Creating 1902 #1: a labour of historical love, part one

1: Why 1902?

We get our FM inspiration from odd places sometimes and as I am sure you will know if you’ve been here before and followed my Newton Heath odyssey mine is normally rooted in footy history. However what I didn’t expect was the way that this particular FM rabbit hole would become an 80+ hour editor obsession that all started when I stumbled upon a wonderful 7 minutes of 1902 Notts County vs Middlesbrough footage from the brilliant BFI footy film archive which I highly recommend you watch here.

What struck me as I watched was not how different it was but in fact how similar it was to the modern day game.

Putting aside the long shorts and flat caps and the fact that it is in black and white take a look at this still image from it and convince me that it isn’t exactly the same as a game today. There’s the winger dipping a shoulder, the opposition chasing, the ref hovering and players clearly in their playing positions spread across the pitch. And that of course is just from a still. Watch the video proper and you will see something that is almost entirely the same albeit with a little more bunching around the ball at times (there’s a throw in at 1:00 that’s well worth a look). This gave me the hunger to find out more about what the game was like back then, to see if it was true and exactly how different or similar it was and what better way to learn about it than to try and recreate a version of it in FM? In addition, it is also the year when Utd were transformed from Newton Heath, so it is a nice change for me and a natural progression.

The Aims

So that’s the basic motivation but as per all saves we need aims, so here they are:

  1. To use it as a tool to learn more about the history of the game, its rules and the players, managers and teams of the time, using their real details plus as many photographs as possible in game.
  2. To try to create an as close as possible historical simulation, with the teams and players matched as closely in skill levels to their IRL counterparts.
  3. To use this as a basis for a series of challenges along the lines of a 1902 achievement hunter, trying to recreate the results of the time (more of this in section “and finally, a 1902 achievement hunt!” below).

So basically it is an attempt to create the English football world of 1902 in FM, with all it’s glorious simplicity, it’s quaint league and cup system, it’s (what we might consider to be) daft rules and quite possibly a large slice of on-pitch aggression thrown in for good measure.

So all that said, let’s have a look at how I went about it.

2: The Hacking Game

At the 1863 inaugural meeting of the FA, convened to decide on an agreed set of rules from amongst the many variations that clubs played, the representatives from Rubgy argued strongly for the continued inclusion of being able to hold the ball while running. They also wanted to keep the practice of “Hacking” which was basically the right to kick each other in the shins. In short, the rest of the members said no, Rugby walked out and a different game (that apparently uses egg-shaped balls, no I’ve never heard of it either) began. Thus from these meagre beginnings, our beautiful game was formed.

Sparing you the next 40 years of rule revisions, jump to our starting year of 1902 and what you have is a game that very much resembles our own, albeit with a tougher offside rule (there had to be 3 men, not 2 between the attacker and goal) which contrary to most people’s misunderstanding that it was a pure game of hoofball, meant that in reality yes, while there was some of that, it was mostly a game of dribbling and bringing the ball from midfield in plays called “rushes” to avoid the stricter offside rule that was a core part of the game until the rules were relaxed in 1907.


However it was still a very physical game with no yellow and red cards until the 1970 World Cup, and while players could be cautioned for “ungentlemanly behaviour” and be sent off for “violent conduct” it is clear from watching those old BFI clips that vicious shoulder charges and clattering tackles were the absolute norm. This therefore gave me my first target to get some VERY physical players as a starting point for my 1902 league.

This, coupled with the realisation that it would be practically impossible for me to recreate the real players attributes using just their meagre wiki entries led me to Romania on the search for 1902-esque clones. Why Romania I hear you ask? Well not only did they have the approximate amount of teams I needed for my division structure but they are also on the whole, complete physical nutters as you can see from this sample alongside from a single random first division Romanian team.

In short, they were a perfect starting template for a representation of such a physical game which I also realised would be easier if I imported them as teams to match the real world teams before setting about tweaking players. This would give me approximately the right reputation and relative budgets for their position in the league plus that physicality, but first I needed that league in which to put them.

3: Creating the universe

a) League Structure

Before I get into the deeper team and player creation it’s important to remember that this was a different league setup than we have now albeit with a few similarities. For example, while they did have the first and second divisions with promotion and relegation they were smaller at 18 teams each with no playoffs and entry into them was via election, or re-election if you were one of the unlucky teams in the relegation zone at the bottom of div. 2 like so:

Below this it was regional leagues with the likes of many teams we know today such as Spurs, Southampton, QPR, Brentford and West Ham (Western Football League), as well as some that have fell by the wayside such as Stockton, Crook Town and South bank (Northern Football League).

As such, I decided to recreate the first two divisions as follows:

Below this I also added a lower 3rd “Heritage” Division of some of those classic clubs, chose mainly due to either their importance in the history of the game (e.g. Corinthian, stalwart amateurs this day as Corinthian Casuals who took the game to Brazil on tour and whose players made up the ENTIRE England team at one point) or who won certain trophies such as the FA Amateur Cup, (e.g. Stockton, who won it in 1903).

I also added the FA Amateur Cup to this league as well as a playoff to simulate a kind of election process for promotion.

b) The Teams: importing, calibration, character and appearance

This was a tricky one that took many hours of testing so I shall try and outline the process in 3 steps before you fall asleep, as follows:

  1. I imported all those previously-mentioned Romanian teams into my 3 league 1902 structure.
  2. I ran several one year simulations.
  3. I worked out the avg positions and matched these to the real 1902 league teams in the appropriate position so e.g. if X Romanian team finished first I made them the basis of (Sheffield) Wednesday who finished first in 1902 etc.
  4. I renamed them as their 1902 counterparts and ran tests again until the teams were finishing approximately where they should, give or take a few places.
  5. I cleaned every trace of them being Romanian out of their profiles (or so I thought, yes that means you, Derby County and your insistence on Romanian newgens)

Of course this is never going to be perfect, especially as there are only 2pts for a win in the 1902 world meaning that the positions change massively every week, but I was happy with it as an approximation of the real world at the time.

As for the appearance of each club in game, this was something that was very important to me so I spent three full days creating stadia, researching and importing team and ground pictures and other stuff such as calculating attendances to assign to the new stadia using low, medium and high actual reported attendances from the time. To give you an idea of what I mean here is my beloved Utd, with a little extra detail in the form of the future 1906 transfer of Billy Meredith from City, the season when they won their first Division one title 🙂

c) The Players

Here’s where it got really difficult because even creating 3 or 4 classic players per team for the first two divisions meant me having to create over a hundred players, and when I decided as a little treat to do the WHOLE Manchester United team it took the final total to 124, all of whom needed faces to match as per this pic (click the image to enlarge if you want to see the player names):

But the images were the easy bit. The hard bit was trying to adjust the attributes of my Romanian players to match the real world 1902 fella, especially as the information was limited to a) wiki (thank God for wiki) b) fan sites or club history sites and c) real world records.

I could spend ages explaining this but here is a quick example, using Sam Raybould, the top scoring striker in the IRL league with 31 goals in 1902. With a top scoring Romanian player as a base, after three tests he simply wasn’t doing the job and was scoring only 14 or 15 a season. While I don’t have a before pic to show you this is how he ended up after I changed him to complete forward after reading that he had switched from outside right to centre forward when he went to Liverpool. This however also didn’t work so I added the get forward trait and upped several attributes such as composure, teamwork and of course finishing without wanting to make him too OP.

The result was that while he’s not yet been top scorer he’s finished 2nd and 3rd in several tests with goals in the top 20s, meaning it has given me a nice challenge to make him top scorer at some point.

Let’s be honest though it’s not by any means an exact science and his attribs could have well been much different IRL. At the end of the day it is very much an impression of the player that I am trying to create that gives similar results when he plays in FM – testament to this is how pissed off I was when he scored two against us when I was trying to win the league with Wednesday which is what it is all about for me 🙂

d) The rules

One of the things I learned the most from this was how different the rules were back in 1902 and recreating them in game has been yet another challenge. Here they are along with the changes I made to try to recreate them in bold:

  • OFFSIDE: there had to be 3 players between the attacker and the defender’s goal (changed to 2 in 1907) which created “rushes” where the players would often (but not always) move as one unit towards the opponent’s goal – nothing I could do about the rule but my tactic which will be revealed in Part Two will show how I’ve tried to recreate the rushes
  • SUBS: there were none – easy, just set it to no subs!
  • YELLOW/RED CARDS: none, although there were cautions and sending offs – a sending off is a sending off, nothing needs changing
  • HOME NATION PLAYERS ONLY: not so much a rule as a feature of the period – in short, all teams were made up of home nation players in this order with the estimated percentage I’ve noticed in my research, ENGLISH (95%), SCOTTISH (4%), WELSH (1%) – initially set to home nations although FM still recruited worldwide even though the players couldn’t be registered. I got around this by putting a 10 year transfer embargo on the league and all major European leagues as well. It’s not ideal but my save will only last a few years at a time and I can do transfers in the IGE where necessary.

d) and finally, a 1902 achievement hunt!

All that done, and there is SOOOOOOOO much I had to do that I haven’t mentioned that still makes it less than perfect, here is the way I intend to go forward in the form of a 1902 achievement hunter challenge! The rules are pretty simple, very limited transfers, always using the 235 tactic and just 3 attempts before having to move on to another before returning for a 4th, 5th .. etc crack at it if I want to.

As you can see the first two haven’t gone particularly to plan (I beat Utd with Bury in the FA Cup only to be smashed by Wolves, Sunderland and Lincoln City in those 3 attempts) though I did manage to win it with the league with them and the cup with Wednesday even though they weren’t the challenges 🙂

So there you go, I hope you enjoyed that and please join me for part two where I will take you through my 1902 suicidal (or not) 235 tactic and give you more detail on the progress of those challenges.

See you then!
Daz aka @fmheathen everywhere

6 thoughts on “Creating 1902 #1: a labour of historical love, part one

    1. I do mate but it’s too difficult to do for others as it also involves a lot of using the IGE to tweak the players to match their IRL counterparts also the managers need constantly resetting as a bunch leave every year. Thanks for your interest anyway.


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