It’s reassuring that ZX Spectrum owners would more likely associate the expression “beardy face” with Kevin Toms than they would Sir Clive Sinclair.
It’s not an exaggeration to claim Toms’s hairy face made him one of the best known game makers of the 1980’s - and it was all part of his grand plan to dominate the games scene of the time. As an independent programmer, he would often hock his tapes at trade shows, and by having his hairy chin on the front of the product he would be easily recognised. Indeed, he would be offered free pints in pubs as his reputation grew and he was spotted out and about.
“Two of the most memorable times were on the channel ferry during a storm, and when I was on holiday in Italy," says Toms today.
He also admits to vague memories of being in contact with Arsenal’s Charlie George, Superstar (though he doesn’t remember discussing why he looked like a girl and wore a bra), and Spurs legend Bill Nicholson about their exploits on Football Manager - the game that made his name.
It’s also fair to say that without the pioneering Football Manager, launched in 1982 on the Speccy, we would not have wasted hours and days of our lives playing the more sophisticated management games of the 90s and today. For that he should be thanked, and also take a degree of responsibility for us never achieving our full potential.
You might not be too surprised to find Toms is still at it, and when we first made contact with him he was submitting his beta version of his latest football management game - Football Team Coach - to Apple for distribution through the app store.
While he never bore witness to Digitiser on Teletext (he was living outside the UK during those glorious days) he was happy to reminisce and ponder why - most critically - he no longer has the beard.
“It’s been gone for quite a number of years and it is currently living in South America with a Brazilian!” he laughs.
“I have always been a big football fan, even though I have never really had a big club to watch,” insists Toms.
“I grew up with Torquay United but I also spent plenty of time in Bournemouth so I’m very happy with their success. As for playing at one time I was goalkeeper... until I became shortsighted!”
Toms admits that watching the Premier League is one of his favorite things to do, but he’s a long way from England these days. He’s spent much of the last few years in New Zealand and The Netherlands, but still makes time to watch games when he can.
One of the most fascinating things about Football Manager - to our cynical eyes - was the use of the players real names. Stars of the era P. Parkes and K. Keegan were regulars in the starting line-up of the game (although you should change their names to Bum Widdle and Plophead McGee).
It’s something that couldn’t be managed today without some pretty hardcore negotiations. But at that point in history when players often finalised transfers without the use of agents, there were no cease-and-desist orders from any of the clubs or the players’ union.
“There was nothing like that,” says Toms. “They were happier, more innocent days, I guess.”
Football Manager’s first incarnation (even before the ZX81 version - “It was a constraint, but there are always constraints…”) was a board game version. The main appeal of moving the game to a computer was that the computer would do all the hard work of organizing the league table in just a few seconds.
“It was liberating,” shouts Toms. “Computers are liberating as they could do all the calculations for you. I love challenges and being a professional programmer I had a set of skills to draw from.”
As an entity, Toms had to learn a lot on the fly. When WH Smiths called and wanted to buy 10,000 copies of FM he had no idea on negotiation.
“I was complete beginner, and it was a new industry so there were no established ways!” he claims.
Addictive Games was born and then sold to Prism Leisure Corporation. As the game series developed, things got more complex. Football Manager 2 was released in 1988, and while adding new features still didn’t stray too far from Toms’ original game plan.
“I always have plenty of ideas. That has never been my problem,” insists Toms. “But I have a strong design ethic too, and I won’t add things that do not improve the gameplay. You can see that design sense in action in Football Team Coach, you will notice how I have pared back on everything I could. Where possible I simplified and where possible, I cut. It’s always possible to add later.”
“It’s a great compliment,” he says. All hail, Toms!
- Football Team Coach is available in the App Store now. Toms himself says: “People who have played the original Football Manager will recognize its retro feel. But it’s a completely new game.” We agree. It’s simplistic but addictive. We played the beta and just like the original it ate away the hours. There are no transfer fees or account balancing (transfers are offered via player exchanges) which means more games with less hassle.
For more info and to bear witness to the man who is Toms, please look here: