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Football Manager 2014 predicts the future

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I know some of you hate people like me who go on about Football Manager a lot, but this is actually quite fun. I’ve set up a non-interventionist game on Football Manager 2014 – I’m just letting it run of its own accord and waiting to see what happens. It’s been quite entertaining so far – entertaining in a “this is so crazy it can’t possibly happen” way, and also in a “this is so crazy it probably will happen” way.

2013-14

– While Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea helped themselves to the League Cup and then the Champions League, with wins over Stoke and PSG in the respective finals, and Manchester United took their first trophy under David Moyes in the FA Cup, Manchester City and Arsenal battled over the Premier League. City held a six-point lead with three games to go, but first lost to Tottenham, and then dramatically on the final day to Chelsea in a 3-2 thriller, handing the championship to the Gunners on goal difference.

– Chelsea finished 3rd, ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham. Liverpool finished 5th after sacking Brendan Rodgers in November; he was replaced by Swansea’s Michael Laudrup, who in turn was replaced by Martin O’Neill, the Northern Irishman guiding the club to its first FA Cup Final.

– At the bottom end of the Premier League, Crystal Palace were long gone by the end, and Hull and West Ham eventually joined them. Sunderland narrowly escaped.

– Player of the Year went to Chelsea’s Juan Mata, though team mate Eden Hazard was the Players’ Player of the Year. The top scorer was Olivier Giroud, and Arsene Wenger won Manager of the Year. The biggest transfer of the season was Manchester City’s summer purchase of Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

– The Championship was won by Reading, who edged Wigan into 2nd. Leicester were promoted via the play-offs, beating Barnsley 3-0 in the final. Yeovil, Ipswich and Doncaster went down. Wolves won League One, and were promoted along with Bristol City and Tranmere, while Oldham Athletic were the most notable casualty at the bottom. Hartlepool won League Two, and went up with former non-league clubs Burton and Fleetwood, as well as play-off winners Oxford. Bristol Rovers dropped into the Conference with Newport, being replaced by Football League returnees Kidderminster and Wrexham.

– Abroad, things were rather predictable. PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Celtic were the champions of the other active countries. Fiorentina beat Borussia Dortmund in the final of the Europa League.

– The World Cup ended the season. There had already been drama in qualifying, with Spain being trounced in the play-offs by Russia, including a 5-0 second leg defeat courtesy of a Sergio Ramos red card. Then, in the tournament itself, the hosts Brazil failed to progress, while one by one the best teams in the competition took themselves out. A stoppage time Frank Lampard winner helped England to their second final, while Russia again surprised the footballing world by beating Germany in the other semi-final. In the final, goals from Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney helped England to a 2-1 win, and Henry Winter lost his shit.

2014-15

– This would go down as the year where David Moyes saw off the challenge of Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini. United took their 21st English title on goal difference from Chelsea, with Manchester City a point behind in 3rd and Liverpool 4th a further two points back. This left reigning champions Arsenal out of the Champions League spots in 5th, again ahead of Tottenham.

– West Brom and newly-promoted Wigan were the surprise packages, finishing 7th and 8th respectively. Aston Villa were the most notable casualty at the bottom, winning only 4 games all season. Stoke and Reading joined them in the relegation zone, while Fulham survived after sacking Martin Jol and replacing him with Gary Bowyer.

– Robin van Persie again won Player of the Year, with the players’ choice again being Eden Hazard. The Dutch star was also top scorer, with Wigan’s Billy McKay the top-scoring British player in third. David Moyes won Manager of the Year, ahead of Steve Clarke and Owen Coyle. The most notable retirement was Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who ended his player career at the age of 35, while Championship players breathed a sigh of relief as QPR’s Joey Barton retired at the age of 33.

– In the cups, Chelsea beat Manchester City on penalties in the FA Cup Final, while Manchester United beat Wigan in the League Cup Final in a repeat of the 2005 final.

– Nottingham Forest won the Championship under Billy Davies, with Burnley and Watford going up and Brighton, Charlton and Birmingham going down. Doncaster and Ipswich made immediate returns, with Coventry joining them. John Gregory’s Chesterfield won League Two, while Southend dropped out of the Football League, along with Morecambe. The biggest non-league story of the year was Dartford winning the Conference play-offs and gaining their first promotion into the Football League, while Leamington dropped out of Conference North after two seasons.

– Bayern, Celtic Real Madrid and PSG continued to dominate their respective leagues, and Juventus returned to the top of Serie A, as Andrea Pirlo ended his career with another winners’ medal. There was an all-Spanish Champions League Final as Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona, while Lazio beat Schalke in the Europa League Final. The biggest transfer of the season was Real Madrid buying Marek Hamsik from Napoli for £35.5m.

– Internationally, Cameroon beat Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations Final, while Brazil beat Colombia in the Copa America Final.

2015-16

– Arsenal took a more comfortable title this time, beating FA and League Cup winners Spurs (in their last season at the old White Hart Lane) by 6 points. But the bigger stories were behind, as Manchester United and Chelsea finished 7th and 8th on 61 points, behind Swansea in 4th and Wigan in 6th. But Swansea, now managed by Paul Lambert, would not get a Champions League spot, as Mourinho masterminded another European success, beating his former club Real Madrid in the final. While Jose earned a reprieve, Moyes did not, and was sacked. His replacement would be former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino

– For the first time in a long time, the three promoted sides, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Watford, were all immediately relegated. Sunderland again had a narrow escape after sacking Poyet and replacing him with Jol.

– Arsene Wenger was again Manager of the Year, with Lambert and Coyle behind. Player of the Year went to Jack Wilshere, though Hazard won Players’ Player for the third year in a row. Jordan Rhodes of Southampton was the top scorer, beating Wigan’s Charlie Austin and Cardiff’s Andreas Cornelius. It was a notable year for retirements as Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard and John Terry all ended their playing careers, and Nemanja Vidic played in his final Premier League game before retiring after a solitary cup appearance in the following season.

– Wolves, under Kenny Jackett, won the Championship, their second promotion in three seasons under the Welshman. Stoke and Aston Villa were promoted with them, while Bristol City, Coventry and Bolton went down. Birmingham won League One ahead of Brentford, with Sheffield United at last returning to the Championship with them. MK Dons were amongst the relegated teams, while Portsmouth finally left League Two by finishing third. Dartford’s brief foray into the Football League ended when they went down with Exeter, with Southend and Bristol Rovers taking their places. This season also saw FC United of Manchester earn promotion from the Northern Premier League.

– Bayern won their fourth straight Bundesliga title, while Real Madrid won the third La Liga title in a row, beating surprise contenders Valencia, managed first by Rafa Benitez and then by Roberto Mancini. Monaco broke PSG’s stranglehold in France, while Juventus won again in Italy and Celtic took yet another Scottish title, with Rangers finishing 5th in their first season back in the top flight. Barcelona won the Europa League after crashing out of the Champions League early on, but could only finish fourth in La Liga. The biggest transfers were both thanks to Bayern Munich: in the summer, they signed Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for £38.5m, and then spent the same fee again on Schalke’s Julian Draxler.

– There would be more drama for English fans in Euro 2016. Facing Turkey in the semi-finals, Steven Caulker’s dramatic stoppage time winner helped them into the final against hosts France. Wilshere gave England the lead, but Arsenal team mate Giroud equalised in stoppage time to take the game to extra time, where Ashley Young scored to break French hearts and give captain Phil Jagielka the chance to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup. Roy Hodgson retired after the tournament, and was replaced by Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas. In South America, Uruguay beat Argentina to win Copa America.

2016-17

– At last, Manchester City finally clinched the Premier League title again, beating Liverpool by 3 points. Manchester United and League Cup winners Arsenal completed the top 4, leaving Chelsea outside again, this time down in 6th; Jose Mourinho somehow retained his job again. Martino had not, though; he was sacked by United and replaced by former rival Roberto Mancini. Arsene Wenger chose this moment to retire, with his position taken by Wolves manager Kenny Jackett.

– At the bottom, Sunderland finally ran out of chances, and were joined by Aston Villa and Stoke. Fulham, now managed by Brendan Rodgers, finished 17th but did qualify for Europe after winning the FA Cup for the first time, beating Wigan in the final courtesy of a goal from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

– Cardiff’s Youssef El-Arabi was the top scorer with 26 goals, the highest total since Van Persie in 2012-13. Player of the Year went to Eden Hazard, though he failed to win a fourth-straight Players’ Player Award, which instead went to Bernard of Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini was named Manager of the Year ahead of Laudrup and, bizarrely, Rodgers, despite losing 5 of the last 6 league matches of the season. Former England captain Rio Ferdinand was the most notable retirement, while the biggest transfer was his effective replacement, Samuel Umtiti, who was brought in from Lyon for £31.5m.

– Reading (who picked up a massive 98 poins), Forest and Watford returned to the Premier League, while QPR were relegated under Dougie Freedman, along with Tranmere and Millwall. Yeovil were champions of League One, and were joined by Preston and Crewe, who made it back-to-back promotions under Henning Berg. However, Coventry slumped to back-to-back relegations, the latest being at the hands of Graham Westley. MK Dons won League Two, with Wycombe returning to the third tier via the play-offs, while Bristol Rovers were again relegated into the Conference, this time along with Bury, who in March had appointed Joey Barton as manager in a bid to escape the drop. Luton at last won the Conference, and they were joined by Football League newcomers Ebbsfleet, while Hereford and Stockport also left the Conference in the opposite direction.

– Chelsea’s last chance of Champions League qualification had been via winning it, but they lost the final to PSG; sadly Zlatan Ibramovich played no part in what would be his final season as a player. Meanwhile, Lazio won another Europa League, this time beating Lyon in the final. In the leagues, there was a big shock in the Bundesliga as Borussia Dortmund returned to the top and Bayern slumped to 6th under Josep Guardiola as Robben and Ribery both slipped into retirement. Monaco, Real Madrid, Juventus and Celtic continued their dominance of their respective leagues.

– The only major international tournament of note was the Africa Cup of Nations, which saw Egypt return to the top with a win in the final over rivals Algeria.

2017-18

– Manchester City won the Premier League once again, still relying on their old spine of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, supplemented with more purchased stars: Varane, Bernard, Thiago, Chalobah, Sterling, Wanyama, Gaston Ramirez, Luke Shaw, Strootman and Peruzzi. Arsenal were 6 points distant, with United 3rd and Tony Pulis’ Newcastle again denying Chelsea a top four spot on goal difference; Jose again kept his job, though. Tottenham finished down in 9th, replacing manager Marco van Basten with David Moyes in November; the Scot then guided them to a League Cup triumph over Liverpool. Southampton finished 8th and won the FA Cup. Wigan again finished 6th, but were now under Roberto Martinez again.

– This was because Owen Coyle, mastermind of their great recent run, had been recruited by Everton in a vain attempt to stave off relegation, though Malky Mackay had begun the process. They would be joined by Watford and Wolves, who had curiously appointed Dougie Freedman as Jackett’s successor despite overseeing QPR’s relegation from the Championship the year before. Liverpool could laugh at Everton’s demise but they had been down there themselves at one point; Laudrup was dismissed and replaced by the prodigal son Rafa Benitez, who then guided them to an FA Cup Final.

– Manager of the Year again went to Pellegrini, beating Pulis and Cardiff’s Gary Bowyer. Eden Hazard won yet another award in the shape of Player of the Year, with the players’ choice being Man City’s Thiago. Jordan Rhodes was top scorer for the second time with 26 goals, comfortably beating Norwich’s Lionard Ekangamene and Manchester United’s new star striker Salomon Rondon.

– Stoke won the Championship by 10 points, with West Ham, armed with the Italian pair of Giampaolo Pazzini and soon-to-retire Antonio Cassano, edging Aston Villa by a point for 2nd. Crystal Palace went up via the play-offs, while Preston, Doncaster and Crewe went down. QPR, now under Mark Hughes again, won League One, with Chesterfield (under Phil Brown) and Gillingham (under Jens Lehmann) the surprise promoted pair behind them. Millwall suffered back-to-back relegations, slumping into League Two, while Coventry, who suffered a similar fate a year before, were beaten in the League Two play-off final by Port Vale, as AFC Wimbledon reached the third tier for the first time. Dagenham and Crawley dropped out of the Football League as Luton narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Conference, while Dartford won the Conference play-offs again, joining champions Newport back in League Two.

– Juventus completed the second ever Italian Treble with victory over Lyon in the Champions League Final, courtesy of a late winner from Fabio Borini. Real Madrid’s run in Spain ended as Barcelona returned to the top under Vincenzo Montella in Carles Puyol’s final season as a player, while PSG returned to the top in France and Dortmund won the Bundesliga as Bayern again floundered in 5th. Celtic won yet again in Scotland, benefiting from a new partnership with Chelsea which saw Gerard Deulofeu and Branislav Ivanovic arrive on loan along with Southampton’s Aaron Lennon and Arsenal’s Miralem Pjanic, but Rangers required a relegation play-off victory over Ross County to avoid slipping back into the Scottish Championship, leading to Ally McCoist’s ousting in favour of Nick Barmby.

– What followed would be high drama: the World Cup in Russia would go down as one of the greatest in history. Brazil once again failed to progress out of the groups, and they would be joined on the sidelines by Italy and world number 1s England, who had embarrassingly lost in their opening group game against Costa Rica courtesy of former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell’s winner, and again in their second game to a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Scotland, however, did progress, only to be eliminated by Germany on penalties.

In the early knockout rounds, it looked like it would be France’s tournament to lose, as Mexico took out the Germans in the quarters. In the semis, France would face the USA, who had scraped through the group stage in 2nd behind Uruguay before beating Holland and Australia. Uruguay would face Mexico in the other semi. But in a massive surprise, Aron Johannsson scored a 90th minute winner for the Americans to send them through to their first final, while Adrian Aldrete scored a 120th winner for Mexico in a 3-2 thriller, denying Uruguay captain Luis Suarez a shot at the big prize.

And so it would be a clash of two of the great rivals in world football. A tedious match was set alight when Brek Shea scored in the 59th minute for the US, but Carlos Fierro snatched an equaliser from a wayward backpass. But then substitute Jozy Altidore entered the fray and capitalised on two defensive errors to sink two late goals and clinch the greatest prize in football for the country that calls it soccer. Brad Guzan was thus a World Cup-winning captain, Tim Ream ended up with a World Cup winners’ medal, and Jurgen Klinsmann became only the second person to win the World Cup as a player and a manager.

Some where-are-they-nows:

– Torquay are still in League Two, having just had their best finish (6th). However, vice-captain Mike Williamson, who had returned to the club where he began his career, has just been released. The only surviving current players are Michael Poke and Jordan Chapell. Colin Cooper is the manager, having taken over from the sacked Mark Yates, while Danny Graham is the most notable player in the squad.

– Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have continued their monopoly on the Best Player awards, with Ronaldo seemingly ageing better despite being older. Ronaldo, now Real’s record goalscorer, is currently being paid £575,000 a week.

– Wayne Rooney is England’s most capped player, with 140 appearance, and also unsurprisingly the record goalscorer with 57.

– Nigel Pearson is the longest-serving Premier League manager, having been in charge for nearly 7 years. Second is Steve Clarke, and third is Jose Mourinho.

– Peter Schmeichel is now the manager of Conference club FC Halifax Town, having been appointed in June 2016.

– Steven Gerrard is a coach at Ipswich.

– Michael Carrick is still playing for some reason. He’s at Swansea.

– Leon Osman is manager of Exeter.

– Harry Redknapp retired in 2016, a year after leaving Newcastle. He had also previously had a stint at Hull. For some reason, obviously FM doesn’t take into account that he doesn’t manage north of London.

– Ryan Giggs has just been appointed by Sheffield Wednesday after being sacked by Aston Villa for failing to get promoted back to the Premier League.

– Scott Parker is captain of Leyton Orient.

– Conor Sammon is at Leeds.

– Interestingly, Lucas Leiva is now rated as a Liverpool legend, on a par with the likes of Rush, Shankly, Dalglish and Paisley, and ahead of the merely iconic Steven Gerrard. Jonny Evans has been added to the Man Utd legends, Tim Krul to Newcastle’s, Wilshere and Ramsey to Arsenal’s, Jack Cork to Southampton’s, and Jonas Olsson to West Brom’s. Ashley Williams is the only Swansea legend.

– Some of the more bizarre signings I’ve noticed include Cardiff’s brief period of having Champions League winners Eric Abidal and Diego Milito on their books at the same time, Tottenham signing former Arsenal player Alex Song, PSG signing virtually everyone (particularly in 2014-15 when they spent £140m on players, and again in 2016-17 when they spent £150m), and Real Madrid paying £15m for Victor Moses before selling him soon after for £5.75m (he has just returned to Spain with Sevilla). There are also several instances of players being signed, barely played, and then leaving again, or players being contracted but not registered and thus not playing. Adam Lallana has just been released by Southampton after playing only 6 league games since the end of the first season in the game, with none coming after 2015-16.

– The most expensive signing so far is Timo Werner, who moved from Stuttgart to Wolfsburg for £41.5m in the summer of 2017. The most expensive regen so far as Polish striker Damian Imianowski, who was bought from PSG by Bayern for £34.5m in January 2018.

– Only Tottenham, West Ham, AFC Wimbledon, York and Ebbsfleet (whose new ground is named after former manager Liam Daish) have moved into new stadia, with Coventry returning to the Ricoh Arena in 2016. There have been no tycoon takeovers in England, with Greenock Morton being bought by one in Scotland, though he has since withdrawn his funding.

– Disappointingly, there appear to be no power shifts in world football yet. The same teams winning everything so far, but I’ve run a similar game on FM13 and it does take a while to kick in – it was a game in which Real Zaragoza became a global force by 2022. I intend to eventually continue this to see which team will rise up and surprise everyone in the next few years…

Written by James Bennett

February 14, 2014 at 18:43

FM13: Elsewhere…

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Manchester United lifted the European Cup for the fourth time by defeating arch-rivals Manchester City in a thrilling Champions League Final at the Millennium Stadium. In a match that will surely go down as one of the greatest major cup finals in football history, two last minute equalisers sent the match first to extra time and then to a penalty shootout, while three players were sent off for picking up two yellow cards, including England’s Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere.

The match began badly for United as they lost key striker Robin van Persie to injury after just 15 minutes. However, his home-grown replacement would make an almost-instant impact – on a night where some of the biggest names in world football were going head to head, it was Manchester-born striker Danny Welbeck who opened the scoring, tapping in a Xherdan Shaqiri cross from the right after 33 minutes. It is another big goal for Welbeck, who scored 2 of United’s 5 in their second leg turn-around against Olympique Marseille in the semi-final

But this lead was cast into doubt just before half time. In the 39th minute, Welbeck won the ball with a clean tackle from Vincent Kompany, sending Marek Hamsik away down the left. The Slovakian’s cross was met at the far post by Shaqiri, but the Switzerland international’s diving header was deflected by Kompany, before Darren Fletcher scrambled the ball into the net. It was seemingly 2-0, but referee Circhetta ruled the goal out for a foul on City goalkeeper Joe Hart. Rooney’s characteristic protests earned him a booking, and seconds later, he lashed out on City’s Brazilian midfielder Sandro, sending him to the floor with a crunching tackle. Two yellow cards in less than a minute for Rooney, who headed for an early bath in the biggest game in club football before the half was even over.

City controlled the second half, and eventually switched formation to try and exploit their advantage, bringing on Spanish playmaker David Silva to add a man to the attack. But it took until the very end for them to find the crucial equaliser. In the end, it inevitably came from the one man United fans did not want to see on the scoresheet – the former United striker Carlos Tevez. Wilshere acted as the creator, charging down the right flank before cutting it back inside for Tevez, who won the Champions League with United in the other all-English final against Chelsea in 2008, to tap it into the net and send the blue half of the crowd wild.

The first period of extra time exploded into life in the 103rd minute when Sandro hacked down Hamsik from behind to earn his second yellow card and level the teams at 10 men each. But this didn’t hinder City immediately, as moments later City moved forward quickly. Silva played a beautiful through-ball to split the United defenders, and he found Tevez, who buried his shot past David de Gea into the corner of the net. After scoring 2 against Tottenham in the semi-final, it looked as if the pantomime villain had had the last laugh with a further 2 on the biggest stage of all.

But there was yet more drama to come. Wilshere was the third and final player to receive his marching orders 3 minutes into the second half of extra time, unnecessarily clattering Fletcher from behind. United were a man up for the first time in the game, but couldn’t take advantage of it until the dying moments of the game. Throwing everything at a City backline that was holding firm in stoppage time after 120 minutes were up, defender Phil Jones, now operating as a midfielder, lunged in to win the ball from Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the box, knocking it into the path of Welbeck. He slipped it to Hamsik, who was waiting on the left flank and knocked it back in to Brazilian substitute Bernard, who wrote his name into United folklore by volleying in the most dramatic of equalisers.

After that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you had seen enough heart-stopping moments for one evening, but there was still time for more drama in the penalty shootout. City won the right to take the first penalty, which Tevez buried. Further penalties from Fletcher, Silva and David Alaba were similarly dispatched, but Miralem Pjanic sent his high and wide. Hamsik converted his penalty to give United a 3-2 lead, but Thomas Muller, who had already experienced shootout heartache in the 2012 final against Chelsea while playing for Bayern Munich, equalised. Jones stepped up and hit the post, but it bounced away from Hart and into the net to make it 4-3, meaning that City captain Kompany had to score to keep them in contention. But, as in 2008, it was the captain of United’s opponents who made the crucial error, as De Gea dived to his right to comfortably save the tame effort.

And so, another triumph for United, with the famous trophy lifted by Nemanja Vidic, who has already lifted the Premier League trophy for them this season. It is also a historic triumph for United manager Jose Mourinho, who has equalled Bob Paisley’s three European Cup victories as manager, but, unlike Paisley, has now won with three different clubs. He can now surely lay claim to being perhaps the greatest football manager of all time – retaining the Champions League next year would surely seal that mantle.

Line-Ups:

Man Utd: De Gea; Rafael, Vidic (c), Jones, Alaba; Nainggolan (Evans 88), Fletcher; Shaqiri (Bernard 101), Rooney, Hamsik; Van Persie (Welbeck 15)

Goals: Welbeck (33); Bernard (120+1)
Yellow cards: Nainggolan (31); Rooney (40); Jones (76); Fletcher (112); Rafael (114)
Sent off: Rooney (41)

Man City: Hart; Richards (Silva 74), Kompany (c), Nastasic, Baines (Lescott 74); Sandro, Wilshere; Muller, Tevez, Pjanic; Aguero (Zabaleta 88)

Goals: Tevez (88, 103)
Yellow cards: Sandro (2); Wilshere (3); Muller (12); Aguero (36); Kompany (94)
Sent off: Sandro (103); Wilshere (108)

Written by James Bennett

June 29, 2013 at 02:05

FM13 Career: Leaving So Soon

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I’ve resigned as manager of Dundee with one match to go. 22 matches in charge is enough for me to realise this was going absolutely nowhere fast.

The trick with picking the right job on Football Manager is to pick a club that’s underachieving, or at least not pick a club that’s already overachieving. That’s the mistake I mad. The Dundee squad was probably the weakest in the SPL, or at least in the top bottom 3. Barry Smith had done a great job to keep them mid-table for two seasons in a row before he left for Cardiff. After my arrival, the team first stuttered, and then fell away dramatically. We managed to remain in touch with the midfield teams somehow, but we couldn’t match them on the pitch at the time. We also got battered by Celtic in the Scottish Cup quarter-final.

Even so, with two games to go before the league is split into two sections, we were just 4 points away from sneaking into the top half, with the next game against the team just above us, St Johnstone. We led 2-0 at half time, conceded early in the second half, and then conceded a penalty that even the Scottish FA seemed to admit shouldn’t have been given. So we drew 2-2, pretty much ending our season there and then. We ended the season well, consolidating 7th and allowing me to pick up my first Manager of the Month Award. But even so, I still felt flat.

The problem is the board gave me very little breathing room financially. The wage budget is next-to-nothing – I had to go way over to bring in Jose Bosingwa, and he’s getting a surprisingly little £1,300 a week (combined with a director of football role too). With most of the players signed up for next season, it’s going to be very difficult to sign up some decent players. There’s very little I can do here in the short term – mid-table’s the maximum, and the only way I’m getting into Europe is via a cup, which means beating a Celtic side that has crushed everyone this year. Added to that, Rangers have been promoted back into the SPL after 3 promotions in 3 seasons, so that’s another team that will finish ahead of Dundee next season.

It’s a dead end job, so I chanced my arm on applying for the newly-vacant West Brom job, who had just sacked Tony Mowbray for failing to get promoted to the Premier League. The board didn’t like it and gave me an ultimatum. Ordinarily I’d have apologised as I did at Mladost, but actually there was no point in me doing this this time given that I was going to resign after the last game anyway. So I resigned.

Onwards towards team three then. I probably won’t get the West Brom job. I have no idea where I’m going to end up – if my post-Mladost applications are anything to go by, Championship teams probably won’t be interested, so I may apply for a job abroad again. I want to win things now, and I want a shot at Europe. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long for that.

Written by James Bennett

June 28, 2013 at 15:54

FM13 Career: A New Start in the North

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After applying (rather optimistically, perhaps) for some Championship jobs and failing to get them, I finally got a job offer from north of the border. Dundee lost long-serving manager Barry Smith to Cardiff, and I fancied another go at the SPL – a previous attempt with Hibernian was quite successful but I never finished the first season. I spent a holiday just north of Dundee in Coupar Angus when I was 10 so I know the city quite well – it’s well-known for the Tay Railway Bridge, the longest in Britain (which incidentally is not the one in the picture – that’s the road bridge), and for being the current home of the RRS Discovery, the ship that carried Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic in 1901.

Dundee are best-known as part of that great Scottish double-act with literal next-door neighbours Dundee United. It is the Terrors, who play in orange, who have had the more recent success, winning the Premier Division (as it was known then) in 1982-83, and the Scottish Cup in 2009-10, as well as reaching the latter stages of the European Cup and UEFA Cup in the 1980s. In the game, they also won the Scottish League Cup for the third time in 2013-14. By contrast, Dundee’s success is more distant, but their list of honours is much the same – 1 league title (1961-62), 1 Scottish Cup (1909-10), 3 Scottish League Cups (1951-52, 1952-53 and 1973-74), and a European Cup semi-final (1962-63). In recent years, they have fallen on harder times – they have lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis, and were relegated from the SPL in 2004-05. They spent 7 seasons in the First Division before being promoted to the SPL in 2012 at the expense of the liquidated Rangers.

In the real world, they were also relegated at the end of 2012-13. But in the game, they have remained in the top division, finishing 11th in 2012-13 above Hibernian, and then 8th last year, when Aberdeen were the surprising victims. They have had a good start to this season as well, as shown here before my first league match – Hibs are once again the strugglers.

Since then, I’ve beaten Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup (4-1 away, after an initial 2-2 draw at home), and thumped Falkirk 4-1 at home – 10 goals scored in 3 games is a pretty good start. The latter also briefly vaulted us to 4th in the standings, on the same points as 3rd-placed St Mirren, albeit until the teams below us made up their games in hand.

It’s looking good so far. Next game? Dundee United away. No pressure then…

Written by James Bennett

June 26, 2013 at 02:04

FM13 at Mladost: Killed by second season syndrome

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Yep, that’s it. A disastrous start to the season with no sign of halting and I’m out of there. I could have carried on but things don’t get much better after getting hammered by one of only two teams that were below us. We’re deep in the shit and there’s nothing I can do.

I had felt confident about pushing on this year. I felt that we had upgraded in every area – certainly that’s what my coaches and scouts were telling me. I’d upgraded the coaching staff too. I even added ex-Birmingham striker Nikola Zigic, who didn’t want a huge salary for some reason.

It all started to unravel just before the start of the season. News reports leaked suggesting Danish club AaB were interested in signing my keeper Sasa Stamenkovic, who was one of the best keepers in the SuperLeague. In the end he forced the departure. We got £575,000 for him but that’s not the point – we were fine financially. The problem was it was too late to do anything about – all the good freebie keepers went long ago, so I had to pay out £500,000 for another inferior player to replace him.

Then in the first game we were pretty poor and scabbed a lucky draw. But as usual FM hates you getting through a first game without injuries and this was no exception – my new right-back Djalic was ruled out for 3-4 months with a hamstring tear. I then had to spend another load of cash to bring someone in, and let midfielder Jovan Golic go out on loan to make room. I bought Mladenovic, who has been pretty awful, along with my new left back Ignatijevic. We started shipping goals and not scoring them. And that’s always bad news.

I annoyed the board by applying for the Brighton job, but despite apologising and not getting the job, things were already looking bleak. We drew Red Star in the cup, which is pretty much guaranteed elimination – we had nearly held on for a point against them in the league fixture, but conceded a last minute winner. Everything was going against us. When FM13 decides it hates, you it decides it really hates you.

I don’t believe I was doing a bad job. I don’t believe my signings were bad. But the results were awful, I’d lost the dressing room, the fans didn’t appreciate me and I wasn’t getting any job offers despite doing a bloody good job in the first two season. So it’s time to go.

Written by James Bennett

June 25, 2013 at 22:01

Pop Idol Revisited

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6th October 2001 in Britain. Osama Bin Laden had just gained global notoriety. The US government would launch military operations in Afghanistan the following day. The Conservative Party had recently elected Iain Duncan-Smith as its new leader after a second consecutive electoral landslide for the Labour Party 4 months ago. Kylie Minogue was number 1 in the singles charts with “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, while the highest-grossing films of recent weeks included Moulin Rouge, AI Artificial Intelligence and A Knight’s Tale, with the release of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone just a few weeks away.

But this date is significant in the history of British television, as it was on this day that the first episode of Pop Idol was broadcast. 5.24 million viewers turned to ITV to watch the birth of a popular culture phenomenon. Simon Cowell was shown doing his first bit of TV judging, while Gareth Gates stammered his way through his breakthrough audition to become the Susan Boyle before Susan Boyle – if there had been YouTube, no doubt he’d have got millions of hits.

But in fact this is the reason I’m writing this – I’m interested not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t.

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I grew up with the first wave of twenty-first century talent shows, although I was slow getting into it. My mother was the first in our house – she got hooked very early into the first of them, Popstars, which followed Polydor’s Paul Adam, 19 Management’s Nicki Chapman and anger’s Nigel Lythgoe as they assembled a five-piece mixed gender pop band, Hear’Say, before shifting to follow the band as it went through the process of doing the things bands do – record songs, make music videos, and eventually sell records. Lots of them. The only problem was the substance itself wasn’t good enough to sustain the band beyond the initial gimmick, and it split up in October 2002, less than 18 months after their first single, “Pure and Simple”, went to number 1 by breaking the record the fastest-selling debut single of all time – in that time, the band had even been involved in another Popstars-esque show to find a new member of the band after Kym Marsh left to pursue a solo career.

Popstars was very different to its predecessors because it was more of a documentary than a talent show – it showed the formation of the band, which could have been any band, but just happened to have a lot more publicity. All the phone voting was in the future – the first element of responsibility in the public’s hands was buying the single. In hindsight, it was an intelligent idea, because it built momentum as it went along – as has become standard in this genre of television, it was portrayed as a journey, on which we would learn more about the individual contestants. The hysteria was ramped up by the time the band members and band name were shown being chosen, which had been a few months before the broadcast, but this was cleverly capitalised on by the literal unveiling of the band in front of the photographers and news cameras not long after. By this point, the show’s following had grown to the extent that it was now considered major news in the entertainment sector. Just a couple of weeks later, in March 2001, the single was released, allowing the hysteria to run riot in supermarkets around the country.

Pop Idol launched later that year, and was seen as a logical step. One can see this as being portrayed as a kind of “democratisation” of the Popstars format – instead of being decided by a bunch of elitists in suits (not that they were necessarily portrayed that way), the power to choose the winner was being handed over to the general public. Superficially, control over the show was now in the grasp of the viewers.

Thirteen years on we (at least those of us who would read something like this) are a bit wiser to the various tricks that talent show producers pull. We know that not all the audition stages are shown. We know they make millions from the phone voting, and that the judges have wrested back a certain amount of control of the decision-making. We know that editing is done to develop characters in particular ways, that we’re meant to think in certain ways, and that there’s a deliberate creation of narratives for the public to relate to, to create “good/bad guys” and get an emotional reaction from us. We’re even suspicious about the voting. In short, we’re a bit more aware of and cynical about talent shows, and we know it’s not necessarily a representation of reality, even if it claims to be.

Back in 2001, we as a society were a bit more naive. But at the same time, the producers of such shows were more naive too. When Big Brother first launched in Britain in the summer of 2000, it was still genuinely considered a social experiment. People didn’t necessarily think that the contestants were being chosen for entertainment value. It had more than an ounce of credibility. That’s how people began watching. With the passage of time, it has become more and more obvious that it was all being manipulated, and in turn has become more and more self-aware – the contestants get crazier every years.

Similarly, watching the first episode of Pop Idol, which you can now do yourselves via YouTube, is a surprising experience simply because none of the great clichés that we expect from TV talent shows aren’t there.

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The first thing that struck me watching it (for the first time, as once again it took a few weeks before I joined the rest of the family in watching it) is there’s no music playing between auditions – the soundtrack is incredibly sparse. So are the sets – there are no massive jazzed-up sets as we would associate with The X Factor before it moved into actual stage auditions, or even the second season of the show as shown in the picture below.

In the first episode of the series, it’s just a table with a Pop Idol logo in a large bland conference room. The judges are critical but often constructive rather than openly nasty or intentionally nice. There’s an intelligence and a sensitivity about it, but they’re also willing to have a laugh without getting away from the seriousness of the issue – at no point do you think they’ll put someone through who isn’t good enough, as opposed to The X Factor where anyone auditioning over the age of 80 will probably get through out of pity.

And that’s perhaps the overriding feeling I have with this. I’m not saying this show wasn’t taking itself seriously, but there certainly isn’t the bombastic triumphalism of The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. Those two in particular stress the epic – everything is always emphasising the large scale of everything, and how it is getting bigger and therefore better. There are no massive words flashing up on the screen telling you how many million people auditioned, and nor is some O Fortuna-based classical composition playing to further emphasise the grandiose importance of what you’re about to witness.

Compare the introductions to the programmes. Pop Idol‘s seems almost futuristic, combining an electronic soundtrack with images of a water-based singer (who changes from male to female and vice versa) performing in an arena with planes symbolising the lifestyle of the Pop Idol. But the focus never strays away from that individual – it’s as if it is representing the personal quest of the performer as they bid to become a superstar.

The first X Factor intro from 3 years later is completely different. There’s no performer – it’s just a series of electronically-charged ‘x’s floating through the universe with flames erupting from the side for no reason. It’s very abstract (apart from the bit at the end where you see the crowd, who I assume are meant to represent the audience at a gig), but the whole idea of floating it through space stresses the epic – everything appears huge and expansive. Whereas the Pop Idol was going to be big in this world, the person with the “x factor” was going to dominate the universe. More recent efforts are less abstract but perhaps stress this even more, as well as making the most out of the latest HD-suitable graphics.

Basically, The X Factor wants to smash into your home right into your TV, and then blow its speakers with its awesome power. But Pop Idol was a bit more subtle and low key, and I think this reflects the forms of television that the genre was developing from. As with Popstars, the whole thing feels more like a documentary when you’re watching it, because of the way it was filmed and the lack of a soundtrack, hinting at the evolution process.

Also, as it was the first of its kind, nobody knew if it was going to be a success, so it was still a bit of a gamble, and I think there is an element of a lack of confidence in the show at this point. The producers lack the sure-footedness in what they were producing that they (collectively) would later develop in various other shows. The X Factor can get away with emphasising the epic because it has the self-confidence (and the money) to do so as it has had a stable huge following for a number of years.

With Pop Idol, things weren’t so guaranteed – they were starting from scratch. They didn’t know what the audience necessarily wanted, and, crucially, there were no tropes to tape into. By “trope” I mean the sort of clichéd stereotypes that talent shows are famed for using. As I mentioned earlier, a good example of this is the use music – they play a song which the viewer will identify that as a “sad song” (something slow and melancholy) or a happy song (something with a crescendo – Hoppipola by Sigur Ros is often used) to indicate a sad moment or a happy moment, or the difference between a serious contestant (again, slow and melancholy) and a contestant you know won’t be able to sing (light-hearted, perhaps brass instrument-based, something which makes you think “funny” immediately).

These days, so many of these audio cues are set up so that you the viewer make the emotional reaction the producers want – it’s the equivalent of those flashing “Applause” signs in a studio telling you when to applaud. It has become such an enormous cliché in talent shows that they could probably get away with not showing the end of a particular clip and people could still work out what would happen.

As well as this, there are various editing and selecting techniques – the “characters” (as that is what they are essentially developed into) that you are meant to think of as being stupid will be shown doing or saying something stupid, while the characters you are meant to cheer on are shown being emotional beforehand, often with the infamous sob story explained (and emotional music played over the top, obviously). It is a very formulaic way of producing a show, but people love it because it’s easy to understand and they don’t have to think for themselves.

This first episode of Pop Idol is a fantastic demonstration of what talent shows would be like if those tropes didn’t exist. There’s no music so you have to actually use your brain to think a little about whether or not the contestant in front of you will be good and will go through. Granted, it’s not totally free of that, as presenters Ant and Dec still act as guides, but with no audio cues, it has a very different feel to its successors.

For example, I was quite surprised that the first audition they showed was by a young man who looked like a would-be pop star who failed to impress the judges with his mediocre voice, and yet young stuttering Gareth Gates was able to wow them with his rendition of “Flying Without Wings” – perhaps a reverse of what people might have expected when they were introduced at the start of the episode.

I also found how the judges were introduced for the first time interesting – again, no epic music or police convoys as you get today. Instead they are shown doing their jobs – apart from Cowell, who they show as being a bit showbiz, driving around in his Jag, presumably because he is representing the music executive – even so, this is a more humble Cowell than the one we are used to. And when they each state what they are looking for, it’s not explained away with simplistic buzzwords and phrases – it’s actually presented as a little bit more complex, even if not particularly intellectual.

It is significant in hindsight that there were no singers on that first panel – instead there was a DJ (Neil Fox), a manager (Nicki Chapman), a producer (Pete Waterman) and an executive (Cowell). Cowell was probably the least well-known person on the panel, with Chapman familiar to viewers via Popstars, Waterman due to his success as part of the Stock Aitken & Waterman producing team and Fox due to his profile as a leading DJ on mainstream radio. These are genuinely serious music people who are meant to know how to identify a future pop idol, as opposed to the performers who dominate judging panels in the 2010s, often there as big name personalities or a potential source of controversy.

As a result of all of this, it feels more “scientific”, although they still talk about the artist requiring “the x factor” to succeed. Similarly, their feedback isn’t necessarily black or white – the individual judges do give more detail. As well as this, while Cowell is stated to be the chairman of the panel, there isn’t a particular “nasty judge”, another trope of talent shows – Cowell would take that role over time but this was an organic process due to his criticism and the media marking him out as “the nasty one”; indeed, Waterman’s comments could also be quite cutting. Later in the series, the judges would also get their own criticism from the contestants – in later years this hasn’t been shown as much, perhaps because the contestants are now more deferential to the celebrities that are doing the judging.

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In general, while The X Factor feels like a massive monolith, Pop Idol feels less distant and more down-to-earth, and in some way it gives it a bit more authenticity – it feels a bit more honest. As with the original Big Brother, it feels purer – a genuine quest for talent that happens to take the form of a television show. It gives off the vibe that the decisions the judges are making are to try and find people who are talented performers rather than picking those who will be the most or controversial fun on the show. It is taking itself quite seriously but it doesn’t feel especially pretentious, whereas The X Factor is still trying to infer that it is an actual talent search even though any scraps of credibility it once might have had disappeared when Simon Cowell decided he would rather keep Jedward in the competition rather than a serious singer despite criticising them for weeks before.

Maybe it’s just because we are wiser to the tricks of the trade now or because it reminds me of a more innocent time where we (or at least I) didn’t think about these things as much, but even watching that first episode back with my analytical head on, Pop Idol doesn’t feel as cynical as The X Factor. While ultimately it was trying to look for a pop singer to sing pop songs for the masses in order to make millions of pounds rather than some kind of genuine artistic endeavour, it doesn’t feel like it’s a means to an end – I’m sure Simon Fuller was looking to make a lot money out of it because he’s a businessman, but it feels like a genuine talent search. While watching The X Factor today can often feel like an insult to one’s intelligence, I have to admit that I actually found this first Pop Idol episode quite interesting and enjoyable to watch, even if perhaps only from a nostalgic perspective.

I think what we see is a process of developing self-awareness – those producing these shows, be it the singing shows or the locked-in-a-house shows, became aware of what the audience liked, and focused in on that. What happened over the course of the shift from Popstars to Pop Idol to The X Factor is that the producers reduced a documentary about a search for new talented performers to its component parts – while with the early series you get the feeling that this is something that could have happened even if the cameras weren’t there, now you have no mistake that this is a television show and could not be anything else, which is a pretty sizeable shift.

In particular, there is what is now considered to be “the main attraction” – the bad auditions, where the viewer is invited to laugh at people who are clearly being exploited. We now know that these people have been told they are wonderful in early audition rounds, thus building up their hopes before performing in front of the judges. And yes, this was happening in this first episode of Pop Idol too. But it doesn’t feel as sneery – the judges are trying their best to be constructive.

In 2007, Pete Waterman told The Telegraph “When we did the first series of Pop Idol, we insisted that we did not set out to embarrass those people who did not understand the way it all worked. But, in my opinion, that’s where they’ve taken X Factor. I say that without having seen it – but knowing exactly what they are doing…Yes [it is inevitable that it developed that way], because it’s television. It’s now perpetuated across all the networks. I went to Sky last year with a proposition and they came up with a phrase I had never heard before: they said that nowadays it was all about jeopardy TV. They want people squirming on television. I was appalled by it. The bottom line is that it’s a cheap shot.”

This sums it up perfectly – when creating Pop Idol for the first time, the producers didn’t know what the audience wanted; after it, they knew exactly what they wanted, and reduced the show to that, cutting all the crap. Some may describe Pop Idol as dumbed down, but when compared to The X Factor it looks positively intellectual. The fact is it is, and always has been, mass entertainment, the aim being to get as many people watching as possible. And the best ways of doing that are making it simple and easy to understand, and getting an emotional reaction out of people. Therefore, in the eyes of the producers, The X Factor is better than Pop Idol, because it’s better at doing this – it doesn’t matter, for instance, that first Pop Idol winner Will Young has endured longer than any of the X Factor winners.

But this doesn’t change my feelings on this. Maybe, as I said, it’s because it represents a more innocent time – I was 10 years old, just getting into “old music” (i.e. anything before about 1998) for the first time, and didn’t think about whether or not things were as they seemed. But I can’t help but think Pop Idol feels like a more authentic talent show, and that it’s more entertaining than The X Factor because if you are being led to think a particular way, it is far more subtle than its successor, and not at all patronising – unlike watching The X Factor today, at no point did I ever feel like I was being told to think a particular way.

Many people despise reality TV, and with good reason. But in hindsight, Pop Idol seems almost respectable. Perhaps that shows us how far we have drifted away from the original idea. As with all history, it’s a reflection of our society today more than it is a reflection of our society in 2001.

Written by James Bennett

June 8, 2013 at 02:45

Posted in Other, Television

FM13 at Mladost: So near and yet so far…

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And so my second season in Serbia has come to an end. I feel I’m starting to get to grips with this – not just with the team but aspects of the game, particularly team talks which I may have been making a hash of for ages without noticing. By the end of the season I had managed to avoid getting into a major slump – we were losing games, sometimes even convincingly, but we weren’t into the dramatic tailspin of the second quarter of the season.

Eventually we came up just short of European qualification, although I had resigned myself to defeat a few matches before the end when we were finding it particularly difficult to hold on to wins. It was a very competitive battle, with a number of teams surging up the table in the second half, and I assumed that with our inconsistent form, we’d inevitably slip down to an ultimately meaningless mid-table position – fine when you consider we were “expected” to be relegated and my official aim was to avoid relegation, but enormously disappointing considering we had been battling for a top 4 finish all season.

In the end, a couple of wins in the last few matches saw us leapfrog back up the table to take 5th, only a point behind Jagodina – with ties decided by head-to-head record, we were a point away from a Europa League spot, as we had won 1 and drawn 1 against them this season. What ultimately let us down, though, was not Jagodina’s surprise draw on the final day against Red Star, but a run of 4 defeats in 6 matches in April and May. Granted, this included defeats to Rad and Partizan, who finished 1st and 3rd respectively, but it also included a sloppy defeat to Sloboda Uzice – yet again we lost to the side who were bottom at the time, and conceded 3 goals in the process. I’ve no idea why this keeps happening but it’s daft. We also led a few games but came away only with draws or defeats, including the visit of Red Star. I’m particularly disappointed that we failed to beat the top 3 in a match this season – 1 win would have been nice as I don’t want to end up as a pathetic David Moyes-esque figure unable to get results against the top teams.

We had much less of a balance between home form and away form this year, which is a bit odd. Whereas last year we lost twice at home and 5 times away, this year we again only lost twice at home but this time had 7 defeats on the road. We actually had more wins away from home last year (9 vs 8 at home), but this time we won just 5 times away, versus the 8 at home. It’s odd how a change of league can create a shift like that.

I did the bulk of the contractual work during the winter break in order to snap up the best available players early, something I didn’t do last year because I didn’t know what league I would be in or what money I would have to spend. This should allow us to take a step forward. Out will go some of our older players – left-winger Nermin Useni has announced his retirement at the age of 34, although I wasn’t going to offer him a new deal anyway, and Tiago Silva, who is the same age but is on a much more significant £2,100 a week, is also going to be released. Betolngar, Ristanovic and Zdravkovic are the other first team players on their way, with plenty of reserves joining them. We don’t have financial issues but the 25 man squads put a limit on the players we can keep, so if they’re not capable of playing at this level, they’re going.

But while my initial signings focused on strengthening the midfield and both full-back positions, I’ve come to realise that actually there may be a hidden danger at centre-back. I noticed playing against the more talented sides in the league that we were susceptible on the counter, because those better players would just storm straight through the defence without my defenders making an effort to stop them. I think this is meant to represent my centre-backs not being quick enough. Coaches in the game never seem to pick up on what a problem pace can be – this is something I’ve noticed with a few teams – so Filipovic and Milunovic are still rated very highly, even though they aren’t the quickest. They will no doubt work great with a quicker centre-back alongside them, so I’m looking to bring another with more pace to do just that.

The good thing is the average age of the squad is coming down. Only 2 of my 6 signings so far is over 30, while some of the older guys I signed to add experience last summer are on their way out as they have either declined rapidly or had already dropped off before even arriving. The core of youngsters, most of whom were already here before I arrived such as Avramovic, Filipovic and Milunovic, are what the side should and will be built around. Pantelic will continue to get the starting berth as long as he keeps scoring, but Grujicic is an able replacement and still developing well despite a disappointing season this time around.

The future for the team looks very bright. If the players I have signed are as good as my scouts have told me (and that’s no sure thing), I think we can take another step forward next season – I could probably resign now and they would still do pretty well without me. It’ll be difficult to challenge the Big Two, but Rad have proven it’s possible to beat them. A top 4 finish is a realistic possibility. While this team have caused me a lot of stress and frustration of late, I think this is starting to come good and I don’t intend on leaving just yet.

Written by James Bennett

June 6, 2013 at 15:08