Just off Oxford Street in London lies 175 Wardour Street, today the site of an unassuming shop selling photographic equipment but 40 years ago or more the location for FKS Publishers Ltd - Britain’s answer to Figurine Panini.
The front cover provides an all-action shot from an England v Wales international featuring, among others, Geoff Hurst and Mike England. With the FKS logo in one bottom corner and the album price of two shillings and six pence (12½p in new money), we were all set for a rollercoaster ride into the colourful world set before us.
Except colour was rather at a premium for the first few pages of this album. After a Table of Contents and a title page, we then had another black and white layout this time showing the league tables from the previous season. As is always the case for anyone hopelessly nostalgic about football, a casual glance across the four divisions in England and the two in Scotland provides many a reason to smile. Look - there’s Everton, the league champions... Huddersfield Town, champions of Division Two sharing a table with Aston Villa, next to bottom and relegated to Division Three... and whatever happened to Barrow and Workington, eh? A different world indeed.
Yes, ‘stamps’ - not stickers. The technology to produce self-adhesive pictures was no doubt still being developed at the time, so instead FKS sold you seven stamps per packet (price 6d/2½p) and invited you to apply glue to the top edge of the back of each one. Applying them neatly would ensure that when the glue dried, you could lift up each one to read the player biography printed underneath. A nice touch that ensured more stickers could be crammed in on each page, but one had to wonder how much those pages would flap around in the school playground when a freak gust of wind blew up.
And what of the pictures on the stamps? It’s fair to say things start well with the first half a dozen or so teams featuring players consistently either ligging around on the playing field or shown in a head-and-shoulders format.
Curiously, things start to go a little awry when we arrive at the Everton page. Here we get our first chance to play ‘Spot the Odd One Out’, the winner in this case being Tom Jackson who seems to be standing in front of a very large banana, one might presume. Similar acts of individualism also appear, such as Leeds United’s Rod ‘Fetch Me A Ladder’ Belfitt or Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Tommy ‘Drowning in a Cyan Sea’ Lawrence. As for Southampton’s Denis Hollywood, it’s anybody’s guess as to the friendship he’d struck up with the photographer.
With the First Division team pages out of the way, we move onto a three-page feature called ‘Second Division Star Gallery’ - essentially a display of 44 players gracing the second tier with their skill and professionalism. Admittedly not every name catches the eye and because the team names are only specified on the back of each stamp, one cannot always be sure who the players play for at first glance.
That aside, some names do ring out from the crowd. We see future Arsenal manager Terry Neill (a player-manager with Hull City at the time) along with future England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, still learning his trade at Leicester City. Malcolm McDonald is there in the white shirt of Luton Town and over the page we get the unlikely sight of Ron Atkinson, Terry Venables and Rodney Marsh all in close proximity as if to give us a foretaste of TV punditry to come.
If this large cross-section of Second Division talent wasn’t entirely satisfactory for you, there was always the opportunity to send off for a printed sheet featuring your favourite team. Yes Watford fans, the order form on page 38 was there to help you get a special piece of paper that you could attach to the largely blank page called ‘Favourite Second Division Team’. A nice idea that presumably generated a bit of revenue for FKS back in the day, while at the same time saving on the cost of ink where the album was concerned.
So all in all, what do we make of this album and it’s non-Panini exuberance? Generally speaking, it’s pretty good. Most of the stamps feature decent pictures, although some are let down by a huge amount of modification in the colouring department. One only has to look at the peachy-looking faces of the Blackpool players or Keith Weller’s flat blue Chelsea shirt to know there was something funny going on there.
Cramming 420 stickers into 28 pages is no mean feat, and to produce so much content of such a generally high standard back in 1970 was an incredible achievement. FKS is therefore to be congratulated for their 1970/71 Soccer Stars collection. Things could have been much worse... and having seen their sticker books from the late-70’s / early-80’s, we’re here to tell you they pretty much were. For now though, enjoy this for what it was - simply a great picture stamp collection that Panini themselves would have been rather pleased with.
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