Saving Preston 1946 #1: Two Years to Win Them All

“The greatest player I ever saw, bar none.”

– Bill Shankly, about Tom Finney

Welcome to my new series related to my 1946 start English First Division FM23 database which you can access to play yourself here via the pinned tweet at the top of my twitter feed: English 1st Division database for Football Manager 2023. For those who don’t know about it yet, the first part is a brief overview before I get into the save (you can skip this to part 2 if you know it all already).

1: What happened in 1946 and why make an FM DB?

The 1946-47 season was an incredibly unique season for many reasons. Not only were teams in a massive state of flux due to the war but the bitterest winter for years led to a season extension until June, which had also begun shortly after one of the worst disasters in English football history when 33 Bolton Wanderers fans lost their lives in an horrific crush at Burnden Park in March of 46. Given the season’s tumultuous nature therefore, I thought it would be a really interesting season to model and this is how it has ended up in its current form, with future plans alongside:

  • Modeling of the authentic 1st Division clubs as it was in 1946, graded by reputation and calibrated extensively to give you very similar results as per real life – FUTURE PLANS: Addition of 2nd and 3rd Divisions
  • 477 real players with I reckon about a 70% accuracy with their real life profiles – FUTURE PLANS: more calibration and matching with real life (for example, only half the England selections are correct atm)
  • Graphics for 95% of players, some with quotes referring to them from the time – FUTURE PLANS: graphics for all players
  • Authentic World Cup with 16 calibrated teams as per 1950 / 2026 in game (though not real foreign players, yet) – FUTURE PLANS: real foreign players
  • British Home Championship with the home nations every year as per real life – FUTURE PLANS: more accurate squads
  • Locked transfers apart from 70+ real life transfers over a 6 yr period – FUTURE PLANS: more transfers
  • The Busby Babes, all arriving at the exact same time as real life with 80-90% calibration – FUTURE PLANS: keep improving profiles

You can also watch this release video below which outline those features, though this is without the Busby Babes at the point of recording. If you want to watch a review including them there is another video about that here):

2: Why Preston?

Spending a while considering the clubs and the challenges they posed, I decided to go for a real challenge and manage Preston North End, a team in real life who had the legendary Tom Finney as a permanent fixture on their right hand side, staying there from the age of 14 until retirement at 38. However this wasn’t the main reason because it was also due to what happened next, when they pretty much lost the whole spine of the team in the two years immediately following the war. There were replacements as you can see below but apart from 3 (Tommy Doc, Willy Forbes and Angus Morrison, with over 400 PNE apps between them) it was generally a step down in quality with the other 5 either not playing a lot or leaving after a year or two. Added to that was the fact that most didn’t arrive until 1948 (2024 in FM) meaning that in game I will have to cope with being 5 key players down at the start of the 23-24 season:

But this for me is what this close type of simulation is all about so let’s see the save aims:

  1. Survive the exodus and finish higher than their relegation placed 21st in 1949 (2025) – we can’t get relegated as there is no league below but as long as I do better than that I’m happy
  2. Maximise Tom Finney’s value to the team by funneling most offensive actions through him
  3. Win Tom a medal as sadly he never won a major trophy with them in all those years!
  4. Over-perform early doors in season 1 and 2 before the exodus – if we can get an FA Cup or dare I say it a League win then I will be very pleased indeed. They finished 7th in both seasons then so who knows?
  5. Win the league by 1952 (in FM 2028) to exceed their real life 2nd position after returning from Div. 2 two years earlier
  6. Learn about the WM from the time and try to play and develop it into a viable tactic

Sounds easy yeah? Let’s see how we started.

3. A cheeky WM

First off, as I do in all FMs before I even touch a tactic let’s look at the team. There are some clear standouts but these are the three I’m going to be focusing on, Tom Finney of course, Billy Macintosh (the real life Preston 46-47 top scorer with 27 goals), and Bill Shankly, who was nearing the end of his career but was a key player (and later Captain) until he retired in March 49′. I have chosen him not just because of his managerial fame but also because he will have a key role as a DM in my new tactic. ACCURACY DISCLAIMER – the db is still really in its first draft so if you spot any player errors please let me know on my error reporting form here.

First off let’s look at Bill Shankly, whom, while on the downward curve at 33 I modeled very much on this quote from a Preston newspaper from the time as well as an earlier quote which described him as “a hard running, gritty right-half”. In other words he still has the stamina, strength and determination etc. but has dropped deeper. He also worked on perfecting his throw-ins and tackling throughout his career so they are raised as well (worth noting here that his speed is an error I think that I need to correct in the next release):

“Bill Shankly, played with rare tenacity and uncommonly good ideas for a lad of 20. He is full of good football and possessed with unlimited energy; he should go far.”
– Early career newspaper report

Next up is Billy McIntosh, a player who doesn’t have a lot written about him sadly but whose numbers speak for themselves with that tally of 27 league goals before the numbers dropped off after a move to Blackpool in 1948. Looking at him I think it’s clear that if I can give him the service he is going to do big things for us:

And last but by no means least, the man himself, Sir Tom Finney. He has come out of the other end of the editor as an IW and watching his highlight video which is lower down the blog I think either that or as an FM IF is a fair match given 3/4 of the highlights show him cutting in at the top corner of the box and sometimes deeper.

With all that in mind then I decided to try and emulate the post-WW2 WM tactic used comprehensively across the leagues. However there was one main problem in that FM isn’t prepared for a historical project like this and purely putting it in in the traditional shape as in this wiki image on the left leads to problems at the back as I’ve found that every team and his dad lofts balls over the top (I know, I’ve tried it). Instead I went for the version alongside with the deeper wingers but on attack so they bomb forward and actually create the same shape anyway.

From the off it worked really well and I was surprised that we didn’t suffer nearly as much at the back as I had thought, winning our first 3 friendlies and scoring 8 in the process. So far so good and here is that shape in possession.

As you can see here, out of possession the wingers are dropping back and we have good compactness from my back 5:

In terms of the TIs which would give us the style of play, I was keen to develop something based on the Austrian coach Hugo Meisl’s words on watching England’s WM in the 30s – from my memory of reading it a while back in the brilliant Inverting the Pyramid I don’t think it was a compliment he was paying but at least it gives me something to work on:

“Their passing is long and swift and their inside forwards are the providers with the goals coming from the centre forward and wings.

That said, after looking at the pre-set playing styles it naturally fits the out of the box fluid counter attack instructions with its lower defensive line, high pressing, passing into space and quick distribution. So as a starter I went for that with a few PIs added for good measure, such as the permanent marking up by our centre half of their central striker (if they have a single striker, or adjusted if not) and a couple of others.

When the league began to my complete surprise we absolutely smashed it to the point where I had to check their position in my previous test saves to see if it was actually the tactic doing it or whether they were OP anyway. I was pretty pleased that I did because while we were 1st on 21pts, they were in their real-life finishing position of 7th in the test save, albeit a couple of months further on which was the closest save-date I had:

Current save, September

Test save. November

4: A role for Sir Tom

As I anticipated, putting Tom Finney out wide in this tactical shape was a total misuse of him in the FM game engine, which I had already found when doing the same with Stanley Matthews in a brief Blackpool test save, where I had to make him a Ramdeuter without anyone inside in the AM slot to get anything from him. Basically the problem was that even on W attack, Finney just wasn’t involved enough in the action to make a good enough contribution, leading to less ball possession and very low stats for his profile and a pale shadow of the player you can see in this video below:

With that in mind, I moved him into the right AMC slot and initially rotated him between Enganche, thinking of the “Prime creator” description, and Trequartista, very soon realising that this was the best due to the increased movement it provided which almost perfectly describes much of his real-life movement in my opinion:

After 12 games then this is where he is, the outstanding attacking midfielder in the league, with 7 goals and 7 assists in 12 games which is very nice indeed thank you very much 🙂

And this, ladies and gentlemen, brings us right up to date.

5: So where next?

More of the same I hope! I am acutely aware that we may have only two seasons to win anything and basically squeeze as much as we can from a tactic that has made Billy McIntosh into a 1940s Haaland (21 goals in 12) ..

.. but hopefully by then we may find some replenishment in our newgen stock – knowing FM, chance would be a fine thing, eh? 🙂

Here’s hoping and thanks for reading,

Daz aka @FMheathen, everywhere

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