Friday, 6 July 2012

Observer's Book of Association Football, 1972

Around the age of ten, I could often be found at the Thames View Library in Barking, Essex. It wasn’t because I yearned to absorb every ounce of knowledge from the hundreds of books that lay before me; moreover, my sister worked there and I often popped in on my way home from school to say 'hello.'

I’d linger a while, ambling up and down the aisles between the wooden bookshelves that matched me for height. Such were the frequency of my visits that I seemed to recognise many of the books purely by spine alone. Few of the titles were tempting enough for me to pick them up and read them, but the small ‘Sports’ section had an altogether greater appeal as that was where I’d find the football books.

One book always seemed to catch my eye. It was small with a white cover and was clearly born of a bygone age. It was called The Observer’s Book of Association Football and had a picture of Bobby Charlton on the front playing for England in the 1970 World Cup.

Though the book seemed a little antiquated even back in the early 1980’s, it retained an unusual allure. Inside this pocket digest were pages and pages featuring potted profiles of each Football League club including Barrow and Workington, whoever they were.

There were also summarised histories of some of the world’s greatest football clubs and outlines of every great player in the international game back in 1972, the year the book was published.

Yet to be honest, the many informative and enlightening words written by Albert Sewell were not my main interest. Whenever I removed the book from its shelf with all the inevitability of a moth drawn to a light bulb, I would turn instinctively to the small group of colour pages a fifth of the way through. Upon those pages were illustrations of virtually every shirt worn by league clubs in England and Scotland, and I couldn’t be more fascinated in them.

As you can see by the composite picture below, there were countless colours and designs to wonder at, all in long sleeves and none bearing so much as a club badge or a manufacturer’s logo. Some of the shirts looked familiar, like Arsenal’s famous red-white-white-sleeves combo or the Blackpool shirt upon which my school football team’s identity was based. Other designs already looked dated, such as Crystal Palace’s claret and blue vertical bands, but somehow it was of little relevance. These were my formative years in which the recognition of a team’s colours were key to my education and appreciation of a club’s history. All knowledge was good knowledge.

I could go on about the World Cup competition section near the back of the book or the black-and-white photo section in the middle, but there seems little point. This miniature encyclopaedia, the 47th in a series covering topics as diverse as ‘House Plants’ and ‘Freshwater Fishes’ was always my favourite book out of all those in my local library.

Though the building has long since gone, the book remains and I’m reassured to find that even now as a nostalgic 40-year-old, I still find that colour section just as appealing as ever.


  1. Great little article. Funnily enough my wife collects the Observer books and I remember having a soccer one with a pic from the Leeds/Arsenal cup final on the front.

    The book that did it for me was much larger though. Must have been about 10x the size! It was the Purnell's Encyclopaedia of Association Football. I think. It was a real statsfest with awesome photos. It had a pannelled football set against a green grass background with pictures embedded into the panels on the cover. I can't remember who the "panellists" all were but think that Pele and George Best featured. Happy times.

  2. So glad you liked the article, Babararacucudada, and thanks for visiting The Football Attic.

    Is this the book you were referring to? :)

  3. Matthew Gilbert21 May 2013 at 02:25

    Oh my God, as a teenager might say... I have the 1976 edition! I treasure it! It informed me that Yugoslavia had been selected to host the 1986 World Cup.

    Having done a careful internet search and read all sorts of sources, I can find nowhere else that refers to Yugoslavia ever being put forward even as candidates to host the 1986 World Cup, so I can only assume that somebody at 'Observer Towers' read a newspaper wrong and was confusing it with the 1976 European Championship. Easily done.

    Sadly, for years following 1976, I went round school knowledgeably announcing to anyone who would listen that the 1986 World Cup would be held in Yugoslavia. I even worried what the death of Marshall Tito would mean for the forthcoming tournament.

    Until, that is, I was mortified to see at the end of the 1982 final a huge banner saying 'Adios Espana, Hello COLOMBIA 86!' I was finally exposed as a fraudulent 'authority' on future World Cup hosting.

    1. I think you're right about someone involved with the book's production being at fault there, Matthew. How easy it would have been to be influenced by such information when you were only young, too!

      We ran a short-lived feature a long while ago called The Football Attic Confessional in which we asked for people to disclose their most embarrassing football memories from younger days... this would have been perfect for that!! Thanks for sharing the story with us! :)

  4. I just read this book and reviewed it at my blog:!/2015/07/the-observers-book-of-association.html

    This edition also says that the World Cup in 1986 was to be staged in Yugoslavia.