Durham City AFC: The Greatest Football Manager Challenge?

The biggest challenge for any aspiring manager in Football Manager 2010 is not only getting to grips with the tactical side of the game but also the man management aspects of football managing involved and the buying and selling of players. We yearn for the biggest challenge and the toughest gameplay. The biggest challenge I have encountered is Durham City, but you might want to read the background before you take on this momentous challenge.

Inspired to return to the Football Manager world after I downloaded a good skin I liked and listening to a few well-produced podcasts that told me to stop living in Diablo tactics land and get my hands dirty actually managing my team. The game had conned me back, but I was a willing victim.

Durham City AFC: A brief history

Durham City AFC play their matches in Belmont, Durham in a nice little stadium on the industrial estate just two minutes from the A1 motorway. They have a synthetic pitch and good facilities and despite Durham being a cathedral city they are somewhat forgotten in terms of footballing prowess.

That all changed three years ago when they started getting promoted and got some money behind them thanks to some ambitious local backers. Three promotions in a row saw them hit the heights of the Northern Unibond Premier Division, one league down from the Conference North.

Many clubs at these levels have neither the inclination nor the financial clout to continue looking upwards, but not Durham. They wanted more. When I went to watch a pre-season friendly the team was littered with former Newcastle players Paul Brayson, Stuart Elliott, Mark Doninger, Marc Walton and Chris Carr accepting contracts to represent Durham. These players had played for years in the reserves for Newcastle and were excellent captures for Durham at this level.

Fans were really excited that we might be able to get ourselves on the map at long last as a decent club in our own right, rather than the lowly but nice place that Sunderland reserves used to play.

When it went horribly wrong

The League informed Durham that they would not be able to get promoted or even contest the play-offs because of their synthetic pitch. The stadium business is pitch rental so relaying it was not an option. The club appealed, but to no avail the league had spoken and the gavel had come down.

The sponsors refused to pump money into the team on this basis and pulled out with immediate effect, exercising a clause in the agreement that if this scenario occurred they could walk away. Every single squad member left the club leaving only local 16 – 18 year olds from the local college to play in a division that had many former professionals playing in it. Needless to say, their results have been terrible.

They recently managed to win a game and unfortunately this was the only points achieved all season. Relegation guaranteed, an application was made to return to the Northern League rather than have another season of hammerings to endured for the players and fans. It was a sad way to end three years of success.

The challenge of Durham in FM2010

In Football Manager you take over the club just after they have lost all of their players. You have plenty of work to do as the team have only young players in it whose abilities do not justify what is needed from them. You have no transfer funds, but at least a decent £1,200 per week wage budget to play with. You can get decent free transfers for around £90 per week or less so you can rebuild the squad quickly, but you must buy sensibly because there is a big difference between the very bad and the reasonable at the grass-roots level of football.

Your abilities to wheel and deal and spot any sort of talent is vital to filling out your squad. I signed over 20 free agents and managed to assemble a squad of players that the assistant coach Richard “Dicky” Ord, formerly of Sunderland, said could avoid relegation. You will need all of your tactical abilities to salvage anything from the first season and everything is a struggle in terms of signings, sales and tactics.

I managed to win my second game in the season which felt like a cup final win! I also managed to win three rounds of qualifying in the early rounds of the FA Cup which earned around £10,000 for the club which was critical in keeping them in the black.

Using a rigid formation and keeping my players in check with a slow tempo helped make the best of a technically poor bunch of players. The full backs told to stick to their position because any overlapping can cause huge gaps at the back and I find wayward full backs signifies everything going pear-shaped tactically in FM 2010.

I play very defensively both home and away. I was lucky to be able to loan in from Hartlepool for free, a decent striker in Matty Tymon who is proving excellent up front and I signed former pro Trevor Benjamin (formerly of Cambridge) to partner him up front. The rest of the squad are journeymen semi-pros but the squad is very young. I am trying to implement training tips from FM-Britain, using every tip I can find to get everything out of these players.

Durham is a team that promised a lot but fell foul of the economic realities in which we all find ourselves in. The sponsors got out as soon as they could; football hardly the best use of resources during the aftermath of a recession.

Can you rescue Durham City AFC from immediate relegation and a return to football oblivion?

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