Tuesday 30 December 2014

Catalogue of Eras: Freemans - Autumn and Winter 1979

It's Christmastime... there's no need to be afraid... That's because your Mum bought all your presents back in October using her Freemans mail-order catalogue. Who needs to go into a shop to buy Christmas gifts?

Back in 1979, the home shopping boom was in full swing as women up and down the UK (never men, of course) were filling out their application forms to stock up on everything they needed for a Yuletide to remember.

But what to get for little Johnny, the football-mad little scamp whose very existence revolved around soccer? To begin with, how about Freemans' wide selection of boots? From the gorgeous red stripes on the Adidas Inters to the stomach-turning green stripes of the Adidas Madrids, there was something for everyone and every budget.

Personally speaking, I had a pair of boots similar to the Gola Speedsters (pictured left, F) when I was young, but in all honesty I was rather ashamed to wear them most of the time. My reasons were twofold. Firstly, they had moulded studs. For any eight-year-old wanting to look his mates in they eye with pride, moulded studs were a complete no-no. Only 'proper' studs would do if you were to convince everyone you were the next Kevin Keegan.

Secondly, the name Gola equated to 'Cheapo' back in the late 1970's. An esteemed heritage in the manufacture of sporting equipment they may have had, but they were no Adidas and all my mates at school knew it. I therefore tried my best not to be seen in public sporting my Gola boots for fear of being pointed at and laughed out of town.

A pity, then, that Freemans had so many pairs of Gola boots on sale in their catalogue, but I dare say many children of my age ended up owning them. Either that or they're decomposing horrendously slowly at the bottom of a million and one landfill sites.

But hey - you don't have to be playing football to wear your nattiest footwear! When mooching around the house, you could still look the part (and look a prat) with a pair of 'soft fabric slippers with football scene vamp-print', whatever the hell that was. Perhaps that's shoe-making terminology for 'blurry image of the 1979 FA Cup Final'. Alternatives were available showing Kermit the Frog or Spiderman, but neither of them could stick the ball in the net like Alan Sunderland, so yah-boo to them.

The natural accompaniment to your elastically-gusseted slippers was a colourful three-pack of Tufsox, Each pair featured an image of a footballer only slightly better defined than your average page on Ceefax, and was made in a beguiling blend of nylon and polyester. It was difficult not to be attracted to socks like these, but then again even low-flying satellites would have been attracted to them what with all the static you'd have been generating.

How about a game of football before bed, though? No, not real football - Foosball! Freemans had not one but two foosball tables, one a cheap six-a-side version, the other a full eleven-a-side edition where both teams wore colourful kits reminiscent of that time when Colombia played Romania in the 1994 World Cup. (And before you ask, I have checked - Carlos Valderrama does not feature in this version).

As I recently mentioned on Football Attic Podcast 21, I used to own a foosball table when I was young. More than anything else, I remember the constant times when I tried in vain to bring the ball back into play whenever it rolled into the corner, beyond the reach of my rod-mounted players. Not for me the scoring of a Ronnie Radford-style netbuster; instead, the technical limitations of the game's design that required all too many drop ball situations.

Do modern-day foosball tables have some way of ensuring the ball is always reachable? Are the corners of the pitch sloped so that the ball always rolls back into play? If anyone knows, do get in touch...

You'll notice I cunningly said 'a game of football before bed' earlier with all the subtlety and poise of a highly-respected writer. I did so to lay down a smooth path towards the next item on the list which is a set of football pillowcases. (You don't get this kind of subtlety with Barry Glendenning, you know...)

There were three pillowcase designs to choose from, all printed in red, and all, totally coincidentally, sporting the name of a First Division team that plays in red - Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.

As you can see, the same rather crude illustration formed the basis of each pillowcase, for singular pillowcase it certainly was. They weren't even sold in pairs, and yet each one on its own would have cost you £2.75 back in 1979. To put that into perspective, if you scaled that up to take inflation into account, they would set you back £13.79 each in today's money. Not exactly 'Bargain of the Week', I think you'll agree...

But enough of this undoubted mail-order flotsam and jetsam. What your 9-year-old self really needed was proper football stuff, and it was provided in spades on page 771 of Freeman's 'club book' bible. Here was where you'd find ACTUAL FOOTBALL KITS AND TRACKSUITS... as long as you supported Liverpool or England. Or both.

Still, PHWOOOAAR, eh? I mean look at those replica kits... don't they look fantastic? Virtually spot-on in every detail and as authentic as you could ever have wanted. Granted, the England kit by Admiral only had about six months of shelf life left before it was replaced by The Greatest England Home Kit Ever ®, but no-one knew that at the time.

The tracksuits were the same - beautifully executed and just like the real thing. But what about the price of all this stuff? Did Mum and Dad have the moolah to kit out their child in the style of Kenny Dalglish? Well a full replica Liverpool set from the Freemans Autumn/Winter 1979 catalogue would have cost you £8.95 - that's £44.88 in today's money. The 2014/15 equivalent from the Liverpool FC official online store costs £68.97 - that's an increase of 54%. Proof, if it were needed, that kids these days need very well-off parents to help them emulate their football idols.

It was far more economical to buy a 'football and goalie gloves' set instead to keep little Johnny occupied - particularly if he was a Chelsea supporter. The gloves, endorsed by 'The Cat' himself, had a big 'B' on them (which, frankly could have stood for so many things) and were suitable for 'dry weather' only - ideal, then, for the four days in every UK calendar year when conditions were entirely suitable.

As sick jokes go, however, the '12-panel laceless (i.e. made after 1964) football' must surely take some beating, for here was a cheap replica of the exact ball that eluded Bonetti three times in England's defeat to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup. The makers even managed to get the exact colour match by taking samples from a beige Austin Allegro.

Can you imagine Bonetti wanting to be reminded of that when he put his name to such a gift set? Perhaps it's no wonder that he retired mid-way through 1979 to become a postman on the Isle of Mull in order to get away from such things.

Finally, as was often the case with mail-order catalogues of this kind, there was a selection of books to calm the minds of young kids and First Division goalkeepers everywhere. Not that there were any football annuals, mind - just a big old tome entitled 'Purnell's New Encyclopaedia of Association Football'.

Running to 190 pages, it was a fairly generic compendium of records, statistics and various other facts and figures, the like of which many kids (such as my juvenile self) found fascinating while waiting to become a mature adult. Whether the book was more fascinating than actually being a mature adult is a matter for personal opinion, but at least you'd have been happier receiving it as a Chirstmas present than 'Purnell's Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Horses and Riding'. Bleggggh.

-- Chris Oakley

All images featured on this post copyright their original owners and used for the purposes of review and illustration. No attempt at superseding original copyright has been made or should be inferred.

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Wednesday 24 December 2014

The Football Attic Podcast 21 - Christmas Special

It's Christmas Eve (Christmas Day where Chris is) and Rich and Chris are selflessly giving up their time to waffle on about football related Christmas presents they got...or maybe wanted, but never did receive...they're both naughty boys after all!

So sit back, enjoy and Merry Christmas to you all!

Subscribe on iTunes or download here. Alternatively, catch The Football Attic Podcast on Square One Football Radio.

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The Football Attic Podcast archive

Wednesday 17 December 2014

The Best of Collecting Panini!

Figurine Panini - two words etched into the childhood memories of seemingly every boy that ever lived. Who can forget the palpable excitement of walking into a newsagents, asking for two packets of Football 83 and watching as the shop owner randomly retrieved the desired items from the bulging box behind the counter?

Collecting pictures of your favourite football stars became the stuff of legend thanks to Panini. Yet for all the appeal (or should that be ‘a-peel’?) of those self-adhesive stickers, Panini weren’t always the image of perfection they’re often made out to be. With that in mind, we aim to detail what was good and what...well, wasn’t, about Panini sticker collecting.

With so much to cover, we’ve decided to handle the best and worst over 2 posts, so this time we revel in the warmth of its glory as we highlight Panini’s brilliance.

Collecting Stuff

You are a child, most likely a boy. You like football. You like ‘things’. You like collecting ‘things’. It therefore stands to reason that if you combine these elements you have a recipe for hooking kids in something more powerful than any drug known to man! Some (usually our wives) would say we haven’t ever grown out of collecting and if Rich’s football shirt collection is anything to go by, they’d be right. An interesting question would be ‘are they still as addictive as an adult?’. To answer that, Rich, Chris and a host of fellow bloggers set out to complete both the Euro 2012 and FIFA World Cup 2014 albums.

Despite our geographical disparity, the playground of the internet allowed swaps to happen, aided by detailed spreadsheets and the postal service. So was it as much fun? While it didn't have the same childlike wonder factor or the immediacy of hand-to-hand swapping, it was enough to convince Rich to buy the Limited Edition hardback version of the Euro 2012 album from Germany and do it all over again! A little tip for the modern day collector... eBay has plenty of opportunities to get hold of a box of 100 packets. Sure, it may fly in the face of everything Panini stood for, but it’s a hell of a lot quicker!

Opening The Packet

As a child (and maybe, cough, an adult), one of the thrills of Panini is that of the unknown. You've handed your money to the cashier, walked the requisite few paces away from the queue and now you have the packet in your hand. Your whole world stops until the only issue that matters is dealt with... what is inside?? Is there a shiny? Will there be a ‘special’? Or will it be QPR manager, Jim Smith for the 50th time? Also, will I accidentally tear through the stickers?

The sound of ripping paper accompanies a little gasp... and immediately you can see it - that hallowed silver edge of a team badge! A team photo! An action shot! A player that gives you your first full team page! AND JIM SMITH!!!!

Shinies / Foils / Badges

Whatever you called them, you were always transfixed by them. Every packet ripped open would potentially reveal a sparkling jewel hidden inside - a glittering club badge, a trophy or logo that seemed so much more special than all the other stickers. Panini knew this, and ensured that thrill remained an integral part of each collection.

They experimented with silver and gold foil, holographic foil - even silver-coloured cloth for their Football 79 collection - but whatever the material, shinies epitomised everything you collected Panini stickers for. It was sticky-backed bling for the under-15s.

Centre Page Features

As well as all the vast array of player pictures displayed team by team, one highlight of every domestic Panini album was the centre page feature. This could be anything from an FA Cup Final gallery with some of the images missing to an array of cartoon pictures illustrating the nicknames of various teams. Each idea was beautifully executed with subjects including old football kits and match day programmes given the exposure they deserved. Proving that a sticker album could be much more than 500 pictures of footballers, Panini’s designers pushed the boat out every year and we loved them for it.

Hairstyles & Facial Furniture

You don’t need to look too hard on Twitter to find pictures of Panini stickers where the subject is sporting a dubious moustache or a regrettable haircut. That’s because Panini did such a great job of immortalising the changing face of soccer personnel, we can only marvel at the vast number of pictures they printed. World Cups were always good for spotting strange-looking players, because for some reason us Brits always felt happiest when we were laughing at a Chilean with a mullet or an Austrian with big bushy sideburns. Two words of caution, however: ‘Peter’ and ‘Beardsley’...

Got, Got, NEED!

So you've got your album and a bunch of stickers and yes, sticking them in is fun and of course, collecting in itself is awesome, but after a while it does feel a tad lonely. But wait, your friends (you have those, right?) are also collecting Panini stickers - and they have ones you need and vice versa. And so we enter the world of swaps, also called swops or swapsies. Stickers were probably the first experience of proper bartering many a school child encountered.

Forget Economics 101 or Animal Farm, this was truly where you learned about supply and demand, how somethings are more equal than others; just how many normal stickers a shiny is worth is a debate which still rages today.

It also lead to truly mind-blowing moments when someone needed only one sticker to complete their album and would swap their entire collection of swaps to get it...which is how Rich came to witness approx 200 stickers changing hands for… it still hurts even now... QPR manager Jim Smith... which Rich had five of! Life is unfair - deal with it...

Next time: We commit sacrilege and name The Worst of Panini...

- By Rich Johnson & Chris Oakley

Thursday 11 December 2014

Fantasy Nostalgia: The Football Shirt Collection

Imagine a fantasy world where the greatest artists, designers and illustrators known to mankind work alongside football kit manufacturers to create Premier League team shirts...


-- by Chris Oakley

Thursday 4 December 2014

Chris O's Festive 5 - Subbuteo Christmas Presents

I was rather lucky, really. During my childhood, Christmas always delivered some wonderful presents to me every year, some of which were on the list I'd made, some of which weren't. I was never left dissatisfied and my parents, though never awash with money in the bank, always ensured I didn't go without.

I always wrote a list every year without fail, as many of us did as kids. In my mind, it was written to Santa because it was he, after all, that popped down the chimney and placed our presents in front of the tree on Christmas night. The fact that our chimney was blocked up and had an electric fire where a real one should have been might have told me it was actually my parents that were supplying the presents every year, but yet for some reason the penny never dropped.

Perhaps I didn't care. The sheer thought that you could write a list of items, hand it over to someone and expect to receive most of them a few days later pre-dated my Argos experience by several years, but it seemed to work brilliantly. If I do say so myself, I was always hugely grateful for the things that did arrive on December 25th, even if there were a few notable absences.

And yet for all that, I look back now and wonder what I could have received if only I'd put more thought into making my list. Take Subbuteo, for instance. I loved playing that iconic game of 'flick-to-kick' between the ages of 9 to 13, and yet I don't recall specifically asking for a Subbuteo-related present when the festive season arrived.

Granted, I had a nice collection of Subbuteo stuff anyway, but, well, you know... a bit more wouldn't have gone amiss. So what would I have asked for if I'd had the presence (or is that 'presents'?) of mind to write it on my Christmas list? I'm glad you asked, because here are the five Subbuteo items I'd loved to have unwrapped on Christmas Day many years ago...

1. Tango footballs (61205)

You can't play Subbuteo without a football, so it was lucky that the makers provided a wide variety for you to choose from. And boy, did I ever... I started off with the basic white and orange ones from my Club Edition set before moving on to the Tournament balls, the 'FIFA' balls, the Ariva balls and also a fine set of Mitre Deltas.

Yet the ones that I really needed - sorry, 'wanted' - were the Tango balls. Even now, I REALLY WANT a set of Subbuteo Tango balls... and I haven't played Subbuteo for 30 years or more.

They were available to buy in three colours - white, fluorescent yellow and orange - but the white ones would have been just fine by me. Just like the full-sized equivalent, a true example of perfection in design.

2. Football League Cup trophy (C172)

A bit of a weird choice, this, but it was one of those things that I was instinctively attracted to whenever I saw it on a Subbuteo poster or in a catalogue.

Again, I was lucky; down the years, I managed to attain a Subbuteo World Cup trophy and an FA Cup too, but there was something about the gleaming silver of that three-handled cup so often won by Liverpool in the early-80's that looked extra special to me.

Once you had a trophy, of course, you were obliged to play out a tournament with that as its ultimate prize. My mate Alan Young and I regularly did so, organising World Cup and FA Cup competitions that often took several weekends to complete. But here's the thing: if we'd had a League Cup trophy, we might have felt more obliged to incorporate lower-league teams into our tournaments.

Yes, I admit it - with the teams available in my collection, our FA Cup games did tend to focus on the bigger teams like Manchester United and Liverpool rather than the Darlingtons or the Chesterfields of this world. Maybe that would have been different if we'd have played a League Cup tournament instead. Maybe.

3. Astropitch (C178)

Even now it seems extraordinary to me that Subbuteo should have the ambition and the sheer boldness to create an 'artificial' playing surface, and that's without acknowledging the artificial nature of a green cloth pitch anyway.

Subbuteo's Astropitch arrived in 1980; not, as you may think, a reaction to QPR's Omniturf being installed at Loftus Road, but instead as an homage to NASL where plastic pitches had regularly been in use for several years.

Back in the day, I knew about the Astropitch but didn't care much for it... until I visited the house of my school friend, Trevor Scannell. Unbeknown to me, he was also a Subbuteo fan and was able to prove so by showing me the long green cardboard tube that housed his Astropitch.

I was awestruck. The tube was heavy, and on closer inspection I discovered why - it was because of the rubber backing that the green felt playing surface had. How amazing that you could unroll a pitch that was faultlessly smooth, thereby ensuring a perfect roll for your ball of choice (see above).

From that moment on, I wanted one and yet I never asked for one when Christmas came around. I wonder why? Certainly it seemed expensive to me at the time. It cost £8.50 on release in the shops - the equivalent of around £37.50 today - so it certainly fell into the category of 'special treat' as an ideal festive gift idea. If only I'd have been more strategic in my Christmas list making...

4. Teams (various)

As I mentioned on our fourth podcast, I had a decent core of teams in my collection, many of which were versatile enough to double up as various others. Because of this age-old tactic, there weren't many teams I couldn't include in my competitions, but there were a few that somehow eluded me which would have been a worthwhile acquisition.

Of the international teams that were big back in the early-80's, I'd have very much liked Argentina - partly because those pale blue and white stripes looked terrific, but also because I couldn't replicate the look with another team.

Then there was Peru - an outfit with an almost universally admired kit design - and one which I defiantly used in competitions despite not actually owning it. That was thanks to the almost similar Crystal Palace team that I did own (damn that blue diagonal sash), but let's face it, only the real Peru team would've done, and for that reason I'd have included it on my Christmas list.

Finally, if you're talking about team colours that were strangely missing from my collection, two stood out - green and orange. For the latter, it was only really Blackpool that might have tempted me to make a purchase, but as I admitted earlier, I was never much bothered about lower league teams (Blackpool were in Division Three or Four back then).

So that just leaves green-shirted teams and for that I'd have certainly liked Northern Ireland for my World Cup competitions. Billy Bingham's men had not just qualified for the 1982 World Cup but also gave a good account of themselves, so for topical reasons they'd have been a great team to own. And let's not forget, I could have pretended they were the Republic of Ireland team too, if necessary. Two for the price of one - beat that for cost-effectiveness.

5. World Cup Goals (C130/61130)

Something of a luxury item for me, but how I'd have loved to own them. These were goal frames with nets coloured red and blue - nothing more, nothing less - and yet the introduction of that splash of colour excited me more than most things in my life as a juvenile 10-year-old.

My original Club Edition set had given me goal frames with a plastic bar across the back of the net. This was restrictive beyond belief because you couldn't lift your goalkeeper to block those high shots heading for the top corner of the goal.

That's why I quickly invested in a set of Tournament Goals - pretty much the same as the World Cup Goals, but the nets were plain white. Very nice looking, but more importantly a joy to use as they lacked a plastic bar across the back. Suddenly the mobility of my goalkeepers was (almost) limitless.

All very good, but given the choice, would you rather have had goal frames with a white net, or a dazzling continental-style red/blue net? I thought so, and I agree completely. A World Cup Goal for a World Cup competition would have been the icing on the cake for me, but then again so would any of the above items I've mentioned. Therein lies the beauty of the unattainable in the captivating world of Subbuteo.

-- Chris Oakley