Not all of us are blessed with the ability to bend it like Beckham, or rifle it like Ronaldo. And before the invention of the computer game, all one could do was dream about what it was like to score the winner at Wembley, or guide a disparate rabble of players to a dynasty of glory.
But all that changed when the beautiful game started making its way onto the screens and consoles of millions, with new stories, careers, heroes and classic games being played out every day in 8-bit, 16-bit and then the glorious basically-like-actually-being-there experiences we see today.
Tread carefully: many of these took over lives for lengthy periods of time and can still reduce grown men and women to tears of nostalgia: here's the 15 greatest football computer games ever made.
Sensible World of Soccer 95/96
Quite simply the king of playable footy games. Forget realism, this dealt in the pure thrills and spills of the arcade. And yet, it wasn't smash and grab action - you could play a delicate tiki taka passing game, you could craft beautiful goals - and any strike involving a diving header was one to tell all your friends about. The original was, of course, a classic, but SWOS was where it reached its pinnacle, with the handy three letter skills guide (any time you see SFV on a car number plate you immediately think of a great striker), management mode and a whole world of great players to discover. 95/96 was the first bug-free iteration, so it gets our vote. We'll forever be a goalscoring superstar hero.
Championship Manager 97/98
The original Championship Manager - which of course was to become Football Manager - was not just a game. For its fans it was a religion. 97/98 was the zenith of the old-style versions (it was the final installment of the second generation of CM games): no fancy graphics, no worrying about training and the more mundane tasks of football management, and just the right amount of realism. It was precisely its text-based simplicity that meant that the action went on in the player's head - and what action, as Leyton Orient romped up the leagues (led, of course, by Bjørn Heidenstrøm) to walk away with multiple Champions' League titles. Mere words alone cannot do justice to the glory of Champ Man; a titan of football management games.
FIFA - the one time we can use that title without thinking of fat cats and corruption - is now the dominant colossus of football games, ruling the roost with its management partner-in-crime Football Manager. But it wasn't always the case, with several duff versions before Road To World Cup '98 saw a huge improvement. Since then, it hasn't looked back and hasn't rested on its laurels either, with each version widely considered an improvement on the last. Hence, we have to go with FIFA '14 for our list, while we eagerly await FIFA '15. Breathtaking graphics, addictive gameplay and astonishing levels of detail - it has it all.
Released back in 1988 on the Commodore 64, this was the first, enticing look into what a management game was capable of. Text-based, simple and addictive; this was the forerunner to everything that Champ Man and FM was to perfect - the Newton to their Einstein, if you will, although - to football fans - probably more important that both of those people's achievements.
Pro Evolution Soccer 6
For years, Pro Evo matched FIFA stride-for-stride and kick-for-kick, but the general perception is that FIFA has come to dominate in recent years. Rumours of PES 2015 suggest that they could be about to seriously compete again but, for now, we'll go with the last of the glory years - Pro Evo 6, which pitched halfway between the frantic speed of Sensi and the detailed realism of FIFA.
Premier Manager 2
A 1993 classic, this game offered a slightly different management experience to Championship Manager. You had to start in the Conference and work your way up. It was quirkier - who could forget the desk phone (with its cheat numbers) and being able to choose who advertised on the hoardings? You could upgrade your stadium and set ticket prices - and you had a fax machine (mind you, so do a lot of current clubs when it comes to transfer deadline day). It was the fun brother of the more serious games, and well worth its place in this list.
Kick Off 2
The predecessor to Sensible Soccer, Kick Off and its sequel Kick Off 2 were fantastic fun, employing the top down approach that Sensi would adopt, as well as the invention of aftertouch. Player Manager, which borrowed Kick Off's match engine, deserves an honorable mention here too - adding in the management side of things, as well as - unusually for most football games - offering you the option to play as a single player. For the first time, football fans everywhere could be Kenny Dalglish on their Ataris or Amigas - and what could be better than that?
A bit of a forgotten classic this, Soccer Kid attempted to combine football and a platformer, with unexpectedly great results. Bounding across five countries in an attempt to rescue the pieces of a shattered World Cup, Soccer Kid would use his trusty football and a host of moves - headers, volleys and bicycle kicks - to see off evil enemies. Just watch out for those spikes...
New Star Soccer 4
With Football Manager and FIFA dominating the conventional playing and management spheres of football games, new titles have been forced to look for more niche ways to enter the market - and few have done it better than New Star Soccer. Taking control of a young player, you guide him not only through the matches themselves, but the myriad pitfalls and temptations of life off the field (including WAGs, big houses and naughty substances) too - and all with the click of a mouse.
Football Manager 2012
After the split from Eidos following Championship Manager 4, Sports Interactive founded Football Manager and didn't look back. Over the years, it added a realistic match engine - you could now watch every tackle in real life should you desire - and an astonishing level of detail and control. There's no need to dream about what it's like to manage your team, you can simply play FM instead. Nothing less than an immersive football management simulation.
Arguably the first great football computer game, 1983's International Soccer on the Commodore 64 was the spiritual godfather of all that followed. It had a side-on view - for greater detail - and featured two seven-a-side teams as well as throw-ins, corners and goal-kicks. Vinnie Jones and Gary Lineker were almost certainly fans of this - there were no fouls, and no offside. Nevertheless, a brilliant game.
A 1982 game for the ZX Spectrum, Football Manager was written in BASIC by one genius - Kevin Toms, who even put his own face on the cover. Well, why wouldn't you? You could pick your team, using energy and skill levels, there was even a transfer system, and some versions enabled you to watch highlights in glorious isometric 3D with ridiculously massive goals. It's a wonder every game didn't finish 7-7.
International Superstar Soccer Deluxe
A SNES classic in the era between the classic side-on games and the full-blooded immersive experiences of the modern computer game, International Superstar Soccer was the predecessor to Pro Evo. However, this was a game that was still very much in the arcade mode rather than trying to entertain too many thoughts of ultrarealism. Just looking at this screenshot makes us nostalgic for Saturday afternoons playing arcade football and air hockey. Jumpers for goalposts eh?
The advent of mobile gaming saw a slew of new titles come on to the market. A lot of flick kick footballs, a lot of slimmed down versions of bigger games. But our favourite is still the quirky brilliance of Neon Play's Super Save. Just a pair of gloves and a succession of ever more difficult penalties to save; it's hard to describe just how satisfying it is when one nestles right in your (virtual) hands. You can buy it for iOS here.
On The Ball: World Cup EditionMuch like New Star Soccer, this game, released way back in 1994, realised that the world of football wasn't just about the 90 minutes itself and a few transfers. It eschewed the numbers and spreadsheets approach of other management games to become an exercise in man-management, particularly the World Cup edition, when you had to marshal your squad to the tournament finals, prevent boredom, deal with sex scandals and ill-advised trips to nightclubs, while also being pretty much the first game to offer you the chance to make those all-important team-talks at half-time to change the course of the match. A cult classic amongst those who played it.