Tuesday 20 December 2011

Flicking in a Winterthur Wonderland

The Picturesque City of Winterthur

Firstly I apologise for a such a poorly punned title. I did consider alternatives, but the play on Hot Chocolate’s ‘It started With a Kiss’ just wouldn’t work. ‘It started with an offer of a free Subbuteo team in a football magazine’ just doesn’t quite cut it.

So what am I going on about? Subbuteo! Despite being aware of Subbuteo from a very early age, being more into cricket than football meant I was more obsessed with obtaining Test Match than any flick-to-kick related products (and for £7.99 from Goldies toy shop, Test Match would be mine – replete with signed photo of the then England team... Botham, Gower et al. Now all that was required was some friends to play with... oh well, back in the box!)

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I had seen lots of Subbuteo items in the windows of the toy shop in town, but even when I first became beholden to football, it still never appealed. It just seemed way too nerdy and serious. Yes they had lovely shiny trophies, but one didn’t need to love Subbuteo to desire those. I'd already dipped my toe into the world of table football a few months earlier when I purchased an all white team from the bargain bin at that same toy shop, but other than drawing my own kits on the blank plastic kit canvas, I still wasn't really getting it.

Two factors combined to change my stance:
  1. There were pretty much no other football toys out there at the time (Striker had disappeared a few years earlier and wouldn’t be available again until the '90s)
  2. An offer of a free Subbuteo team in Shoot! Magazine.

Yes, a FREE Subbuteo team! Which one would I get? As the advert clearly stated, ‘You could even get your favourite team!’ The excitement!!! 
The form was filled in, the requisite Stamped Addressed Envelope (how I miss that phrase) included and the standard 28 days for delivery was waited. Finally, one day after school, a package had arrived. A package that had seen better days by the look of it; my SAE a shadow of its former self. Whether it had suffered some rain damage followed by a letterbox-induced shredding or had just been used as a football for the posties at the local sorting office I shall never know. Nor indeed did I care for I was possibly about to embark on my full-on Subbuteo journey. I tore open the parcel, excitement building... who could it be, who could it be???

Well... you know the answer to that. Kinda gave it away in the title, really.

So...Winterthur... Who???

According to Wikipedia, Winterthur (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪntərtuːr], English: /ˈvɪntərtʊər/) is a city in the canton of Zurich in northern Switzerland. It has the country's sixth largest population estimated at more than 100,000 people.

So there you have it. Furthermore, FC Winterthur play in the Swiss Challenge League, the second highest tier of Swiss football. They play at the Schützenwiese Stadium.

Their home colours are all red. Only, they weren’t back then. Their home colours were white shorts and socks and white shirts with, if the Subbuteo figure painters are to be believed, three vertical gashes to the upper body. I’m assuming they were supposed to be uniform stripes, but the ones on my figures definitely looked like the result of some coordinated machete attack. Guess that would explain the blank stares on their plastic faces. The pic below is from an eBay listing (not mine - I’m holding on to my beloved Winterthur!) Mine came in more modern Subbuteo packaging (landscape layout, not vertical), but the figures are identical.

The Walking(?) Wounded

I now had two complete teams and, along with some cheap balls from the same bargain bin as before, could fully immerse myself in the murky waters of Subbuteo. Now all I needed was a pitch...and maybe some corner flags...and obviously a ref and linesman. A scoreboard would be quite useful too. Oh dear. In one fell swoop my interest had gone from passing to 'collector'. 0 to Geek in under 5 seconds...

And so yet another expensive pastime came into existence. One I shall delve into in greater detail in future, but for now, Merry Christmas people of Winterthur... and please, get to a hospital – those wounds need serious attention!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Bukta 'Nylon Soccer Jerseys' ad, 1971

They say the football played in England back then was electric, and now we have all the evidence to see why...

Thursday 15 December 2011

Ceefax Football

‘England through after dramatic penalty win’ was the headline writ large on ITV’s Oracle Teletext service. It was the evening of June 30th 1998 and David Batty had just seen his penalty saved by the Argentinian goalkeeper Carlos Roa in a Round of 16 World Cup match. England had been defeated 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, and this was soon reflected in the hastily corrected headline that appeared only seconds later: ‘England out of World Cup after penalty miss’.

Teletext always tried to be first with the breaking news headlines and even if it did so by wrongly pre-empting imminent events, at least its heart was in the right place. This was, after all, old technology – an Information Single-Carriageway bringing pages of news and facts by the dozen to ordinary TV screens throughout the UK.

Though many favoured Oracle, it was the BBC’s Ceefax service that most people preferred. At least it seems that way; you only have to utter the word ‘Ceefax’ to a football fan of a certain age and the chances are they’ll respond with a simple number: 302.

Ceefax page 302 was a gateway to enlightenment, aspiration and fulfilment for every follower of football hungry to know more. Who were United about to sign? Who’d picked up a serious injury and wouldn’t be playing for Liverpool?  Had Arsenal won their League Cup match the night before? These questions and many more were inevitably answered among Ceefax’s neatly regimented pages.

Very useful they were too, but for many, Ceefax really came into its own around 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. It was at this moment that thousands of British football fans pressed the ‘Text’ button on their remote controls and blanked out Grandstand to see the latest scores. Some aficionados with excellent eyesight preferred the ‘Mix’ button to get the double hit of football scores and UK Snooker from the Guild Hall in Preston displayed simultaneously, but they were clearly in the minority. As for those pressing 316 to get the latest two scores appearing on the bottom of their screens while they watched their regular programmes, they were among the absolute elite.

Keying in 303 on your remote got you the latest scores from Division One. With ten matches to cover and any number of goalscorers and sending offs to account for, Ceefax partitioned the scores onto three or four sub-pages that were displayed on rotation for around ten seconds at a time.

Once kick-off was out of the way, we viewers entered into a game of memory and observation. It was all very simple at first; with every score set to ‘0-0’, it wasn’t difficult to spot the name of a goalscorer suddenly appearing below an updated 1-0 scoreline. As more and more goals went in however, the screen gradually filled with player names and times (‘Sterland 26’, ‘Strachan 34’…) By half time, you were trying to remember whether you’d already acknowledged one score or another, but shoot – that was all part of the fun.

Admittedly there were occasional frustrations to be had with monitoring the latest scores on Ceefax. For a start, there was the aforementioned ten-second delay. Knowing that your team’s scoreline was on page 1 of 3, it seemed like an eternity to wait before it rolled around again through page 2 and eventually page 3.

Not only that - every so often Ceefax would also play its trump card by skipping the page you wanted and going on to the next one – never good on a day when a glut of goals caused a fourth page to appear in the sequence.

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to employ mitigating actions to reduce the inconvenience caused by the long wait. There was the ‘Number Re-Entry’ method: here the holder of the remote control would type in the same three-figure page number already being viewed in an attempt to make Ceefax update the text. More often than not, this old alternative to an F5 Refresh was not successful.

Others would use the ‘Short Walk’ method where it was preferable to go off and view another page for a few short seconds before jumping back to the original one. This called for a cool head and immaculate timing; get it wrong by a second or two and you could find yourself waiting another lifetime for the pages to go round in sequence once more.

At the other end of the scale, pages sometimes refreshed too quickly. Regular visitors to page 312 - ‘News in Brief’ - would sometimes be greeted by the sight of 10 or more sub pages of text. A wondrous thing, but you had to be quick. Those that dwelled too long on the latest news from the South American championships could easily find themselves dumped onto the next page in sequence before they’d had the chance to finish reading the previous one. Efficient use of the ‘Hold’ button was key in such situations.

But what are we saying... All these time issues were actually what gave Ceefax its old-world appeal. The sense of growing expectation as you waited for one page to be replaced by another only added to the thrill of it all, if indeed ‘thrill’ is the appropriate word here.

How strange, then, to suddenly find ourselves in an era where Jeff Stelling appears on Sky Sports every Saturday, his head and shoulders entrapped by manifold results, news tickers and videprinters. None of us could ever have dreamed of having so much information at our fingertips all those years ago, but there’s no harm in dreaming about the old days every once in a while too. Where Ceefax’s football pages were concerned, less was definitely more.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

World Soccer: August 1971

Some time ago I decided to search eBay for old issues of World Soccer magazine, the much-loved football magazine, now in its 51st year. I wasn’t sure how many I’d find (if any at all) but I’m pleased to report there were quite a few to choose from, one of which was from the month and year of my birth.

And so it was that I purchased the magazine in question and installed it in my personal collection of football memorabilia. What’s curious to note in this printed snapshot of the global game from 1971 is that this was unquestionably a time of arrivals and departures.

Red Devil Frank

Inside we heard from reporter Eric Thornton on the appointment of Frank O’Farrell as manager of Manchester United, a move which was looked upon as something of a gamble on the part of the Old Trafford club. Having led Leicester City to the Division Two title, he replaced Wilf McGuinness in the United hot seat, and it was suggested by Thornton that his football experience at all levels of the game would probably see him in good stead. As it turned out, his first season there wasn't bad, but his second started badly and he was dismissed from his post only 18 months after he'd first arrived.

Don Howe, understudy to manager Bertie Mee at Arsenal, was on his way out of Highbury to take charge at West Bromwich Albion. What made this something of a notable story at the time was the fact that his predecessor at The Hawthorns, Alan Ashman, heard about his sacking well after most of the British public. The story was leaked from Highbury and soon appeared in national newspapers while Ashman was enjoying a holiday in Greece.

Pele to Europe?

Leaving the international scene was none other than Pele, as reported by Roger MacDonald in ‘World Diary’. Pele’s playing career with Brazil had come to an end in a recent friendly against Yugoslavia, but it was his club career at Santos that had come under the spotlight in the summer of 1971. Newly-formed French club Paris Saint-Germain were said to be offering the World Cup legend around £680,000 to play for them at the time, but Pele was in no mood to switch allegiances having already turned down similar offers from Juventus, Inter and Real Madrid. How ironic to think of PSG buying their success in such a way...

Also retiring - this time from football altogether - was Spanish legend Francisco Gento. Norman Cutler reported that his departure from the club where he'd become such a popular captain and outside-left was strangely muted. His last match was the European Cup Winners Cup Final replay against Chelsea in Athens that year, after which Real simply released a statement showing which players would not be retained for the following season. Gento's name was on it, and that was all that was said.

As it is, Gento had not been at his peak for some time due to injury problems and the Bernabeu club had finally decided to release the Spanish international. Rightly enough, he was granted a much-deserved testimonial some time later, thereby allowing Real's fans the chance to give him a proper send-off.

World Cup '74

Elsewhere in the August '71 issue of World Soccer, there was the full draw for the qualifying competition of the 1974 World Cup. There had been a record 98 entrants for the qualifiers and with only 16 places available in the Finals, the South Americans were upset at only getting three of them - so much so that they staged a temporary walk-out at the draw when they hadn't been allocated the four spots they'd asked for. As it is, they were lucky - the 24 competing African countries were fighting over only one place, something Joao Havelange would seek to improve during his FIFA presidency.

Eric Batty, meanwhile, bemoaned the lack of imagination at the recent handing out of the Footballer of the Year and Manager of the Year awards. Both prizes went to Arsenal after their double-winning season; Frank McLintock and Bertie Mee being the respective recipients. Batty argued that TV, the media and popular press had been caught up in the wave of universal appreciation for The Gunners' achievements at the expense of more deserving subjects. In Eric Batty's view, players like Colin Bell, Martin Peters and Ralph Coates might have been better placed to win the player's award.

In other news...

In this issue, we also heard about Canada's struggle to draw decent home crowds for their international matches, the growing interest in soccer over in Texas - contrasted starkly with the lack of goals and excitement in the NASL, and the introduction of a new competition called the UEFA Cup (a replacement for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup won by Leeds United that summer).

Eric Batty was also on hand with a player profile on a new young talent called Johan Cruyff. The Ajax centre-forward had already caught the eye in a European Cup tie against Liverpool in 1966 by scoring one goal in the 5-1 home leg in Amsterdam and both for Ajax in the 2-2 return leg at Anfield. "If one man personifies the new standards of Dutch soccer, that man is surely Johan Cruyff" commented Batty.

Finally, Andrew Dettre reported on a tour of Australia that had recently been undertaken by an English FA representative squad. Though the players returned with a 100% success rate on the field, the tour itself was deemed far from satisfactory, largely due to the wealth of unknown names making up the squad. Big crowds failed to materialise at most of the nine matches leaving the Australian FA with far less money than they hoped for to fund a world tour for their own national side.

Front cover  (top): Italian champions Inter walking out onto the field at Selhurst Park to play an Anglo-Italian Cup match against Crystal Palace.

Back cover (right): Team picture of Blackpool, winners of the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1971.

Monday 5 December 2011

Steve Earl's Football Programmes

Since I first bought a copy of Shoot! for 42p (a price rise of 2 pence on the previous week’s issue I found out later...scandalous!), I have always been drawn to the adverts section near the back of football magazines. The promise of football-related goodies, often in full colour, tempting me all these years. 

Looking back on 25 years' worth of ads, it’s funny how some things have changed and others not. The ads aimed at kids have changed dramatically, moving with the times, as one would expect. Pastel shaded drawings of rosy faced children in England pyjamas (the ad was for football pyjamas, I'd like to point out) replaced with the headache inducing ‘LOOK AT MY AWESOME STUFF IT’S SO AWESOME AAAAAAAARGH!!!!!’ style adverts prevalent in today’s brain mush kids’ football rags.

Adverts aimed at the older end of the age spectrum have changed little; their sober, informative format giving the consumer just what they want – information about what the product is, what it does, how you can obtain it and, in the ‘olden’ days, the standard line about allowing 28 days for delivery.

One specific advert that never seems to have changed is the one that always caught my eye as a lad and still does now.  That of Steve Earl’s Football Programmes.

Advert from Shoot!, July 1986

When Saturday Comes, January 2012

The same goofy, child-bearing-hipped football fan – arm still raised aloft, still giving that curious thumbs up, possibly referring to the FREE programmes (NB: in these hard economic times, this is now just a free programme catalogue) the ad’s strapline has always carried and still clutching a handful of programmes. This figure has been invading my conscious mind for over 21 years and yet, despite this apparently excellent marketing device, the crucial piece of info missing from my memory when I came to research this was... who the hell is this advert for? For as much as I could remember the cartoon, that it was for football programmes and that it offered FREE programmes, I had no idea who was selling / giving them away.

In truth this is probably down to me not really being into football programmes, so I never felt the need to read past the first few lines. I did consider sending off for some free ones back in the day, the offer of free things by post having a very strong allure to a child whose only real post up until that point had been the limited edition Star Wars figures (send 3 names / proof of purchases from the backing cards).

Upon further research (reading my old copies of Shoot! after a trip to the garage), I discovered it was for the aforementioned Steve Earl.  I also discovered, to my disappointment and mild horror as it almost torpedoed the whole angle of this post, that in the copies of Shoot! from 1990, the advert had shrunk to only a few lines and more importantly, Mr GoofyProgrammeMan wasn’t there!!!  Rising costs and an imminent recession obviously took their toll and poor old GPM was laid off. It also now cost a whopping 50p, albeit in unused stamps, to obtain the desired free, sorry, FREE programmes. 

1990 - FREE Football Programmes still available, but no Goofy Programme Man?

Thankfully, despite worldwide economic meltdown, Steve seems to have fully embraced the value of solid branding and restored good ol' Goofy to his rightful place...just to the left of the title.

One more thing I love about this advert is that, through all the years, the font may have changed, GPM may have taken a sabbatical, colour may have arrived, but one thing that has remained constant is the address.  Broad Street, Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1AH.  I can just picture it now...actually, with Google Maps and street view I can do just that...so here it is...

The Promised Land!

Steve Earl's Football Programmes, I may never have sent off for your enticing offer, but you have been a steady rock in my turbulent life for two and a half decades and for that, I salute you!

The Big Match: Golden Goals 1980

Everyone remembers Match of the Day's 'Goal of the Month' competition, but fewer people recall that ITV's The Big Match had its own version called called 'Golden Goals'.

Here's the last thrilling installment from the 1979/80 season, and note an early example of product placement on the advertising board behind the goal for Glenn Hoddle's first effort.