Sunday, 30 March 2014

Football Special 79

Somewhere between the lunacy of FKS and the gold standard of Figurine Panini, you’ll find AVA Americana and their sticker collection, Football Special 79.

In an age where several manufacturers where vying for supremacy in the football sticker market, Panini were already the yardstick by which their competitors were being judged. To beat the best, sticker collections like Football Special 79 had to offer something a bit different - something… well, ‘special.’

AVA Americana were a Munich-based company that had dipped their toes into the UK sticker market twice previously during the 1970’s. On this, their third and last tilt at greatness, they created a set of 384 stickers to be housed in a 60-page album. Quite whether you’d call the collection ‘special’ is a matter for personal judgement, but it was certainly different from the equivalent being sold by Panini.

Andy Gray, Kenny Dalglish and Gerry Francis

To begin with, the stickers were smaller with no room offered for the name of the player, the club badge or even a border of any kind. The pictures that appeared on them were not always printed to the highest standards, but the images of the players in each team were almost always of the head-and-shoulders kind which made for a consistent look and feel.

Billy Woof (Middlesbrough) and
Cyrille Regis
Naturally enough, there were one or two exceptions to the rule that slightly compromised the overall quality. Some of the Middlesbrough players appeared to have painted-in black backgrounds and Cyrille Regis appeared without a shirt on whatsoever.

But were there any foil badges or team pictures to be found in the album? The answer, sadly, was no - at least not for the First Division teams. What Football Special 79 did have, however, was a unique sticker that showed an illustration of each team’s kit. Displayed on a white background with a thin black border, this was a rare chance to prove that Panini didn't have all the good ideas where sticker collections were concerned.

Club Colours: Bolton, Coventry and Liverpool

Each page of the 10p album was printed in various shades of blue ink and employed a simple layout to show off the 15 stickers for each of the top teams in England. A black drop-shadow provided a place for the players’ names to go and their minimal profiles went into a column on the right. As for those club badges, they weren't completely absent; instead, they appeared as a white watermark in the top-right corner. Tastefully done, but somewhat lacking in impact for my money.

The Arsenal team

Ipswich Town

I said earlier that there were no team pictures for the First Division teams, but the Second Division teams were featured in single pictures of their own. Somewhat helpfully, AVA Americana also chose to indicate where these teams were located around England and Wales, but because of the need to show a map of said countries, there was only room for four team pictures per page. This meant three double-page spreads had to be dedicated to the Second Division teams where only two might have been needed if things had only been organised better.

Second Division Teams

A not dissimilar approach was applied for The International Scene where 15 national teams from around the world (i.e. most of those that appeared in the 1978 World Cup) were spotlighted on two double-pages, as well as a special sticker showing the FIFA World Cup trophy (or at least an illustration thereof).

The International Scene

As for the home nations, they were given exceptional treatment with a series of four-part composite team pictures, plus squad listings. The latter is especially notable for the inclusion of England players that rarely wore the white shirt. Billy Bonds? John Gidman? Who were these interlopers?

National Squads

Whoever they were, they’d be immortalised in this collection as a reminder of where English football was at when the 1970’s came to an end. With an introduction by Arsenal's Malcolm MacDonald and a whole bunch of trivia facts and figures thrown in to keep the nerdier collectors happy, this was a final hurrah from one of the better independent sticker makers before the bright new 80's arrived.

And who knows - with a little determination and focus, maybe AVA Americana could have been a big rival to Panini by now. Instead we nobly acknowledge their efforts and ensure this particular title of theirs isn't forgotten with the passing of time.


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