Meet the Norwich City fan living the Football Manager dream
- Credit: Tony Thrussell
With great power comes great responsibility, as Norwich City supporter Tom Stansfield knows all too well.
The 30-year-old is assistant head teacher at Redcastle Family School in Thetford by trade but has a coveted position among football die-hards as well.
Stansfield, from Horsford, is the person responsible for rating and slating Canaries players for cult computer game Football Manager - a game which has become woven into the fabric of football culture since the 1990s.
Developing into an experience so comprehensive that the database is reportedly used as an initial scouting tool by some clubs in real life, Football Manager allows players to control all aspects of their chosen club.
"It all started when I was at uni," Stansfield explains. "I worked at Iceland in Anglia Square when I was doing my A-Levels and at university there was a guy called Tom Laskowski, who is quite high up in SI (Sports Interactive, the game's developer) now, who was working for them at the time and was involved in the non-league research.
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"He and I went and watched a few Lowestoft Town games and they said the Lowestoft vacancy was available, so I did that for about a season, and then for one reason or another I couldn't find enough time to go and watch Lowestoft regularly enough to do it.
"I always wanted to do the Norwich research and it never became available, I was constantly looking on the SI website to see what vacancies they had - and it would have been last summer (2018) that it popped up."
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After eventually getting the gig he'd wanted, Stansfield got to enjoy City's superb title-winning season in the Championship from a unique perspective - always bearing in mind his ratings for the digital world.
"The role that I do is unpaid and I get a copy of the game, but it's something I enjoy doing," he continued. "So the payment side, it's something that I wouldn't do for money, it's that feeling of being proud to do it for the team that I support and knowing that I've contributed to the game."
All submitted data is scrutinised by the game's full-time researchers before the next update, with Football Manager 2020 just released.
Stansfield said: "There will be times when, obviously I know people rate players differently, but when I do it I do step back and think 'is this how I'm seeing it or is it how a neutral person would be seeing it'.
"So there are times when you have to let your head rule, rather than going with your heart. But it's having that realism.
"There was one where I gave Todd Cantwell a big-ish jump - because you have to do a January update as well - and I literally submitted the data after he'd broken into the team and had that sustained period.
"Then as soon as I submitted it was when you could maybe tell he was in need of a rest and the league researcher came back and queried that one, so we ended up bringing him back down.
"But then that's worked in the opposite way this year, that with his good start to the season I had submitted it and had given him an increase, and Pete who's the Premier League researcher said that he thinks he needs a bit more of a boost.
"I think the biggest increase was Max Aarons last year because he was basically from a youth player to becoming one of the key players."
In line with the game's famously thorough statistics and information, the demands on researchers can be significant at times and with Stansfield a year six teacher he has to work as efficiently as possible so that the role doesn't take up too much of his free time - and so that he still has time to play the game himself.
"I try and get it done in two or three sessions and I'll block off a weekend, maybe three or four hours at a time, but it's surprising how with something you enjoy doing, that you don't think too much about it time-wise and then all of a sudden three or four hours have passed.
"As the season goes on you're having to make notes of injuries, because you are updating the players' injury history, and then if there are any contracts that are released.
"Like I've managed to get in Akin Famewo's contract that was signed last week, so that will be in the game. So it's being aware of what's going on and then you'll get your big weekends when you know the deadline is there for the latest updates."
There is one big additional perk for researchers too - a place in the game.
When Football Manager has advanced so far beyond current times that players are retiring, new players are needed, so the game will generate fictional players to ensure each players' fictional football world can continue.
Often this will be a combination of real player names, such as Teemu Zimmermann or Christoph Pukki - but researchers' names are also added to the pot.
He concludes: "There was one where I got to about 2032, I think it was, when I was at uni, on about the 2008 game, I ended up with these regen Brazilians up front for Norwich!"
So if you manage to make it that far into the new edition, keep an eye out for Tom Stansfield.