Wednesday, 8 February 2012

News of the World and Empire News Football Annual 1961-62

Behind the creased and crumbling cover of this 50-year-old pocket book lies not only 384 pages of facts, figures and statistics but a fading image of a football world few of us can fully appreciate.

Things were very different at the start of the 1960’s, including the title of our subject. The News of the World Football Annual (as it came to be known for more than 40 years) started out as the Athletic News Football Supplement and Club Directory in 1887. Little more than a pamphlet back then, it covered more and more content with every passing decade and merged with other similar publications, changing names as it did so. In late summer 1960, the 70th edition of the annual appeared, and for the first time, The News of the World saw its name on the front cover.

Stats, stats and more stats

The purpose of the book remained constant; to cram in enough anecdotal and factual information to sustain the most ardent football fan for an entire season. Beyond the hand-tinted picture of Sheffield Wednesday’s Ron Springett and Don Megson on the cover, there was more than enough to satisfy the enthusiastic youngster or the seasoned veteran, whatever their interests.

Though football had existed for around 100 years at the time of publication, the book showed the sport as only just entering a new era where foundations were being laid for the game we know today. The £20 maximum wage had only just been abolished (allowing players to earn anything up to £100 a week), the England team were preparing for only their fourth World Cup tournament and the great old teams of the 1950’s were slowly making way for the sides keen to make an impact in the 60’s and 70’s.

One-man teams

On this latter point, the NoTW Annual features a piece written by Tom Finney OBE, a legend for Preston and England who had retired in 1960. The Lancashire-born striker lamented his old club’s relegation at the end of the previous season and noted how other big teams of the era had only just avoided a similar fate. “Blackpool only just escaped it” said Finney. “How they will miss the inspiration of Stanley Matthews when the old maestro finally decides to call it a day. Without the skill and drive of Nat Lofthouse, Bolton Wanderers just steered clear of the danger zone. And how would Fulham have fared without the genius of Johnny Haynes?”

Tom Finney wondered whether the great teams of the day were too reliant on a single star-name player to get success. If they were, the removal of the £20-per-week wage limit in January 1961 was designed to keep more of them in the British game. Prior to the pioneering work of Jimmy Hill, chairman of the PFA, many Italian clubs were offering vastly better pay for any professional willing to up sticks for the continent. The Annual reported how Jimmy Greaves had joined Milan in June 1961 for guaranteed earnings of £40,000 over three years plus a £10,000 signing on fee. Aston Villa’s Gerry Hitchens went to Inter in the same month for £25,000 over three years, while Charlton’s Eddie Firmani made Inter his second Italian club in June 1958 having already spent two years at Sampdoria. Just before the book was published, Denis Law left Manchester City for Torino for a British record fee of £100,000.

Costs increase, squads shrink

Such a slow bleed of England’s top talent to the continent was of great concern – not least because attendances were falling and clubs were operating at a loss. Ivan Sharpe wrote how “the day of the club with a staff of 50 or more professionals seems to be over” and lamented that the ability of teams to nurture young talent could be severely threatened. Sharpe also commented that 17 of the 44 First and Second Division clubs were financially in the red, thereby causing a pall of doom to hang over the game in England.

It wasn’t all depressing news, however. Malcolm Gunn was quick to highlight the positive change in fortunes for East Anglian clubs at the time. Ipswich Town had returned to the top flight as Division Two champions under the promising leadership of Alf Ramsey. The total cost of the team? Just £30,000 – around the same price paid for a typical top flight player.

Gunn also highlighted the great achievements of Peterborough United – champions of Division Four in their first ever league campaign of '60-'61and newly-crowned record holders for scoring 134 goals in their 46 games. As for Norwich City, they too were on the up-and-up; 1961-62 would be the season in which they won the Football League Cup in only its second outing

Spurs at the Double

Elsewhere, the buzz was all about Tottenham, recent double winners proudly lead by captain Danny Blanchflower. As well as reflecting on the rare achievement of winning both major competitions in English football, Blanchflower also took the opportunity to write about the growing demand for substitutions to be allowed in the FA Cup Final. The future Northern Ireland manager went one step further by calling for subs to be allowed in every Cup round. “Supposing Leicester City had got to Wembley by knocking out a team that had been reduced to ten men [through injury]. How would they have felt if, in the Final, they were allowed what their earlier opponents were denied?” said Blanchflower.

Yes, things were certainly different back then and a glance through the five-page 'Football Diary' of the previous season illustrates this perfectly.

On October 26th 1960, Charlton and Middlesbrough drew 6-6, equalling the record for the most goals in a drawn Division Two match. 'T.Docherty', an Arsenal and Scotland international became coach at Chelsea on February 10th 1961 - ten full years before taking the reins of the Scottish national team. March 17th 1961 saw the appointment of Don Revie as manager at Leeds United and within three years had got the side promoted to Division One. Finally, on June 26th 1960, the great Arsenal, Sunderland and England centre forward Charles Buchan passed away. At the end of his football career, he turned his hand to journalism and eventually gave his name to the world's first football magazine, 'Football Monthly'.


And as if all that wasn't enough, the Annual also had plenty of froth and nonsense to break up the formality of endless words and statistics. Adverts for 'Gent's Drip-Dry Shortie Raincoats', appliances to increase your height and gold-plated lucky charms were littered throughout the publication along with a welter of ads for bookmakers and pools companies alike. Some 50 years before British TV screens were treated to the sight of Ray Winstone's revolving head for Bet365, it's fair to say the public were tempted into the tantalising world of gambling in an altogether more serene way.

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