You’d think that Runcorn Linnets, the name of an English soccer club currently competing in the North West Counties League a whopping eight divisions below the Premier League, wouldn’t hold much importance outside of the tiny pocket of ostensible fans tucked away in northern England. You’d be wrong.
Disproving the notion of Linnets’ international anonymity is one Huang Wenbin. This Chinese man and his family recently traveled all the way from their home near the Taiwan border to the island of England. The family’s vacation no doubt included stops along the traditional sightseeing paths one includes in a visit to Britain, but one place off the beaten trail that Wenbin made a special effort to schedule time for was the home of Runcorn Linnets.
What would inspire a man to travel some 12,000 miles and spend time at a 1,600-seat stadium located in the middle of nowhere? A video game, naturally. And not just any video game, but the best, most absurdly in depth video game ever, Football Manager.
Helpfully, Wenbin documented both the backstory of his journey and the journey itself on Twitter. Here he is tweeting at the club, explaining how he became a fan and what he hoped to do during his stay in England:
That “cm01/02" bit from the first tweet is short for Championship Manager: Season 01/02. Championship Manager is what the game now known as Football Manager started out as. For the uninitiated, Football Manager is an insanely deep and rich soccer simulation game where players take control of a club in any of the game’s dozens of leagues from around the globe—including lowly regional divisions deep down in England’s league pyramid—with hopes of coaching up their real, meticulously scouted players as their manager avatar and their club climb up the ranks. Think Madden’s franchise mode but if you had the option of starting out as the head coach of some Texas middle school and slowly but surely winning your way up to where Jerry Jones offered you the Cowboys gig.
Wenbin is clearly a big fan of the Championship Manager series and spent many hours taking what was then known as Runcorn FC Halton all the way to the very top of the sport in CM 01/02, winning Premier League and UEFA Cup titles along the way. He produced evidence of his managerial acumen with a few screenshots of his Runcorn save:
Yes, this is a game where after a few well-managed years you can bring the the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs and Roberto Carlos to something called Runcorn FC Halton. It is the best game.
Anyway, after trying and failing to locate Runcorn’s stadium during a previous trip to Liverpool (as a big Reds fan, Wenbin made sure to fly in to witness Steven Gerrard’s last match for the Pool Boys in person), Wenbin was more determined to fulfill his pilgrimage this time. More determined, and more successful. It wasn’t easy—Wenbin told the Mirror that he and his family missed their bus, got lost on the road, and ultimately spent three hours trying to make it from Liverpool to Runcorn—but eventually he made it. With one of the club’s chairmen showing the Wenbins around, it appears the trip was as rewarding as imaginable:
Anyone who’s played Football Manager the right way knows what it’s like to select some random lower-league team and—through the wins and losses, the goals and injuries, the transfer coups and unwanted departures—develop a deep and genuine connection with the club. Wenbin’s dedication to Linnets is even more profound than usual—as is, by the way, his support of Liverpool. Of all the cute and endearing conversations Wenbin’s had in interviews and on Twitter, the best has to be this exchange with someone working for the infamous British tabloid, the Sun: