Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Field of Screens - Five Great Football Documentaries

It's been a while since our last guest post, but we're delighted to welcome Dave Burin to The Football Attic who tells us about five excellent football documentaries - all available to watch via YouTube....

Football and film crews have always been uneasy bedfellows.  From Graham Taylor's England predictably crumbling under pressure in Do I Not like That, to the spectre of Thatcher-era hardship limiting Sheffield Wednesday's crowds, in 1984's Steel City Blues, the football documentary has often provided an insight into the fractious, emotionally-charged nature of the game. Away from the blandly glamorous veneer of 'Super Sunday' and inoffensive post-match interviews, football has always existed as something more earthy and complex... as the following five documentaries illustrate.

1. The Crazy Gang (BT Sport, 2014)

For younger fans, the reverence towards Wimbledon's FA Cup triumph of 1988 might seem rather confusing. Was this not a team whose name became synonymous with dull, route-one football? Were they not resented for their overly physical approach? Does this mean people actually like Dennis Wise? Yes. Yes. Hopefully not.

Wimbledon's FA Cup triumph - and to a lesser extent their eventful tenure in English football's top flight - are so celebrated because of the unlikeliness of their success. A ragtag band of lower-league stalwarts and juvenile misfits combined to catapult Wimbledon from a Southern League side to worthy winners of the world's most famous cup competition, in less than 11 years.

It's a genuine footballing fairytale, wonderfully relived through BT Sport's recent documentary The Crazy Gang. Weaving together rare archive footage from muddy, scrappy fixtures at Plough Lane to anecdotes like Dave Bassett's precise attitude to goalscoring ("If we didn't have 18 shots a game, then we had an inquest") and unflinching recollections of dressing-room bullying, it's a film which evokes both the charm and the cruelty of Wimbledon at their peak.

Comprehensive and unflinching, whilst remaining entertaining, The Crazy Gang is, just as the Wimbledon side were, not without its flaws. There's too much focus on Fashanu and Jones using the documentary as a platform for hard-man bragging, but overall, this is excellent football filmmaking. From Sam Hammam's tales of tough negotiations, to Lawrie Sanchez's wondrous Wembley memories - all of it sumptuously filmed - The Crazy Gang is well worth a watch, whether you're a Womble, or just wondering what the fuss is about.

2. Steel City Blues (BBC North, 1984)

1984 was a year of mixed blessings for the proud industrial city of Sheffield. Whilst the bitter feud of the Miners strikes took hold, amidst rising unemployment, United and Wednesday were thriving on the pitch. The Blades rose from the old Third Division through the infeasibly tight margin of goals scored, whilst the Owls returned to the top tier for the first time since 1970. This incisive documentary from BBC North examines the remarkable rise of Howard Wilkinson's Wednesday, amidst a backdrop of economic gloom, and an increasingly derelict city landscape.

As with The Crazy Gang, the interview sources are again a strength of this documentary. Steel City Blues includes interviews with a young David Blunkett (then leader of Sheffield City Council), several members of the Sheffield Wednesday squad - most notably Martin Hodge - supporters, and even an Owls fanatic who showcases his love of symbolism by collecting ceramic owls. The amount of football footage on show is - reflecting the times - fairly limited. However, close focus on a decisive promotion win against Crystal Palace, and the subsequent jubilant celebrations upon the terraces, provide a stark contrast to the scenes of industrial decline.

Steel City Blues is very much a document of its time, and feels all the more unbiased and authentic for it. Set to a strangely eclectic soundtrack, including Joe Cocker and dyslexic local lads Def Leppard, this remains one of the best and most concise documentaries about the way in which football offers an escape from the frustrations of everyday life. And in 1984, Sheffield Wednesday offered an exciting and uplifting glimpse of what football could bring to a struggling city.

3. Big Ron Manager (Sky TV, 2006)

Ronald Frederick Atkinson. He of the remarkable suntan and the entirely baffling phrase "early doors". Winner of two FA Cups and two League Cups as manager. Reduced to ruining Steve Bleasdale's burgeoning managerial career for the sake of TV ratings. As the Posh slipped down the table during the bizarre experiment that was Big Ron Manager, the only real winners were the viewers of this unique and strange documentary. It was, if nothing else, a success of sheer entertainment.

Jeff Stelling narrates the show, taking time out from his usual role of impressing* (*scaring) viewers with an intimate knowledge of Stirling Albion's goalscoring woes and Exeter City's loanee midfielders. Opening the first episode, Stelling asks "will Big Ron being able to work his magic in this down-at-heel football world?"  The answer is a resounding NO. Mostly, he interferes in Bleasdale's perfectly competent running of the team, reels off 'Ronglish' platitudes to a confused dressing room and turns up at Barry Fry's gaff for lasagne. It's gripping TV, in its weird, slightly mundane glory.

The show's true gems, though, are a result of its behind-the-scenes access. Genial defender Mark Arber gets in hot* (*warm?) water as a result of tampering with a urine sample. Posh's youngsters misunderstand the contrasts of visiting a local factory as an excuse to act stupidly, and Bleasdale finishes a rousing team talk by telling the players "and the word I'm looking for, before the finish, is 'sloppy mode.'"  'Magic darts' and all that.

Big Ron Manager remains an interesting look at a footballing level and era where the gates are low, the ground is crumbling, and the measured old heads clash with brash young talents. It all happens at London Road, but in truth this could have been any contemporary lower league side. And it remains a fascinating watch for fans of any team.

4. City! A Club in Crisis (Granada, 1981)

Malcolm Allison's outspoken, frank manner means he's always been renowned as a footballing showman, as much as he has a managerial success. "There aren't many players who can do that", a City boardroom member tells Allison, after Kenny Dalglish scores a dipping strike against the Maine Road men. "What?  Make the ball bounce?" replies the acerbic, flamboyant boss. But, in a no-holds-barred piece of football filmmaking which turns many preconceptions on its head, Allison's increasing vulnerability is one of City!'s most fascinating facets.

As with Big Ron Manager, the behind-the-scenes access of this documentary gives it an authentic and refreshingly honest feel. After one defeat, the players congregate in the dressing room to analyse the fixture. This begins with a cry of "what about that fuckin' referee?", followed by noises of outraged agreement.  It's a world away from the lazy platitudes of glum midfielders with a microphone unwittingly shoved in their face by Geoff Shreeves.

It also shines a light on areas rarely seen by fans. The City team are seen training on the fields by Manchester's Platt Lane. John Bond's job interview is caught on camera. An incredulous narrator tells us how Allison likes any "new idea", trying "dancing teachers, psychiatrists, university lecturers and, now, he's planning music in the dressing room". It's a fascinating portent of what would become the revered footballing field of 'Sports Psychology'.

The most fascinating area of this production, though, is the battle between the aging master, Malcolm Allison, and his managerial replacement and childhood friend, John Bond. It's a narrative which Shakespeare would have been proud of, but the drama of it is low-key and emotional. When City meet Allison's new side, Crystal Palace, a seemingly desperate, shaken Allison faces the camera, and says, "I need to win badly. I need to win". He doesn't. It's the sign of a proud man having a genuine crisis, and as with everything in City! A Club in Crisis, there's that sense of intimacy and access which makes this a remarkable and engrossing gem of documentary making.

5. Football's Greatest Teams - Bayern Munich (Sky Sports, 2013)

Narrated by Hugh McIlvanney, whose voice sounds like a big bear hug, Football's Greatest Teams is one of Sky Sport's fleeting - but wonderfully produced - acknowledgements of football's existence prior to 1992.  Focusing on the Bayern team of the mid-1970s, which won three consecutive European Cups (bolded, because that's just ridiculous!), this superb piece focuses on game footage, but incorporates numerous player interviews - and perhaps most incredibly, fans' footage of the trip to Brussels for the 1974 European Cup Final at Heysel - Bayern's first ever appearance in the final.

As with the other entries here, there are some superb pieces of insight. Not least Bayern legend Rainer Zobel's slightly guilty recollection of that infamous European Cup tie against Leeds United.  "It was a goal" he admits. "It wasn't offside". It's not going to mean much to those at Elland Road, but it's a humble admittance which seems to rest uneasily with the brash, no-nonsense confidence of many of Bayern's stars of the period.

The footage, though, is probably the highlight here - especially for lovers of continental football. The rare, fuzzy footage of Gerd Müller smashing home goals from inside the box is enough to warm the heart, especially combined with McIlvanney's superb narration. It's a fitting tribute to a wonderful team.

Thanks to Dave Burin for his wonderful guest post. Seen any great football documentaries? Tell us about them! Drop us a line or do as Dave did - write us a guest post! We look forward to hearing from you...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Football Attic Podcast 22 - Panini Special

Football sticker enthusiasts: you have reached your aural Valhalla! The Football Attic is proud to present 80 minutes of discussion on the subject of sticker collecting featuring our very special guest, Greg Lansdowne.

Greg's currently promoting his new book, 'Stuck On You: The Rise & Fall... & Rise of Panini Stickers', which looks into the history of self-adhesive football stickers in the UK. Having spoken to the great and the good from Panini, Merlin and many other great names down the years, Greg has put pen to paper to document the fascinating story of how we all got hooked on the great collecting craze for football lovers young and old.

'Stuck on You' is on sale now, but if you haven't got your copy yet, never fear - The Football Attic managed to catch up with Greg recently to bring you a personal take on some of the fascinating stories you'll find in the book.

And if you sent in questions for Greg, you're in luck as our guest very kindly spent some time providing answers to all your Panini-related enquiries and disputes.

Belly dancers, newspaper moguls and striking TV broadcasters... You'll find out all about these, plus stickers, cards and much more besides on The Football Attic Podcast 22!

Subscribe to The Football Attic Podcast on iTunes or download our podcast here.

Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall - & Rise of Panini Stickers
By Greg Lansdowne
Pitch Publishing Ltd
256 pages
Price: £12.99 (Amazon.co.uk)

See also:

Friday, 6 March 2015

Panini: Football 83

In 1983, Panini did for football players what Morecambe & Wise did for Angela Rippon. Where before there was a tidal wave of heads and faces, now there were legs everywhere - hundreds of them adorning virtually every sticker on every page. This was a new approach: out went the head-shots of previous collections and in came full-length shots of every player in full team kit. Amazing.

It's difficult to know what people thought of this change back in the day. Speaking personally, I remember being a little confused but ultimately rather pleased with the sight of whole players, rather than just their heads and shoulders. Now we could see a complete team kit, and though we might have seen glimpses of it on TV, it was now possible to gaze eternally at the entire ensemble in all its detailed glory.

The shift to tall, thin stickers from the squarer, more squat shape was a seismic event in the history of Panini's UK domestic football collections. It's never been repeated (not to my knowledge, at least) and people still talk about it to this day. The obvious nod towards the old cigarette cards of the early-20th Century would have pleased the nostalgia lovers no end, but younger collectors may have missed the chance to see what a player looked like close up. As it is, they weren't missing much. Who wants to see sensible haircuts and dead-behind-the-eyes facial expressions in fine detail anyway?

The change in shape of the stickers could have posed one or two problems where the foil badges were concerned. Your average club crest tends not to be tall and slim by its very nature (Birmingham City's being one of the few exceptions), so how could you fill up all the empty space going spare? One idea was provided on the first page of the album with the shiny versions of the logos for the Football League and Professional Footballers' Associations in England and Scotland.

What Panini did for the team badges, however, was rotate them 90 degrees and add a cartoon illustration of the team's nickname. My 12-year-old self thought this was magnificent; an informal adjunct to the ruthlessly slick content found elsewhere in the album. More often than not, the cartoons were literal (Ipswich had pennants sporting the word 'Blues') while others were common knowledge to the regular football fan anyway. It was when I got to the Scottish teams that I struggled, though. My knowledge of football north of the border was considerably patchier, so why were Dundee United represented by a bunch of fans being noisy?

The illustrations, despite not having the nicknames provided, were good fun and very nicely drawn. In fact the whole presentation of the foil badges was very well done indeed, from the scarf-like team name banner to the inclusion of the year the club was formed.

But back to those player pictures. Despite Panini's usual meticulous efforts to get all the required photographs in a single shoot, their high standards were sometimes compromised by the players themselves - or specifically their attempts to dress appropriately.

The classic example of this was found on pages 38 and 39 of the Football 83 album where you'd find several of Swansea City's fine band of men devoid of any decent footwear. First there was Colin Irwin, captain of the side and a former Liverpool defender and yet, despite having been given a football to hold onto, didn't have any boots to wear. The same can be said of Bob Latchford, one-time Everton great yet now, at the ripe old age of 32, forced to pose for a picture with only socks on his feet.

Alan Curtis notched up the embarrassment levels even further by wearing a full kit and carpet slippers on his feet. Little is known about the Great Swansea Shoe Shortage of 1983, but this album will give historians a valuable insight into those austere times.

Over on the West Ham pages, Phil Parkes only just avoided humiliation of a similar nature by donning what appeared to be a pair of desert boot/football trainer hybrids, but even with the right footwear, other perils were abound. Take, for instance, the gentleman in the dark jacket and grey flannels walking accidentally into shot behind Birmingham City' Pat Van Den Hauwe. All very unfortunate...

At least Football 83 had its fair share of curiosities throughout. There was Arsenal in their first ever modern, shiny kit complete with Dennis the Menace socks; Dave Sexton wearing that rarest of things - a Coventry 'Talbot' tracksuit top; and a host of future Premier League managers from Martin Jol to Alan Curbishley all looking fresh-faced and free of the stress that was to blight their post-playing careers.

After the previous year's collection, Panini decided not to bother with a section on Division Three and stayed with the tried-and-trusted 'badge and team pic' format for the Division Two teams. As for the Scottish Premier Division teams, there were no full-length pictures for their players. Yet again, they were two to a sticker (head shots only), but as with the English First Division teams, there was room for an extra player on the page thanks to some skilful rejigging of the layout.

Finally, on the last seven pages of the album, we were treated to one of the more inventive and interesting features from Panini's rich canon. 'Laws of the Game' made great use of the longer-shaped stickers by giving us pictures explaining each of the laws of Football. Accompanied by full text descriptions of everything from the correct way players should be dressed to the offside rule, this was a genuinely useful and satisfying addition to the album - not least because of the 'Boys Own' style of illustration used on each of the pictures.

And that was that - a great end to a very good collection filled with new ideas that kept our love for Panini well and truly alive. But could it last, and what would the thousands of loyal Panini sticker collectors expect in 1984? All would soon be revealed...

-- Chris Oakley

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Preview: Football Attic Podcast 22

This Saturday, March 8th, we'll be recording Episode 22 of The Football Attic Podcast - and we'll be interviewing a very special guest, author Greg Lansdowne.

Greg's new book, 'Stuck On You: The Rise & Fall... & Rise of Panini Stickers', is a fascinating look at the heyday of football sticker collecting in the UK. Covering Merlin, FKS and many other manufacturers as well as Panini, it's the must-have book for anyone that's ever known the joy of swapping and sticking!

Ahead of the podcast recording, we're inviting you to send in your questions on sticker collecting. Whether it's a technical query about one of the Panini albums or you're just curious about which collection Greg likes the most, leave us a message below or email admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com.

We'll do our very best to read out your questions as we indulge in our love for one of the most a-peeling pastimes ever! Thanks for your participation!

And you can order your own copy of 'Stuck on You' via Amazon UK for just £12.99 (paperback) and many other great retail outlets.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Cadbury's Soccerbar (1973)

First, there was chocolate...

Then there was football...

(Actually both came into being around the same time, especially where commercially produced chocolate is concerned, but that's to deviate from the thrilling introduction...)

...Then finally there was SOCCERBAR!

You haven't heard of it, have you?

Thought not. Soccerbar rode the first big wave of themed chocolate products that emerged in the late-1960's when companies like Cadbury and Nestlé (pronounced 'Nessul' in our house) looked for new ways to make us buy their choccies. Like we needed an excuse!

Aiming their sights squarely at the junior market, they produced a succession of fairly ordinary chocolate bars temptingly packaged with imagery from films and TV programmes. By the early-70s it was possible to buy your favourite cocoa-based comestibles in association with The Jungle Book, Noddy, Doctor Who and a host of others... and that was before turncoats like The Mr Men and The Wombles sold their souls later that same decade.

Yet it wasn't always a specific title that could tempt the average schoolboy to part with his pocket money. Sometimes a generic concept could work just as well, and what better than the exciting world of football? (Well pictures of naughty, bikini-clad women on a chocolate bar wrapper was always going to be litigious at the best of times...)

The year was 1973 and Cadbury decided it was the to bring the world of football to its chocolate-munching devotees, and Soccerbar was the result. There was, perhaps, a problem. Although some chocolate bars could be made in a shape loosely approximating a cartoon character, it wasn't so easy to replicate in fine detail the lank hair of Stan Bowles or the stocky ruggedness of Norman Hunter.

A different approach was needed and ultimately Cadbury decided to focus on the packaging, rather than the contents. Around each foil-wrapped bar was a brightly coloured sleeve; the front of it featured a hand-drawn action shot (sometimes deliberately referencing a proper league club like Crystal Palace) while the back contained Soccerbar's undoubted USP: knowledge.

As we all know, kids like nothing better than collecting a set of something, and here they could do so by collecting all 12 Soccerbar wrappers. Why? Because each one had tips and advice on how to improve your football skills and fitness.

Many a nugget of helpful instruction was provided. "Wingers... Practice crossing the ball by constantly aiming at a point above the penalty spot which would make for a good header" suggested one wrapper, while another told Centre Backs that "solid, accurate heading is vital".

Staying fit and avoiding injury was also discussed, telling the young consumer that warming up and doing exercises were vital in order to stay in peak condition. Quite how that would have gone down with the chocolate-scoffing juvenile one can only wonder, but the advice was valuable nonetheless.

It's not quite clear how long Soccerbars were around for, but we're guessing that England's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup may have spelled the end for anything football-related in Cadbury's growing range of products.

This was, nonetheless, a simple example of maximising sales by pandering to your potential customers. Kids love football, kids love chocolate, ergo you make a chocolate bar that appeals to young football fans. It worked like a charm and the bellies of millions of children were satisfyingly filled accordingly.

-- Chris Oakley

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 2

Continuing our look at the great, the good and the trying-hard-not-to-be-embarrassing from the world of football co-commentary...

Charlton, Jack

The older of the Charlton brothers barely had a chance to put his feet up after retiring from an accomplished playing career when he was swiftly snapped up by ITV. His first assignment saw him fly out to Belgrade to cover the 1973 European Cup Final with Brian Moore, and he did the same again in 1974, 1976 and 1980. Six FA Cup Finals between 1974 and 1981, not to mention a wide range of England internationals culminating in the 1982 World Cup were also added to Big Jack's canon, proving an undoubted talent that his employers could regularly rely upon.

Jack Charlton's vocal style was distinctive but winningly efficient. Possessing a stronger Geordie accent than his younger brother, the viewer occasionally had cause to stop and figure out what it was he'd actually said (cf. "I dunna why he didn't hit it to the far purst"). That aside, Charlton rarely wasted a word as he described what was going on, nor in his views about a particular player, team or manager.

Forthright without being overtly controversial, Jack Charlton unquestionably found the right balance in his delivery. A player of considerable experience, he had plenty to say and wasn't afraid to say it, but he was always fair-minded in his assessment of everything. It would have been easy for him to bore people about his days playing for Leeds or England, or to gloat about the greatness he achieved, but he didn't. Instead, he spoke with conciseness and meaning, just as you always hope a co-commentator would.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.5/10.

Clough, Brian

Given Brian Clough's success with Derby County and his outspoken 'clown' comments about Poland's goalkeeper in 1973, it's strange that he wasn't handed a co-commentator's microphone until 1979. Perhaps it's because ITV preferred to make use of his presence as a studio-based panelist because that's where you'd have found him for much of the early- to mid-70's.

As it is, Clough toned down his controversial views once relocated alongside the main commentator, but he remained truthful and honest with the things that he said. When hearing Clough's analysis, you always got the feeling he was scrutinising every moment, processing everything that was going on in front of him in fine detail. Waffle was a rarity with Clough - what you got was an interesting take on the game with points being made that weren't immediately apparent to the casual viewer.

And he continued to do just that throughout the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, several domestic Cup Finals and European Finals to boot. By the late-1980's, however, his main career as manager of Nottingham Forest was entering its final stages and his work for ITV came full circle as he appeared more and more often in front of camera as a studio guest rather than behind the mike. As TV viewers, that worked out just fine as Clough got more of a chance to speak at greater length rather than keeping his utterances short and to the point.

With more time to talk, there was greater potential for hearing the sort of spiky dialogue he'd become known for, and that, after all, was what we all wanted deep down. Far from bland, Brian Clough liked to talk and knew how to make you listen whether you liked him or not.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 7/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.8/10.

Hill, Jimmy

If ever a man made it his job to watch football and explain it to the ordinary TV viewer, it was Jimmy Hill. Then again, Jimmy Hill made it his job to do many things in his life, from running football clubs to representing the interests of players as PFA Chairman.

On TV he could have conceivably done everything himself; presenting the programme, commentating on the match, conducting the interviews with the players afterwards and reviewing the key tactical sequences... Hill had so much experience, he could have done any or all of those things with consummate ease.

As it is, he was asked to take his seat in the commentary box and convey his thoughts whenever their was a big match taking place. Initially on ITV, Jimmy Hill formed a winning partnership with Brian Moore and was present for the FA Cup Finals from 1969 to 1973, as well as numerous England matches and European Finals. A switch to the BBC then saw him initially move to a front-of-camera roll hosting Match of the Day, but from the 1980's he was back behind the mike again for World Cups and European Championships alike.

His skill at reading the game and understanding who was playing well and who wasn't (including the officials) gave him a reputation for being one of the best football brains around. Unfortunately it also prompted some people to regard him as a know-it-all and would happily impersonate him as a dreary, self-satisfied bore.

This was unfair to say the very least. If any criticism could be aimed at Jimmy Hill, it's that he was perhaps on TV too frequently over a long period of time, but that wasn't his fault either. TV producers knew he could add much to a live match broadcast, so unsurprisingly they made use of his talents whenever possible. And why not... Jimmy Hill loved the game just as much (if not more) than anyone, and his desire to prove it during his co-commentaries was a very admirable trait indeed.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8/10 Humour - 5/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 7.1/10.

And now, once again, it's time to look at some of the minor members of the 'Sitting Alongside' club...

Clemence, Ray: Rarely used former Liverpool and Tottenham goalkeeper but a shrewd collaborator that spoke with sense and relevance. Joined Brian Moore for ITV's coverage of England's 8-0 win in Turkey in November 1984, but should have been used much more often.

Francis, Trevor: Britain's first million-pound player and in recent years a regular co-commentator on Sky Sports, but it all started back in 1986 when he accompanied Brian Moore during England's goalless friendly in Budapest. Great insight as an accomplished player and manager and pleasingly talked a lot of sense.

Greaves, Jimmy: One of the greatest England forwards of all time and a colourful co-presenter for ITV's 'Saint and Greavsie', yet not used all that often in the commentary box. Perfectly comfortable in front of the camera where his jovial character shone through in abundance, his appearances behind the mike were mainly confined to the 1990's. Possessing a potent mix of humour and honest criticism, Greaves was a fine foil to Brian Moore and was able to lighten the mood of a game better than most of his peers.

Coming up in Part 3:
A galloping manager, a Saint and a host of stars that disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived...

-- Chris Oakley

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Fantasy Nostalgia: Shirt Sponsorship in the 1960s

What would the football kits of English football teams have looked like if shirt sponsorship had arrived a decade earlier, during the late-1960's? Go on, admit it - you've been wondering about that, haven't you?

Well wonder know more as we conjure up some more fantasy illustrations to take you into an alternative reality where things really did happen...

We begin with Sheffield United (above left) who in this image are sporting the sponsor's name of Woodbine. Why? For no other reason than the once popular cigarette brand features in The Greasy Chip Butty Song, favoured so much by fans of The Blades. So there.

Then we have Watford (above centre) who perhaps might have had the Green Shield Stamps logo on their plain yellow shirts. I matched the logo with the team because the building that once acted as the Green Shield UK headquarters was based in Edgware, a short distance from the Vicarage Road ground.

Lastly, on the right of the image, I've paired up Manchester United with Watney's Red Barrel. Again, no complicated reason for this, other than the logo looks quite nice on a red shirt.

Onto the next selection...

Tottenham and Persil (above left) - a perfect combination, purely because we were always told that 'Persil washes whiter'... and just as well, as those white shirts can get really rather muddy sometimes...

Above centre is Aston Villa and their HP Sauce-fronted shirts. Here we have another local connection as the factory that used to make HP Sauce was located in Aston, Birmingham. (And you thought I was just throwing this stuff together...)

Lastly on the right, we have Oxo on the shirts of Nottingham Forest, proving once again that some logos just look better on a particular background colour. Oxo's packaging has been red for many years, so it just seems to fit.

And so to the last selection of 60's-sponsored kits, and we begin with the Hoover logo on the QPR shirt (above left). Anyone that's driven down the A40 Western Avenue in London has probably seen the lovely Art Deco building that once produced Hoover appliances at some point or another. The Hoover Building is situated just over five miles away from QPR's Loftus Road ground, thereby creating yet another tenuous link.

The middle kit is that of Norwich City, and their shirt is sponsored by Fairy Snow. The name might be faintly embarrassing, but there is a connection as packets of the erstwhile detergent used to have a yellow and green colour scheme. Fact.

Last, but not least, there's Everton and their Lyons Maid splash across the famous old blue shirt. Here I have to admit I really have been throwing this together as the weakest of all connections is based on Everton once having the great Mick Lyons on their team roster during the 1970s. Pathetic really, isn't it?

-- Chris Oakley

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Goal Frames We Have Known and Loved: No.3

Empire Stadium, Gżira, Malta:

Look closely at the grainy black-and-white image above and you'll see something rather spectacular. It's a set of goalposts made entirely out of pelican crossing lights.

Actually that's not true. They couldn't get the bulb to flash on the top.

No, these are in fact proper black and white striped goal posts as seen for many years at the Empire Stadium just north-west of Valetta, Malta. The above picture is taken from the Malta v England match that took place in 1971, and as you can see, they're every bit as bizarre as they are eye-catching.

Not only are the posts an absolute delight to behold (Newcastle United fans, contain yourselves) but the back frame of the goal was also peculiar because of its three support posts. That's THREE - one at the back left of the net, one at the back right and one in the MIDDLE.

Quite why it was deemed necessary to add a third post down the middle is anyone's guess, but it's just the sort of idiosyncratic idea that added so much fun to the world of football years ago.

As if the goalframes weren't crazy enough, the pitch at the Empire Stadium in Malta was made up predominantly of white sand. Any team that played there (and many did, from England to Ipswich Town to Real Madrid) could tell you how tricky that was to play on - in fact Sir Alf's band of happy wanderers only just scrambled a 1-0 win there back in February 1971.

Then again, it's easy to be distracted by innovation and originality when it's so unavoidably in your midst. We can only imagine every visiting player must have spent hours gawping at the monochrome genius of those goal frames, so if possession of the ball was easily lost, so be it. We'd have no doubt done the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the goal posts of Gżira: true black and white brilliance.

Structure: 9.5
Net pattern: 7
Net colour: 7
Overall: 8.5

-- Chris Oakley

See also:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Football Crazy (1977)

The school tuck shop. A place where for decades juveniles have queued up, exchanged money for substandard food and consumed the very things they acquired, purely for pleasure alone. 'Nutritional gratification' was nowhere to be seen, apart from those freaky kids that bought an apple at break time. Who the hell buys apples, for heaven's sake?

No, for the schoolchildren of the 1970s and 1980's in particular, it was common - nay, expected - that your daily food consumption consisted only of items that in no way benefited your personal health and well-being. Crisps were a great example of the genre. Though in essence derived from the perfectly decent potato, the addition of preservatives, colourings and copious amounts of hot oil transformed it into something that passed through your digestive system to no great effect. But my, did they taste fantastic. Artificially fantastic, but fantastic all the same.

Among the many varieties available was Football Crazy, a favourite among tuck shop regulars of the late 1970's. For four-and-a-half new pennies, you could have yourself a small packet of corn and potato snacks shaped like footballs (vaguely) and flavoured like smokey bacon. They were cheap, tasty and guaranteed to clog up your whole mouth with the sort of substance which, these days, you're more likely to find pumped into wall cavities as insulation material.

For the average football-loving child, however, there was more indulgence to be had thanks to the canny marketing of Smiths' Crisps. Their idea was to create the Football Crazy Club, which kids could be a member of if they sent off enough the required number of empty crisp packets. Once a member, they'd receive all many of goodies through the post such as the obligatory newsletter, stickers and anything else they could churn out for little or no expense.

Even if you weren't a member of the club, you could still send away your wrappers to pick up special items, like the 'Laws of Football' booklet advertised here. It was as if Smiths Crisps were saying "We know you like football, so allow us to give you lots of nice things in return for buying our corn/potato snacks."

How very convivial, and how very 'Seventies'. It just wouldn't happen now, though. Kids, I'm convinced, aren't interested in stickers or posters or 'Rules of the Game' booklets. Crisps must still be popular with kids though, aren't they? If so, could you persuade them to send off 15,700 empty packets in exchange for a copy of FIFA 15? Nah, thought not.

-- Chris Oakley

'F.A. Rules OK' image by kind courtesy of Football Cartophilic Info Exchange.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 1

When idly passing by an hour or two, it's greatly satisfying to recall happy memories of long hot summers, pre-decimal coinage and the sweets you used to buy from the corner shop on your way to school. Kola Kubes, in my case. Or occasionally Mint Humbugs. Or Jelly Babies.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, football commentary. When feeling nostalgic, there's nothing better than remembering an era when a football commentator on TV was joined by someone who occasionally (and only when invited to do so) would give their personal thoughts on the game in progress. These 'co-commentators,' as they became known, were usually ex-players or current league managers, or both, on very rare occasions.

What they provided was insight - insight that could only be gained from someone involved in football at the very highest level; an antidote to the speculative ponderings of Brian Moore, John Motson and many more besides. Many were naturals in their new-found role but others were less self-assured or, to use common parlance, just plain piss poor.

And so it falls to The Football Attic to record the contribution made by these men, and as we do so, let's give a score to each one based on five main categories:

Insight - Being able to say something that wouldn't have naturally occurred to the viewer and could only be said by someone who knows football inside out.

Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - In short, knowing when to keep schtum and respecting the commentator's top billing as main speaker throughout the game (we're looking at you, Mark Bright).

Humour - Adding comedy with a light touch whenever necessary without thinking it was a chance to perform a stand-up routine to a nationwide television audience.

Controversialness - Lacing your dialogue with just enough opinion to get the audience at home discussing the relevant issue at great length without polarising the entire audience.

Delivery - Speaking the words in your head without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Or as if English is your second language, for that matter.

And now, let us begin...

Atkinson, Ron

An unfortunate place to start for reasons already apparent, possibly, but let's do what we can. 'Big Ron' caught the attention of ITV's men in suits having assembled a West Bromwich Albion squad that regularly qualified for European competition in the late-1970's (ask your grandparents). Always at ease in front of the camera for those vital post-match interviews, he finally took the ITV shilling during the 1980 European Championships where he assisted Martin Tyler and Brian Moore.

Proving he could talk convincingly from a manager's point of view about tactics, formations and individual players, he became ITV's co-commentator of choice for many years. World Cups and domestic Cup Finals followed in abundance, but he soon found himself relying on mangled metaphors and twisted idioms (cf. "Early doors," "tourneyment," etc) to build any sense of personal idiosyncrasy. And that's to say nothing of the plethora of foreign player names he mispronounced.

Not that it seemed to harm his career as Atkinson went on and on into the 1990's and 2000's, taking in Champions League matches and any other high-profile event that he was called upon to oversee. Then came the crashing end to it all when he was heard making awful racist comments about Marcel Desailly after a broadcast of the Chelsea v Monaco match in 2004. Atkinson's microphone was still on when the UK broadcast had ended, and the live feed was still being heard in other parts of the world - not that Atkinson was aware at the time.

The sack soon followed and his long career ended abruptly - justifiably so. True, Atkinson was good in his day, but in light of his final, enormous gaff it's anyone's guess why he wasn't caught out sooner.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8/10 Humour - 5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 (before his career ended) Delivery - 7.5/10. OVERALL - 7/10.

Brooking, (Sir) Trevor

No sooner had Trev hung up his boots for the last time at West Ham than he was being dragged forcibly by the shirt collar to his first BBC commentary gig. Mild-mannered and the sort of 'nice young man' your Nan would have approved of, Brooking fitted the BBC profile of polite respectability perfectly. Ironic, given the calibre of people they were employing in other areas of the organisation *coughYewtree*.

Brooking made an early appearance in front of the TV cameras at the start of the 1970's as a studio guest on ITV's 'The Big Match', but it was behind the mike that his post-playing career came to pass at the Beeb.

Though the Upton Park idol offered much in the way of wholesome decency to his co-commentary role, he regrettably became known for not being able to form a strong opinion for or against any particular argument. Were it not for the fact that Humpty Dumpty got in first, Brooking would have led the way in sitting not only on fences but also walls or other free-standing structures wherever appropriate.

That aside, he became BBC's 'Mr Reliable,' putting in many hours of service during the World Cups of 1986 and 1990, appearing also in sound only for every FA Cup Final between 1989 and 1997. England internationals and domestic spectacles also appeared on Brooking's CV and by the time he stepped down from his duties, there was barely any football event he hadn't co-commentated on.

If only he'd said something controversial once in a while...

Insight - 6/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 4/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 6.7/10.

Charlton, Sir Bobby

Much like Brooking, Sir Bobby had every box ticked when the BBC were looking for someone to take on the role of football co-commentator, but with one additional 'wow' factor - he'd won the World Cup with England.

Who better, then, to cast his eye over football's rich tapestry of theatre and zeal than one of the great gentlemen of the English game? Although his temperament really was gentle, he was also constructive with his comments and tremendously encouraging to players and teams that had played well.

His first major outing with the BBC came at the 1978 World Cup where he joined David Coleman and Barry Davies in the commentary box, coincidentally during the same tournament where his brother Jack was performing the same task for ITV. They'd repeat the same cross-channel double act during the 1982 World Cup, too...

Before long, Sir Bobby was drafted in to cover the 1980 and 1984 European Championships, the World Cups of 1986 and 1990, plus a host of other key matches. His quiet, easy-going style coupled with a series of well-honed, relevant observations made him the ideal choice for the BBC, bringing dignity and respect to a role that can be divisive in the wrong hands.

When the 1990's arrived, we saw less and less of the Man United hero (blame Trevor Brooking for getting in first when the talent was being booked), but by then he'd earned a well-deserved rest. A career in co-commentating almost as exemplary as the one he'd had when playing, Sir Bobby Charlton knew how to talk about the game, and when to do so. Take note, all ye who follow in his footsteps.

Insight - 7/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 10/10 Humour - 4/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 7.0/10.

And before Part 1 comes to an end, a quick mention for some other co-commentators who tried their hand at coherent football-related speech while a huge viewing public listened intently...

Bond, John: More of a studio panellist, he sat alongside Brian Moore for the crucial England v Hungary qualifier for World Cup 82 at Wembley. Slightly grumpy in vocal tone, no-one could deny his knowledge of the game or fail to appreciate the apposite comments he made.

Brady, Liam: Former Arsenal midfielder and a classy one at that, most of his punditry work was done for Irish broadcaster RTE in latter years, but his co-commentary skills came to light when Ireland reached the 1990 and 1994 World Cup. Knowledgable and not afraid to give his views when asked to do so.

Channon, Mick: Another ITV pannelist par-excellence, and one who dared to lock horns with Brian Clough in the process. Behind the mike, he was just as plain-spoken and amusing, and refreshingly so. Sadly he didn't co-commentate all that often, nor did he do that windmill thing with his arms when he spoke, but you can't have everything.

Coming up in Part 2:
A famous footballing brother, an old big head and an even bigger chin... who could this possibly be a reference to...?

-- Chris Oakley