By now most regular readers will know about my unhealthy obsession with the game Americans irritatingly call â€˜soccerâ€™. My idiotically loyal support of Newcastle United means Iâ€™m used to experiencing more lows than highs but for two heavenly summers in 1989 and 1990 I got to smash all before me in my custom made strip of black and white stripes.
Kick Off and its even more superlative successor, Kick Off 2, both masterminded by gaming legend Dino Dini are probably responsible for more lost hours in my childhood than any other game (Championship Manager probably ran it close during my university years) and the beauty was in its pure simplicity.
Unlike current football heavyweights EA Sportâ€™s FIFA and Konamiâ€™s Pro Evolution Soccer, Kick Off never made any claims to be remotely realistic. Successful play was never based on intricate passing moves around the midfield or cleverly weighted passes but belting the ball up the middle, racing onto it at break neck speeds and bending shots from just inside the 18 yard box hard and high into either corner. The ability to time a 20 yard sliding tackle also came in rather handy.
Friends and relatives (regardless of age or gender) were brushed aside with the devastating arrogance that only a 13 year old knows and if you werenâ€™t my best friend and arch rival Keith the mere thought of you picking up one of my Competition Pro joysticks was enough to cause an audible snigger. Should that not be sufficient warning to leave the vicinity the ensuing slow motion goal replay, accompanied by wild taunts and arm jabbing would usually do the trick. I really was a monsterâ€¦
Outside of Kick Off and Kick Off 2, the Dino Dini series also spawned the stupendous â€˜Player Managerâ€™, the first â€“ and possibly still only â€“ football management title where you could see the real time effects of buying a player that little bit faster, more technical or physical than what you had before. Championship Manager has tried it with extended highlights, EA Sports various manager spin offs have given it a shot, but nothing to this day compares with Player Manager.
Speaking of comparisons, the Nirvana of late 80s and early 90s football games to Diniâ€™s Guns nâ€™ Roses was Sensible Soccer. Much like the grunge/glam rock arguments that filled my school years at the time the Kick Off and Sensible Soccer crowds were split into fiercely loyal divisions. One wouldnâ€™t dream of playing the other and neither would listen to rational arguments (not that we 13 year olds were particularly capable of making any). As you can see with this write up Kick Off won my heart but 16 years later I can finally admit I did play both and the recent update - Sensible Soccer 2006 - is a riot. Following Kick Off 3 and an unhealthy number of KO2 expansion packs the series took a nose dive from which it sadly never recovered.
Of course these days we have a new duel between the aforementioned FIFA and PES series. Iâ€™ll come down on the side of Konamiâ€™s titles every single time and Iâ€™ve had some truly epic matches, but nothing compares to those hazy summers of 1989 and 90.