that the previous year was just some crazy one-time thing. The Champions League draw came as tough as they could come: my group had Juventus, Barcelona, and PAOK. I thought a 3rd place finish, and consequent qualification for the Europa League would be quite acceptable, but we ended up doing remarkably well. We did lose heavily to Barcelona 4-0 away, but then earned a 0-0 draw away at Juventus. At home against Juventus, we got another unfortunate 0-0 draw, a game we should've won if not for several missed chances, and eventually in the final matchday, we beat Barcelona 2-1 (!!!), finishing level with Juventus on 11 points and unfortunately missing out on goal difference. It was a magnificent effort, really, but in the end it was still 3rd place, so, to the Europa League we went. The team wasn't doing nearly as well in the Premier League this year, but we still finished on a pretty decent 6th place, and we earned qualification for the Champions League again by becoming champions of the 2035 Europa League - my first major trophy!
As Europa League winners, we got a much easier group the following year (Inter, Sevilla, and Shakhtar), and managed to finish it in first place, giving us another easy-ish draw for the round of 16 (Lyon). We got through to the quarter-finals, where we faced up against Barcelona again, but unfortunately ended up losing 0-2 away and 3-4 at home. A poor second half of the season meant we finished in 6th place again in the Premier League, meaning we had no Champions League to look forward to in the next year.
We started the following season quite decently, inspired by a lot of goals from our new, young French striker: Patrick Munyanziza, signed for £71m from Liverpool, couldn't seem to stop scoring. Unfortunately we had a very poor run in December and never managed to pick results after that, ending up in 6th again. Our run in the Europa League this time was pretty depressing too, getting booted out by Sevilla in the first knockout round. The following year we did a bit better, helped by our new goalkeeper, Vadim Livitskyi - an Ukrainian that had been in my radar for a while, but I was skeptical about him because he was really short for a goalkeeper (yeah). We finished in 5th in the league and won the Europa League for the second time, meaning after a couple years away we were finally back in the Champions League.
This time in the Champions League I got another tough draw, going up against Milan, Gent, and Barcelona again. It was a much better showing, however, earning first place in the group without any defeats - Barcelona ended in 3rd, which felt like a pretty nice revenge on its own. In the round of 16, we went up against Borussia Dortmund, and after earning a 1-1 draw away in the first leg, we were knocked out with a dreadful 0-3 loss at home. It was back to the Premier League for the rest of the season, and we were doing remarkably well this year, locked in a very tight race for the title against Liverpool and Manchester United. We were edging the race just barely ahead of the other teams, but a poor run late in the season filled with draws meant it was all on the line when we went up against Manchester United in matchday 36. We ended up losing 1-3 away from home, and though we won the last two games after that, it wasn't enough. We finished the season in 2nd place with 85 points, just one point behind United's 86. It was disappointing, of course, but also exciting as it was the first clear sign that we could challenge for the biggest trophies.
We started the 39/40 season very brightly, winning games left and right, picking up loads of points - by the halfway point of the season, we were in 1st place, with only a single defeat so far, and had easily won our Champions League group. However, everything fell apart in January, after a home defeat to Liverpool - we were immediately knocked out of the FA Cup and went on a depressing run of 7 games without a win, including a draw against Milan in the first leg of the round of 16. We managed to pick up a couple wins after that, got through Milan, and were pitted against Borussia Dortmund again in the quarter-final. This time, after a 2-0 home win, we managed to survive the away leg in a nervy 2-3 defeat, taking us through to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time ever! The semi-final was to be against Schalke 04, a team who I had done well against earlier in the year as they were in the same group as us. By now, the Bundesliga had become the best league in the world, and Schalke was the top team over there, so it was pretty scary given our current inconsistent form. We won the first leg 1-0 at home, a narrow lead to take to a tense away match. However, we opened the second leg with an all-important away goal, and despite all my fearfulness, the team played magnificently, a second half penalty scored by Munyanziza sealing the deal and taking us to the Champions League final!! We finished the year in 3rd place in the Premier League, with a decent but underwhelming 76 points. Did I care? Of course not.
The Champions League final was to be played on May 26th, 2040 - that's my 45th birthday (I'm glad I'm not that old yet)! And the team who we were up against was, of course, Liverpool. It couldn't be more fitting, could it?
You see, Football Manager allows you to watch the game's highlights, with varying degrees of detail. If you set it to Key Highlights, you're only gonna watch the serious goalscoring chances; if you set it to Comprehensive, you get to see a lot more. The game also gives you an option to watch the full match - that's literally the entire 90 minute thing just like in real life! Throughout this whole time, going up the divisions and all, I had made a promise to myself: if I ever got to the Champions League final with Wepkeer, I'd watch the full match for the first time ever. It was too special an occasion, after such a long and hard road coming from the bottom of the professional football barrel. So, not only did I watch the full match, I even streamed it! If you want to watch it, it's right here!
(Edit: here you have a highlights-only version of the final. It's in 3D this time, which is nicer to watch, but I think it's pretty clear to see why I play the game in 2D, since the 3D stuff looks pretty awful and silly.)
Nearly every player who played on that final has gone on to become a legend of the club to some degree. Vadim Livitskyi, the short goalkeeper I signed from Dynamo Kyiv, and has been my #1 for over 15 years; Vitor Coelho Júnior, the Brazilian right-back I signed from Flamengo and played for us for over 15 years; Dmytro Starenkyi, the Ukrainian left-back I signed from Dynamo Kyiv and played for the club for 17 years until retiring, and is still working with us; Aaron Garden and Dusan Nesic, two fantastic defenders who played for the club for several years; Fran Martínez, Antonio Martínez and Tom Wächter, three incredible midfielders who each played over 400 games for the club across more than 15 years; Jarred Dorrian, the superstar I signed from Arsenal and was the best midfielder of his generation, currently the captain of Wepkeer and about to retire after being with us for 14 years; Fabián Salazar, the first player I signed in the Premier League, also went on to captain the club and played for us for nearly 20 years; Tiano, the Brazilian winger whose career at Wepkeer wasn't quite as lengthy, but was very impactful with several special and important goals; Patrick Munyanziza, who... well, he's achieved so much, we'll talk about it later.
These were all greats, but of course, the one whose career was the most solidified after this final was Gary Connolly. The young winger who had been playing for us since the days of near-bankruptcy, all the way down in the third tier of English football... Went out into that field, as a captain of that very same club in a Champions League final. That in itself is already an incredible story, but to then go on and turn the final around with two headed goals (the second of which is in the image all the way up there), and win it - that's special. Really special. And it's for stuff like this that people play Football Manager, to create these awesome and wonderful stories.
So, yeah, this is where the story ends. I've continued to play Football Manager after that, in fact I've already gone beyond 2050. Since then, we've gone on to win another two Champions League trophies (in 2045 and 2050), six Premier Leagues, three League Cups, four FA Cups, and even the Club World Cup. Patrick Munyanziza has gone on to become one of the all-time greatest goalscorers, with over 300 goals in the Premier League, more than 500 for Wepkeer in all competitions, and has won the Ballon d'Or five times. Gary Connolly has gone on to become a manager, and has turned Newcastle into one of England's top teams; and me, well... I'm still waiting for the board to allow me to build a new stadium!
...In hindsight, I could've probably condensed this a good bit. But going back through the whole thing now and omitting information for the sake of brevity is just too much work. That's the full story and it is what it is. Gary Connolly's long since retired after his heroics from the image up there, but I'm still raving about how awesome he was.
Seriously, though, if you ever feel like playing Football Manager... don't. This game destroys your life. Not only in making you lose all of the time you could be doing loads of other things with, but also in making you care more about this fictional bunch of footballers than you do about anything else. Even the real ones sometimes.