Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager review

I’ve had more reading time than gaming time lately, so I figured I’d write a review for Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager and The Second Season Syndrome by Chris Darwen. This was originally going to be two separate posts for each book, but I realise after writing the review that most of the content for the reviews would be identical enough that I can append The Second Season Syndrome to the end of the first review and just give my thoughts about the couple of details unique to it.

Published by Darwen’s own CM/FM-related publishing company, The Higher Tempo Press, these are a telling of the events of his play-through of an older version of Championship Manager as “Johnny Cooper”, an ex-Wimbledon player taking the helm at Mansfield for his first seasons in football management.

Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager

The story is presented as a journal kept by Cooper during the competitive season, and in a series of often short entries, he gives a quick recap of that day’s events in the game, including assignments he gives to his staff, events in training, signings, movements of players and managers in the football world, and so on.

Given its style as a day-to-day journal, the entries are written in a very informal style and not filled with the usual literary fluff such as scene descriptions, descriptions of personalities of the players etc. As a book, I want to cut it some slack because that’s how it’s deliberately set up stylistically, but it does make reading it harder to follow. As someone who isn’t familiar with Mansfield Town, I have no reference for comparison, and all I am reading are names in a journal.

The characters are shallow. They have no real depth to them, aside from little nicknames that he’d alternate in and out of using with given names. That’s to be expected, as they aren’t people he’s created himself, but it does affect the read for me, having such detached people clustered together. Perhaps this is just my own particular preference for style coming in with these types of entries, but aside from the cup of tea with “Leathers” and the discussions about humorous events in footballing, there’s no real interaction and connection between this cast of characters.

The book, however, lacks any real investment on my part in what happens with Mansfield during the season. I’m reading the words, but I’m not attached to the world. As in nearly every case of retellings of CM/FM, the attachment comes from the intimacy of doing the save yourself and investing the time yourself in watching the matches and setting up the team, rather than just retelling it in a quick, glossed over paragraph.

CM/FM is very much a “You have to have been there to get it” thing, and with only quick one-liners to recap the facts of the save and no creative story-telling and writing to stitch it together and give it an emotional connection, I find it hard to be truly engaged with the story, despite my enjoyment in reading it.

Still, it’s a decent enough book, and one that could be read in a single day, if you wanted to give it a read. 3/5 stars for me.

Johnny Cooper: Championship Manager – The Second Season Syndrome

Picking up at the start of the second season in the game, Johnny Cooper is readying himself to get ready to try once again to reach for success with Mansfield Town.

The Second Season Syndrome is stylistically the same as the first. It’s a day-to-day journal retelling the events of Darwen’s Johnny Cooper CM save.

I bought this book the day after I bought the first one back in October, although considering the shortcomings of the first, I almost didn’t after banging it out before breakfast when insomnia woke me up at 4AM.

I have to say that I am happily surprised with how this book turned out compared to the second one. The facts are the same and are quick one-liners for the most part giving recaps of the day-to-day life of managing Mansfield, courting with other teams, and moving to Wigan for a new job, but in this entry we see Darwen employ creative writing to give Johnny a personality and a life.

At the time of the start of the book his marriage is failing and the missus says he needs a shrink or she’s leaving him. Darwen uses these visits to the headshrinker to expand upon the protagonist. We knew from the first book that he was a Wimbledon man and that he had an unnamed missus, but in the next book we see pages of review of the sessions in the journal where it’s written in what went on. We know what each session was about, we have dialogue, and we learn about Cooper’s youth, his parents, the details of his injury-prone career, and more. This is everything that I was expecting to see in the first book, and it helped me attach to the story a bit more, as I know had an idea of Cooper’s psyche and the pressures he had to deal with to make it all work for him.

There is a weakness to the writing for me, though. In the journal, the missus insists that the sessions are needed to “save the marriage”. Okay, that makes me think it’s more of a marriage counselling thing, and there’s differences in personality that need to be resolved to make it work. These sessions, in fact, always about Mr. Cooper’s clear battles with insecurity, stress, perhaps depression, etc, and it’s never clearly established why this is a problem for the marriage to Mrs. Cooper, how resolving these issues can change the marriage, etc. When Cooper  refers back to why he is in with the doctor, it’s always just “to save the marriage”, and the more I read that line throughout the story, the more I get confused by it, because there’s no readily obvious connection between this notion of “saving the marriage” and helping him fight his own demons.

Although the details to the actual gameplay are identical to my review for the first book, which makes it a dry retelling at times, this book is still a vast improvement over the first, and it’s well worth reading if you love CM/FM books and can make it through the first one with enough enthusiasm to want to buy the next one.

I had to stretch the first review for the first book a bit to give it a 3/5, mainly due to being a biased fan of Darwen’s other writing, but I am genuinely willing to give this one a 4/5. It’s really a fantastic read, as far as CM/FM books go, and since it cost only 3 or 4 US Dollars, like the other book (IIRC), it’s a fun and affordable thing to read once or twice.

I reference Darwen’s blog all the time, so if you read my blog you’re aware it exists, but check out The Higher Tempo Press if you want to get links to purchase the two Johnny Cooper books and to check out the CM, FM, and real life football posts written by Darwen and friends.

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