Friday, 28 November 2014

Crimes Against Design: Shoot League Ladders

Where football nostalgia is concerned, there are few things that can rightly call themselves 'legendary' like Shoot's League Ladders. We've discussed them at length before and spoke of them in unashamedly exalted tones... but say it under your breath - certain elements of it were really badly designed.

Like the very best aspects of football memorabilia, perfection can be rendered cruelly unattainable due to an oversight in someone's artistic interpretation. An issue may arise with a detail so slight or insignificant, yet if it dealt with by a ham-fisted chimpanzee with sawdust for brains, it can quickly unravel all the good work done elsewhere.

In the case of those classic League Ladders, there was always one thing that bothered me as a kid that no doubt bothered many thousands of other young football fans too. It was those tabs. Not all of them - just the one or two here or there that for some reason weren't coloured correctly.

At this point, I call upon the Tottenham Hotspur fans of this world to answer one basic question: How annoying was it that for years the Tottenham tab was always coloured blue, just like those of Everton, Ipswich, Birmingham and sundry other blue shirt-wearing teams?

It was ever thus from the first Shoot ladders in 1969/70 right through to 1987/88 when someone at IPC Magazines finally realised that Spurs actually played in white. But Tottenham weren't the only offended party throughout the annual cavalcade of cardboard conviviality. Preston and Bolton also had a case of the blues for many years, when white would have been more appropriate.

A quick look at that original set from 1969 reveals other abnormalities. Bradford Park Avenue (confusingly shortened to 'Bradford' while their City neighbours played one level higher in the Third Division) were given a green-coloured tab. This smacked somewhat of laziness as Bradford Park Avenue had ditched their white shirts with green trim two years earlier in favour of their traditional white with red and yellow hoops. Hardly a fitting tribute for Avenue's last year in the Football League.

To add insult to injury, Orient suffered in a similar way that season too. Though famous for wearing red throughout much of their history (including the 1969/70 campaign), Orient wore blue for 20 years, but that all ended in 1967... so why the blue tab?

The colour blue was in fact the root cause of many tab-related Ladder issues of the 1970's and early 80's. Ask any fan of Coventry or Man City - they'll tell you that Shoot only used to have one type of blue ink, and it certainly wasn't the 'sky' variety.

There also appeared to be a glut of black ink doing the rounds for a long time, and it was often used in a bewildering number of situations. To explain, the general rule of thumb for designing each of the tabs went as follows:

  • Main/background colour of the tab = the predominant shirt colour for that team
  • Name of the team on the tab = the secondary colour on the shirt of that team
So far, so logical, but what happened with Watford, Wolves, Derby, Port Vale or Fulham? None of those teams played in black shirts (although who did?), so why not give Watford a yellow/red tab, or Fulham a white tab with black writing? It certainly wasn't unheard of for Shoot to make white team tabs (although the practice seemed largely reserved only for Leeds for a fair while), so why so many black ones?

In the mid-70's, it became particularly clear that Shoot had little idea which colours ought to be used for certain teams, and reserved the right to celebrate that fact in whatever way they deemed fit.

Southport in yellow and black? No way - Shoot says 'black and pink'! Crystal Palace in red and blue? Certainly not - Shoot says 'purple and white'! Northampton in white and claret? Nonsense - Shoot says 'dark lavender and white'! And so on, and so on...

Now you may be thinking that this is all futile nonsense of the highest order, but I'd put money on any number of young children writing to Shoot every year to ask why their team wasn't shown in the right colours. The act of identifying teams by the hue of their kit always was and always will be a key stage of every young fan's football education, so it's fair to say errors of this kind could have caused confusion on a massive scale. And we haven't even discussed teams that wore stripes and hoops yet.

What's done is done, however. Despite the ongoing cult worship of Shoot's League Ladders in the modern era, their legend-like status, based on the evidence above, is no doubt flawed much more than anyone ever realised. Then again, no-one ever kept their ladders updated for an entire season because we all got bored with them after a few weeks, so who said they were perfect anyway?  How the passing of time plays tricks with your memory...

-- Chris Oakley

With sincere thanks to Football Cartophilic Info Exchange for allowing us to reproduce the images shown.


  1. Good article, but... Do you ever refer to Dundee United as Dundee? So in which case why should Bradford City be referred to as, or confused with, 'Bradford'. Bradford AFC was based at Park Avenue and was also referred to as Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC. A Shoot! tab for 'Bradford' was not confusing, it was actually correct. The green colours however were last worn in 1966/67. I have a Bradford tab with a black border and red text. Strictly speaking after 1967 the club's colours were red, amber and black with white but you can forgive Shoot! that four colours was not feasible. In defence of the graphic designers at Shoot! - and heavens, I am not condoning them - there was a fundamental lack of visual references available and for lower division clubs in particular. It seems that something portrayed in a comic was taken as gospel and hence inaccuracies persisted. We underestimate the reference resources available nowadays. Accuracy of this sort of thing arguably wasn't considered important until the 1980's and even then standards were poor.

    1. I felt 'Bradford' on its own was confusing because Shoot's League Ladder tabs often added specific lettering to differentiate between two similar teams ('Manchester C' / 'Manchester U' that sort of thing...)

      Please forgive my lack of specific knowledge when it comes to the teams of Bradford, however. I now consider myself suitably corrected...

  2. The Bradford / Bradford City thing is a bit like the Notts Co / Forest confusion that oft afflicts the media. Irritating for us provincial folk but we alll have a cross to bear and supporters of BPA / BCAFC have certainly had heavy crosses. Keep up gd work, great site!

  3. Sunderland 2nd bottom..some things never change!