Hello! As our celebration of 20 years of CM9798 continues, I’m this week joined by Sid Lambert, the author of the brilliant Cashing In. You may also know Sid from his Twitter account, which is full of nostalgia and Championship Manager references. That gave us quite a bit to talk about…
Thanks for joining me, Sid. For anybody that doesn’t know, can you tell us a little bit about your book, Cashing In?
Cashing In tells the story of Ray Cash, a 19-year-old footballer whose life is makred by tragedy. Disillusioned with the game after an accident involving his twin brother, he is eventually released by Manchester United weeks before the start of the inaugural Premier League season and dreams of reinventing himself.
Pressured into pursuing his career by his grieving dad, he signs with agent Paul Francisco and finds himself thrust into the murky world of top-flight football.
The story is set against the real-life backdrop of the dawn of the Premier League era. It’s packed full of nostalgia but at the heart of it is Ray’s journey. It may be a new league and a new era, but he can’t escape the past.
Although it’s football fiction, are any of the Cash family based on anybody in the real world?
Not really. Certainly not in a football context. I think the reason the story works is because Ray’s experience is one lots of us can empathise with. We all had hopes and dreams. We all wanted to please our parents. And we’ve all struggled at times to find our own identity. That’s what’s happening to Ray. It just happens that he’s going through it at the most exciting time in English football history.
I also wanted to flip the narrative a bit. It’s a slightly tired assumption to say that every footballer is living his dream and loving it. I wanted to approach it from a different angle. Football is a job. A very, very well-paid one, but a job nonetheless. I know from my research that many players see it the same as we do getting up and going to work in the mornings.
And that’s what I wanted to explore with Ray. What if everyone else’s dream job was your own nightmare? We’ve all had jobs we hated and dreamed of doing something else. Ray is experiencing the same thing. He has a rare talent that could earn him huge sums of money, but his ability feels like a curse.
Cashing In has a little bit of everything, it’s not just a football story. Was that always the intention or did it just happen naturally?
That was always the intention. I wanted nostalgia to play a huge part in the book. I genuinely wanted people to feel like they were fully immersed in the Nineties and a completely different time in football. I think I’ve done that. The research has been painstaking at times. I’ve read hundreds of match reports and articles from the early Nineties. It’s been essential to creating an authentic setting for the story.
But that was very much the backdrop. At the heart I wanted to have a group of complex, interesting characters that people could really identify with and care about. I think that’s what makes the story here. The feedback I’ve had suggests they do.
Ray has become a character that people have really invested in. They want to know where he’s going next and what’s going to happen to him. Someone asked if I could do a TV series and someone else said they wanted to see Ray Cash inserted into Football Manager, so I’m clearly doing something right.
Reviews have been excellent, is there a plan for a follow up?
The original plan was to do a trilogy that would finish around the 10th season of the Premier League.
Ray’s journey is only just beginning. At the end of the first book, we see his character take a different arc and I know lots of readers want to see where it takes him next.
I’ve been really touched by the reviews and it shows that there is an appetite for football fiction, if done the right way. I have started the sequel but right now I’m focusing on spreading word of the first book. I think we’ve only just scratched the surface in terms of finding an audience. Hopefully more and more people will give it a try. If they do, then I’ll be under pressure to finish the second one sooner than expected.
People will probably know you from Twitter (@sid_lambert) as your account is a treasure trove of football nostalgia. What attracts you to the nostalgic side of football rather than the modern game?
Players are so removed from everyday life that it’s hard to care about them.
This isn’t a gripe about loyalty or anything like that, because there’s never been loyalty in football. When your career could end in a split-second due to one bad tackle, you go where the money is. So I’ve no issue with that. Even my favourite player of all time, Tony Cottee, left West Ham to go to Everton because he wanted more money and trophies. That’s the way life is.
The difference is that it was easier to identify with players back then. They were still normal people. You still might bump into Tony Cottee in Sainsbury’s or see Julian Dicks in the bookies. And they’d make fun of themselves, wearing silly wigs on the front of Match magazine just for a laugh. That doesn’t happen anymore.
And it also felt a little more fun. The game is so serious now. Lose two games in a row then social media is filled with hate and managers lose their jobs. It used to be a lot more fun. Football didn’t used to take itself so seriously. The Premier League was a bit of a rogues gallery back then and I loved it.
You’ve been gracing our timelines with some CM01/02 legends recently – I take it that is your favourite game in the series?!
CM 01/02 is undoubtedly my favourite version of the game. It was so addictive and so easy to play. You could race through seasons and it wasn’t weighed down by the layers of functionality that the latest versions of the game employ.
To this day I would back Maxim Tsigalko to score the goal that would save my life. Unflappable, unstoppable, unbelievable – you can’t heap enough praise upon that young man. You could put him into Serie A at 20 years old and he’d terrorise the likes of Nesta, Stam and Cannavaro.
And one player who didn’t get enough credit was Tino Asprilla. Available for about £1.5m from a random Saudi team, he would still do a job at any top club at the age of 32. Sure, he didn’t turn up for training on occasion, but you had to let that slip by (and not reprimand him under any circumstances). He was a match-winner. And as long as you had the reliables like Mike Duff, Taribo West and Kennedy Bakircioglu around, your team could accommodate him.
Have you had any experience with CM9798?
They still talk in hushed tones about my Hull City save from 1998. I started with veterans Mark Hateley and Brian McClair, both free transfers, up front in the fourth tier. It ended with Hull as champions of England and Europe. Michael Owen and the original Ronaldo up front at Boothferry Park in 2003, smashing in goals aplenty. The locals never had it so good.
I have fond memories of playing 97/98. Tommy Svindal Larsen still holds a special place in my heart. A world-class player – at a bargain price – who could mix it with any midfielder on the planet. When you went into war against the likes of Barcelona and Madrid, Tommy was always the first man out of the tunnel, bursting with pride and ready to add to his 7.89 average for the season. A magnificent man.
I also loved the regens. At one stage at Gillingham I had the regenerated Diego Maradona alongside the regenerated Gary Lineker. To see those two bury the hatchet of 1986 and thrill the Priestfield faithful was a special moment
Who do you support in the real world? What are their chances this season?
In the real world, I’m a West Ham supporter of over 30 years and have a season ticket. It’s not life and death any more, and I’m able to deal with the frequent bouts of misery much easier than in my early years. I don’t buy into the hype like I used to and treat it all as a soap opera really. Football is cyclical and I think we’re due a cup win sometime soon. I’d love to have that sort of moment. Though knowing West Ham it would be instantly followed by heartbreak.
This year? We’ve signed a few old players in their autumnal years. Football is a young man’s game played at a frenetic pace. If we can get a couple more athletic types into the starting XI, I’d like to think we could finish mid-table. Give us good football, a cup adventure and a win over Tottenham and I’m happy. I’ve got no delusions about the Champions League and couldn’t care less about it.
If you could change one thing about modern football, what would it be?
I’d introduce a wage cap. So the best clubs don’t hoard all the money and all the talent.
Leicester winning the league was the best – and worst – thing that could have happened.
Now the big clubs want to ensure their income is never, ever compromised again. Given the chance the big six teams would break ranks at a moment’s notice and negotiate their own TV money, just to increase the gap between them and everybody else.
I can’t stand the Champions League and hate the fact that this cartel of clubs tries every trick in the book to maintain the status quo. It sums up the agenda of the modern era.