Wednesday 27 June 2012

Subbuteo Catalogue 1973-74

Before I start, a slight disclaimer. This isn't a catalogue in the way we normally think of such things these days. It's actually a folded poster, but given the fact that it lists all the Subbuteo teams and accessories available to buy throughout the 1973-74 season, one shouldn't be too critical - not least at this early stage.

And not least too because this is a lovely piece of football memorabilia that evokes that charming crudeness that comes with all things created decades ago. The cover, for instance, shows us four young Subbuteo players from Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany extolling the virtues of this truly international table soccer game. Throw in a few tried and trusted stereotypical phrases from the continent ("Wunderbar!") and you're off to a flyer.

Elsewhere on the unfolded front of this big 50 x 70cm poster, there were neat pictures of 'some exciting accessories by Subbuteo', if indeed fence surround panels could be deemed exciting. Still, to the young boy or girl entering this plastic fantasy world, what could be more thrilling than the thought of buying some splendid floodlights or indeed a pair of new 'World Cup-type Goals'?

If that wasn't enough to satiate your Subbuteo appetite, you could also pass a spare half-hour pondering on which boxed set you'd like for your next birthday or Christmas, perhaps. There were several sets to choose from, the best of which was the all-new 'Munich World Series Edition'. Cunningly tied in with the upcoming World Cup in West Germany, this was the set that had it all including scoreboard, floodlights, TV Tower, ball boys, England team and "literature." Presumably the complete works of Shakespeare were not included in this respect.

Even if you'd picked up this football-dominated poster by mistake in your local toy shop, you were still potentially catered for. Subbuteo's now famous dalliance with rugby and cricket could also be found in miniature form along with Snooker Express, a game rarely heard of these days. In it, you had to flick a snooker player (think typical Subbuteo football player but dressed formally, chalking a cue) onto a small plastic cue ball in the hope that it would in turn pot one of the other coloured balls into a pocket. The whole thing was played within the confines of the box lid and was, by all accounts, fiendishly difficult to play. Full marks to Subbuteo for at least trying out the idea, though.

All this, however, was merely a sideshow for the main event. Without question, the vast majority of people buying this poster - sorry, catalogue - were doing so because they wanted to gawp longingly at the 165 kits displayed on the 'International Team Colours Chart'. Here there was the annual opportunity to wonder at the colours and designs rarely or never seen before.

Which team wears sky blue shirts with royal blue hoops? Who plays in red shirts with a white diagonal sash? Who on earth plays in all black with yellow trim?  Such were the inconsequential ponderings generated by this arrangement of player figures stuck into a white board and photographed for our pleasure.

When it came to answering the aforementioned questions, we did, of course, need a list and one was provided across almost the entire reverse side of the poster. Though Subbuteo in more recent years gave us the basic details of team name and number sorted alphabetically or numerically, here we had a grid containing sub-divided columns for Shirt and Short Colours (but not socks), 'English League First, Second, Third and Fourth Divisions, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Teams' plus 'International and World Cup Teams'. All delightfully over-complicated, despite the top border of the poster claiming this to be a "simple chart."

As is always the way, what you see by scanning across the vast lists of teams is a snapshot of world football as it was almost 40 years ago. There are Football League teams that no longer exist (Southport, Workington), teams that no longer occupy today's global spotlight (Rot-Weiss Essen (Germany), Red Star (France)) and teams that are frankly just misspelled or misunderstood (Atletico Bilbao, Fiorentino, etc.)

There's also a healthy supply of club teams from apartheid-era South Africa such as Cape Town City, Durban United and Southern Suburbs. Though Subbuteo would ultimately branch out into the world of NASL within a few years, this was the only way for players of all kinds to get a sense of club football beyond continental Europe back in 1973-74.

As if all that wasn't enough, you could always go for something completely left field where your team choices were concerned. You could pick up a Southern League team or two if the likes of Bishop Auckland and Burton Albion were your thing, or what about FC Subbuteo (Barcelona) or even United Kingdom?

There really was something for everybody back then, and amazingly this wasn't even the peak of Subbuteo's popularity. Happy days.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Chris O's Favourite 5... Footballs

1. Adidas Telstar

Surely the most iconic football there has ever been or ever will be. Ask someone to draw a football and the chances are they'll draw a circle with some black patches on it. If they do, they're essentially drawing an Adidas Telstar.

Before the late-1960's, footballs were usually either all white or all brown. Come the 1970 World Cup, the entire planet was shown a third way – a ball with 20 white hexagonal and 12 black pentagonal patches. The contrast between black and white was not just cosmetic; it was specifically used by Adidas to ensure maximum visibility for the worldwide TV audience, most of whom were watching on a black-and-white set.

Named after the telecommunications satellite of the same name, I see the Adidas Telstar as perfection in design. I cannot actually think of any way to make a football look better. Somehow the shape and colour of the patches provides the ideal visual balance. The movement of those black pentagons as the ball rotates adds an eye-catching element of excitement during game play, but why, I just don't know.

The Telstar spawned similar successors in the Telstar Durlast and the all-white Telstar Chile for the 1974 World Cup, but this was and remains the high point in football design – in my opinion, at least.

2. Adidas Tango River Plate

The natural successor to the Telstar was the Adidas Tango, originally known as the Adidas ‘Durlast’ but rebranded for the 1978 World Cup. The extra ‘River Plate’ embellishment left no-one in any doubt that this was the official ball being used over in Argentina that year.

Let’s face it – nothing was ever going to quite match the mastery of design provided by the Telstar, but the Tango did at least provide something more modern. Instead of being restricted to the solid colours of the hexagons and pentagons, Adidas figured you could create white circles on the ball by designing black ‘triads’ instead. The effect was terrific and distinctive; much more in keeping with the 1980’s that were about to arrive than the early-1970s that brought us the Telstar.

Such was the absolute versatility of the design, the Tango appeared in modified form right the way through to the late-90’s as the Azteca (1986), the Etrusco Unico (1990), the Questra (1994) and the Tricolore (1998). It also, as if you didn’t already know, provided the inspiration for the Tango 12 – official ball of Euro 2012.

A true test of a classic design is whether it looks as good now as it did many years ago when first launched, and to my mind it truly does. It also stands the test of time by virtue of the fact that it lends itself well to modern-day football logos because of its uncomplicated nature. A great ball to see in action and second only to the Telstar in the all-time greats list.

3. ‘Official Football League Ball’

In researching this piece, I’ve managed to solve a football mystery that’s been lingering in my mind for some time. Back in the late-70s, a new football appeared on the English domestic scene, designed in such a way that you couldn’t fail to notice it. The ball stood out like a sore thumb for the brief period it was used and became synonymous with the period when I became a fully-fledged football fanatic.

The ball in question was white with a series of red patches running around the circumference. This helped it create a mesmeric optical illusion during every match because instead of the uniform rotation of black patches moving around the ball, you now had a thick coloured band spinning around in random directions. I loved it for that.

A friend of mine at the time owned a replica of the ball. It was made by Stuart Surridge and accompanied him, his brother and myself over to the local park for our regular weekend kick-abouts. It was a lovely ball to play with and the closer association of Stuart Surridge with Cricket was a trivial one that was thankfully lost on me as an 8-year-old.

From then until only a few years ago, I assumed that this ‘red stripe ball’ was an exclusive Stuart Surridge product, but Googling those words never brought much in the way of confirmation. To add further confusion, I also stumbled upon one or two archive pictures clearly showing the ball labelled with the Mitre logo. So who were the makers of this ball, and what was its name?

The answer can be found on that perennial source of wisdom, the Twohundredpercent blogsite. Back in 2007, Ian King wrote a similar piece on great football design (proof that there’s nothing new under the sun) and in it he said:

“But who made it? Well, I put a little bit too much effort into researching this last night… The answer is… everybody, it would seem. The ball was designed by the Football League, and made between 1979 and 1982 by Mitre, Minerva and Surridge Sports.”

As you can see from Ian’s splendid article, the Surridge version was called ‘UFO’, but as for Mitre and Minerva’s version, that remains a mystery. So much for the conventional marketing plan, but at least the Official Football League Ball lives on in the footage from countless games including the League Cup Finals from 1979 to 1981 and Justin Fashanu’s classic goal in the BBC’s 1980 ‘Goal of the Season’ competition from Match of the Day.

4. Mitre Delta 1000

Another five years went by until the Football League next had an ‘official ball,’ but in 1986 it arrived in the form of the Mitre Delta 1000. A white ball with red ‘V’ shapes dotted here and there across it, this ball became the de facto piece of kit not only for league games in England but also Cup games and England internationals – the first time such an arrangement had come to pass.

I actually owned this ball back in the day, and very good it was too. In all fairness, the disparate red V’s weren’t that visible when the ball was moving as the pattern was too slight. In that sense, the ball was inferior to bolder designs like the Telstar, but certainly when the ball was static – say, when nestling in the back of your opponent’s goal net – it looked rather nice indeed.

As you’d perhaps expect, the Delta 1000 gave rise to consecutive spin-offs such as the Ultimax and Calcio but the basic model was also available with black and blue markings to compliment the original red. I had a blue one too after my red Delta had faded and become misshapen, and it, too, looked fabulous.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that this was THE ball back in the late 80’s. It was everywhere – on Match of the Day, at your local park where the kids were playing with it, not to mention in every sports shop on the High Street. Admittedly this was an era before Nike came along to dominate the football market so the Delta 1000 didn’t have as much competition, but there was something indefinable about this ball that made it completely desirable in those pre-Premier League days. I owned two and was glad to have done so.

5. Nike Total90 Aerow

Bringing things almost completely up to date now, here’s my favourite ball from recent times.

Nike had been the official supplier of Premier League balls from 2000/01 but it was only in 2004/05 that the Total90 Aerow first saw the light of day. Where the ‘Official Football League Ball’ (see 3. above) made virtue of a single coloured band around its circumference, this Nike model used a series of narrower bands to provide eye-catching appeal.

Upon introduction, those coloured bands were a summer blue colour, but in 2005/06 they became royal blue to provide a subtle distinction for that season’s official balls. Not only that, there was also the now familiar yellow version of the ball to be used for the winter months when visibility wasn’t so good. Again, the royal blue hoops provided contrast.

By the mid-Noughties of course, we were well into the era of marketing waffle where a ball wasn’t simply introduced without fanfare but rather launched on an emphatic tidal wave of PR drivel. Anyone taking the time to filter out the useful information from such nonsense, however, was rewarded with some genuinely useful facts about the Total90 Aerow. This ball was made using compressed foam to make it spring more easily off the boot when struck. It also had a tough webbing layer inside to ensure it kept its shape and durability. Stuff like that.

In this day and age, of course, you’d come to expect that sort of detail, but surely the key priorities when assessing a football are (a) how good it looks and (b) how well it plays. In both cases, this pearl of a design from Nike gets a tick in the box, and like the 'Official Football League Ball' of 1979, those concentric hoops add a certain extra visual appeal when the ball is moving.

A fine football in the grand tradition, and one which has implicit modernity and simplicity at its heart.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

League of Blogs Sticker Album

Calling all those who participated in the League of Blogs Wallchart!!!

We're in the process of putting together a Panini style League of Blogs Sticker may have seen some sneak preview shots on twitter.  Well here's one again...

As you can see, the general layout is your League of Blogs entry in a Panini style, complete with a tagline for your blog.  It'll be approximately a 30 page softcover album

At present, I'm getting these taglines from your blogs and in the absence of anything obvious, trying to put something that encompasses it.  However, the League of Blogs was created by you so if there's anything specific you want, just let us know...leave a comment here or get in touch with us via twitter.

Am nearing completion of the album so will need your entries pretty quickly.

They will probably be around £15 for anyone who wants to buy if you do, let me know asap so I have an idea of how many to order.

I'm also considering creating a blank sticker book version (the one being done at the moment has the 'stickers' pre-printed in the book) so you can get a set of stickers and complete it yourselves...but then that would be more expensive (as you'd have to buy the stickers as well), but also much more fun ;-)

So also shout if you'd like a blank version...

Posters are still in the pipeline too...

Sunday 17 June 2012

England v Team America, 1976 Bicentennial Cup

As far as away kits go, England have only ever worn yellow on four occasions. Three of them were during the summer of 1973, the most notable of which was a World Cup qualifier against Poland. The other occasion, however, was for the 1976 Bicentennial Cup, a four-team competition celebrating the 200th anniversary of the USA's Declaration of Independence.

Luckily enough, England had failed to qualify for the finals of the 1976 European Championship, so what better way to spend the summer than to play across the pond against Italy, Brazil and a team representing the United States made up of a wide range of players including Pelé and Bobby Moore.

Here's a chance to see some of the action, plus of course that rarest of rare sightings - England in yellow...

Thursday 14 June 2012

Panini Euro 2012: How was it for you?

Two months on from our previous post, it’s now possible to assess the impact and effect of Panini’s Euro 2012 sticker collection. What have we learned from this self-adhesive sensation? Has it been a stick-on success or a double dose of despair?

Speaking from personal experience, there’s absolutely no doubt that Panini are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. For anyone thinking the days of sticker collecting ended when we outgrew our school uniforms, be in no doubt – Panini reigns once again, and age is no longer an issue.

As a 40-year-old blogger, I’ve been heartened beyond belief at the sight of so many peers devoting themselves to the pastime of tearing open packets and filling albums. A wide range of ages are covered, and though they’re located across all four corners of London and beyond, every man jack of them has taken the opportunity to exchange doubles and discuss their collections whenever possible.

The use of Twitter has undoubtedly been a useful tool in helping people to complete their Euro 2012 collections. And why not – back in our childhood days, we merely had to stroll into the school playground with a wad of swaps held together tightly by an elastic band in order to meet up with other like-minded souls. Decades on, the ability to tap into such a readily available group of fellow swapees is not so easy. Why not, therefore, use Twitter as a way to reach out to today’s Panini apostles?

Aside from the pleasure of swapping stickers with someone you barely know, the subsequent postal exchange of doubles is an ironic conclusion to any Twitter-based transaction. Social media tools can be said to have made communication easy as pie these days, yet at the end of it all we still have to rely upon the trusty old Royal Mail to receive the doubles we’ve requested. And let it be noted: there’s still something of a minor thrill to be had from hearing the plop of an envelope fall through the letterbox when you know there are stickers inside.

Being a London-based blogger, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many other people of the same persuasion to initiate an old-fashioned face-to-face swapping session. When I met Chris Nee from The Stiles Council several weeks ago, we found ourselves sitting in a darkened corner of the Sports Bar & Grill, Farringdon, staring intently at our open Panini albums on the table. It felt odd – embarrassing even at first: two men old enough to know better thumbing through each other’s packs of swaps, half-drained pints of beer readily within reach to one side. After a while though, that awkward feeling had disappeared. We were innocently enjoying that Proustian rush, harming no-one and living for the moment. Perhaps we were kids again, just for a short while…

A couple of weeks later, I met up with a whole crowd of bloggers in The Mulberry Bush on the South Bank. When I arrived, an entire corner of the pub had been taken over by people I’d known and respected for a long time like the written output they produce. Ryan Keaney, Jamie Cutteridge and many more were there, all heavily engrossed in the important business of assessing the swaps of others and filling their own albums. It was an extraordinary sight, but one which gladdened the heart. Panini stickers clearly meant a lot to a great many people, all of whom were happily using their hobby to hang on to a small part of their childhood.

Personally speaking, I was in the fortunate position of being able to display my list of ‘needs’ and ‘swaps’ here on the Football Attic blog site. This meant that I, like my co-blogger Rich, received a steady stream of emails from people wishing to exchange their doubles, and very useful they were too. It undoubtedly saved us both a lot of money in helping us reach that momentous point where we could apply for those last remaining stickers from Panini.

Interestingly, many friends of ours used similar tools to do the same. Some, like Damon Threadgold also posted lists on their blogs while others such as Terry Duffelen, Andrew Gibney and Ian Rands shared out Google Spreadsheets to the same effect. Either way, the internet was there to help us all – a technological playground we could all congregate in.

And what about the collection itself? Was it satisfying to undertake or disappointing? Well let’s get my personal conspiracy theories out of the way first. For my money, I accumulated an enormous amount of swaps early on – far more than with equivalent collections in years gone by. It was also a long time before I saw any England stickers to the point where one Twitter correspondent suggested they’d been mainly distributed in the north of the country. Probably not factually correct, but definitely the sort of thing that makes you wonder if it’s true or not.

I also saw precious few silver foils during my collecting campaign. When I visited the Panini website last week to order my remaining 33 stickers, the Germany badge, Ireland badge, Sweden badge and the bottom half of the tournament logo were all there among them, and that’s just four I can mention off the top of my head. There were plenty more where that came from.

Then there were the multipacks which, I’m convinced, provided a better selection of stickers than those sold from boxes. In the fullness of time, I came to see more ‘special’ stickers (i.e. badges, team pictures, slogans and so on) from the multipacks than I did from boxed packets. Coincidence? Who can tell…

As for the four-part team pictures, they were an ambitious feature on the part of Panini, but in execution not a huge success. Often was the time I found myself trying to marry up the matching details on adjoining stickers but I had the devil’s own job trying to form a decent looking whole. Somehow the printing and cutting of said stickers had gone awry in the production process and one can only hope they’ll sort that out before the 2014 World Cup collection comes out.

No matter, though. When I stuck the last of my remaining stickers in last night, it felt as though a genuinely fulfilling project had come to an end. The album was full and now it was time to reflect on a job well done. Yes, it had cost me a fair bit of money, but sometimes you have to spend a little to gain something exceptional. Panini’s Euro 2012 wasn’t just about collecting stickers – it was about sharing the experience with friends and feeling ever so slightly younger again, and that you cannot put a price on.

Saturday 9 June 2012

English Football Grounds VHS - Part 1

I have a confession to make... I have an obsession with stadiums. I blame it all on the San Siro and Italia 90. It’s my issue and I’ve come to peace with it. It does, however, mean I have several rather nerdy items in my football collection. The truly awesome Football Grounds of Europe by Simon Inglis, several volumes of Football Grounds from the Air... and this video...

The film opens with a shot of an empty Molineux stand and through the magic of cross fading, the ground slowly fills up, noise level rising as it does. Finally, the players run out on to the pitch to a cacophony of cheers. This then fades to black and some truly awful late 70s synth soundtrack kicks in... welcome to the world of low budget videos people!

The titles then inform us that the video is introduced by the legend that is Alan Mullery.

Never mind the quality, feel

And then he appears. Eloquent, fluid, erudite, mellifluous... these are all words that describe the polar opposite of Mr. Mullery’s presenting style...and I use the word ‘presenting’ in its loosest possible sense. The best way I can describe Alan’s segues is you get the creeping sense that he’s been taken hostage by a terrorist group and with gun to head, is being forced to read out his plea to the Prime Minister, only for someone to have replaced the carefully prepared script at the last minute with some stuff about football league grounds... His eyes darting left to right as he struggles to muster any real enthusiasm for the words he’s supposedly written, there are clear signs of torture... though it’s us who is suffering, toes curling to extremes.

“In the next 70 minutes (oh lord!) or so, we aim to show you the huge changes that have taken place in the last few years...”

Just read that quote again then remember this was filmed in 1994. Now think of the state of most grounds in 2012 and you get the feeling Alan’s brain would have melted...though based on this video, I think it was almost there.

Thankfully, we soon get to the meat of the video and, with the hint dropped that we’re off to the ‘far north’, what feast of the senses are we treated to? Which huge ground do we get sight of to cease our pavlovian salivating?



“So where are we off to first Dave?” enquires a disembodied female voice.
“Izzup to the norfeast to sint jamezzzzez park”, comes the answer.
Despite the shaky production values and obviously limited budget, it’s at this point that the video really does come into its own.  This is the first glimpse you get of St James’ Park...

I can see it!!!

This is less than 20 years ago, but the place is hardly recognisable.

The quirkiness then continues where the team decide to include the scene where they announce that “the first thing they should do is go to reception and get permission to go into the ground”. There’s detail and there’s DETAIL!

Once ensconced within, the changes that have taken place “in the last few years” are detailed. This was at a time when St James’ Park was halfway through its first major rebuilding phase, with the 2 ends being transformed from terracing to steep banked seating with their deep covered roofs. At this stage, only one of those ends had been completed; the other was still a low, open terrace and there’s still terracing in the main stand. The commentary makes the point that ‘fans familiar with the ground just a few years ago, wouldn’t recognise it today’ and, following a camera sweep around it, it’s hard to see anyone from the present recognising that particular incarnation of the ground.  Also of note, there’s not a single Sports Direct logo anywhere, though there is a Northern rock hoarding.

It’s also interesting to note that Keegan was so popular at the time, he even drew a crowd waiting for a bus...

Gimme Shelter...
We then move onto Middlesbrough, accompanied by some cod Wurlitzer style tunes...lovely! So...what did the Riverside look like in 1994? This...

Not actual size
Of course,  it wasn’t yet built for the ‘Boro still played at Ayresome Park in 1994. With no hint of irony given how soon they were to abandon the place, the narrator tells us that this is a place steeped in history. Hmmm...
History smells funny...
Without warning, Alan pops up again to deliver a stunning anecdote about playing Brian Clough for the first time...and by stunning, I mean deathly. I have a suspicion that Steve Coogan has this video in his collection somewhere. Needles to say, he had the last laugh.

So where are we off to next on this odyssey from Newcastle to Wembley?  Why, York City of course!

After the now obligatory ground pan, we’re treated to some footage of York against Colchester from the 1992/3 season for no apparent reason, other than maybe to show what a game looks like if you film it from behind a support column.

Mmmm... Posty...

One exciting anecdote from Alan later and we’re off to yet another ground that no longer exists... a beautifully snow covered Leeds Road in Huddersfield. While progress is a natural thing in life and most of these grounds were archaic even in the 90s, it is rather saddening to see so much that is now housing developments and supermarkets. Yes the grounds that replaced these decrepit old homes have better seating, views and facilities, but they also look so damn similar! The true joy of this video is the sheer variety of stands and terraces you get, often all within one ground. These places told a story. You could often see the history of a club just by looking from left to right.

At least what was to be known initially as the McAlpine Stadium was a rather unique looking thing in itself and can be seen here mid-construction.

At this point it was known as the McAlp
Here’s Alan again... Shankly, Dennis Law, 6 goals, Frank Worthington, Trevor Cherry all get a mention and I’ll cut him some slack here... he’s clearly speaking from memory rather than a cue card and a genuine sparkle is detectable as he tells us how none of them ever got a result there.

It’s Ewood Park now and here we have yet another ground in the middle of being built. This was of course the time when Jack Walker’s millions were transforming the club and the ground itself. Fast forward 18 years and how things have sadly changed...

Then to Anfield - or not as they clearly weren't allowed in, so instead some footage of them destroying Crystal Palace and some exterior shots of the famous Kop... where it can be seen that in 1994, you could get into a Liverpool game for £8... to repeat, that’s EIGHT POUNDS!

8 Quid???
A shot of the Hillsborough memorial then serves as what feels like a somewhat tasteless link to move on to Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. For a second...then it’s on to the red half of Manchester.

“A vast complete”. Complete in the sense of the old terracing having just been converted into seating and the roof line joined up, taking the capacity to a then mammoth 40,000. Only 2 years later, the huge, 3 tier stand took shape and kicked off the next phase of Old Trafford’s redevelopment.

Next up, Sheffield United and Dave “Harry” Bassett, the then manager, gives us quite an accurate description of the state of football ground development at the time, pointing out that since the Taylor report, a lot of grounds higher up the league have improved immensely, while those further down are stuck in less than desirable surroundings. The most interesting thing about his piece to camera, though, is that he doesn’t appear to take a breath all the way through. Honestly, he never once stops talking. A quick pan round the ground, which I have to say, looks like a shed, and up pops Dave again, detailing all the forthcoming changes to Brammal Lane... and again, no pausing. Either he’s nervous or he’s just imbibed a handful of speed.

Breathe Dammit!!!!

It's then off to Chester City's brand new Deva Stadium... and at this point (not even half an hour into the video), I'll pull into the motorway services for a 'comfort break' and see you all again in part 2...

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Panini: Euro 84

Given that England hadn't qualified for Euro '84, it was perhaps no surprise that I don't remember seeing Panini's sticker collection of the same name in the shops at the time. One thing I know for certain is that the BBC and ITV virtually ignored the tournament, the former showing a Spain v West Germany group game and the Final while ITV dropped their planned coverage altogether.

For those lucky fans with access to Panini's latest offering, it seemed that most things had remained the same since the Europa 80 collection four years earlier, but there were some minor changes to note for the eagle-eyed.

Front cover

No photographic image to catch the eye of a potential buyer on this occasion – instead, an artistic composition of a goalkeeper diving to the left on a blue background with the Eiffel Tower in the background and some gold bar lettering.

There's also a small cameo appearance from the tournament mascot, Peno the Rooster, plus the recently introduced UEFA 'Euro' logo in the blue and white of France.

Opening pages

As in 1980. the inside cover offered up all the qualifying round statistics and a chart to translate country names into six different languages – very handy for an international product such as this. Page three repeated the front cover design minus the goalkeeper with the bold and somewhat overworked 'Euro 84' lettering now in red. There was space for two stickers; one depicting Peno, the other being a gold foil showing off the Euro 84 logo.

Another returning feature and one retained in this year's Euro 2012 album was the Roll of Honour. This comprised of six stickers, each showing a black and white image of the previous winners, plus all the results from each of the tournaments between 1960 and 1980.

The following page was all about the posters for each of the eight competition venues. This was a new feature and one which showed how graphic design was being used to add a sense of identity to each of the Euro '84 venues. Many had a similar, modern feel – action shots of players heading, kicking or saving the ball – however the ninth poster, that of the Final, looked more like something culled from a 1950's French Ministry for Tourism office.

After that was the familiar site of a two-page spread showing pictures of all the stadia and the cities they were located in. Most striking of all was the view of Marseille harbour and all its boats and Strasbourg with its cathedral in the foreground. Sadly the view of St.Etienne's Geoffroy-Guichard stadium paled by comparison. Its pitch appeared to be covered in snow while nearest to camera five men can be seen sweeping up rubbish from the previous match.

Team Pages

Unlike the previous Panini Euro album, there was no favouritism shown towards the bigger teams. All competing nations had 20 sticker spaces for their players (and the coach) laid out over three pages coloured vividly in blue, white and red. Preceding them all was the traditional foil badge (all foils being gold in this series). There was also a four-piece team picture, doubled in size from those seen in Panini's Europa 80 album.

Everything else had a familiar ring to it – the spaces where you could fill in the results for each team, all the results per team since the last Euro competition and the 'Balance' table showing the total number of wins, draws and losses against all other teams.

As for the player stickers themselves, they had a clean appearance which looked a little more up-to-date than those in the previous Euro album. The tournament logo was inset into the top left corner, the mascot accompanied the player's national flag in the opposite corner and the player's name was at the bottom where you expected it. Nice, simple and easy to read.

Strangely in this album, there weren't too many opportunities for the reader to stop and giggle at a dubious player picture. If forced to pick out one, however, it would have to be the one featuring Klaus Berggreen of Denmark  who had the look of a man recently signed up by the Danish version of the FBI. Berggreen scored one of Denmark's five goals against Yugoslavia during the tournament but got himself sent off in the semi-final against Spain.

Excluded nations

Finally, at the back of the album, came the return of the Excluded Nations section – a chance for Panini to (a) bulk up an otherwise thin sticker album, and (b) remind you of the countries that were so good, they didn't see the need to win their qualifying group.

Over three pages, collectors had the chance to find a foil badge and both parts of a team picture for nine countries that failed to make the trip to France. England, of course, was one, but so too were the world champions Italy (who finished fourth in their qualifying group), the Netherlands (edged out by Spain), Scotland (edged out by everyone in their group) and the Soviet Union (second only to Portugal in Group 2).

The back cover

A map of France painted in blue, white and red showing the locations of each of the venues. On the off chance that words and place names weren't your strong point, the venues were also indicated by a sizeable picture of Peno in each case.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Topps 'Footballer' cards, 1978

Ask anyone about collecting pictures of football players and they’re likely to mention one name and one name only – Panini. Go back to the latter half of the 1970’s, however, and you’ll find a different name vying for the attention of school children everywhere – Topps.

Forget stickers and albums: between 1975 and 1982, the American company were tempting kids across the UK by selling packets of soccer picture cards containing their very own USP – a stick of Bazooka chewing gum.

Topps were the creators of Bazooka gum. When they started out in 1938, sales of the chewy substance were slow, but in the 1950’s they hatched a master plan to include sticks of the stuff in packets with picture cards of well-known baseball players. Sales rocketed and the rest, as they say, is history.

The 1978/79 collection

Left: Ooh look - it's Thin Frank!
Right: John Gregory - for the
man that doesn't have to try too
This post concentrates on the 1978-79 series of Topps ‘Footballer’ picture cards, known as ‘orange backs.’ Starting from the 1975-76 season, Topps released two ‘Footballer’ card collections, one featuring English players, the other Scottish. Each card typically showed a colour picture of a player on the front while the back gave statistical details relating to that player. In the case of the 1978-79 season, the backs were printed with orange ink, hence the name ‘orange backs’.

They were sold in newsagents virtually everywhere and stood out easily in their bright blue packets. Having attempted extreme mastication with the unyielding pink Bazooka gum, you could happily turn your attention to the cards which, in the case of the English collection, mainly featured players from the First and Second Division.

Artistic intervention

Docherty and Kindon: Green tint
The great and the good were on show; former World Cup winners and great internationals rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi. Like many card and sticker collections of the era, the visual appeal came from the sheer variety of poses, compositions and locations, and here the Topps 1978 Footballer collection didn't disappoint.

That said, the card designers could be said to have had a momentary lapse of reason from time to time. For a start, many of the images feature green tinted backgrounds, giving a somewhat otherworldly atmosphere to a natural, if dull, match scenario.

Left/middle: The 'Hamptons take the 'P';
Right: Don Masson in fictional kit
Yet if you thought that level of photographic doctoring was bad enough, that was nothing. Some cards showed players wearing kit that for some reason didn't quite look right. On closer inspection, it was apparent that someone had been employed by Topps to artistically correct an inappropriate image – sometimes with hilarious consequences. Though the collar on Chris Nicholl's shirt was fairly passable, the one on Mike Docherty's most certainly was not… and as for Don Masson, his Derby County kit bordered on the ridiculous.

One other final foible could be seen on the name banners at the top of each card. Though the designers did well to cram in long team names like 'Manchester Utd' or 'Middlesbrough', some names like Southampton and Wolverhampton simply had the 'P' taken out of them…

Stat attack

Turn the cards over and a wealth of information was available at your fingertips. The basics were all there – name, height, weight, birthplace – plus a summary of personal statistics in recent seasons.

Orange backs: Fun, facts and
quiz questions galore.
There was also room for one or more handy facts about the player, although 'facts' was something of a loose term. Finding out that Mel Machin is "a very versatile player" was hardly headline news, and it's barely earth-shattering to learn that Ray Lewington "is red-haired." We can see that from the picture, thank you very much. At least we were informed that Mick Lambert of Ipswich "was once on the Lords Cricket groundstaff and was picked as 12th man for a Test match!" although whether we choose to believe it is another thing entirely.

On the left of every card was a small area set aside for quiz questions, pictures and club profiles, although the postage stamp-sized area didn't allow much room for detail. Not that this was much of a problem for the Who Am I? questions – a conundrum where the identity of a well-known player had to be deciphered by clues shown on five different cards. Even if you had all five clues, you still needed a sixth card to find out what the answer was and with clues like "I relax by playing my guitar", the whole thing seemed to be rather futile.

World Cup history cards.
World Cup Fever

This being the season following the 1978 World Cup however, it was perhaps no surprise to see that some of the 396 cards in this collection cashed in on the history of the event.

These World Cup cards featured a blue-tinted picture on the front along with the score from the Final, while on the back there was a very concise outline of the tournament, the four best teams and the leading scorers.

For serious collectors only...

All in all then, a comprehensive collection and one that required a lot of patience to complete. Assuming you were happy to either consume or dispose of a lot of chewing gum, you then had to buy around 100 packs to complete your collection, and that was assuming you didn't get any swaps. Luckily, Topps provided you with several checklist cards to help you identify which ones you owned and which ones you needed, although it still needed a bit of luck to come across those as well.

With no album to house your collection, your junior self had to carry your cards to school if you wanted to compare them with those of your friends, and they could make a sizable pile very quickly, rest assured.

Perhaps this was their key appeal though. The cards were far bigger than Panini stickers and made you feel like you really owned something substantial. These were large-scale cards for large-scale football enthusiasts, regardless of age.

The pictures were bright and colourful (if comedically altered at times) and there was lots of information to read on the backs too. In fact, Topps' Footballer cards had an identity all of their own – a far cry from the Topps soccer cards of today, but no less appealing for football nostalgists everywhere.

With grateful thanks to Nigel's Webspace for giving us permission to use the wrapper image above.

Friday 1 June 2012

Bovril advert, 1971

...and my, doesn't he look cheered at the prospect of drinking some hot Bovril?