FM20: Fighting for Survival on the Edge of Europe

An introduction to my save with JK Narva Trans

After my successful, but ultimately unfulfilling season with Zenit St. Petersburg, I decided to look for a more challenging save. I didn’t have to look far, as I found Estonian team JK Narva Trans, which is based just about 100 miles south east of St. Petersburg. On the extreme eastern border of Estonia (and therefore the European Union), JK Narva Trans presented both an in-game challenge, as well as a jumping off point for learning about fascinating and complex real-world politics, history, and culture.

The City of Narva

Estonia, with Narva marked at the top right

Home to nearly 55,000 people, Narva is Estonia’s third-largest city (behind Tallin and Tartu). Unlike the rest of the country, the majority of the inhabitants are ethnic Russians. This demographic quirk stems from the city’s near total destruction in Word War II, as the Red Army bombarded the city as they began their offensive to break out the Nazi siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). After the war, Narva was repopulated with Russian-speaking immigrants from the Soviet Union, which led to its cultural distinctiveness from the rest of Estonia.

But this is Football Manager not Hearts of Iron. What is the football team like?

JK Narva Trans

Formed in 1979, Jalgpalliklubi Narva Trans is one of the founding members of the Meistriliiga (Estonian top flight) and one of two teams that has never been relegated. However, they have also never won won the league, with their highest finish being second in 2006. Their trophy cabinet is not entirely bare, with two Estonian Cups and two Estonia Super Cups to their name. Their cup wins, along with second, third, and fourth place finishes have allowed them to compete frequently in the Europa League, although they’ve never gone past the first qualifying round.

Financially the club starts in an “Okay” place. There’s not a lot of money from any single source. Sponsorship, TV, and gate receipts are all on the lower end for a professional league. The only way to avoid treading water or (worse) is to qualify for Europe, as even getting knocked out of a qualify round can cover the wage budget for the season.

Celebrating Narva Trans’ second cup win in 2019

The Estonian League System

The Estonian league system is simple and familiar to any European football fan. The Meistreiliiga has 10 teams who play each 4 times per season. The winner enters the Champions League qualify rounds, while second, third, and fourth enter the qualify rounds of the Europa League/Europa Conference League. Tenth place is relegated to the Esiliiga (second tier), while ninth place plays a two-legged relegation playoff with the Esiliiga second place team. There is also a standard cup competition and a super cup to start the season between the previous year’s cup and league winners. The one difference from a standard league is that it’s a summer league (February to October) owing to Estonia’s cold climate.

The strongest teams in the league all hail from Tallin, the capital city. Tallin has nearly 500,000 residents, or ten times as many as Narva. It’s also the commercial and governmental hub of the country, which of course means it’s where the money is. For better or worse in football, money equals success. The Tallin teams are:

FC Flora

Named after a Greek goddess, Flora is the only other team never to be relegated from the first tier. As of 2019 they have won the league 12 times, which is the most of any club in the country.

FCI Levadia

Formed from a merger of two league-winning teams (FCI Tallin and Levadia), FCI Levadia is only a shade less successful than Flora, with 11 combined league wins.

Nomme Kalju FC

A relative newcomer to the league (1997), Nomme Kalju doesn’t have as full of a trophy cabinet, but they do have a strong financial backing. This has allowed them to maintain a top three finish in the league since 2015, winning it twice.

In addition to the three capital teams, the other main rival to Narva Trans hails from Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city:

JK Tartu Tammeka

Tartu Tammeka lack the silverware of the other teams listed, but they have strong enough support and facilities to regularly field a dangerous team.

Why Narva Trans?

Why did I choose this obscure and unheralded club to manage? In addition to the interesting historical and demographic reasons, I felt that Narva Trans was a stable club that still had a lot of room to grow. I liked that the club was not up against it in terms of staying in the league, but that actually winning the league would take some effort (especially when compared to my previous saves with Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zenit St. Petersburg).

My goals at the start of the save, in order of difficulty, were:

  1. Avoid relegation

2. Keep the club financially solvent

3. Win silverware

4. Win the league

5. Success in continental football

My Plans for this Series

Instead of writing up season-by-season recaps, I’m planning on taking a broader view for this series. I’ve learned a lot so far playing at a club like this, and so I’m hoping to break down my strategies and lessons learned as I tackled each of the goals listed above. The organization may change, but I’m planning on writing a blog post for each of the following:

  • How I stabilized the finances and began working my way up the table (Goals 1 and 2)
  • How I became the top team in Estonia (Goals 3 and 4)
  • How I became a consistent performer in European competition (Goal 5)

For smaller bits and pieces from the save, follow my twitter account at @FMBowser

American FM player and occasional blogger. Current #FM20 save with JK Narva Trans in Estonia