Football Manager 2018 – The #EdusportChallenge!

Teaser

I am delighted to announce a unique and exciting challenge for Football Manager 2018…with the prize of a share in Scotland’s forward-thinking Edusport Academy up for grabs!

The Club

Edusport Academy are currently enjoying their debut season in the Lowland League, just one promotion away from the professional ranks of the SPFL, having won the South of Scotland League last year. Truly an academy in name and operation, players are recruited via trials (mainly in France) and combine playing with learning the English language. The club have campus bases in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the Lowland League side playing their fixtures at Galabank – home of League Two side Annan Athletic.

The #EdusportChallenge

Starting in preseason with plenty of time to ready your squad for the 2017/18 season, the aim is simple – you have a span of 2 years to take the club as far as possible. The initial aim (and possibly the most difficult) is to achieve promotion from Level 5 in the pyramid into the SPFL…to do so, you’ll need to not only win the Lowland League, but additionally overcome the Highland League champions and the bottom club in League Two via the playoffs!

Teaser2

The rules are as follows – no use of any in-game editor is permitted, and there are no limits on transfers etc. Using our save file means everyone starts with the same database of players to ensure a fair and level playing field. In the end, a healthy mixture of skill and luck will be required to overcome the competition. At the end of the 2018/19 campaign, save your game and tweet a picture of the final league table to me @MozzaPlays, using the hashtag #EdusportChallenge (I’ll ask for the save file if you’re in the running). Not a twitter user? E-mail me with this information to enter.

Our winner will be the manager to achieve the best finish (final league placing) in season 2018/19, with tiebreakers as follows – best Scottish Cup finish, best Irn-Bru Cup finish, league points tally in final season, average points per league game over the two seasons. In the (extremely unlikely) event that we do not have a clear cut victor after all this, it’ll come down to an online playoff between the top dogs to crown the champ.

What are you waiting for? Download the file, put it in the Documents -> Sports Interactive -> Football Manager 2018 -> games folder and get managing!

The Prize

The overall winner of the #EdusportChallenge will become a shareholder in the club itself, through the new “Our Football Club” scheme. A minimum of 30% of the club will be sold to shareholders at £50 per share, and this money will be used to fund the aspirations of the club through transfers, wages, facilities & day-to-day operations. Edusport’s connections across Europe mean they already have access to some of the top young talents, but with your help we can ensure a rapid rise to the top of the Scottish game, and achieve the dream of reaching the Premiership and beyond.

Your shareholder benefits will include:

  • Voting Rights – including re-naming the team in the near future to choosing new kits, setting budgets and even electing the board. Why not nominate yourself?
  • Exclusive Content – high-quality video of matches, player & staff interviews and other access-all-areas content. You’ll also get advanced access to match-day tickets and merchandise.
  • Scouting & Recruitment – As fan investment from shares comes in, you will have the opportunity to suggest players directly to our staff.
  • Setting Strategy – Help us determine our goals and set policies for the club as we grow from strength to strength.

Have a look around the official website www.ourfootballclub.com for all the information you’ll need on shareholder benefits.

…and one more thing…

This challenge is subject to a minimum number of entries being made. If an agreed number isn’t hit, no share will be won.

Good luck, bon chance and may the best manager win!

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Welcome to my blog!

Hi folks – Mozza here! I decided to create a blog in order to explain what I’m up to modding Football Manager every year, jot down some thoughts on football/other sports in general and possibly make a few editing tutorials to pass on what I’ve learned.

A few years ago, I had no clue what I was doing when editing and modding. Mainly self-taught from reading articles and the official SI forums, I now make the biggest and most downloaded Scottish pyramid expansion for the game every year.

Now I’m devoting some time to helping the Lowland League as a committed supporter. New media manager @GreatCollapso is seeking to grow their presence (and is a top guy to boot), give him a follow on twitter. Catch me @MozzaPlays while you’re there!

Feel free to contact me if you have any queries 🙂

E-Sports – Part of Lower League Football’s Future?

The “Price of Football” BBC study this week raised several questions around the future of our national sport. Many opinions have been raised since, but one thing is abundantly clear – attitudes and offerings need to adapt to a new generation.

For me, the standout stat of the survey was that only 1 in 6 young people (aged 18-24) attend a game at least once a week; when girls in the age group were asked, the figure was just 7%. Compare that with these further stats on the same age group:

  • 61% engage with football via console/PC games (FIFA, Football Manager etc.)
  • 44% engage via betting
  • 33% engage via playing fantasy football

In truth, those running our game are behind the times when it comes to meeting the expectations of a new generation. However, there are notable exceptions to this at club level – it is no coincidence that some sides are ‘recruiting’ FIFA players and Football Manager YouTube video creators…thinking outside the box to increase their online presence, and hopefully their overall engagement with their future core fanbase as a result.

The BBC touched on this emerging e-sports market with this article last year, looking at the emergence of Hashtag United amongst other phenomena. Several clubs in England have now jumped in to the online space and had a go at taking on an online gaffer, started off by West Ham in FIFA and seen most recently via Nuneaton Town in Football Manager. While this isn’t an immediate solution that raises attendances in the short term, it does achieve the vital aim of being noticed by the younger age group and getting an opportunity to promote their offering to them.

It should be noted at this point that going this route may well be dismissed by many sides as there is no immediate and noticeable tangible impact made – however, it involves little to no investment, and surely there is nothing to lose by trying, especially for smaller outfits down the ladder? Another key theme from the study is that ticket costs in the top leagues are out of the reach of many young people (I’d wager many people full stop!) who may well be tempted to go for a better value experience down the ladder.

My bias should be clear to see in this: I make a database expansion for the Scottish leagues in Football Manager every year, and have attended Lowland League matches for the last few years after becoming disenfranchised from football at the top end. The thing is, my experience tells me that I am not alone, and there are many others in the 18-30 age band that feel the same way! There are passionate fans losing touch with the game and this should open up a tremendous opportunity for clubs of more meagre means to gain some traction. What they need is the attention of these people…and my argument is that online exposure could provide part of the answer.

Lowland League – Halfway Thoughts

Another cup weekend approaches, and as we have almost reached the halfway mark in the 2017/18 Lowland League campaign it seems a good time to review where the dust has settled thus far. One thing is certain – this season is the most competitive and exciting in the league’s short history, with several teams still in contention and no ‘gimmie’ fixtures for any club.

At the top, three sides are beginning to exert pressure on the chasing pack; like a canny marathon group breaking away to secure the medals, fresh-faced BSC Glasgow lead reigning champs East Kilbride and perennial challengers The Spartans in breakaway formation. Should Dougie Samuel’s side win their remaining game in hand only a solitary point will separate the trio, setting up a fantastic second half of the season for the league’s ever-growing fanbase.

Lurking behind and with every chance of getting involved are a further five sides: some, like the youthful Cumbernauld Colts and University of Stirling sides, are used to being near the business end of proceedings; others like Selkirk and Gretna 2008 are enjoying welcome returns to form having struggled a little last season. Rounding out the group are sophomore Lowlanders East Stirlingshire, who need to put a consistent run of form together in order to dream of an SPFL return.

Looking further down into the bottom half of the standings, things become much harder to decipher: Gala Fairydean Rovers have found some valuable points after a tough run, and along with Civil Service Strollers and Whitehill Welfare will be searching for consistency to kick on and secure safety; Edinburgh University are another side with spotty form, but alongside Lowland debutants Edusport Academy have put in a couple of impressive performances against the form sides to show what they are capable of; Vale of Leithen haven’t fully gelled as a brand new squad, but are gradually adding to their points tally while things look tough for Hawick early on (despite new manager Craig Tully tightening things up considerably).

For all these sides, the spectre of relegation looms large – Kelty Hearts hold a 100% league record and are licenced in the East of Scotland League, with nearest challengers Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale confident of securing their own licence for progression. In the South of Scotland meanwhile, several licenced sides are in the running for Edusport’s title. However, the early goings in League 2 above provide the real source of worry, as all clubs in danger of finishing bottom of the SPFL reside south of the Tay: should one of these teams lose a playoff with the Highland League winners, the bottom 2 will likely be relegated from the Lowland in May.

To round things off, here’s a few (personal) spotlights on the best of the SLFL at this point!

Best Player – Stevie Murray. The wee wing wizard has made a huge impact with BSC, and from the games I’ve witnessed has been the most talented player on show.

Best Manager – It’s hard to overlook Stephen Swift at BSC for this, bringing in a brand new squad over the summer and getting things rolling in quick order. Honourable mentions to Ian Fergus at Selkirk, turning them around completely with some astute additions, and Chris Geddes for keeping Shelley Kerr’s good work going in Stirling.

Predictions – Well, time to stop the messing and start the guessing…at the risk of these coming back to bite me where it hurts, I’ll plump for Spartans as league winners, Hawick going down, Kelty Hearts coming up and Spartans setting up a capital grudge match with Edinburgh City in the SPFL playoff after overcoming Cove Rangers in the Highland/Lowland showdown. The club has a brilliant infrastructure and deserve a chance to compete in the SPFL in the near future.

The UEFA Nations League – a full breakdown

Another qualifying campaign, another heart-breaker for Scotland. I’m sure that we’re all sick and tired of “glorious failure” by now, so I’ve decided to look ahead to what comes next…and discovered a minefield of the kind only UEFA can create!

You may or may not have heard of the upcoming UEFA Nations League – intended to replace meaningless and drab international friendlies, the premise is to give each game a competitive edge, introducing promotion & relegation to international football for the first time and changing European Championship qualifying in one fell swoop.

So, how does it work? Well I’m glad you asked, given I had to spend the best part of an hour reading up on the format to understand it fully! In an effort to break it down I’ll use our league system as a (very loose) comparison:

League A (12 teams) – Premiership

League B (12 teams) – Championship

League C (15 teams) – League One

League D (16 teams) – League Two

Using European coefficients that I’ve yet to see a good explanation of, all UEFA nations will be split into the above “leagues” – it’s easier to understand if you think of them as levels. Each level will include separate divisions: For example, at the “Premiership” level, there will be 4 divisions with 3 nations in each. National teams will only play against the other sides in their division home and away, with the top side in the division either qualifying for the UEFA Nations League semi-final (League A) or winning promotion (Leagues B,C,D); the bottom side will be relegated to the level below.

Despite our recent good form moving us to 30th in the FIFA world rankings, Scotland will be placed in “League C”. This could turn out to be a good or a bad thing: the final aspect of this new UEFA Nations League is that a nation from each level will also qualify for Euro 2020…even if they fail in the actual qualifying group!

Still with me? This part is by far the most confusing, in a ‘who thought this was actually a good idea’ kind of way. The skinny is this: for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, the top 2 from each qualifying group will go automatically, and there will be no playoffs using those groups; the playoffs will come via the UEFA Nations League. Well, I did warn you…

Back to the divisions in each level that I explained earlier. Imagine Scotland sit in a “League C” division with Serbia and Albania. After all the home and away games are played, the top nation in the 3-team division that did not achieve automatic qualification gets a playoff spot, facing other sides from the same level (League C) for a guaranteed Euro 2020 place. This happens in each “league” level, raising the absurd prospect that one of Europe’s worst 16 nations will go to the finals.

So, to tactics…is it better to tank and go down to a worse “league”, or to get as high a level as possible and hope other sides automatically qualify around you? Bear in mind that world rankings will still be affected, and these will still determine the qualifying groups for major tournaments going forward. It remains to be seen whether this will help or hinder fringe nations like Scotland, but one thing that can be guaranteed is that UEFA have yet again added an unnecessarily complicated layer to solve a problem that could have been dealt with in a much easier fashion.

Football Manager 2018 – Release Date, and my Scottish Pyramid Database

The date has been announced: Friday 10th November will see the new season installment of Football Manager come to PC, Mac and mobile devices. We won’t know the details on new additions or any other changes until “late September”, but we do know the full pricetag – £37.99. Building on the success of last years’ loyalty discount, you can pick up FM18 for a reduced price of £28.49 if you already own FM17 and pre-order by the 9th of October.

As for my Scottish Pyramid update, I’d expect it to take a week or two after release for a finalised version to be available. As with previous games, I’ll release beta files for testing as I craft and develop. It’ll be bigger and better than ever before including the following changes:

  • The complete pyramid, including all SJFA Junior leagues and cup competitions at all levels
  • Full playing squads added to Lowland League sides, using info from the clubs themselves and my scouting notes (I’ll have seen each team in action by release date!)
  • Real managers added to every club, with other coaching staff filled out at Highland & Lowland league level
  • A full database of lower league referees developed
  • Kit graphics for all Highland & Lowland sides, as well as a new and updated logo pack for every playable club
  • Accurate prize monies, parachute payments and other funding accounted for
  • Club reputations adjusted to reflect reality, and fanbase sizes updated

In order to improve my efforts from the last couple of games, I’ve been going to Lowland League games around the country and liaising with clubs in the league. A huge thank you is owed to people from the following clubs for their help thus far: BSC Glasgow, Cumbernauld Colts, Edusport Academy, University of Stirling and also the Lowland League itself. I’ll mention everyone by name when the time comes (if they so wish)!

Roll on release date…

My Lowland League Groundhop

Tues 25th July Stenhousemuir vs East Kilbride 19:30 Betfred Cup Ochilview Park
Tue 1st Aug East Kilbride vs BSC Glasgow 19:45 SLFL K Park
Fri 4th August BSC Glasgow vs Edinburgh University 19:45 SLFL The Indodrill Stadium
Sat 5th August Whitehill Welfare vs Edusport Academy 15:00 SLFL Ferguson Park
Sat 12th August East Stirlingshire vs Gala Fairydean Rovers 15:00 SLFL Ochilview Park
Sat 19th August The Spartans vs Dalbeattie Star 15:00 SLFL Ainslie Park
Sat 26th August Civil Service Strollers vs Selkirk 15:00 SLFL Christie Gillies Park
Sat 2nd September Vale of Leithen vs Hawick Royal Albert 15:00 SLFL Victoria Park
Fri 8th September University of Stirling vs East Stirlingshire 19:45 SLFL Falkirk Stadium
Sat 9th September Cumbernauld Colts vs Vale of Leithen 15:00 SLFL Broadwood Stadium
Sat 16th September The Spartans vs Gretna 2008 15:00 SLFL Ainslie Park

Got my planning done and dusted – if I stick to this, I’ll see each and every Lowland League team before I finalise my Football Manager 2018 update. Feel free to say hello if you spot me travelling around, I’ll be the guy with the notepad!

Lowland League 2017/18 – Preview, Predictions

The Scottish Lowland League was formed at the start of the 2013/14 season, as an attempt to put in place a football pyramid for the Scottish leagues. From 2014/15, it has been possible for Lowland sides (and their compatriots in the Highland League) to achieve promotion to League 2 of the SPFL, as the winners of a Highland/Lowland champions playoff then face the bottom side in League 2 for the national league spot next season. Thus far, only Edinburgh City have achieved promotion at the expense of East Stirlingshire, though most playoff finals have been settled by the odd goal or penalties.

Last season saw the Lowland League continue its growth, with champions East Kilbride continuing the run of successive league winners overcoming their Highland rivals (Buckie Thistle) en route to the SPFL playoff final. Cowdenbeath clung on to their league status via the lottery of penalties, and Kilby will be keen to go one better under the leadership of new manager Billy Stark this time around – they won’t have an easy run though, with several other sides adding proven ex-SPFL talent to their ranks.

This years’ iteration of the league looks like potentially the most exciting yet, with a good few sides laying decent claims to challenge for the title (at least on paper). At the other end, the East of Scotland’s Kelty Hearts seem to be inevitable Lowland League newbies next season, making the battle to avoid finishing bottom as tight as ever. Here is my opinion of the runners and riders…do feel free to bookmark and rub these prediction in when they inevitably come back to haunt me next spring/summer!

 

Potential Challengers

East Kilbride (last season – 1st)

Kilby return to the Lowland after heartbreak in last season’s playoffs, with a renewed vigour and determination courtesy of impressive managerial appointment Billy Stark. Some key players have departed including goalscorers Vitoria and Woods, but Stark has acted quickly bringing in the likes of ex-Huddersfield forward Coogans and BSC’s Ferris to hopefully bag the goals. Midfielder Kevin McCann’s signing is another clear signal of intent.

 

Spartans (last season – 3rd)

The capital side have strived to enter the SPFL for a number of years now, and were a major driving force in the formation of the Lowland league. Since winning the inaugural competition, they have as yet failed to return to the summit now that promotion playoffs have been implemented. Manager Samuel added proven striker Allum from neighbours Edinburgh City in January, and has returned to their rivals’ to pick up three more players this summer.

 

East Stirlingshire (last season – 2nd)

Having adjusted well to their new life outside the SPFL last time around, Shire pushed EK for much of the season but dropped too many points in winnable games to keep pace. The majority of the squad has been kept by John Sludden, with Jordan Tapping returning to bolster a leaky defence alongside Stennie utility man Jamie McCormack. Any team with talent like Andy Rodgers has a fighter’s chance, especially if they can be less generous at the back.

 

BSC Glasgow (last season – 7th)

Very much the fashionable ‘dark horse’ pick this time around, gaffer Swift has used his contacts to completely reshape his squad. Coming in are several experienced heads including ex-Kilmarnock winger Stevie Murray and target man Martin Grehan from Kilbirnie, adding to raw young talent led by Arnie Bembo in midfield. If the squad gels quickly, expect BSC to be right up there when things get interesting early next year…

 

Stirling University (last season – 4th)

Shelley Kerr has departed to the Scotland Ladies’ helm, so top scorer Chris Geddes takes the reins (while still playing) seeking to continue the good times for Scotland’s top uni side. So much will depend on the new student intake, but Stirling have a knack of consistently performing with a fresh squad every season. A title challenge may be stretching expectations somewhat but it is certainly within the realms of possibility for this consistent outfit.

 

Middle Ground

Cumbernauld Colts (last season – 6th)

The Colts started last season extremely well before petering out down the stretch as matches piled up. Joint gaffers McKinley and Orr are clearly keen to build on this, adding young defender Greg Pascazio from Montrose and Stennie midfielder Liam McCroary alongside promising talent from Tower Hearts & Harmony Row under 21s. The question remains squad depth with the Broadwood side, as the quality now exists to compete towards the top.

 

Gretna 2008 (last season – 9th)

Matt Henney enters his 2nd season in the Raydale dugout having again built a squad by scouring the lower leagues of England as well as Scotland. A perrenial mid-table side since the formation of the league, 2017/18 could be harder work given the moves made by other clubs and neighbours Dalbeattie Star enjoying a successful campaign last time. The main concern I have for the black and whites is squad depth, having a small group compared to others.

 

Whitehill Welfare (last season – 8th)

Arguably the most-changed side from last season, Gary Small’s arrival as gaffer has seen a complete transformation of the Welfare squad. Fans can be forgiven for taking a few weeks to learn the new player’s names as they take time to gel, and the nature of such a profound change is that the Rosewell side could either improve or fall further this time around. General consensus seems to be that Small is very capable and mid-table is the most likely destination.

 

Dalbeattie Star (last season – 5th)

Last season’s surprise package, Star enjoyed a great campaign having expected little more than a middle of the pack finish. Bragging rights in the south of Scotland count and Darren Kerr is now tasked with delivering another solid set of results. Bad news has struck before a ball has been kicked, however, as midfield playmaker Lewis Sloan looks set to miss an entire year having snapped his achilles during pre-season preparations.

 

Gala Fairydean Rovers (last season – 10th)

GFR are making fantastic strides off the pitch, growing the club in the community and developing their online presence to be one of the most impressive outwith the SPFL. Inconsistency plagued them on the pitch last term – manager Steven Noble will be hoping to take the next step by adding the likes of midfielder Daniel Pattenden from Leith. The aim for the Rovers this year is likely consolidation and a higher league finish overall.

 

Civil Service Strollers (last season – 12th)

The amateurs had an impressive debut season in the Lowland League, competing well and proving a match for any side on their day. Gaffer Alex Cunningham seems to have an astute eye for a player and is confident that improvement from the previous campaign will be achievable. However, the club’s amateur status will always work against them in a city where Spartans and Edinburgh City pick up the best players for this level.

 

Potential Strugglers

Edusport Academy (last season – South of Scotland champions)

Possibly the hardest team to predict this season, Edusport are an academy catering for mainly French students combining education and football prowess. We will only know exactly what to expect from them when a few games have been played, as open trials are being used alongside existing tutees to bolster Ricky Waddell’s ranks. Genuinely could end up anywhere between 1st and 16th! The only guarantee is good, attractive, passing football.

 

Hawick Royal Albert (last season – 14th)

HRA have broken ranks to appoint 23 year old Kenny Aitchison as their new manager, having lost a couple of gaffers in the last 12 months. They will no doubt hope to build on their Scottish Cup run last term (famously beating Berwick away from home) but have suffered a major blow in losing talisman Josh Morris to Cowdenbeath. The Albert pipped Selkirk to guaranteed safety in their debut campaign, and may need a similar late act to survive.

 

Selkirk (last season – 15th)

January appointment Ian Fergus remains at Yarrow Park, aiming to avoid the end-of-season uncertainly that the club had last season (if Buckie Thistle had won the playoffs, they would have been relegated). The young squad now assembled has enjoyed a decent pre-season, including a win over Partick Thistle’s under 21s – time will tell whether the quality and depth is sufficient to improve on the previous campaign of struggle.

 

Edinburgh University (last season – 11th)

Very much a hit-or-miss side, Dorian Ogunro’s students lacked consistency last term and finished in the lower half of the table as a result. As with university compatriots Stirling, so much will depend on the new intake of students replacing what has been lost on the other end. Overall the capital’s university representatives have struggled to break free from the pack, and this might just be a year of further struggle at the wrong end of the table.

 

Vale of Leithen (last season – 13th)

Vale fans have got used to being among the lower reaches of the Lowland league, and I don’t believe this year will offer much restbite – having said that, the club has done well to add Jack Hay from Spartans and Jordan Finnie from Civil Service, two proven players at this level. Chris Anderson continues in the hotseat, and is expected to lead his side clear of relegation trouble for another season of eventual safety.