Sid runs that Proper Football account on Twitter. Follow him at @sid_lambert for an onslaught of football nostalgia.
Stepping out of the taxi into the freezing night air, he half-heartedly waved the cab driver off, relieved that he wouldn’t have to listen to another second of his barely penetrable Scottish accent droning on about the local area.
He didn’t care about town politics or the regeneration of the canal network. He cared about one thing: getting out of Falkirk as quickly as possible.
These were the nights when he wished he’d done something different. He’d let his playing career drift. Living contract to contract, club to club. Thinking it would never end. Most players do. Because they’re fucking idiots and they don’t want the dream to die.
But the smarter ones, they wake up. They hit thirty and start doing their coaching badges, investing in property, maybe even learning a second trade. They’ve seen what’s coming. They know that this game chews you up and spits you out. There’ll be no ticker tape or open-top buses. One day the gaffer calls you into a room and tells you what you’ve known all along. Your legs have gone. The game is finally up. You’ve had a solid career. Now it’s time to shake hands and do something else, my mate.
Except there is nothing else. Just a letter from the PFA and then the reality that you’ve got to pay the bills for another thirty years with no fucking way of doing it. So you end up here, picking up peanuts as a scout, getting paid piss-all in petrol money to go on wild goose chases across the Central Lowlands, hurtling across Stirlingshire in search of The Next Big Thing.
The Next Big Thing. Jesus Fucking Christ. You’ve seen plenty of those lads come and go. They soon get the attitude kicked out of them. Kids these days. They’ve got all the flicks and tricks but no arsehole. And you need it in this game. The chances of making it to the top are one in a million. And the chances of finding that one in Falkirk, are sweet fuck all.
Still, here he was. It was the same old story: You’ve got to come and see this lad. He’s the new Graeme Souness. He’ll be worth £10 million in a year. You’ve got to get him first before anyone else hears about him. Blah, blah, blah.
He turned his back and shielded his roll-up cigarette from the harsh wind that plummeted the temperature even further. He cursed his luck one last time before heading begrudgingly into the stadium. If nothing else, it would at least provide some kind of respite from the elements.
Forty-five minutes later, he bound into the streets sprinting furiously for the nearest payphone. He hammered the buttons with such ferocity they baulked under the impact.
Fuck me. This couldn’t wait.
Fucking hell. The rumours were true.
Fucking answer the fucking phone, Gaffer, quick, get in now before anyone else realises.
We have to sign Mark Kerr.
People still get misty-eyed at the name “Mark Kerr”. Every great Championship Manager manager needs a great leader. You’ve made the decisions and given the orders with every carefully considered click of the mouse. Now you need someone to go out there and execute them.
In this version, there was no better example than Kerr. He starts the game at lowly Falkirk, plucky also-rans up there in The Big Cold. Ferociously ambitious, he almost immediately exercises the minimum fee release clause in his contract to secure his departure from the Bairns. From that point on, he begins a footballing odyssey that makes the boy from Falkirk a folk hero.
Of course, this is a game absolutely bursting with brilliant young players. Everywhere you look there’s a Kim Källström or a Tonton Moukoko, wonderkids who blossom quickly into the masters of the new millennium. And if you lose one to the riches of Real Madrid, there’s always another waiting in the wings.
Kerr was different. You can feel it. He had the stats. The technique, the teamwork, and the work rate. He also had something else. Something beneath the numbers. Something coded deep in the dark recesses of the database: arsehole.
Kerr was a giant among men. A cyber experiment that somehow managed to clone that specific strand of DNA that made those like Graeme Souness, Roy Keane, and Bryan Robson such iconic leaders. He was the walking personification of a captain’s armband. A man who can stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world, look those wee bastards in the eye and ask “Ye fuckin’ want some?”
In real life, Kerr did alright: 592 games in all comps split between two stints at Falkirk, Aberdeen, a good spell at Dundee United in the early 2000s, a questionable jaunt to the Greek Superleague with Asteras Tripoli almost a decade later. But on Champ Manager 01/02, he straight up conquered leagues across the lands. He had the skill for La Liga, the sophistication for Serie A, and the passion for the Premier League. And the Scot scored big goals in big games. Whether it was a late equaliser in a League Cup banana skin at Bristol City, or a Champions League blockbuster at Barcelona, Kerr was the man for every occasion.
His career was adorned in silverware. After 15 years at the highest level, he galloped off into the sunset, leaving a black hole in his manager’s heart.
The emptiness will never be filled. The memories never fade. The tears of gratitude never dry.
He leaves a legacy that his successors can’t possibly live up to. They have the stats and the sexy averages, but they can’t possibly match his brave heart. They know it. You know it.
There will never be another Mark Kerr.
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