Morning all. Arsenal won a football match! It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but goals from Academy boys Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock were enough to get the job done against Southampton, while Rob Holding shone at the back as we kept a welcome clean sheet. Its been a long time since Arsenal last won – 110 days to be precise – so this one felt particularly welcome. Here’s hoping lightning can strike twice when we travel to Sheffield United for the FA Cup quarter final on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Liverpool finally won the league after Chelsea beat Man City at Stamford Bridge. I could do the politically correct thing and congratulate them on their first title for 30 years, and praise them for the beautiful football they played along the way. But I’m not going to do that. Its been 16 years since Arsenal last won the league, so I am frankly very jealous of them and feel no desire to hide my envy. In any case, I don’t think they’ll miss my congratulations in the midst of all their celebratory shenanigans.
Anyway, its Friday and so that means it’s time for another Top 5. Today’s list is inspired by an interesting piece of news I saw yesterday. David Beckham acquired a “significant minority stake” in London-based e-sports business Guild Esports, which is valued at £100 million. Its the latest addition to the ex-England captain’s rapidly expanding business empire, which also includes a range of eyewear, a whisky brand and, of course, his new MLS club Inter Miami.
As “real” sports” have lain dormant during lockdown, the e-sports industry has really taken off during the past few months. Virtual Formula One races have attracted participation from celebrities as diverse as Sergio Aguero, Ben Stokes and One Direction singer Liam Payne. The industry is now estimated to be worth at least US$ 1 billion, and with technology improving all the time and games becoming ever more lifelike, the world of competitive video gaming is expected to continue growing. I am no investment guru, but this seems like a fairly sensible bet from Golden Balls.
I don’t play many video games any more. As a writer I am inside and motionless for good chunks of the day, so I like to get outside as much as possible when I can. But, much like most middle class boys in the western world, I went through my moody teenage gamer phase during adolescence. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that my favourites tended to be sports games. So with that in mind, I give to you my Top 5 sports games of all time.
I have in the past described Football Manager as my heroin. I know its not particularly good for me and offers nothing positive aside from a short-term high (and, I suppose, increased depth of football knowledge), but I cannot resist. I have to abstain entirely because once I’ve got the taste, there’s nothing stopping me. There is no middle ground. After a few days, I’m pale and baggy-eyed chasing that elusive next high; winning the Champions League, going a season unbeaten, signing Leo Messi for Arsenal. I recently fell off the wagon – after seven years clean and sober – during lockdown. Its still as good as ever and, sadly, still has complete power over me. Thankfully I managed to quit cold turkey and I have emerged more determined than ever to consign Football Manager, as beautiful as it is, to my past.
Mario Kart (Nintendo 64)
My dad was a staunch opponent of video games, and never let us have a console at home. The lack of practice meant I was never very good at most games compared to my peers, but I always held my own at Mario Kart. Its definitely the best multi-player game of that era, teaching a whole generation valuable life lessons; no matter how bad the situation appeared, it could always be recovered with a couple of stars or lightning boosts. Wario was my guy; strong, aggressive and while not blessed with ultrasonic pace, quick enough. And Koopa Troopa Beach was my arena of choice – I nailed that shortcut every time. Shout out to the Wii and Gameboy Advance versions, but the N64 was the original, the classic, and still the best.
EA Sports Rugby
While my dad banned consoles in the house in a valiant bid to get his teenage sons reading or doing more exercise, his plan had one giant hole; PC games can also be pretty great and equally as addictive. Such was the case with the inventively named “Rugby,” which came out around the turn of the century I believe. Featuring all 20 of the international teams to play in the 1999 World Cup, it had everything a rugby game needs; crunching tackles, dazzling sidesteps and the dulcet tones of legendary commentator Bill McLaren on the mic. An extra layer of enjoyment was added by the fact that my rugby coach at the time, Jesse Coulson, featured in the game as the USA’s third-choice scrum-half. Rolling with the big boys.
Pro Evolution Soccer
Before all you Fifa fans scramble for your pitchforks, hear me out. While Fifa has undoubtedly established itself as the king of football games in recent years, Pro Evo was the original pioneer. From around 2003-2006, during the height of my playing days, it was no question the cream of the crop. Sufficiently complex to allow seasoned experts perfect all sorts of tricks and flicks, but also simple enough for plucky amateurs – like your writer – to be competitive. Many of my closest friendships to this day were forged over late-night, Dominoes-fuelled Pro Evo sessions. I think I even wrote a rap about the game during a brief, ill-fated flirtation with a career in hip-hop (the lyrics, you will be glad to know, are safely erased from my memory).
ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 (Gameboy Advance)
The final choice was the hardest. I considered Cricket Captain, Wii Golf and Colin McRae Rally (we even had a steering wheel), but I had to go for perhaps the lesser-known ESPN International Winter Sports 2002. I don’t know where I got this game from, and I don’t know anyone else who had it, but it would keep me entertained for hours on end. Competing in a sort of Winter Olympics decathlon, there were events in downhill skiing, snowboard half-pipe, biathlon, ski jumping and figure-skating, among others. Frantic, rhythm-less Japanese electronic music added an extra level of intensity to my endeavours. For those interested in how I spent my childhood, here is a link that reveals all.
Right, that’s enough of that. Have yourselves a great weekend everyone. I think I might spend it with some puppies. Yeah, that sounds nice. See you on Monday.