There aren’t many occasions when a humble postman will be compared to Pep Guardiola. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happened to Matt Tierney.
The Liverpool-supporting postie has got that reputation because of his style of play on classic football sim, Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS) – a game that still plays a big part in his life, nearly three decades after its initial release.
“I just picked up my pad and that was my style,” Tierney says. “I do things on it and people say I’m the Barcelona of the game with my tiki-taka. I just seem to do things on the pitch not many other people do. I interchange with my strikers and fizz the ball around really quickly.
“Some people will play long ball, while others are really clinical in the final third. For me, I developed my own style and that’s what works for me.”
Tierney isn’t stuck in a time warp, though. Well, not quite.
Instead, the 30-year-old heads up a community of SWOS gamers who have never found a substitute for their Sensible Soccer addiction.
Inspired by the Xbox 360 release of the retro favourite in 2007, Tierney was part of a group of like-minded gamers called SWOS Fantasy Football who’d take part in a league and cup structure. And although that stopped following a disagreement several years ago, Tierney rebooted the idea earlier in 2020.
Now, his new group – SWOS Xbox Masters – is gathering pace again, with a new three-tier league system and cup competitions that replicate the FA Cup and Champions League formats. They also play a tournament called the Match Made in Heaven Cup, which randomly assigns each player a team of similar ability to test their true skills.
SWOS Xbox Masters has grown a lot since being rebooted in February, which is no mean feat considering the last game to be released was 13 years ago – and even that was a remastering of the 1996/97 version. Nostalgia on tap, then.
“My dad used to play it on the Amiga and then I got it on the Mega Drive. When it was remastered for the Xbox, my love for it was rekindled,” Tierney recalls.
“The playability of SWOS is just phenomenal. It’s such a simple game and the speed of it, it’s just so exciting. Everyone has their own style of play and the game replicates that.
“You’ll have players who play long ball, you’ll have a really quick passer, which is the sort of player I am, or you’ll have deadly, lethal players who are good in the final third. You can almost look like a player and say, ‘he plays like Barcelona’ or ‘he plays like Wimbledon in the 90s with the long ball’.”
So, if Tierney is passionate about playing football in a virtual world, why hasn’t he joined the tribe of FIFA disciples playing online?
“You play FIFA and it’s so boring, it’s the same goal and all that,” he says. “FIFA doesn’t have the same fluidity that SWOS has. FIFA bores me to tears. The only one that’s come close to Sensible World of Soccer is PES [Pro Evolution Soccer] Six with Adriano in it.”
As Tierney’s community grows, he hopes he’s doing his bit to keep the game alive. But with the youngest players in his competition in their early 30s, getting the younger generations involved is probably the key to that in the longer term.
And looking at the mix playing in SWOS Xbox Masters shows the passion for SWOS never dies, Tierney’s dad is still involved, as is a player in his mid-60s who goes under the gaming tag Johnson Cock. We didn’t ask too much more about him.
“We want the community to grow and even if it stays at what it’s at, three leagues is brilliant,” Tierney adds.
“But the more players we can get will help it stay alive and it’s such a great game. You don’t want a game like that to die out.”