The 25 best football games ever

Is there a better way to mark the start of the World Cup than with a definitive list of the best soccerball games of all time? No, there's not. So here it is

It's a sad fact that most of us won't ever be any good at football, but the best games can take you into a fantasy world in which you're a world beater.

Amazingly, that applies whether you're controlling a stick figure on an 8-bit computer or a fully realised 3D model with ultra-realistic stubble on a PlayStation 4. Seriously - we've shed real tears at a line of text on a screen describing how the opposition stick figure has just put us out of the cup.

But then that's football: it has the power to reduce otherwise sensible people to mere shells of their former selves. And game makers soon realised they were on to something good when they created the first footie sims, because in no time they were flying off the shelf.

As a result, there have been hundreds of football games over the years - so many, in fact, that narrowing down our selection to a mere 25 titles was near impossible. Arguments raged across the office - FIFA or Pro Evo? Sensi or Kick Off? - and that's exactly as it should be.

So, whether you agree or disagree with our list, we hope it'll spark plenty of memories. Let the arguments begin. 

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25. Match Day (1984, ZX Spectrum)

In essence the Speccy’s answer to International Soccer on the C64, Match Day arrived from coder Jon Ritman simply wanting to create the first decent footie game for Sir Clive’s rubber-keyed wonder. Solid, large players, a wide range of moves and a reasonably competent AI (if you ignore the bone-headed goalies) ensured it was a hit. Today, Match Day’s sluggish nature makes for a rather genteel version of the beautiful game, but we remain eternally amused by its farty rendition of the BBC’s Match Of The Day theme.

24. Ultimate Soccer Manager (1995, Amiga)

For all of Championship Manager's statistical goodness, nothing immersed you in a mid-'90s football world like the USM series. Transfers and team selection almost became minor distractions, as you reclined in your office next to a fax machine and Teletext. There were advertising deals to negotiate, a stadium complex to build, and even bungs to offer the opposition. Yes, this was the George Graham era, when managers were unimpeachable emperors, and USM put you right on the throne with a hotline to football's dark side.

More after the break...

23. Footballer of the year (1986, ZX Spectrum)

People weren’t sure what to make of this oddball at the time of release. Part management game, part board game, you aimed to take a kid from the old fourth division to the glory of cup finals and Division One. Success was mostly down to scoring goals in arcade sequences; chances were bought with ‘goal cards’ purchased in-game, and ‘incident cards’ enabled you to delve further into your young player’s life. If this all sounds a bit familiar, FOTY was a big influence on New Star Soccer creator Simon Read…

22. Tracksuit Manager (1988, C64)

We’re not sure how you manage a tracksuit; stupid name aside, this Goliath Games effort was an impressive management game with depth. You arrived just as your team (England by default) had a disastrous World Cup (so, pretty accurate), and had to figure out a road to success. Highlights were akin to the running commentary you’d today see on a news website, and while that lacked visual impact, it provided plenty of insight into who was providing the goods for your team, and who to send for an early bath.

21. Score! World Goals (2012, iOS/Android)

Score! is the weirdest entry in this list, being a combination of goal highlights and the path-drawing mechanic first popularised by Flight Control on the iPhone. The idea is to recreate classic goals, step-by-step, closely following the path the ball took at the time. This might have resulted in a stiff, unforgiving title, but Score! is a surprisingly fascinating puzzler that provides great insight into dozens of classic sporting moments.

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