Let me tell you the story of the two Mark Kerrs.
One Mark Kerr is a 30-year-old journeyman footballer from a former mining town outside Glasgow, currently trying to impress struggling Hibernian in the hope of getting a deal. Heís bummed around a number of clubs in Scotland and Greece, performing solidly yet never really standing out. In 350 games since making his professional debut in 1998, heís scored 11 goals.
The other Mark Kerr is perhaps the most incredible footballer since Diego Maradona. A midfield dynamo in demand by the biggest sides around the globe, all ready to pay massive transfer fees for his services. Able to change a game, heís invariably the best player in a team and one of the best in world football. Heís won a host of trophies and made Scotland an international powerhouse.
Both are the same player. But the latter career comes about thanks to the Sliding Doors reality of the soccers simulator Football Manager, a world where Mark Kerrís name is spoken about in the sort of hushed, reverential tones reserved for the Messiís of this realm.
Kerr was a statistical anomaly within the game. †A young midfielder with decent, yet not brilliant, stats that somehow, through the algorithms and number-crunching used by the programmers ended up being the star man in whatever midfield he featured in.
For those whoíve played Football Manager - or itís predecessor, Championship Manager - for any length of time (and itís a game that is impossible not to play for any length of time), Kerr is among the pantheon of statistical greats, alongside the likes of To Madeira, Kennedy Bakircioglu and Tonton Zola Moukoko.
So credit to the authors of Football Manager Stole My Life, available now from Backpage Press, who took the time in the gameís 20th year to chart the sports gaming equivalent of crack, and hunt down the names that, over the years, have become bigger icons to a generation than your common or garden Rooneys or Rauls.
Some of them prove more elusive than others, some more familiar with the game than others - for some reason the Scandinavians seem really into it, the journeyman Brits less so. Hearing tales of players signing themselves for the side they are managing is strangely heartening - itís good to know, deep down, theyíre just as daft as the rest of us who play it.
Mixed in with the interviews with the legends is the story of the game itself, as told by the creators and the fans, a tragicomic mix of hardcore nerding that shows the extremes some players will go to. That said, a friend of mine has been known to don his best suit for Cup Final day in the game, while a former colleague used to give every player on his team a nickname, then remove it when they were transferred.
Itís that sort of fandom. And those who exist within it will find themselves nodding and giving a knowing, wry smile as they read the tales within.
Football Manager Stole My Life, in many ways, is the perfect summation of the FM/Champ Man experience. Itís not perfect - thereís an extended fan-fiction story at the back which feels like grindingly dull filler, while the interview with the games creators would benefit from being longer - yet itís thoroughly engaging, scarily in-depth and hard to put down. Just like the (un)real thing.