Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield, Super Cup – Newcastle United have won them all…in Antoine Griezmann’s Football Manager save. Yes, the French footballer made a brief foray into the headlines for his off-field activities, rather than his on-field efforts, earlier this week, when he was filmed sharing his success with The Magpies with his French team mates, while en route to their final warm-up game before the Euros.

A bemused Kylian Mbappe immediately referenced the weather when Griezmann informed him that he’d brought the forward to St. James’ Park, for a princely €134 million – a response that proves that the PSG and France forward would fit in well in England, we love to talk about the weather after all.

Griezmann is not the only professional to play Football Manager; his Barcelona and France team mate, Ousmane Dembele, has been known to play the game in the past, as has Chelsea full back Emerson Palmieri, while eagle eyed fans spotted the ‘FM20’ logo in Jose Mourinho’s MacBook dock during an episode of the All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur documentary series. It was said that former Aston Villa and Derby midfielder Lee Hendrie had a clause in his contract that meant his club had to ensure there was a power socket on the team bus, so he could play on his laptop while travelling to away games, while it is something of an open secret that teams have used the games vast, global database as an early scouting tool – such is the breadth of data and information developers Sports Interactive have put into the ‘backend’ of their game.

For those unfamiliar with the series, which began life as Championship Manager in 1992, it can often appear as little more than a trumped up spreadsheet simulator – with players trying to crunch their own numbers in such a way that they can better the game’s AI, and ‘win’; that the facade is football is just coincidence, a means of using a popular sport to obscure the nerdiness underneath. Perhaps that is true, and doubtless many Football Manager players would admit as much; it is a game about ‘making the maths work’. But to those that play, and love, the series, it is also much more than that.

Football Manager can be an interactive story teller, an escape, a source of discussion and debate. It can become a strange source of pride, and something which provides a sense of achievement to those that work diligently to turn their team into a footballing force. It is, for many, the ultimate fantasy football experience. Tales of success are shared among enthusiasts, as are frustrations when things go wrong – as they more frequently do these days, with Sports Interactive improving the games AI year-on-year, putting an end to the days of players being able to run with one tactic season in, season out. Now the game learns how to beat you, and you must react accordingly.

Such changes increase the immersion of the game, and in-turn boost the feeling of success when you finally achieve whatever self-styled goal you have set for yourself – whether that be leading Newcastle United to Premier League glory, or guiding Margate from the depths of English football to the Champions League. Snapping up young stars, often referred to as wonderkids, becomes like an alternative version of collecting Panini sticks, while new in-game footballers generated by Football Manager itself (referred to as ‘regens’) can end up being spoken of as if they were very real by those who plucked them from the fringes of the Polish leagues and turned them into in-game superstars.

Again, this is a fantasy land, a chance to escape from the realities of the world – whether that be because you need to forget the day job, the mortgage, or whatever else troubles you for a moment; or because your team of choice is just terrible in real life, and you’d like to live out a timeline where they’re actually good for a while – and Football Manager provides the tools to do it. Newcastle are yet to win a major piece of silverware in my lifetime, but I still look back fondly on my Premier League win in Championship Manager 97/98, with captain Matthias Sammer lifting the trophy at St. James’ Park in front of a capacity crowd of 14-year-old me and my uncle’s cat.

Beyond this, I’ve signed Neymar for Peterborough United, helped Ajax conquer Europe again, and resurrected fallen giants of the football world. Other players will regale you with tales of their adventures in the Korean second tier, or their attempts to understand the MLS’s salary cap and squad criteria. They are memories from a past time millions enjoy, equal to coming out on top in Fortnite, beating Dark Souls, or speeding through the Green Hill Zone with Sonic. Equal to those memories gained from any other pastime. Because that’s what gaming is for many, a hobby designed to provide relief, enjoyment, escapism. It’s just that Football Manager allows you to make Newcastle United great again in the process.

ROB McGREGOR – @SamuraiPizzaRob