The world might seem like a dark and dismal place at times, but here’s a golden ray of sunshine to lighten my mood: it’s the start of the new football season! Ah, what a wonderful time of year – the anticipation of seeing how new signings work out, the excitement of laying bets on how long Daniel Sturridge will be injured for this season, the faint glimmer of hope I allow myself as I set up my fantasy football team despite knowing full well that they’ll be relegation candidates by January. Anyway, to celebrate I‘m going to to look at a bunch of covers from football games. A lot of them are from the eighties, so I hope you like short shorts.

2 Player Soccer Squad, ZX Spectrum

Let’s begin with a pretty typical example of the form, at least when it comes to home computer football games. Ignore the fact that a two-player soccer squad isn’t going to have much luck when football teams are supposed to have eleven players each, and instead focus on the charmingly amateurish artwork, making particular note of just how small the player in red’s shins are. That’s why he’s such a good footballer, the reduced distance means nerve impulses can travel between his brain and feet quicker than other players.

Soccer, NES

Look, I know what you’re thinking but there’s nothing in the rules that says a jockey can’t be a football player.

Sean Dundee’s World Club Football, DOS

If you’ve ever wondered who the least famous footballer ever to endorse a videogame is, then Sean Dundee might be the answer to that question. This game is the footballing equivalent of Guitar Hero: Puddle of Mudd Edition. Dundee – whose dressing room nickname was almost certainly “Crocodile,” knowing footballers - had an okay career in the German Bundesliga before moving to Liverpool in 1998, where he proceeded to do bugger all. Astonishingly, he’s apparently still playing today, turning out at the age of 44 for German amateur team VSV Buchig. And, of course, he lent his name to this game, as well as appearing on the cover in a garish yellow and green number that’s giving me a craving for sour lemon sweets. As a minor collector of (especially hideous) football shirts, I’d love to own one of these but sadly I’m 99 percent sure it doesn’t exist: this image has been manipulated and in the original Dundee was wearing Karlsruher SC’s 1997-98 home shirt. That’s the kind of in-depth analysis that I can only apologise for.

Manchester United Europe, Amiga

Blimey, that’s a face and half, isn’t it? It’s as if Richard Nixon appeared in the video for "Firestarter". You’ve got to be careful, gurning like that. One slip and you’ll bite your own tongue off. Maybe it looks a little less troubling in the original photo?

Erm, no, not really. That’s the late Manchester United keeper Les Sealy, by the way. He died of a heart attack at the shockingly young age of 43, so I feel a little bad about pointing out his unsettling face.

Soccer Director, ZX Spectrum

It turns out that Blofeld didn’t die when James Bond dropped him down that chimney – he crawled out, went to a wig shop and asked for the least convincing toupee they had before entering the exciting world of football directorship. “Die? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to sign a first-team-quality striker while remaining within our transfer budget for the season!” No, wait, that was Goldfinger’s quote, not Blofeld’s. Screw it, I’m sticking with it.

Football Fever, ZX Spectrum

Ah yes, nothing says “I’ve come down with an incurable case of football fever” like a black-and-white image of a stiff-looking footballer standing next to a goal with an interesting take on the concept of netting. I hope you all realise than my mockery is of the most gentle kind, because I really do love these types of cover art. They speak to a time when budding programmers could create and sell a game without necessarily being artists, and without wanting to sound too “wake up sheeple”-ish it’s nice to see game covers that haven’t been painstakingly composed or focus-grouped into blandness. This is especially true of modern football games, which are entirely dominated by FIFA and Football Manager. “What about Pro Evolution Soccer?!” cries a lone voice from the back of the room, but that voice belongs to a Konami marketing employee and thus can and will be ignored.

Football Director: 2 Player Super League, ZX Spectrum

If you thought that the previous cover was dull, wait until you get a load of this one! “Play Against A Friend” is coming across more as a command than a suggestion, I fear. I sincerely hope this version of Football Director was intended for mail-order sales, because as much as I enjoy these low-rent Spectrum covers I don’t think this one is going to catch the eye of anyone browsing the shelves unless they’ve got chronic insomnia and they’re looking for the cure. And yet, this isn’t even the most boring cover in this article!

Football Pools Program, ZX Spectrum

That honour goes to the cover for Football Pools Program, which is so completely lacking in visual interest that I think it might wrap all the way around to being avant-garde genius. I should point out that Football Pools Program isn’t a football sim where you can only play as Liverpool, Blackpool and Hartlepool, by the way. The pools are a time-honoured British tradition - a way of gambling on the football, with the aim being to pick games that end in score draws. Now that I think about it, betting on something but not betting on the winner seems like a very British way to go about things.

Peter Beardsley’s International Football, Atari ST

Here’s English football legend Peter Beardsley, having a kickabout with his clone on the world’s narrowest football pitch while a computer explodes in the background. You know, as you do. While it’s not surprising that Peter Beardsley starred in his own football game - he was an exciting, skilful player, in his day – I am surprised that the artist included not one but two instances of Peter Beardsley’s face on this cover. If you do an image search for “peter beardsley face,” you’ll see why this is an unusual choice. One of Beardsley’s nicknames was “Quasimodo,” after all.
On the subject of Peter Beardsley, I was lucky enough to see him play in person at the tail-end of his career (during his spell at Hartlepool United,) and I’m a little sad that these days top-flight players go straight into punditry or coaching when they retire and don’t spend a couple of years slumming it at fourth-tier clubs. Who wouldn’t want to see Messi or Ronaldo getting lumps kicked out of them by bitter League Two cloggers?

1st Division Manager, Amiga

More famous faces from British football with this one, a veritable Mount Rushmore of eighties and nineties superstars. At the back you’ve got a very relaxed-looking Brian Clough and the mighty moustache of Graeme Souness, who’s posing like a British tourist trying to get the attention of a waiter during a holiday in Spain. In front of them, from left to right, it’s the troubled Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes performing a can-can routine and noted potato snack peddler Gary Lineker. It’s a sign of this cover’s quality that all these people are immediately recognisable, although poor Gazza has definitely come out worst during the illustration process and now has a touch of the Frankensteins about him. Look at his face and tell me he’s not about to ask John Barnes to build him a female companion from reanimated flesh.

Pet Soccer, PC

Okay, two things: who the hell owns a shark or a polar bear as a pet? Also, why is one of these football players a giant gherkin with googly eyes?  That warty green skin texture is genuinely unpleasant to look at, but I steeled myself for long enough to take a good look at that creature and I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to be. I would have said “a snake,” but it has limbs so, I dunno, a dragon? A football-playing dragon that’s also someone’s pet. Okay, sure, why not.

Club Football: The Manager, Amiga

Fig. 1: Testing begins on electrified benches installed in the dugout. Early results are not encouraging.

Multi-Player Soccer Manager, ZX Spectrum

This one doesn’t seem too bad at first glance, but then you catch sight of the player’s arm. That is not a human arm. It looks like to belongs to one of those sensory homunculi – you know, those models that show what a person would look like if their body parts were proportional in size to the amount of sensory input they receive. If it even is an arm, and not a third, vestigial appendage that the goalkeeper’s had grafted onto his nose. It’s unlikely to help him catch any more shots, but it’ll probably do a good job of distracting the opposing strikers.

Jikkyou World Soccer 2: Fighting Eleven, Super Famicom

Just so you know, there are some really good football game covers out there. This one’s for Jikkyou World Soccer 2: Fighting Eleven, better known to non-Japanese players as the all-time classic International Superstar Soccer Deluxe. The same image is used on the European and US covers, but I think the vertical orientation of the Super Famicom box displays it in a much more appealing way.  A more appropriate way, too, given that it’s a painting and as such it benefits from having a bit more space to breathe. Konami’s decision to go with an impressionist painting is surprising but welcome, and I think it captures of the excitement and energy of a football match excellently – and the fact that there appears to be a couple of blokes made from living fire in the background both hearkens to the passion of the sport and introduces a bit of mystery – do the fire-demons from beneath the Earth’s crust prefer man-to-man or zonal marking? Will the Grand Overseer of the Flame-Men stay off the treatment table long enough to guide Searing Maelstrom of Unimaginable Agony FC to the league title? Sadly we shall never know, because ISS Deluxe only stars regular, non-incendiary players.

World Football Manager, PC

This is former Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday boss and disgraced pundit “Big” Ron Atkinson, photographed moments after realising he’s just destroyed his career by making racist comments on live television.

Marko’s Magic Football, Sega CD

Not all games with a football theme are strictly about playing or managing a simulation of the sport, of course: for example, here’s Marko’s Magic Football, a platformer about a cartoon child with a magic football and the sadistic killers who try to burn him alive with flamethrowers. When there’s a clown on the cover of a game and it isn’t the biggest threat to a child, you know you’re dealing with something truly messed up.

Rick Davis’ World Trophy Soccer

You know earlier when I said Sean Dundee was the least famous footballer ever to have his name attached to a videogame? Well, I’m willing to admit my mistakes. It turns out that Rick Davis holds that particular honour. He played his entire career in the US, apparently, including a spell at a club called the St. Louis Steamers. That, erm, that’s not the most flattering name, is it? I can’t imagine the fans chanting “Steamers, Steamers!” whenever they run out on to the pitch. Not in a positive way, at least.
As for the actual cover art, Mr. Davis appears to have swung his foot at the ball and missed. It’s not the effect I would have chosen when trying to promote my football videogame, but to each their own.

Crazy Chicken Soccer, PC

It’s chickens… and they’re playing soccer! Now that is crazy, he chuckled, while surreptitiously filming the footballing chickens to see if any of them would be worth signing to shore up Rotherham United’s defence. In today’s world of obscenely inflated player wages, it’d be nice to sign a player who’ll work for chickenfeed. No, that noise you just heard wasn’t a rimshot, it was the sound of me beating myself with kitchenware as penance for that joke.
Now, Crazy Chicken Football isn’t a concept that sprang, unique and wholly formed, from the mind of this game’s developers. Oh no, Crazy Chicken has quite the history. German history, to be precise – you see, in 1999 a game called Moorhuhn Jagd (Moorhen Hunt) was created as a marketing tool for Johnnie Walker whiskey. It’s a very basic point-and-click shoot-em-up, where you shoot down moorhens by clicking on them. However, Moorhuhn Jagd became ridiculously popular in Germany, to the point that it was accused of harming German economic production due to the amount of time people were wasting playing it. I suppose the US equivalent would be Elf Bowling, and just like Elf Bowling the Moorhuhn series grew to include dozens of games (including this football spin-off, pinball and kart racing entries,) plus comic books, a TV cartoon and, god help us all, a German tie-in novelty single. The Moorhuhn games are localised as “Crazy Chicken” outside Germany-speaking regions and, well, here we are.

Street Gang Football, Amstrad CPC

Did you really think we’d get through this article without seeing at least one “street gang” themed football game? Hah, fat chance of that, and here it is. They’re a street gang, and they play football on the streets. No rules, vicious tackles made even more dangerous by the plethora of metal studs on their jackets, oil drums for goalposts, that kind of thing. Given that they’re all carrying bats I suspect they thought they’d signed up for a baseball game, but this gang will never back down from a challenge even if they do look like a Poison tribute band that’s gotten in way over their heads.

Lego Football Mania, PS2

Lego Football Mania is the only game featured here that lets you play as a Lego skeleton, and consequently I hereby award it a rating for ten out of ten, five stars, one hundred percent, best football game ever.

Ultimate Soccer, Game Gear

Here’s a cover that’s just a big picture of someone getting kicked right in the face. That’s the kind of thing that usually gets described as “brave defending,” which I’m sure will be a great comfort to this player as he attempts to cough up his own teeth.

Animal Soccer World, PS2

In which the lion from Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks has fallen on hard times.

Spec Soccer, ZX Spectrum

Finally for today, here’s one last amateur ZX Spectrum cover because I do love ‘em. The shadowy shape reaching for the ball implies that this team has put a sea lion in goal, a bold strategy that seems unlikely to pay off unless the opposition team consists of eleven sardines. It reminds me of the things I doodled in my school exercise books, and as much I’m not one to eulogise about the good old days, there’s definitely something rather heartwarming about that.

VGJUNK Archive

Search This Blog