Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Catalogue of Eras: Marshall Ward - Autumn and Winter 1975-76

Once again it's time to plunge into the long-forgotten world of mail order catalogues as we search for football-related delights to remind us of an innocent time before the internet went and spoiled everything.

On this occasion, we're going back nearly 40 years to check out a Marshall Ward 'club book' that would have been put to good use in the run-up to Christmas 1975.

In our previous instalment, we found that football boots were available to buy in a 1982 catalogue, and here again they crop up, but in two flavours - 'cheap and nasty' and 'I could be the next Johan Cruyff.'

First up, the cheap options. There were two pairs of kids' boots, the first made by Form Sport ("the only company approved by the British Association of National Coaches") which were a multi-stud model, as if you'd buy boots with only one stud. Slightly more expensive, but still giving you change from a fiver, was the 'World Cup' boot that was made from all-natural PVC and came with a free inflatable ball and adapter. Just what you needed - a plastic ball to go with your plastic boots...

At the 'luxury' end of the market, there was an adult version of those Form Sport boots (made in Italy from PVC and leather), or for a few quid extra you could go for the Cheetah 'Ajax' alternative which had screw-in studs and a yellow flash down the sides.

For the budding pro with £10 to spare, however, there was only one option - a pair of Adidas Valencias. These were on a different planet as far as quality was concerned, with their padded collars, padded tongues and authentic Adidas stripes. In today's money, they'd have cost £90, but by golly, they'd have been worth it for sure.

But what are boots when you haven't got some proper kit to wear with them? Nothing - unless your Mum had a Marshall Ward catalogue and some loose change to burn.

For those of you thinking the replica kit market didn't arrive until the 1980's, think again. Here were Umbro vying for the attentions of school-age children everywhere with a quintet of honest-looking kits for all the best teams of the era.

There was the Man United option in red and white, the Everton option in blue and white, and the Aston Villa option in claret and blue. If Leeds United were your team, you'd be happy to go for the 'all white' option, but if you were a young supporter of Burton Albion hoping the next 34 years would fly by before promotion to the Football League arrived, you were in luck too, thanks to the yellow and black option that was provided.

But wait - that's not all! Had you been in need of an inflexible shoulder bag that was barely big enough to hold a pair of boots, you were in luck - and these ones had circular team badges hastily stuck onto them as well! Perhaps the hilariously-titled 'Telestar' football was more to your liking, especially if your budget didn't quite run to the official Adidas alternative.

Once your game of football was over and done with, it was back home for a glass of Corona orangeade and a quick rub down with Shoot! magazine before indoor football became the order of the day. With this catalogue, you had a choice of not one, but two Bar football tables - one with a sliding score indicator and bi-coloured team strips, the other without. Quite whether extra colour and a scoreboard at each end justified the cost being double that of the cheaper model, I'll leave for you to decide.

Even if the £8.99 basic version was too expensive, there was still another way. For less than half that amount, you could buy the Bobby Charlton football game by Casdon Soccer. Admittedly it lacked the hands-on appeal of bar football, but you could still have fun twiddling your knobs as you tried to make your players flick the ball towards your opponent's goal over the bumpiest of pitches.

If there's one game I never owned as a child, it was Striker. The thrill of being able to press down on a players head to make him kick the ball was a constant lure in my younger days, yet for some reason I always remained loyal to Subbuteo throughout.

Maybe the limited variety of teams was a factor in my not embracing the game, or perhaps the 'five-a-side' format made it seem somehow less realistic. Actually, cancel all that - it was probably the ridiculously short, fat floodlights that put me off. Squat, dumpy, and if Subbuteo floodlights were anything to go by, barely capable of illuminating a gnat's backside in a power cut.

If this embarrassment of riches wasn't enough to keep you entertained, there was always League Championship, a board game that in this catalogue appeared as a Leeds United special edition. Well, it did contain a colour team picture of Leeds United... Surely that counts?

This was the game where you played out an entire league season by moving your piece around a circular board, rolling dice and playing 'action cards' to skew the results in your favour. Eventually, after an hour or so, a league champion was determined, the futility of sixty minutes wasted was acknowledged and you realised you probably wouldn't be playing League Championship again in a hurry.

Finally, to round off an exciting football-packed day, what better than to go to bed with a copy of International Football Book No.17 under your arm? The latest in the long-running series had loads of articles and interviews with top players of the time, including Berti Vogts, Paul Breitner, Ray Clemence and Martin Buchan. Packed with over 150 photographs too, it was a great stocking filler to receive on your festive football day.

And with that, we say 'thanks, Marshall Ward.' You gave us everything we needed to reinforce our love of the beautiful game. All we needed now was a valuable two points from that tricky Boxing Day fixture away to Derby County. Such a shame the humble mail-order catalogue couldn't help us out with that one.

-- Chris Oakley


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