It’s a common discussion in Footy circles. Who is the best ever and how would they fare if they played today? Is Messi as good as Maradona? Would Franz Beckenbauer have humbled Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Has Gary Lineker surpassed Des Lynam? Would Pele have been a better player if he’d got out of his comfort zone and played in Europe?
With players of different generations, it’s hard to know. Do we credit Ronaldo for his fitness level? Or do we compare on the assumption that the historic players would have access to the same resources, technological advancements and training regimes? In other words, would Sammy Lee become more than the frenzied weeble that his strict diet of pie, chips, beer and cigarettes moulded him into?
There is an aspect of the footballing world however, where comparisons can be made. It’s more of a niche overlapping the footballing world actually. I speak of the football video game. FIFA 95 can still theoretically be played alongside its modern sequel, FIFA 15.
The FIFA series is actually a bit of a cultural phenomenon in the US. It finds itself in the unusual position of being a gateway to getting people into the actual sport it depicts. I’m surprised Ann Coulter isn’t trying to have it banned.
However, as good as the FIFA series is now (older players may still have flashbacks to bizzare, hellish, pointy limbed humanoids shuffling awkwardly around the field) is it truly better than, or even as good as Sensible Soccer?
There are of course, people old enough to drink, to have finished University, even to be married with kids who weren’t born when the original Sensible Soccer (or “Sensi” to its many friends) was released. To them I say don’t Google it. You’ll just look at the simplistic 2D graphics in the screenshots and scoff at my sentiments. In fairness, those graphics were considered simplistic 2D even then. It didn’t matter; not once you started playing the damn thing.
By now, I’m sure there are a fair few members of my generation reading this, the glint of fresh moisture resting in their tear ducts.
It was odd. Even though the graphics looked outdated from day one and most of your goals were curled in from well outside the box, there was a certain tempo, a certain flow to the game that felt more like an actual game of football than any before it and few since.
Then they upped the ante with Sensible World of Soccer. They took the original game, tweaked it, made it harder, then slapped in as many leagues, teams and players as they could think of. Then they added a manager mode. That was it. The original Sensi came out in 1992, SWOS came out in 1994, my family didn’t see me again until approximately 1997, when having won the World Cup with England, a lap of honour veered off course and took me out of my bedroom and down stairs.
I partially blame Sensi and moreso SWOS for turning my enthusiasm for football into full on geekdom. I was already watching everything from “Match of the Day” to “Football Mundial”. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just watching with curiosity, I was making mental notes of anybody that looked half-decent so I could look them up in the game. That created a vicious circle of then looking for any league I could, which led to looking up more players, to scouring footy magazines, to reading the Rothman’s Football Yearbook from cover to cover.
Suddenly, I was flicking through the German channels on satellite not just to find soft-core blue movies but also to see if there might be a Bundesliga match on. And on that note, thank God for the internet. No longer will a teenage boy ever have to find himself inadvertently watching 20 minutes of a straight-to-TV family drama dubbed in German, just because of the seventies decor and one of the male actors having a sizable mustache.
It was truly a great game and not until several incarnations into the ISS Pro series was there even a question of it being matched. I can’t be sure that in terms of sheer playability it has actually been bettered.
It was a golden era. I often think sympathetically about those kids who spent their late teens going out boozing and shagging.
They didn’t know what they were missing…