Football Manager is what they call a cult classic. Some would say it is just a game, but most games don’t inspire books, documentaries, or have such a ravenous or dedicated global following. It’s appeared on PCs and a number of video game consoles, including the PSP, PS Vita, and most recently Xbox One and Series X/S. Thousands upon thousands of people used the game as a pleasant distraction from everyday life during the recent pandemic and the lockdowns that followed.
And now Football Manager has connected NPSL clubs with real fans in Europe. Leading the way in this area of international recognition is the one and only Minneapolis City SC. The Crows are known for their outstanding branding prowess, and their kit is literally loved by fans and supporters all over the globe. Recognition has come from the unlikeliest of places including the Football Shirt Collective and Classic Football Shirts. The former sold the famed dazzle-styled Open Cup shirt, while the latter made City kits available for purchase both online and in their London, Manchester, and Liverpool physical stores.
Thanks to Football Manager and two diehard supporters of the club and game, Minneapolis City now has a stronghold of fans in the UK. David Baptie and David Dodgson have been taking to the virtual pitch in Football Manager and growing the Minneapolis City brand in the process. The fact that they are roughly 4,000 miles away from the Twin Cities hasn’t deterred their passion or dedication in any way.
Baptie is a lifelong Hibernian FC fan. Born and raised in the suburbs of Edinburgh, he played football from the moment the sun rose until it set. Currently he works in human resources, meaning his Saturdays will be free to get back to Easter Road and watch Hibs live once this global pandemic is over. In addition to Hibs and Minneapolis City, Baptie also follows Manchester United.
Most importantly, Baptie is no stranger when it comes to the Football Manager franchise.
“I have been playing Football Manager for around 13 years now,” Baptie said. “I started playing around Football Manager 2008, with the ambition to make Hibs win the Scottish Cup, then eventually moving onto other UK-based teams. I had played championship Manager 4 and LMA Manager previously although those games feel like a lifetime ago.”
Social media and a clever contest brought Baptie and the Crows together.
“So Minneapolis was running a competition for a free top, and two things I love in life are a freebie and a chance to promote,” Baptie said. “The club contacted me directly saying they liked my work and were wondering if I could do a save on them. Seeing an amazing opportunity to grow my ‘brand’ and channel I couldn’t refuse. I made the club aware that I wanted to do it on a pro/rel American system, so once FMDigi had finished his database, I knew the time was right. The club and I created a lot of buzz through tweets and a YouTube video.”
Dedication is probably not a strong enough word to describe Baptie’s commitment to the club and game.
“I currently play 30-40 hours a week for my YouTube saves,” Baptie said. “My friend’s often say this is my unpaid job. I guess the aspect I enjoy about it most is the unpredictability, one moment you could be riding high with win after win, for your legs to be taken out from under you with a defeat. It is as close as I will get to managing in real life unless any NSPL team would like to offer me a job.”
Playing as Minneapolis City SC in Football Manager was a logical choice for Baptie.
“Why did I choose Minneapolis City?” Baptie said. “Simple, they are a modern team with a modern promotion and social team. They remind me a lot of the Scottish club BSC Glasgow. The history is still to be written. The main challenge is building the reputation, and having no money. I chose to start with the bare bones and build my staff around me. I want my Minneapolis to have a unique feeling to them, unlike playing as a well-known European-based side.”
As mentioned previously, Baptie used a “mod” to bring the Crows to life in the game.
“In terms of modding, FM Digi created an American league system parallel to the English league system, and let’s be honest everyone loves a zero to hero story,” Baptie said. “Personally I changed the name of a few cups to give them that good old USA feeling. We have the George Washingington Cup, which is the equivalent to the FA Vase in England. I also went in and modded the kits to get them as close to real life as possible. When a club has a home kit as unique and beautiful as Minneapolis, it deserves to be shown off.”
And how has Minneapolis City performed in the game? Baptie has been pleased with the progress.
“Minneapolis has performed well so far,” Baptie said. “The first season was difficult due to trying to find a formation that works, and gelling a bunch of youngsters together. The second season went brilliant and we got promoted from the tenth tier into ninth, as for the third season onwards? Well, you will have to tune into my YouTube and Twitch channels or follow me on Twitter for further updates.”
Dodgson is also doing incredible things with Football Manager and Minneapolis City SC. He is an educator by day and a virtual football manager by night. He specializes in teaching ESL learners, which has allowed him to have what he calls a journeyman career at different schools around the world. He is currently working with international students at a boarding school in the UK. And he was quick to admit that his students would be very surprised to hear about his YouTube exploits.
Dodgson had some important insights into the popularity of Football Manager.
“I think the appeal of the game lies in the level of control and realism,” Dodgson said. “It’s not just about devising tactics and managing the matches – you can also take control of transfer policy, youth development, training programs, media interactions, and so much more. And it is entirely realistic to do so – as manager, you have the opportunity to control the long-term fate of the club.”
Football Manager was the perfect game for Dodgson for a number of reasons.
“I’ve been a football fan since I was a kid,” Dodgson said. “At first, I just loved the game and it wasn’t until my dad took me to see Manchester United play QPR when I was 12 that I picked a team. So, yes, despite my love for developing small clubs and rooting for the underdog in FM, I support one of the biggest teams in the world in real life. As a teenager came the realization that I would always be an enthusiastic but technically inept player and I guess that was another reason management games appealed – I would get the chance to determine players’ fates. FM has also caused me to follow a number of other clubs worldwide. Success with the likes of Suwon (South Korea), AmaZulu (South Africa), Once Caldas (Colombia), Gencerlbirligi (Turkey), and Toronto FC (Canada) on past versions of FM means I keep an eye on those teams as well. One of the great things about creating content online for FM is the community of fellow creators and players that exists. Beyond YouTube, I am active on Twitter and Discord where I get to chat to fellow virtual managers and exchange tips and ideas for the game.”
Dodgson, who also can be found on Instagram, is an experienced gamer to say the least.
have been into management sims as long as I have been a gamer, going back to the days of the Commodore 64,” Dodgson said. “I played one of the Championship Manager games, the predecessor to FM, back in the 1990s along with a whole host of other titles like Tracksuit Manager, Premier Manager, LMA Manager and of course Sensible World of Soccer. FM took over in the early 2000s when I got hooked on Championship Manager 4. The following year the series rebranded as Football Manager 2005 and I’ve played every version since.”
Dodgson got connected with Minneapolis City and the rest is history.
“Last December, I came across a tweet from the club giving away one of their shirts and Minneapolis City do have a great range of jerseys. The tweet asked ‘what would you do for one of these?’ I responded that I would wear the shirt while managing the club in a series on my YouTube channel. Did I win the giveaway? No! However, the club got in touch to say they loved the idea and would like to send me a shirt anyway if I was willing to do the series.”
Dodgson also used the work of FM Digi to make sure that he could play as his beloved Crows.
“I had been thinking about a US-based save for a while as my good friend and fellow FM content creator FM Digi had created a U.S. pro/rel database – basically all the U.S. clubs featured in the game placed in a 10-tier national league system,” Dodgson said. “Once he confirmed Minneapolis City were playable in the game, I thought it would be a great challenge to take them to the top and see how and if we could compete against the professional sides from MLS.”
Dodgson has invested a lot of time in Football Manager, and he feels that the time is well spent.
“It is a game that demands a lot of time,” Dodgson said. “I probably put in about 8-10 hours of playtime a week with a couple more hours on top of that for recording and editing episodes for YouTube. In the past, before the full responsibilities of adult life came along, I would play more and often took my saves 40 or 50 seasons into the future but these days, I am more likely to play about 10-15 seasons on any one save before the new game comes out.”
Dodgson has done well playing the role of the underdog. He was quick to share what makes Football Manager so special.
“Personally, I enjoy taking control of small unknown teams and building them up into a force,” Dodgson said. “I have previously taken FC Andorra up through the Spanish leagues, for example, and I love taking over minnow nations on the international stage and attempting to qualify for major tournaments. Last year, my Cayman Islands team took Mexico to penalty kicks in the Gold Cup final but sadly lost. It is that long-term challenge and immersion to change the established order of the footballing world that keeps bringing me back to the game. The only other games that come close are the grand strategy titles like Crusader Kings or Civilization. Most other games I play have a clear storyline and start and end points. FM, however, has truly endless possibilities.”
Minneapolis City SC proved to be the right choice for Dodgson.
“I was impressed with the philosophy of Minneapolis City,” Dodgson said. “As I spoke to the chairman Dan Hoedeman and looked up information about the club online, I discovered that it is a community-focused club with an emphasis on youth development and recruiting local talent. That is a perfect fit for how I like to play FM – developing my own ‘Newgen’ youth players (ones that are generated by the game each season) and signing domestic players.
Mods make playing as your favorite NPSL club in Football Manager possible.
“The vanilla version of FM only includes the MLS but also has the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and many of the NPSL and USL teams are present but unplayable in the game as they are needed for the qualifying stages of the cup and to generate those Newgens for MLS drafts,” Dodgson said. “It is FM Digi’s database that makes playing with NPSL teams possible if not the NPSL league structure itself. Digi has done a great job of ranking all the US professional, semi-pro, amateur, and youth academies in the game and sorting them into one league structure. Part of the fun of this save is seeing NPSL, USL, and MLS teams square off against each other, and having the chance to take a “small” team and show the franchises how it is done! While the game and Digi’s database has basic information about each club, the players and staff are not included. I therefore made a few edits of my own to add in the current MCSC roster and coaching team, giving them key stats based on the starting level of the club. I also added in the stadium and made my own player facepack based on the official available on the club website.”
The mods do create some interesting scenarios. The virtual players and staff don’t always match up with their real-life counterparts perfectly.
“One issue arose in that I did not have all the details of every member of club personnel available to me so I left those to be randomly generated by the game,” Dodgson said. “That means a couple of the squad have temperamental personalities and frequently complain about lack of game time or slack off in training. Dates of birth were also random meaning players and staff may be significantly older or younger than real life. I have shared a few screenshots of player and staff profiles on Twitter and it has been great fun seeing how the club and the people involved react. Comments like ‘tactical knowledge of 4?!?’ and ‘Come on! 49 years old?’ are common.”
Dodgson has experienced a lot of success with his virtual Crows.
“We are only three seasons in but we have done well so far. Minneapolis City started as a Tier 9 on Digi’s database but we are now in Tier 7 and challenging for a third straight promotion,” Dodgson said. “We won the US Vase, a competition for amateur and semi-pro teams, in our first season and have qualified for the U.S. Open Cup first round in season three, something I know the club has been denied more than once in real life. We still have most of the real roster at the club and in the first team but already have two fantastic teenage prospects generated by the game – Marcelo Santiago, a free-scoring Brazilian forward; and Yared Beyene, a creative midfielder with Ethiopian roots. We have yet to come up against a really tough opponent but I am sure as we go into higher divisions and start to rely on our youth academy talent more, we will start to struggle eventually – and that is where the real fun will begin. I think managing smaller teams is what keeps my interest in the game. Dominating European football with a star-studded Barcelona or Liverpool team gets stale after a while, but reaching the Champions League group stage with a tiny Czech or Danish team offers a much more satisfying achievement.”
Minneapolis City SC Chairman Dan Hoedeman is appreciative of the efforts from both Baptie and Dodgson.
“It’s really fun to watch our virtual progress, even if all of our players suggest they should have higher ratings, and it’s even cooler to know that Minneapolis City is going international due to the hard work and dedication from two guys from the UK,” Hoedeman said. “Never thought that would happen when we started the club back in 2016.”
It’s exciting to see our two Davids having so much dedication and commitment to a club thousands of miles away. Their passion for Football Manager and Minneapolis City SC has made the club’s brand that much stronger and more international in scope. Hopefully we will see more gamers take on NPSL clubs in Football Manager in the future.