I write this post for my own benefit. My memory of things I did on past games is useless, so I can look back at these posts in years gone by and easily remember what I did on each version of Football Manager.
My FM16 and FM17 versions of this post can be read by clicking those links if you fancy it. Alongside going through my save, similar to last year’s post, I’ll share some community thoughts and how my site has done in general across the FM18 cycle.
My community summary
First, a positive. FMSlack is still going! At this stage last year, there’d been just under 450,000 messages sent since it started. Looking at it now, there’s been over 851,000 sent on there. There’s been a huge rise in Discord being the platform of choice for a lot of people, I do use it myself and see a little bit of chat going on in a few different ones, but there’s only one FMSlack. Not as many people use Slack as part of their regular FM routine, certainly not all 1,556 members use it regularly or even at all, but some of that number still do and I still love checking in on who’s sharing their saves on there or choosing to chat about anything FM related. Alongside being able to easily share the goings on from my save in real time, one of the other big positive things about it is actually something I’m not even involved in. There’s a channel for FM loving dads on there that’s still going strong, like a support group where the chat isn’t always 100% FM. I love stuff like that. If you want to join up, then just click here.
Now, a negative. Me on Twitter. I got pounced on a few times over the FM18 cycle for a few things I Tweeted about. I tried at the time to not let it affect me, but it’s difficult not to. It’s led me to completely change my approach on Twitter, Tweeting much less, not sharing any real opinions on things, not getting involved in as many conversations as before. It’s a shame in the grand scheme of things, but it’s better for the long-term. FM on Twitter is full of “drama”, it’s better to just sit back, not get involved and let it completely wash over you. In recent weeks too I’ve done an overhaul on the number of people I follow on there, if there’s something I’m not really interested in then why am I following that person just because we both FM? Not everyone has to like everything else that’s produced around FM, it’s completely normal.
I decided quite a bit in advance of the game coming out that I wanted to go home to Scotland for FM18. If my experience with Morton on FM16 had taught me anything though, it was that the current league structure wouldn’t make for an interesting long term save. The constant 4+ matches against the same teams every season got stale very quickly. My plan was to create a new league structure, one that included as many teams from around Scotland as possible, so that’s what I did. 288 clubs were split out between 18 team leagues, creating 16 tiers of a Scottish league structure. The SPL made it’s return (much to the surprise of those who thought it’d never gone away) with Division One all the way down to Division Fifteen. Across it being available to download on Steam and through a Dropbox link on the site over 300 people have clicked on it and considered downloading it. I find that awesome and I’ve already had a few questions as to whether it’s something I’d consider doing for FM19.
Looking back now, with the time I’ve been able to put into this save, I wish I’d started lower down with a different club and worked my way through the leagues. It was Stirling I chose to start with!
With no major achievements, I could really shape the club in the way I wanted to. I felt there was a real opportunity to play on Stirling’s sporting excellence (including me being a university alumni) and that there was big potential to attract more through the turnstiles to support the club from the city and surrounding area. Growing the club was one of my big objectives and something I chose to track throughout the save.
Stirling started the 2017/18 season in Division Two, the new third tier of Scottish football. Due to the way that the standings fell to create the new structure, the boards minimum expectation in my debut season was to win the league. No pressure, especially thinking back to the FM18 beta when sackings were pretty regular. It wasn’t as straightforward as some might have predicted, but 21 wins, nine draws and four defeats later, we topped the league with 72 points and gained promotion to Division One. A 19-year-old Hibs loanee, Ryan Porteous, would make a big impression across the season with more to come on him later. An average of 850 fans watched our league matches this season, including 250 hardcore season ticket holders. At the end of the season, we sat 28th in Scotland’s most reputable clubs. The benchmark to judge ourselves on going forward.
We went in to season two as a newly promoted side but with the media and board expecting us to finish mid-table. A small tactical tweak at the halfway point of the season when we sat 9th in the league led us to only conceding seven goals in the second half of the season and catapulted us up all the way to finish 4th and qualify for the promotion playoffs. We’d overcome Airdrie with a remarkable 2nd leg comeback after losing the 1st leg 2-0 but the final would be one step too far. Our rivals, Falkirk, beat us 2-1 in the Richest Game in Scottish Football™. Another season in the second tier of Scottish football beckoned. To try and get over the disappointment, the club would turn professional, one of the steps on the ladder to growing the club further.
Season three would be where we secured entry into the SPL. Looking back now, I’m annoyed I didn’t write about this season in the way I did for the rest of them. We’d actually done worse throughout the season, finishing 6th on 58 points compared to the season prior where we’d finished 4th with 64 points. We managed to beat Airdrie again in the playoff semi final though, and then comfortably dispatched Raith in the final, 3-0. Ross Kavanagh fired in 18 goals to add to his 17 from season two and Liam Caddis continued to flourish in a CM(A) role in a 4-3-3 I’d put together. Would it do as well while we battling for survival in season four?
It was titled Operation Float, we needed to keep our heads above the deep water of 16th-18th in the top tier of Scottish football. Lewis Vaughan was brought in on a free transfer from Raith and £53k was splashed on Ryan Hardie from Falkirk, two big signings looking at Stirling’s history since in hindsight. We battled for every one of the 38 points we gained over the course of season four and it saw us finishing the season in 13th place with Hardie contributing 52% of our league goals and scoring 30 in all competitions. Our first season in the top tier saw season ticket sales and the average attendance soar. Fans were beginning to realise something special might be on the cards here.
Ahead of season five, I’d identified we needed to be more solid at the back, so Ryan Porteous returned to the club, this time on a permanent deal. He was instantly installed as captain, by virtue of having the highest leadership attribute at the club. Another key signing over the summer was #Rog. The Welsh Wizard joined for £80k from Wrexham, as I’d spotted that Dundee United had had a bid turned down for him. Despite that strengthening, we were still expected to struggle this season. Cue a tactical switch that would go down in Stirling history and that few could have predicted would pave the way for the club to grow exponentially. The Samo 4-4-2 was born.
Hardie’s form in season four and #Rog’s arrival saw us go two up top. Was it hackz? Certainly not intentionally anyway. The 4-4-2, and the form of our front two saw us finish 3rd in the league and qualify for the Europa League. Ridiculous. Little Stirling Albion with the smallest stadium in the league, with the poorest facilities, with a tiny average attendance, spending a fraction on the squad in comparison to our league rivals. Porteous’ arrival saw the number of goals conceded drop from 60 to 38 in the league and Hardie and #Rog fired in 46 goals between them. Still more to come from those two…
The European adventure in season six took us all the way to the Europa League group stage. Göteborg, Lokomotiv Moscow and Legia Warsaw were all beaten in the qualifying rounds before being drawn against Southampton, Villarreal and Steaua Bucharest. A win and a draw against Steaua was nice for the coefficient, but we weren’t good enough to go through after two defeats against Villarreal and at home against Southampton. We did manage to upset them at St Mary’s though, coming away with a 4-3 victory, a special night against the riches of the Premier League. Across the domestic season in season six I was looking for consolidation after the huge overachievement of the season before. The big arrival of note was that of Aaron Bolger for £10k from Shamrock Rovers, who’d go on to cement his place in that DLP role and have it dubbed the DLD, deep lying destroyer. There was a regression, but not by much! We ended up finishing in 4th and qualifying for the Europa League again for a second straight season. Season five also brought our first ever Scottish Cup final. From 2-0 up at half time, to a 3-2 defeat at full time against the might of Celtic. We’d be back…
Season seven is when things really started to kick on. The club was on a really solid financial footing, with the board giving me £10m to spend in the transfer market. This was probably the start of me being overly financially prudent as I only spent £141k of it. I always felt, and still feel, like there’s far better value to be had bringing in players on cheaper deals or for free, giving them a platform to play and develop and then selling them on. That’s the way I play the game. After defeating Rijeka and Vitesse in qualifying, we managed to top our Europa League group this season containing Schalke, Dynamo Kiev and Legia Warsaw, but were beaten by Besiktas in the 1st knockout round. There’d be progress in the league this season too, as we finished runners up behind Celtic. This meant season eight would see Champions League football come to Stirling. My request for a new stadium after progressing from our EL group was also accepted, we’d move in ahead of season nine.
Season eight was a busy one! First it was time to launch a new home kit to go with our away one. Love both of these kits and will miss not seeing them on a regular basis when my FM18 time comes to an end. Big thanks again to Keysi Rensie and FMFutbolManager for them.
Then there was a bit of transfer news to deal with. Tommy Rees, who I’d brought in on a free transfer from Barry Town, left for Watford on a £5m deal. The first big sale of the save. S8 was also when Slobodan Stankovic and Edvin Horvat joined the club in the first Futures intake for relative peanuts. On the pitch, we battled our way into the Champions League group stage by beating PSV and Zenit in the qualifiers, but aside from gaining a point at Anfield, got soundly beaten by Liverpool, Benfica and Monaco in the group. We secured a second consecutive 2nd place SPL finish, this time behind Rangers. Season eight though was all about the Scottish Cup. We reached the final again and managed to beat Celtic 2-1 to win it for the first time ever, Ryan Hardie scoring the winner to secure the second piece of silverware of the save (after the D2 title win in season one!).
The brand new Samo Stadium opened ahead of season nine, cue series image change (I personally loved this little touch).
The new stadium opened with a glamour friendly against Bastardo’s Estudiantes, before we cracked on with competitive football. Player sales topped £11m over the season as clubs further afield really started to sit up and take notice of our talent. The major incomings were the Pharaoh (a bargain at £300k) and Birk Kleven, who’d go on to captain the club and be the first choice keeper for the remainder of my save. There’d be no repeat of last season’s Scottish Cup win, with Rangers beating us on penalties in the semi final. Last season’s 2nd place saw us return to the CL qualifying rounds again this season, where we’d sneak past Sporting before cruising past Zenit for the second time in two seasons. Oil-rich giants PSG, Man City and CSKA were our group opponents. We managed a draw against City at home, before beating CSKA home and away, but couldn’t take anything in the other three matches. That did take us into the Europa League though in 3rd place, the first time back in the competition since season seven. A remarkable run would take us all the way to the semi final. It was fate we’d meet RBLeipzig at some point during my time at Stirling, they were defeated in the 1st knockout round. Athletic Club and Galatasaray were swept aside too before Everton ended the the dream, 5-3 on aggregate.
I felt quite confident going into the league season, but with five matches left I didn’t expect there to be a seven horse title race.
Celtic dropped points, we didn’t. We won our first ever SPL title! We became the champions of Scotland in our first season in the new Samo Stadium. League average attendance grew 156% season-on-season with gate receipts growing by 198%. The next phase of growth was just beginning.
There was a new record sale during season ten. Emanuel Eze only just arrived at the beginning of season nine, but Swansea had seen enough to snap him up for £11.5m. Club icon, Lewis Vaughan, left for LA Galaxy. He arrived on a free, played 243 times, scored 68 goals and created 71 goals and then left for £4.2m. What an absolute bargain. The big arrival was Ivan Radovanovic for a £775k fee from Red Star, who’d go on to make us a fair bit of money. Into the Champions League group stage we went automatically as Scottish champions, where we’d play like the Scottish champions we were and finish bottom of a tricky group containing Dortmind, Napoli and Monaco. A comfortable 2-0 win against Hearts brought another trophy in the Scottish Cup final and a first ever domestic double was secured after an unbeaten league season! We scored 106 goals in the league with Pharaoh and Radovanovic striking up a deadly partnership.
Should have I stopped the save after successfully defending the SPL title and going unbeaten across a league season? Hell no. Season eleven rolled round and we were starting to really dominate domestically. There was an internal changing of the guard though, as Pharaoh and Radovanovic both left for Real Madrid for a combined £52m, both transfers broke the Stirling record sale. We made progress in the Champions League this season as we managed to finish above Porto and Cluj and behind Liverpool in the group. A remarkable 1st knockout round tie followed against Bayern, where we won 3-0 at home and drew 4-4 at the Allianz. Unfortunately the run would end in the quarter final, as we’d meet Mourinho’s United who went on to win their sixth consecutive Champions League trophy. Ridiculous. Our domestic domination was hit home as we won the treble, the Scottish Supercup, the Scottish Cup and the SPL. There was no repeat of the unbeaten season though, something that would allude us for the remainder of the save. Slobodan Stankovic was a constant threat on the right hand side of midfield, with Horvat pulling the strings in the centre. Ença Sambú filled the void left by Pharaoh and Rado, winning the European Golden Boy award and scoring 26 goals. The board also agreed to expand the Samo Stadium to be a 21,000 seater, making it the third largest club stadium in the country.
We’d fall at the quarter final stage of the Champions League again in season twelve. We finished second behind Real Madrid in a group that also contained CSKA and Arsenal. It was our best group stage showing so far, gaining 11 points from the six fixtures, including brilliant home wins against Real and the London giants. Similarly to that Bayern win in season eleven, we’d score a famous victory against the Old Lady, Juventus, in the 1st knockout round before losing to the eventual winners again, which this season was Porto. We took them close though, losing 4-3 on aggregate after an undeserved 3-0 home defeat. They were clinical. We got over that pain by winning another domestic treble, a double treble, if you like. Only dropping four league points all season and actually gaining more points and scoring more goals than we did in the unbeaten season of season ten! Choi Chang-Min, or Cho Chang as I’d christened him, had a brilliant debut season on the right wing after Stankovic’ transfer to AC Milan. Sambú fired in another 26 goals. We had to play at Hampden due to that expansion of the Samo Stadium, which helped the finances as gate receipts totaled £15m over the season. Facilities were improving alongside the stadium, and the club balance had never looked healthier. Stirling were in a very good place.
Two club stalwarts left in season thirteen. Firstly, Edvin Horvat can probably go down as one of Stirling’s best ever players. A constant threat from midfield, and controlled most of our matches. He was snapped up by Manchester City for £25m. The captain, Ryan Porteous, also left to go to LA Galaxy after making 337 appearances across two spells and 10 seasons in total. Emotional. Mourinho’s United would be the ones to knock us out of the Champions League again in the 1st knockout round. That was after qualifying from a group containing Chelsea, PSG and Gladbach, PSG falling into the Europa League after finishing one point behind us. It was a poorer season overall domestically, but we still managed to win another treble, making that a treble treble. Cho Chang surpassed his breakout season last season, winning a clean sweep of domestic personal accolades to add to his European Golden Boy award. Mourinho then activated his release clause and off he went to United for £32.5m.
I hadn’t decided season fourteen would be my last (proper blogged) season of my save until it was over. There would be no quadruple treble to finish on, as Hibs beat us 3-2 in the Scottish Cup final after extra time with 10 men. Not the best result of the save it has to be said. It was another poor season by our standards in the league, albeit we did win the title again for the sixth consecutive season and had won the Supercup to start the season off which meant it was a domestic double. My focus across the season was elsewhere. We dropped into the Europa League, finishing third in our CL group behind Man Utd (again) and Atletico Madrid. We also seemed to really enjoy playing against CSKA, who we’d been drawn in the same group as in three separate seasons and would finish above of in each of them. Krasnodar were demolished, while we squeezed past Athletic Club in the 2nd knockout round. Fate would come into play against as we were drawn against RBLeipzig in the quarters, beating them 4-1 on aggregate. We just squeezed past Braga in the semi final with a 119th minute goal from Sambú to take the club into it’s first major European final, where we’d face English giants, Crystal Palace. Huh? Yep, the worst Europa League final in history would take place at the Estadio Cornella-El Prat in Barcelona, home of Espanyol. We certainly weren’t complaining when we managed to win the trophy!
Over the course of fourteen seasons I think I can safely say I put Stirling Albion on the footballing map, and grew the club exponentially.
The club’s league average attendance grew by 2852% and season ticket sales grew by 3404%, comparing season one to season fourteen. Gate receipts in my first season totaled £220k while in my last they topped £18.7m, an 8391% increase. Ridiculous increases.
When I joined the club, I fully expected this to be just another average save. Get up to the top tier eventually, maybe qualify for Europe after a few seasons of struggling to reach mid-table. I never imagined it would turn out the way it did, and the first few seasons feel like a blur now looking back on them. The thing I’ve enjoyed most hasn’t been the 17 trophies we’ve won, it’s been the players I’ve managed to bring in to the club, give a platform to develop and play and then sell on to bigger clubs than us. Here’s just a quick summary of a few of those players, how much we bought them for and how much we got for them.
We managed to do this, yet I still don’t fully feel up to speed with the FM18 changes to scouting after a year of playing the game. I tried to document my approach to identifying, buying and selling players in this post. That was just one of a number of “extra” posts I wrote over the course of the FM18 cycle too. I really enjoyed jotting down how I approach keeping my players happy in Morale Manager 2018, while I went a bit critical and wrote about some other ways you can manage player fitness without using the medical centre, which was introduced for FM18.
Special bonus save update section
I might have announced the blog was stopping at the end of season fourteen, but I couldn’t bring myself to take an FM break. I decided to step aside and “go upstairs” to act like the Director of Football, a position that we’ve never had at the club in my fourteen seasons. I continued to be in charge of all incomings and outgoings, building a squad based on the Stirling principles (as outlined in the Strategy for Stirling). My long-time assistant, Walter Samuel, took charge as Head Coach. He trains the players, handles all media duties and is in complete control on a matchday. I’ve been using the quick pick selection option, the formation has been tweaked to suit his preferred and I then instant result the match. He regained the SPL title at an absolute canter, finishing above Rangers by 21 points and only losing one match. He managed to beat Barcelona on penalties in the European Super Cup and also continued our strong showing in the Scottish Supercup. However, he was unable to beat Hibs again in the Scottish Cup, losing at the quarter final stage, the earliest we’ve gone out since 2023/24 and he lost to RBLeipzig in the Champions League 1st knockout round. I decided to give him another season in charge based on results across the season as the save moves into a sixteenth season, 2032/33. I splashed some cash to bring Horvat and Radovanovic back to the club for an air of romance to finish off the save. With buy-back clauses in place, they were half price to sign back. I’m always thinking of ways to save a bit of cash, me.
2018 on the site
Like I said at the beginning, I write this post for my own benefit, but I also write all of my posts for my own benefit. In my regular save updates, it’s to keep me on track during my save and so I can use them to write this post and pick out things I want to highlight to remember in future. In the extra posts, it’s things that I either think are quite interesting on the game or that I’d like to read myself. Just to repeat what I said last year, and say quite regularly, it’s always awesome to see other people reading and following along with the site too.
I put this screenshot in last year’s post, and wanted to do it again this year just to highlight something. Firstly, I’m definitely not the biggest or best FM writer out there, my site is tiny in comparison to some. You see people moaning sometimes about not getting as many views as they’d like to though. If it was about views I would have stopped in 2013 when I first created the site! Write about what you enjoy, things you love about the game, whether that’s tactics (my 4-4-2 piece from this year is my most read piece on the site), players themselves (I wrote a piece on how I’d use Kieran Tierney in-game) or just updating on the goings on from your save. Not everyone will like what you write, they don’t have to, but as long as you’re enjoying what you’re writing about then others will too. Consistency is key too though. I only really settled into a writing rhythm for my Morton save on FM16 and look what it did to my views. It’s obvious really but if that’s something you’re aiming for too then I hopefully that piece of advice helps you out.
Thanks to everyone who’s read anything I’ve done across FM18, and fair play to you if you’re still here reading this sentence!
If you haven’t ordered the new game yet then I’ve got an offer in with 2Game where if you click my link and enter SAMO at the checkout, I’m going to donate all the money I make from that to WarChild. You’ll get an extra 10% off the game when you do that too. In summary, you’re getting the game for a cheaper price and you’re donating to charity. What’s not to like.
Bring on FM19, can’t wait now.