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18 years ago today sortitoutsi.net was born. This is the story of how it came to be the website you all know and love today.
CM4 and how Sort It Out SI got its name
2003 was a strange time for the series, back then the game was called Championship Manager rather than Football Manager and in December 2003 we were all a few seasons deep into CM03/04 which had been released a couple of months earlier. But there was a simmering of discontent within the community. Was everyone just annoyed that this latest release was just yet another expensive update, a criticism we still hear every year today? Essentially yes, but this time was worse, much worse. You see the release of CM03/04 had come just 6 months after the release of its predecessor CM4. Imagine having to buy a new copy of FM every 6 months instead of 12!
So why were the release dates so close together? CM4 had originally been scheduled for release in October 2002 with bold claims of introducing a 2D Match Engine for the first time, but it seems SI had bitten off more than they could chew and CM4 received repeated delays for months. Studio Director Miles Jacobson (who’s still there today!) made a flurry of public statements that the game would be released the following February, but those dates came and went, much to the dismay of the online CM Community. SI even released an update to CM01/02 to update the squads and database for the 02/03 season to try and tide fans over and this longevity may be why the game is still so popular 20 years on.
CM4 did eventually hit the shelves on March 28th 2003 and became the fastest selling PC game of all time in the UK, nearly doubling the sales of second place “Command & Conquer: Generals” and had rave reviews to boot. But these reviews were unfounded. Apparently the reviewers had received buggy copies but were assured that those bugs would be fixed by release. They weren’t. And so CM4 was released to the world as a horrible buggy mess. The officials forums began to fill with bug reports and one day after release Sports Interactive had already released “Enhancement Pack 1” a fancy name for a bug fix which contained things like:
- “Fixed ridiculous wages being given to all players at top clubs after a season or so”
- “When a person's contract expires and no response is made to the news item, you now don't get the same news every day from then on.”
- “Found happy medium between "loads of disallowed goals" in beta demo and "none" in v4.0.1”
- “Less stupidly wayward goal kicks”
- “Fixed fairly common bug where full back would throw ball to centre back who would be robbed for run in at goal”
At least you’ve got to appreciate the brutally honest way SI wrote change lists back then. I’m pretty sure that the last one is still in the game though…
“Enhancement Pack 2” was released just 2 weeks after that on April 11th. Enhancement Pack 3 a month after that on May 5th and 4 and 5 followed June 30th and July 27th. Back then we were all on dial up as well, so the estimated time to download the 45mb Enhancement Pack was 4.5 hours. It would cost 1p a minute, so each update cost you about £2.50 and there were 5 of them meaning you had to shell out another £12.50 on top of the price of the game. That’s assuming you managed to get each in one go and your mother didn’t need to use the telephone for 4 hours. If she did? Forget it, you’d have to disconnect, reconnect and start again.
It was a difficult time to be a fan of the series. The forums were inundated with bug reports and even just downloading the Enhancement Packs was a task that could take an entire weekend. Throughout this time, throughout all the 6 months of delays and all the updates, a new meme started to catch on in the official SI Forums. Everyone began signing off their posts with the same, frustrated line; “sort it out si”. This chorus of disenchantment echoed throughout forums, IRC Channels and where all the cool kids were; MSN.
And so in 2003, when Caleyjag and Cleon decided to start a new Championship Manager Fansite, what better name could they choose than the words that were already on everyone’s lips? Sort It Out SI.
And it’s stuck. The site did once attempt to rebrand itself as “Glory Hunters” but more on that later.
CM03/04 - A Graphic Success
Anyone you talk to from the time will tell you that CM4 was a disaster, but by CM03/04 alot of those bugs had been ironed out and what we were left with was a fantastic game, it was what CM4 should have been.
The enhancements that CM4 brought were immense, it’s difficult to even describe how revolutionary the changes were to people who take it all granted for now with FM22. The 2D Match Engine got all the publicity, before CM4 we just had to deal with flashing text and a possession bar, but the real jump was in the graphics. In CM01/02 the only graphical add ons you could get were custom menu bars, these were small files that changed the colour and background of the sidebar while leaving the rest of the game as it was. But with CM4 and now CM03/04 you could customise the entire skin as well as adding Logos, Faces, Kits and Backgrounds, content that you still find here at sortitoutsi today.
You’ll find some people moaning that FM has barely changed since, but honestly that’s just a testament to how good this game was once all the stupid bugs had been ironed out. It’s a game that’s only needed incremental changes for 18 years while keeping the fundamentals the same and for all the people who moan each year, the truth is it’s still an amazing game that we all love and continues to grow, FM21 was its best ever year and you only need to look at how much the FM Youtube Community is booming to see it’s bigger than ever.
CM4 was a tough time for the community, but it was worth it, its release lit a fire under the community and we’ve never looked back since.
Sort It Out SI through the years
Before the site was called sortitoutsi, it started out as “S-Crew” . The big sell of the site was the “Super Packs” (hence "Superpack Crew") these combined lots of little packs into a single Super Pack so people could get everything in one place. Amazingly you can still download the Superpack V2 today and some of it still works because the format and config.xml files have barely changed! But there was more to the game than just Graphics and the site transitioned again to become Sort It Out SI in December 2003. The name has always caught a few people off guard, many still believe that it’s some strange word from a non English speaking owner. There are even those who think it’s run by a bloke called Simon who sorts out all your problems. To those closest to it, the site is affectionately known as Susie, because you know, SIOSI kind of sounds like Susie…
This was S-Crew. Can you tell Caleyjag was still learning how to design websites back then?
The oldest screenshot we can find of sortitoutsi!
2004 - The Eidos Split
While CM4 had been patched and CM03/04 had been a great success, the drama wasn’t over at Sports Interactive. Shortly after CM03/04 was released they announced that they would be splitting from their producers Eidos. It was not a pretty split and Eidos took with them the name “Championship Manager”, which by now had become rooted in public consensus, while SI got to keep the database and the code.
SI undoubtedly got the better end of the deal and they managed to release the first version, FM2005, in timely fashion in November 2004. Eidos on the other hand tried to build an entire new game from scratch, an impossible task in less than 12 months, their first attempt, Championship Manager 5, wasn’t released until March 2005, and it was crap. This gave SI and the FM name practically a free hit to establish themselves as the true king of Football Management Simulations, a crown they’ve never let slip.
Sports Interactive also knew the importance of the community support, which was now swelling following the enhanced extendability of CM03/04. Many of the sites were facing the prospect of a rebrand as sites like CM Base were forced to become FM Base. SI stepped in to help out by buying the FM versions of popular CM Sites and offering them to the owners for free. A small gesture, but one that helped secure ongoing support from the community.
2004 Get Scene - Web Hosting for the Community
Just a year after properly launching sortitoutsi, in partnership with Core FM and Footygamer, launched “Get Scene” a project that offered Cheap Web Hosting to anyone who wanted to start a Football Manager Fansite. The community spirit between fansites was strong and now it was easier than ever for anyone to get started with their own FM Fansite.
Footygamer (where my name comes from, but I was not involved at the time) was one of the first to take up the offer and offered a forum for popular blogs like CM Smashing, The Gaffer and The North Stand, which believe me was some of the finest writing to ever grace the CM and FM Community.
On sortitoutsi future Sports Interactive Employee Jesper Anderson joined the team and gave the new site a nice new design:
2005 - The introduction of team talks and sortitoutsi closes for the first time
Football Manager 2006 introduced Team Talks for the first time and begun the long road towards press conferences and all the other media interaction we see in the game today. Can you believe there was a time you didn’t get asked questions in FM?
But the big news as far as sortitoutsi was concerned was the fact that it closed in on July 25th 2005:
After almost 2 years, 3.4million downloads (goodness) and some absolutely superb banter sortitoutsi.net is closing.
The decision was a hard one taken by Cleon & Caleyjag but we both felt that the time was right to call it a day. The site has been a fantastic place to be a part of but we can no longer dedicate any more of our time to it without it affecting our personal lives.
We didn't feel that keeping it open and us moving on was an option either as the pull to come back would be too great. Closing completely is the only way forward for ourselves.
Massive massive thanks to everyone that contributed to the site over the last 2 years. This sites success depended on users submitting files, players & tactics and joining in forum discussions and I'd like to think we made a bloody good job of it while we were online.
On a personal note, I'm leaving this place knowing that we made a helluva good job of it. Coding the site was fantastic fun and seeing people use something I had developed gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
Good luck to everyone in the future with whatever they do in life.
Dave "Caleyjag" Murchison
3.4 million downloads in 2005 was an awful lot and incredibly more expensive than it is today. Sports Interactive was even supplementing Caleyjag and Cleon for the costs for a while, but it was still too much. Sortitoutsi closed completely but the community kept it going by moving to a free hosted forum.
The site did come back a few months later, unfortunately I can’t find the comeback announcement, but safe to say it would have been something along the lines of wanting to create the biggest and best site ever. Caleyjag had already quit in the previous summer, and probably some more times other than that, and he usually returned with an air of rambunctiousness rather than his tail between his legs.
The site also got another Jesper inspired redesign:
In 2006 Football Manager 2007 came about and introduced Feeder Clubs. Sortitoutsi got probably its most iconic design as well as a new micro site called “Play FM”. Play FM was a stand alone site dedicated to FM Challenges where people could share their careers as well as upload their stats to league tables and compare with other managers.
Want to know a fun fact about this design? The background was originally about 10mb and made the site ridiculously slow. It stayed that way for longer than it should…
FM2008, the end of an era and Glory Hunters
In 2007 Caley and Cleon finally gave up the reigns. This time deciding not to close the site but to hand it over to Smithjurd, who had made a name for himself as a skinner and recently started developing his own website as well.
Smithjurd set about trying to make the site his own, including changing its name. Behind the scenes work was put into to transition the site to the name “Glory Hunters” and Jesper Anderson put together a whole new design.
Glory Hunters was meant to be the greatest Football Manager website ever, but it never actually saw the light of day. Much like with CM4 so many big ideas just lead to problems and bugs. A year or more’s work was put in behind the scenes on the new site and it was nowhere near ready for release, but this meant the live site had stagnated, bugs had appeared, it slowed down to a crawl, sometimes being completely unusable. Susie was in trouble.
Where I come in
Glory Hunters had never been released, Jesper Anderson had been snapped up by Sports Interactive to work on Football Manager itself. Caleyjag and Cleon where off doing their own thing (I think by this point they had made the first ever FM Podcast “The Caleyjag and Cleon Show”) and Smithjurd had found it impossible to juggle trying to launch the new site with maintaining the existing one. On October 6th 2008 he contacted me to transfer the ownership of sortitoutsi to me.
Who was I? I had been on “The Scene” for a few years at this point, first joining to get those Enhancement Packs for CM4. I actually started building websites before i’d even really had a chance to go onto the internet. I was allowed on our dial up connection briefly by my Dad to get the Enhancement Packs every few months but otherwise we didn’t have internet at home. We did have it at school and i’d spend hours on the forums posting about my Tranmere Rovers save where I had bettered Liverpool and Everton to become the King of Merseyside. I quickly decided I wanted to make my own Championship Manager Website. I was only 14 at the time, my Dad showed me MS Frontpage and I learnt HTML from a dummies guide and I set about creating my awesome Championship Fansite. Thankfully it never made it online and there’s no evidence of my monstrosity. It was a few years later, when we finally at broadband at home that I put my first site online, The FM Gazette, a site that released monthly updates featuring a whole variety of articles and guides.
From here I went on to create the Football Manager Portal. The Portal was like a directory of all the content in the FM Community, if you wanted an Everton Team Guide, you could go to FM Portal > Team Guides and find links to 5 different Everton Team Guides on 5 different websites. Back in 2006-8 Google wasn’t as good as it is today, so lots of people still looked up content in online directories. The FM Portal was like the Yellow Pages of the FM Community. The concept and the content was amazing and offered something different to the goliaths that were sortitoutsi and The Dugout at the time. But it also took a huge amount of effort, I had to manually check every single FM Fansite every single day after school and add their articles to the site. I did this for 2 years straight before sortitoutsi came calling.
My first job was to get sortitoutsi usable and i’ll be honest I didn’t understand the code that i’d been given. So I took the database and the files and coded a brand new site from scratch in just 1 month. This was a big change, it was great that the site would load now and people could actually download but it was missing alot of features that had been built up in the 5 years prior. It probably wasn’t as pretty either. But at least it worked (mostly…)
October 2011 - The site closes again
I spent much of the first few years in charge of sortitoutsi learning how to code as I went and breaking things… alot. In October 2011 I was ready to unleash a brand new version of the site that had long been in development behind the scenes. Now we’ve already spoken about how SI bit off more than they could chew with CM4 and how Smithjurd did the same with Glory Hunters, how do you think my effort at rebuilding Susie went?
It was a complete disaster. It was freshers week in my second year of University and i’d put the new site live on October 21st, the day FM12 was released. I’d rushed putting it live because we had a new stories section and I wanted everyone to start their new FM Career using our stories section. I should have been out getting drunk like any normal fresher, but instead I was up all night coding, trying to fix my mess. It peaked when Rowan, who was managing the Cut Out Megapack at the time, offered his phone number and told me to call if I needed to talk things through. I did, almost in tears, telling him I thought I was just going to delete the site because I couldn’t take it anymore.
It wasn’t just the stress of releasing a new site, I had made a huge mistake which meant people were able to get access to download files directly from our servers when they didn’t have Premium Membership. In just 24 hours I'd racked up a bill of $1000, I let it get up to about $1800 the next day before taking the site offline completely. I was a student in freshers week, safe to say I did not have that kind of money. If you ever wonder why we have Premium Membership and don’t let everyone download for free, this is as good an explanation as ever.
I put the old site back online a few days later based on a backup and took a much needed break from working on it for a few months.
The Next 10 Years
I learnt alot from that moment in 2011, mostly to not take this site or the wider FM Community too seriously. I’ve continued running the site for exactly 10 years since this date and thankfully the site has been stable ever since. To be honest i’m struggling to write about the next 10 years, which is crazy to think all i’ve written about the first 8 years, but to be honest the site has not changed that much since then, the content and the staff team is much the same.
The next version of the site should start to feel alot more familiar to those of you who know it now with a focus on our awesome Graphic Megapacks.
The next version of the site only left us in October 2020.
During this time we were able to partner with SEGA and become official resellers of the game. We used this to give back to the community by offering the game at exactly the cost price, no profit to us, so you could all get the game as cheap as possible.
Our Collaborative Online Data Update (which was actually started by Caleyjag) has taken off and is now bigger than ever with 4,702 different people having contributed changes, something which would never have been possible with the game’s own Offline Pre Game Editor.
And of course our Graphic Megapacks continued to grow and grow and grow.
I’m actually going to end the article here without going into too much detail about the period 2011-2021. I didn’t really know what to write when I first started on this birthday article and to be honest I got carried away and what you’re reading now is a much trimmed down version. The bits i've left in focus on a few key moments that really impacted the site and they all happened in that early period. The 10 years since have been relatively stable, we’ve just been ticking away producing the same amazing content year on year.
For those who visit the site now and weren’t here 10+ years ago you probably can’t comprehend what it used to be. It was an absolute monster and some of its users and staff were nothing short of fanatical. It is not the site it was, but that’s okay, because what it was burnt a lot of people out far more than any hobby ever should have. It’s not just me who runs the site, we have a massive team of moderators many of whom have also been here for 10 years or more and running the site is now something we can all do in our free time as a hobby that doesn’t take over our lives. I can point to that as my proudest achievement, above all the amazing content we’ve produced, it’s the real reason the site is still here after all this time.
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