A WW2 database in Football manager #1: a whole new (old) world

1: “We are facing a national emergency,” Harry Goslin told the crowd.

We can get the ideas for saves and (in my case) database edits from funny places and we can often dither about in those first few days of a project wondering whether we have made the right choice or not. However, 70 hours or so into the creation of my English WW2 database I can honestly say that nothing I have ever done in FM has felt so right and connected to who I am as a person with my interests. Not only has the topic of WW2 history and playing FM been pretty much my two main hobby interests over the past 15-20 years but (without boring you with all the details apart from saying I am a ‘sort of’ history teacher) my day job is also concerned massively with history and in particular the WW2 period, so that said, it makes sense I guess.

It is fair to say though that in that time I have never quite made a connection with what I do in the classroom and FM, more’s the pity. Until now, that is, when my love of learning about and teaching the topic, combined with me hearing a story from a Bolton-fan friend in the pub, inspired me to try to recreate the completely mad league and competition structure that ran during wartime. The story he told was that in 1939, in front of a 23,000 strong crowd at Burnden Park, Bolton’s 28-year-old skipper Harry Goslin gave a rousing speech before leading his entire team to sign up at the local Territorial Army drill hall, with many members of the public following them.

“”We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met, if everybody keeps a cool head and knows what to do. This is something you can’t leave to the other fellow, everybody has a share to do.” Harry told the crowd, and boy how well they served that task, not only fighting for our freedom but also keeping a sport going that for many many people was a shining light to distract them during the foreboding darkness of WW2.

The Bolton players Billy Ithell, Danny Winter, Jackie Roberts
George Caterall, Don Howe and Harry Goslin in 1939 (courtesy Spartacus Education).

The following day when I had sobered up I put this story together with the fact that I already knew the wartime leagues continued right throughout the war, and with those two snippets put together I wondered how the hell Bolton and the other teams even managed to put a team together given all the chaos! But play they did, and how, with Bolton alone playing over 40 games IRL in my chosen DB starting season of 1942-43 and many other clubs countrywide doing the same in a wide range of National and Regional competitions that wasn’t far off today’s packed domestic fixture list.

But what were the specifics of the challenge I needed to match in order for me to recreate it as a managing experience as best as I can in-game? Let’s have a look in the next section below with a potted history of WW2 wartime football in England.

2: “A staggering 41.3 million watched League football in one season.”

The quote above comes from the FA’s history page here which is well worth a read and it perfectly sums up the sheer importance of the continued running of the game to not only those spectators but everyone with an interest in football. That said, and without going into the many, many changes and permutations it went through in the early part (the London clubs had a breakaway league for example which didn’t get resolved for two years) here is the way the FA responded and the more settled shape it had taken from 1942-45, which for that reason is the starting year I chose.


  • THE UNCERTAINTY OF WAR: The possibility that future games and the league could be further disrupted via real wartime events (e.g. invasion by Germany).
    FA RESPONSE: The largest, Northern region, was encouraged to play two divisions (as per the South American Apertura/Clausura model), with the first ending in December and the second starting in January all being well, both with different champions. This for some reason never happened in the South, who chose to go with a single division which is probably to do with their lesser numbers/games (28 as opposed to the 36 played in the two Northern Divisions).

  • TRAVELING IN WAR TIME: a 50 mile traveling limit for all citizens during wartime unless they have a permit.
    FA RESPONSE: Clubs limited to smaller regional competitions to within a 50 mile limit of your ground and the FA Cup suspended, though in the case of the North League the regional results were compiled into a larger overall table at the end of the season.

  • LARGE CROWDS Too many people in one place at one time in case of air raids.
    FA RESPONSE: Attendances limited to 8,000 (later changed to 15,000 as air raids declined)

  • SATURDAY WORKERS: Saturday games clashing with extended working hours for fans on 6 day weeks at various busy times of the war production.
    FA RESPONSE: Sunday playing rules relaxed to allow occasional exceptions.

  • HAVING A LIMITED AMOUNT OF PLAYERS: Lack of players due to war service.
    FA RESPONSE: All competitions to be friendly to allow greater player contract freedom (although many players were still contracted, players from other teams could play for them as “guest players” if they were in the area and fit to play).

  • THE RECORDS: Disruption of the official records.
    FA RESPONSE: The friendly status again, which meant that all club league and cup wins and players’ personal records would not count in the official record.

  • THE AMOUNT OF GAMES: Making sure the amount of games were evenly distributed so that the public had a chance of seeing a game at least once every week or two, despite the regional restrictions on the more geographically-isolated teams or teams who bordered two of the new regional divisions.
  • FA RESPONSE: Teams allowed to join more than one local league if required to fit all their games in within a 50 mile locality (e.g. Barnsley played in two regional leagues at the same time by 1942 but oddly didn’t play every team in each of them, again due to location).

  • TEAMS UNABLE TO FULFILL ALL FIXTURES: Linked to the above no-players problem, this was also caused by many other factors such as grounds being bombed (Old Trafford, Highbury and The Den among others), used as army bases or medical facilities or even in some cases as POW camps, which sadly prevented Preston North End from competing at all during the war.
    FA RESPONSE: To score the league on goal average, not taking into account the amount of games played or points earned. For example, in 44-45, Lovell’s Athletic finished overall 17th in the Northern 2nd League after playing 4 games less than Stoke beneath them by virtue of their 1.63 to 1.60 avg goals. In addition, as long as both teams agreed, they were allowed to have a single game count for two competitions at once to reduce some of the more packed fixture lists and also help with the traveling issue. To make it even more complicated Lovell’s and Stoke never even played each other as it was a result of both the North and West League’s results being compiled in a final table, which sums up at the same time both the madness and the wonderful ingenuity of it all really.

With all that in mind then, let’s take a look at what it was like a couple of years in.

The 1942-45 (more settled) structure

By 1942 things were starting to sort themselves out a bit, both in the war, with England albeit still under the cosh but a reduction in air raids domestically as Hitler abandoned his invasion plans to focus on the Eastern Front (The Battle of Stalingrad was in the winter of 1942), and in football, where the teething troubles had mainly gone, the naughty London lot had rejoined and things were generally running smoother in the game, as per this structure:

The fun bit: Recreating it all in Fm

So here we go with the best part, the making of the whole thing, which I’ve discovered is best done when a) you have grown up kids (there is no way at all I’d have been able to do this when mine were annoying time-devouring sprogs), b) when you have a few weeks off and c) when you have a missus like mine who tbf is happy to get me out of the way for as many hours as possible per day.

As you can imagine it was no plain sailing, best split up into these phases in order to get me as close as possible to the WW2 management experience given the limits of the editor as follows:

PHASE 1: Research and initial dabbles

With a wee holiday over to Bakewell planned , this happened, with me delving into a cracking tome called “British Wartime Football” filled with the results and format of literal every league, cup and their games in both World Wars. Rather than just being a bunch of stats for me it read like a history book as you could see the results of all the decisions I listed above that made the whole thing possible.

PHASE 2: What did I want?

The research all done, I knew that there was no way I could recreate the authentic players from the time as I mostly did in my 1902 database. First of all there were many more players, 933 compared with 120, and also I was much more interested in the problems a manager would have faced at the time. That said I came up with these aims:

ESSENTIAL for v1.0

  • The League structure , Cups and Regional competitions should be as close as possible to the time.
  • There should be free movement of players.
  • All players should be predominantly English, with Scottish, Welsh and Irish players also featuring as per the time because, as well as the sheer problem of crossing borders in wartime, since 1931 the FA had a rule that required players to have been resident in the United Kingdom for two years before they would be able to play for an English club, meaning for example that Manchester United’s 1938-39 squad comprised of mostly English players but also Welsh, Scottish and Irish in lesser amounts.
  • Each squad should have a range of players randomly entering military service, not just at game start but as it goes on for at least a 3 year period (to get to 1945), with some never returning on permanent transfers.
  • The grounds should have real names at least, even if they’re not structurally accurate to the time.
  • As a management experience there should be a constant threat of losing players to unsettle you.
  • Clubs finances should be all downgraded to match the period (there were no shirt sponsors in 1942!)
  • No subs as per time.
  • Possible war service injury or similar that could be career threatening.

WISH LIST for v2.0 and beyond

  • Perfectly accurate Leagues and Cup structure.
  • Using the National Service option in the dreaded advanced editor to make it truly realistic.
  • Accurate players from the time, probably for v.27.0 in about 4 years time!

PHASE 3: Building the bugger

First off, it’s worth mentioning that I knew there would have to be compromises when using just the basic editor, which just doesn’t allow you to do certain things without delving into the dark arts of the advanced editor which can create pretty much anything if you know your way around the behemothic beast. That said, these are the major changes I made:

  • Created league structures and cups as per the time, relatively closely – some were impossible in the basic editor, such as choosing specific teams for cups as now, from this year onwards you can only choose full leagues. This meant that Wrexham have to be in the Lancashire Cup as I have to choose their small Northern sub-division, which really grates on me, gutting.
  • Deleted almost all elite players (I couldn’t stand the thought of Haaland flagging up for National Service, it would ruin the immersion for me) and also all foreign players in England.
  • Collected all home nation players below a certain CA/PA from the rest of the world (e.g. Australia, Asia, even India) and distributed them amongst our 70+ starting clubs.
  • Closed the foreign transfer window but left ours open all year.
  • Set all clubs’ vision to signing British plus Irish players.
  • Made the clubs and players amateur to force free movement.
  • Stripped finances and sponsorship from all clubs.
  • Set up a “National Service” league with teams named after specific real Army, Navy and Air Force regiments as a place to send players as if they were serving.
  • No subs rule added.
  • League sorting set first to GD (as per time), followed by goals scored then avg. points.
  • Plus, many many other things that would make the list about 8 pages long!

After all that, this is how it looks!

As you can see we’re almost there and here are a few screen shots of what it looks like in-game:

The Leagues
The Cups
National Service – players have even started to transfer back out as well as if they’ve been discharged!
No subs!!

And finally ..

So there you go chaps, if you fancy a go at the complete madness that is my WW2 league recreation c.1942 you can access two options here: save file with no attrib masking / save file with attrib masking. Meanwhile wish me luck as a I tackle my first save with Bolton Wanderers. Let’s just have a look at the team then ..

Hmmmmm anyone know where I can get a teamful of players when there’s a war on?

Thanks for reading,

Daz aka @FMheathen everywhere

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