The Great Universal catalogue of the time did its best to rustle up some interest, yet in many ways it seemed distracted by the technology boom catching everyone's eyes. Video recorders, hand-held games and digital watches all had a shimmer of excitement and glamour back then, so what chance did a second-rate pair of football boots have?
In short, not much. It's true that the pair on page 340 would have only set you back 50p per week over a five-month period, but that's about all one can say. In essence, they were cheap boots with moulded studs that probably gave you blisters right up to the point when they inevitably fell apart. And to add insult to injury, they also had the words 'World Cup' printed inexplicably in gold lettering on the sides, as if that was going to make any difference to anything.
Skip forward 140 or so pages and you'd have found a slightly better offering for any kids keen to portray themselves as the new Ian Rush. First of all, there was a nice pair of Adidas Pro 3000's that had screw-in studs, three shiny stripes down the side and a padded tongue featuring a ridiculously large Adidas logo. At a whopping £44.99, however (approximately £130 in today's money), you'd have been hard pushed to persuade your parents to give you those for Christmas.
A better option was possibly the Puma S.P.A. Real's (?!) which at least had the mark of respectability as well as being £10 cheaper than their Adidas equivalents, but as for the Gola's... No, Mum, NO!!!
But what use are football boots without a football to kick around?! Answer: No use at all... unless you turned to page 502 of the catalogue where you'd have found a Mitre Delta 7000.
I actually had one of these, back in the day, and it was a great football to play with. My friends and I played with it so much, the red 'V' markings faded almost completely and the firmness of those synthetic patches also disappeared to the point where the whole ball became spongy and rather absorbent. We played with it THAT much.
At just £11.99, it was well worth every penny, but how many kids would have got one as a result of a mail-order catalogue purchase? My local sports shop would almost certainly have sold Mitre Delta footballs when I was young, so I'd have dismissed my Great Universal catalogue without a second thought. If my favourite ball was only a bus ride away, there was simply no contest. Sorry, Great Universal.
A cheaper ball was also available towards the back of the catalogue... in the Toys & Games section, specifically. A bit unfair to be labelled in such a way. it might have been, as the Adidas Tango knock-off was actually of a decent standard for young kids. It was made of leather, came with a pump adaptor and also the staple of many childhoods - the yellow cotton goalkeeper gloves with black plastic patches.
Yes, I admit it, I also owned a pair of these when I was getting into football, and as many of you will remember, they looked a lot better than they performed. In the rain, they were of no use at all, the cotton getting soggy very quickly and the plastic providing no grip whatsoever. Actually, it's almost a redundant point to ask why there was a patch on the backs of the hands when you consider that the ones on the fingers weren't much better.
Better, then, to play Cup Final, Peter Pan's football equivalent to the ever-popular Test Match. A cross between Super Striker and Subbuteo, the joy of Cup Final was pressing the button behind every plastic outfield player and letting fly with a killer pass or shot on goal. Scaled down hoardings added extra authenticity along with goalies that could actually 'throw' the ball. Now if only they'd given us a Subbuteo-style scoreboard as well, I'd have surely put Cup Final at the top of my Christmas wish list...
Finally, to bed with a good book, and thanks to the Great Universal Autumn and Winter 1985/86 catalogue, you could get two for £6.50, namely the 1986 editions of the Shoot! and Roy of the Rovers annuals. Not really what you'd call a bargain, but in the run-up to Christmas 1985, parents up and down the land would have been only too happy to snap up this and many other stocking fillers.
This catalogue, and many others like them, had gifts in abundance - and you didn't even have to brave the bustling hordes in the shops during the festive season either. A salute, then, to the mail order catalogue: masters of convenience, and a pre-internet shop window for football fans to savour.
-- Chris Oakley