Please welcome the latest guest writer to the Lutterworth Fox empire. (James) Kibworth Bull is a YouTuber turned Blogger. A fantastic writer and I am delighted to add him to the team.
Background to the Save:
Database : With a lot of help and guidance from @thefmnewby, I have created a new nation called on the Island of Sodor – if you’ve ever watched Thomas the Tank Engine then this will be familiar to you, and if it’s known to you then I hope you said Island of Sodor in a scouse accent – my son is obsessed with Thomas so this seemed a fitting nation – I can’t blame him really as I am equally obsessed, and it also helps that the Wikipedia page has a rich historical story line already invented so it makes my fictional narrative a little bit sweeter. If you’re interested in following my save, then follow me on twitter and you’ll see a nice pinned post that has some old school power point graphics showing what’s going on.
On the island there are 16 brand new teams – I have basically taken San Marino, moved them to the fictional location of Sodor and then let the FM Gods (would that be Miles?) move us forward. For the record the Island of Sodor is connected to Barrow-In-Furness by rail and by a small amount of water to the Isle of Man. All 16 sides are fully professional with their own grounds and randomly selected levels of facilities and finances. There are 3 cups – National Cup which is restricted to IoS nationals that are U23, FA Cup and a Charity Shield played between the winners of the league and FA Cup. There is a lot of cash on the Island and the TV Revenue is definitely too much.
There are 3 elements to this save:
- 211 to 1 – Developing the National Side
- Every Nation Challenge
- Win Every Trophy
Through a series of magazine “interviews” I will cover these 3 points off, in an amusing and entertaining way (hopefully..)
It’s September 2031 and the Island of Sodor have been playing competitive internationals since 2018, since the dark days when San Marino were hauled away from the scene for being inept and there was a bidding war from a number of minor nations to compete for this spot on the world stage. The Sodorians and they’re very deep pockets were successful. We sit down with often controversial National team manager, James Sheath, who has been part of the journey since the beginning.
Date – 1st September 2031
Magazine – Four Three One Two
James, welcome. Take us back to that moment in 2017 when you realised that the Island of Sodor could start to compete at the world stage, what was going through your mind, and what steps did you immediately take from that decision being made, and what was the build up to the first competitive match like
Hello, an equal amount of pride, terror and joy would be how I would sum up the moment we got the call from FIFA. We’d been involved in unofficial friendlies for quite some time, being so close to the British Isles there has always been a link between them and us, so there has been an amateur side on the Island in some form of another going back to the 1940s – a lot of these games were against club sides but from an infrastructure point of view, we knew we could host a game and we knew about some of the logistics required to travel to different parts of the world to play. We also had a league structure that had been going since 2005 so was 12 years old, albeit smaller in size to what it is now, and semi-professional with no avenue to get into the European Competitions, so initial learnings had happened and we felt that we had a starting point. The decision to expand that league and go full time was an easy one to make once we knew where the national side was heading – it was about getting the foundations correct – full time academies over time will produce better players. It was bedlam to start with, if we are being ultra-critical then you could argue none of the 23 man squad we selected for that first match was good enough for the level, the early days were difficult in that respect, but very slowly over time we saw the playing standard improve – in the last few seasons, in some positions I am actually having conversations with players about how we have too much depth and they are missing out on a place in the squad as a result.
It must be frustrating then? Was there expectations to get results? The media and fans can be a fickle mistresses at times. Did you have to manage this more than the actual games?
The key to this, is of course, time – you can’t just create an academy on day 1 and have brilliant players on day 2 – I think the vast majority involved understood and accepted this – we are nearly 15 years down the line now and the league standard could be compared to the Sky Bet League 2 so there is still a huge amount of work to do. Of course, we’ve seen Max Cox join Sunderland and Aston Villa and Richard Howard had a brief spell at Bristol City in the Premier League before settling in Holland – these two lads have been cornerstones of the national side for a while now, but have seen limited impact on the wider European domestic stage – Max has had a number of loan spells without playing higher than League One, and Rich is a squad player with AZ Alkmar. The fact that scouts are coming to the Islands now is really positive – clearly we have a good rail network on the Islands.. I think some of the clubs have developed at a faster rate than the national side – players at Wellsworth and Tidmouth are good enough for the national side but don’t get beyond the U23 squad – the National Cup helps with this and clubs are financially incentivised to go local but these are teams who are looking to compete on a European stage so you can only throw so much cash there way, you look at Gary Bacon for example, 22 years old and at Tidmouth Albion, he has played 45 games in senior football – 40 of them for the national side, and in those games he has been a constant threat and performed very well, yet for his club side he cannot break through, I’ve told him he needs to move clubs but currently that message hasn’t seeped through. I think if the National Side were a club side on the Island then we would finish in the top 3 or 4 – and that’s part of the challenge. It’s not helped that we don’t have any official reserve team football on the Islands – the U23 league is just that, available for the players 23 and younger! If your 24 and not in the 1st team squad you are tending to lose match sharpness and we’ve seen quite a few players in that position where they are good enough for the senior side, but not quite in the domestic set up and they just are not getting enough football – you can’t play senior international football to get match fitness.
We tried to be proactive and set up development links with clubs in the North West of England through the FA Affiliate programme, but it’s fair to say that so far this hasn’t really produced anything of note – Samuel Guidi was the poster boy at the time as Rochdale snapped him up straight away, but his 14 international caps were done well before his teenage years were done, and he has become a journeyman pro on the Islands. I think Manuel Rinaldi was the only one of the few players to get Scholarships and actually play for a first team, and that was only with Altrincham in the National League, he retired far too young, sadly he proved to be a bit too versatile and was always 2nd choice in a number of positions, and I think he fell out of love for the game.
I think I probably made a fool of myself at the time, by talking about the plan to develop the nation to become the best in the world – I blame the naivety of youth, but it’s good to plan.. Ultimately people know we are on a journey, they can see a whole group of people working hard and we are slowly seeing the fruits of this labour.
A creditable 1-1 draw against Luxembourg started things off, but apart from an odd victory against the likes of Lithuania, things very much started slowly..
Yes, at times painfully slowly – the draw against Luxembourg was very much false dawn. We found international football very tough. We had no experience, the boys we were picking had nothing to fall back on, and even the minnows we were facing, had at least the knowledge of being beaten repeatedly by others to motivate them. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and neither did the players. It’s scary when you are throwing 16 year olds with no senior football into the national side, but we have a mantra with the national side of “Potential is only realised by opportunity”. That victory against Lithuania you mention had three 16 year olds making their senior debuts (ed. Charlie Harvey, Scott Jackson and Ross Foster) and that was a brilliant night, but they were few and far between – it took 6 years before we climbed off the bottom rung of the Rankings. After the Lithuania win, we had to wait 4 years for our next competitive win – morale can be hard to maintain in that time frame, especially when you have a very inexperienced squad, the sense of relief when we beat Slovenia thanks to a Paul White-Racine double was huge – that was also the game that took us off the bottom rung of the world ladder. It took 9 years before we got back to back victories – 3 or 4 names I’ve already mentioned were involved in all of the games I’ve referenced – that’s a lot of dealing with defeat, picking yourself up off the canvas, dusting yourself down and going again. The resilience from the group has been brilliant. We’ve had some horror shows in this time, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Spain, Austria and Ukraine have all hit us for 7 – the most painful was the 5-0 defeat to the Faroe Islands in 2024, I think that was 3-0 after 20 minutes – dreadful all round, but we’ve also been creators of our own downfall – Kazakhstan where we were 3-1 up with 20 minutes left and drew, Greece where a 90th minute own goal cost us all 3 points – we had an 18 month spell where if games ended after 70 minutes then we probably could have qualified for a couple of major competitions, BUT it’s part of the learning curve. We didn’t have the scars from defeat to learn from, we needed to go through the pain of defeat, the embarrassment of being stuffed, and come out the other side stronger.
I think being a club manager alongside the national team, has certainly helped develop things along – through my spells with Wellsworth City, Tidmouth Albion and now with Arlesburgh West, a corner stone of what we have done is give talent that opportunity. Mauro Perez has played 350 competitive games and is 25. Jackson and Harvey have similar stats. This commitment has certainly led to Max and Richard getting their moves to England, and we have high hopes around the likes of River Smithson-Connelly and Andy Steadman. We have to be realistic, where we have come from to where we are now is massive. We must celebrate the success – domestically we’ve seen Tidmouth beat Arsenal, at the Emirates in the Europa League group stages, this season Arlesburgh West have reached the Champions’ League group stages for the first time – I am very much looking forward to the trips to Porto, Barcelona and Celtic by the way.
The phrase “Celebrating Success” comes up often in our discussions about the national side – that’s taking a step back and taking in the bigger picture, what have we done that makes us feel pride.
As you’ve mentioned it, does managing at club level as well as international level make things more complicated?
Yawn… It’s a tired question, and one I’ve had for the best part of 15 years now. I think my record at club level speaks for itself – 7 league titles, 22 cup wins – and this is alongside steady improvement at international level. It gives me an advantage at international level as 99.99% of our talent pool play on the Islands – myself and my trusted backroom team at international level are scouting every week and looking at talent – there isn’t a player on the Island we don’t know about. I can also get a sense of who the best talent on the Islands is, development relationships with these guys and if I sniff a moment where they are unhappy then I can move them into the domestic club I am managing. I have been voted as a legend with Wellsworth City and Tidmouth Albion and if the Arlesburgh West fans held such a vote, then it won’t be long before I complete that particular hat trick. It may sound like arrogance and it probably is, but I am the best manager on the Islands – my record speaks for itself and lesser managers who criticise me, do so out of jealousy.
Point taken, let’s move on.. The Nations League has been seen as the 3rd wheel of International Football, what’s your opinion of it?
It’s our yardstick, it’s where we can compare ourselves to nations at our level – we know if we play a Spain (lost 7-0) or an England (lost 6-0) that we are going to struggle and even if we improve year on year, it will be sometime before we can consistently see that progression on the pitch – our record in the qualifiers is horrific – 60 matches played with only 14 points picked up. The Nations League gives us the chance to see how far we have come – In 25/26 and 28/29 we were knocking on the door, and missed that vital element of luck which would have meant promotion to level C. We knew going into 30/31 that we had a chance at promotion and we delivered with 4 wins out of the first 4 matches. We take the NL very seriously as it’s the best way we can win games at a competitive level and that will increase our standings in the game, without it we would only have friendlies and that can often miss the spark you need to drive yourself forward and improve.
A controversial note now – you’ve picked a number of players who have qualified through residency – does this go against the grain of developing a nation?
In my view no. These are not our rules, they are the EUs rules – they go far beyond just a Football thing. These rules state that if someone lives in a country for 5 consecutive years and they haven’t represented another nation in a competitive fixture then they are eligible to play for the Island of Sodor. People have paid their dues. Armando Broja scored the best part of 200 domestic goals in the 5 years before we could pick him – it’s Albania’s loss that they never selected him beyond U21 level – his record of 13 goals from 49 caps suggests that they probably should have given him an opportunity – they didn’t, we did and I make no apology for that. It’s certain that since Danny Brownhill and Michael Byrne qualified for Sodor our defence has looked stronger, but you’ve got to select the players that are available to you – Sodor only has a population of 33,000 – most cities across the world have lots more people than that. It’s the same argument for bringing in foreign players into the domestic game, especially when you are just starting out – they will bring qualities that you don’t already have and will raise the bar beyond where it is currently sat. I’ve got somewhere in the region of 500 players at my disposal to fashion a competitive side from, I’d say about 450 of them are natural Sodorians so it’s not as if you see in sports like Rugby where the bulk of the sides are Kiwi’s!
Whats next for Sodor? If I was to get you to talk about a 10 year plan, what would it involve.
Lots of challenge ahead – and that’s exactly what we want. We have just started the 2031/32 Euro qualifying campaign, with the likes of Holland, Russia and Belgium in the group this represents a tough challenge but we have ambitions to push as hard as we can for the qualifying spots. If we can get more than 4 points from the 10 games then it will represent the best campaign in terms of points we have had – we are already 25% there with the draw against Israel in June. Then we have Level C in the Nations League, that will challenge us as we will be battling against relegation straight from the off, and then the cycle completes with the World Cup qualifiers. The fun never stops for us. Development continues – we are still a long way behind where we need to be in terms of coaches with playing experience – most of the players within our domestic league are yet to turn 30 so the coaches are either guys who have come over from other places, England mainly, or guys who played Amateur football and they don’t fully understand the demands of a full time professional player. I’ve set the target that we need to have qualified for a major tournament by 2050 – that’s just under 20 years so about 10 attempts left for us to achieve this. In 14 seasons we have moved up 41 places in the rankings, the more strong results we get against teams in the Top 50 will see us climb at a quicker rate. The biggest picture is to win all 3 major tournaments, but this is unlikely until we are Top20 and that’s being very optimistic.
We shall pick back up with James in a few editions time, as we discuss the most controversial element of his career to date – his obsession with every single nation..