Thursday 26 February 2015

Cadbury's Soccerbar (1973)

First, there was chocolate...

Then there was football...

(Actually both came into being around the same time, especially where commercially produced chocolate is concerned, but that's to deviate from the thrilling introduction...)

...Then finally there was SOCCERBAR!

You haven't heard of it, have you?

Thought not. Soccerbar rode the first big wave of themed chocolate products that emerged in the late-1960's when companies like Cadbury and Nestlé (pronounced 'Nessul' in our house) looked for new ways to make us buy their choccies. Like we needed an excuse!

Aiming their sights squarely at the junior market, they produced a succession of fairly ordinary chocolate bars temptingly packaged with imagery from films and TV programmes. By the early-70s it was possible to buy your favourite cocoa-based comestibles in association with The Jungle Book, Noddy, Doctor Who and a host of others... and that was before turncoats like The Mr Men and The Wombles sold their souls later that same decade.

Yet it wasn't always a specific title that could tempt the average schoolboy to part with his pocket money. Sometimes a generic concept could work just as well, and what better than the exciting world of football? (Well pictures of naughty, bikini-clad women on a chocolate bar wrapper was always going to be litigious at the best of times...)

The year was 1973 and Cadbury decided it was the to bring the world of football to its chocolate-munching devotees, and Soccerbar was the result. There was, perhaps, a problem. Although some chocolate bars could be made in a shape loosely approximating a cartoon character, it wasn't so easy to replicate in fine detail the lank hair of Stan Bowles or the stocky ruggedness of Norman Hunter.

A different approach was needed and ultimately Cadbury decided to focus on the packaging, rather than the contents. Around each foil-wrapped bar was a brightly coloured sleeve; the front of it featured a hand-drawn action shot (sometimes deliberately referencing a proper league club like Crystal Palace) while the back contained Soccerbar's undoubted USP: knowledge.

As we all know, kids like nothing better than collecting a set of something, and here they could do so by collecting all 12 Soccerbar wrappers. Why? Because each one had tips and advice on how to improve your football skills and fitness.

Many a nugget of helpful instruction was provided. "Wingers... Practice crossing the ball by constantly aiming at a point above the penalty spot which would make for a good header" suggested one wrapper, while another told Centre Backs that "solid, accurate heading is vital".

Staying fit and avoiding injury was also discussed, telling the young consumer that warming up and doing exercises were vital in order to stay in peak condition. Quite how that would have gone down with the chocolate-scoffing juvenile one can only wonder, but the advice was valuable nonetheless.

It's not quite clear how long Soccerbars were around for, but we're guessing that England's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup may have spelled the end for anything football-related in Cadbury's growing range of products.

This was, nonetheless, a simple example of maximising sales by pandering to your potential customers. Kids love football, kids love chocolate, ergo you make a chocolate bar that appeals to young football fans. It worked like a charm and the bellies of millions of children were satisfyingly filled accordingly.

-- Chris Oakley

Some 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.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 2

Continuing our look at the great, the good and the trying-hard-not-to-be-embarrassing from the world of football co-commentary...

Charlton, Jack

The older of the Charlton brothers barely had a chance to put his feet up after retiring from an accomplished playing career when he was swiftly snapped up by ITV. His first assignment saw him fly out to Belgrade to cover the 1973 European Cup Final with Brian Moore, and he did the same again in 1974, 1976 and 1980. Six FA Cup Finals between 1974 and 1981, not to mention a wide range of England internationals culminating in the 1982 World Cup were also added to Big Jack's canon, proving an undoubted talent that his employers could regularly rely upon.

Jack Charlton's vocal style was distinctive but winningly efficient. Possessing a stronger Geordie accent than his younger brother, the viewer occasionally had cause to stop and figure out what it was he'd actually said (cf. "I dunna why he didn't hit it to the far purst"). That aside, Charlton rarely wasted a word as he described what was going on, nor in his views about a particular player, team or manager.

Forthright without being overtly controversial, Jack Charlton unquestionably found the right balance in his delivery. A player of considerable experience, he had plenty to say and wasn't afraid to say it, but he was always fair-minded in his assessment of everything. It would have been easy for him to bore people about his days playing for Leeds or England, or to gloat about the greatness he achieved, but he didn't. Instead, he spoke with conciseness and meaning, just as you always hope a co-commentator would.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.5/10.

Clough, Brian

Given Brian Clough's success with Derby County and his outspoken 'clown' comments about Poland's goalkeeper in 1973, it's strange that he wasn't handed a co-commentator's microphone until 1979. Perhaps it's because ITV preferred to make use of his presence as a studio-based panelist because that's where you'd have found him for much of the early- to mid-70's.

As it is, Clough toned down his controversial views once relocated alongside the main commentator, but he remained truthful and honest with the things that he said. When hearing Clough's analysis, you always got the feeling he was scrutinising every moment, processing everything that was going on in front of him in fine detail. Waffle was a rarity with Clough - what you got was an interesting take on the game with points being made that weren't immediately apparent to the casual viewer.

And he continued to do just that throughout the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, several domestic Cup Finals and European Finals to boot. By the late-1980's, however, his main career as manager of Nottingham Forest was entering its final stages and his work for ITV came full circle as he appeared more and more often in front of camera as a studio guest rather than behind the mike. As TV viewers, that worked out just fine as Clough got more of a chance to speak at greater length rather than keeping his utterances short and to the point.

With more time to talk, there was greater potential for hearing the sort of spiky dialogue he'd become known for, and that, after all, was what we all wanted deep down. Far from bland, Brian Clough liked to talk and knew how to make you listen whether you liked him or not.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 7/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.8/10.

Hill, Jimmy

If ever a man made it his job to watch football and explain it to the ordinary TV viewer, it was Jimmy Hill. Then again, Jimmy Hill made it his job to do many things in his life, from running football clubs to representing the interests of players as PFA Chairman.

On TV he could have conceivably done everything himself; presenting the programme, commentating on the match, conducting the interviews with the players afterwards and reviewing the key tactical sequences... Hill had so much experience, he could have done any or all of those things with consummate ease.

As it is, he was asked to take his seat in the commentary box and convey his thoughts whenever their was a big match taking place. Initially on ITV, Jimmy Hill formed a winning partnership with Brian Moore and was present for the FA Cup Finals from 1969 to 1973, as well as numerous England matches and European Finals. A switch to the BBC then saw him initially move to a front-of-camera roll hosting Match of the Day, but from the 1980's he was back behind the mike again for World Cups and European Championships alike.

His skill at reading the game and understanding who was playing well and who wasn't (including the officials) gave him a reputation for being one of the best football brains around. Unfortunately it also prompted some people to regard him as a know-it-all and would happily impersonate him as a dreary, self-satisfied bore.

This was unfair to say the very least. If any criticism could be aimed at Jimmy Hill, it's that he was perhaps on TV too frequently over a long period of time, but that wasn't his fault either. TV producers knew he could add much to a live match broadcast, so unsurprisingly they made use of his talents whenever possible. And why not... Jimmy Hill loved the game just as much (if not more) than anyone, and his desire to prove it during his co-commentaries was a very admirable trait indeed.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8/10 Humour - 5/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 7.1/10.

And now, once again, it's time to look at some of the minor members of the 'Sitting Alongside' club...

Clemence, Ray: Rarely used former Liverpool and Tottenham goalkeeper but a shrewd collaborator that spoke with sense and relevance. Joined Brian Moore for ITV's coverage of England's 8-0 win in Turkey in November 1984, but should have been used much more often.

Francis, Trevor: Britain's first million-pound player and in recent years a regular co-commentator on Sky Sports, but it all started back in 1986 when he accompanied Brian Moore during England's goalless friendly in Budapest. Great insight as an accomplished player and manager and pleasingly talked a lot of sense.

Greaves, Jimmy: One of the greatest England forwards of all time and a colourful co-presenter for ITV's 'Saint and Greavsie', yet not used all that often in the commentary box. Perfectly comfortable in front of the camera where his jovial character shone through in abundance, his appearances behind the mike were mainly confined to the 1990's. Possessing a potent mix of humour and honest criticism, Greaves was a fine foil to Brian Moore and was able to lighten the mood of a game better than most of his peers.

Coming up in Part 3:
A galloping manager, a Saint and a host of stars that disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived...

-- Chris Oakley

See also:

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Fantasy Nostalgia: Shirt Sponsorship in the 1960s

What would the football kits of English football teams have looked like if shirt sponsorship had arrived a decade earlier, during the late-1960's? Go on, admit it - you've been wondering about that, haven't you?

Well wonder know more as we conjure up some more fantasy illustrations to take you into an alternative reality where things really did happen...

We begin with Sheffield United (above left) who in this image are sporting the sponsor's name of Woodbine. Why? For no other reason than the once popular cigarette brand features in The Greasy Chip Butty Song, favoured so much by fans of The Blades. So there.

Then we have Watford (above centre) who perhaps might have had the Green Shield Stamps logo on their plain yellow shirts. I matched the logo with the team because the building that once acted as the Green Shield UK headquarters was based in Edgware, a short distance from the Vicarage Road ground.

Lastly, on the right of the image, I've paired up Manchester United with Watney's Red Barrel. Again, no complicated reason for this, other than the logo looks quite nice on a red shirt.

Onto the next selection...

Tottenham and Persil (above left) - a perfect combination, purely because we were always told that 'Persil washes whiter'... and just as well, as those white shirts can get really rather muddy sometimes...

Above centre is Aston Villa and their HP Sauce-fronted shirts. Here we have another local connection as the factory that used to make HP Sauce was located in Aston, Birmingham. (And you thought I was just throwing this stuff together...)

Lastly on the right, we have Oxo on the shirts of Nottingham Forest, proving once again that some logos just look better on a particular background colour. Oxo's packaging has been red for many years, so it just seems to fit.

And so to the last selection of 60's-sponsored kits, and we begin with the Hoover logo on the QPR shirt (above left). Anyone that's driven down the A40 Western Avenue in London has probably seen the lovely Art Deco building that once produced Hoover appliances at some point or another. The Hoover Building is situated just over five miles away from QPR's Loftus Road ground, thereby creating yet another tenuous link.

The middle kit is that of Norwich City, and their shirt is sponsored by Fairy Snow. The name might be faintly embarrassing, but there is a connection as packets of the erstwhile detergent used to have a yellow and green colour scheme. Fact.

Last, but not least, there's Everton and their Lyons Maid splash across the famous old blue shirt. Here I have to admit I really have been throwing this together as the weakest of all connections is based on Everton once having the great Mick Lyons on their team roster during the 1970s. Pathetic really, isn't it?

-- Chris Oakley

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Goal Frames We Have Known and Loved: No.3

Empire Stadium, Gżira, Malta:

Look closely at the grainy black-and-white image above and you'll see something rather spectacular. It's a set of goalposts made entirely out of pelican crossing lights.

Actually that's not true. They couldn't get the bulb to flash on the top.

No, these are in fact proper black and white striped goal posts as seen for many years at the Empire Stadium just north-west of Valetta, Malta. The above picture is taken from the Malta v England match that took place in 1971, and as you can see, they're every bit as bizarre as they are eye-catching.

Not only are the posts an absolute delight to behold (Newcastle United fans, contain yourselves) but the back frame of the goal was also peculiar because of its three support posts. That's THREE - one at the back left of the net, one at the back right and one in the MIDDLE.

Quite why it was deemed necessary to add a third post down the middle is anyone's guess, but it's just the sort of idiosyncratic idea that added so much fun to the world of football years ago.

As if the goalframes weren't crazy enough, the pitch at the Empire Stadium in Malta was made up predominantly of white sand. Any team that played there (and many did, from England to Ipswich Town to Real Madrid) could tell you how tricky that was to play on - in fact Sir Alf's band of happy wanderers only just scrambled a 1-0 win there back in February 1971.

Then again, it's easy to be distracted by innovation and originality when it's so unavoidably in your midst. We can only imagine every visiting player must have spent hours gawping at the monochrome genius of those goal frames, so if possession of the ball was easily lost, so be it. We'd have no doubt done the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the goal posts of Gżira: true black and white brilliance.

Structure: 9.5
Net pattern: 7
Net colour: 7
Overall: 8.5

-- 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.

See also:

Monday 9 February 2015

Football Crazy (1977)

The school tuck shop. A place where for decades juveniles have queued up, exchanged money for substandard food and consumed the very things they acquired, purely for pleasure alone. 'Nutritional gratification' was nowhere to be seen, apart from those freaky kids that bought an apple at break time. Who the hell buys apples, for heaven's sake?

No, for the schoolchildren of the 1970s and 1980's in particular, it was common - nay, expected - that your daily food consumption consisted only of items that in no way benefited your personal health and well-being. Crisps were a great example of the genre. Though in essence derived from the perfectly decent potato, the addition of preservatives, colourings and copious amounts of hot oil transformed it into something that passed through your digestive system to no great effect. But my, did they taste fantastic. Artificially fantastic, but fantastic all the same.

Among the many varieties available was Football Crazy, a favourite among tuck shop regulars of the late 1970's. For four-and-a-half new pennies, you could have yourself a small packet of corn and potato snacks shaped like footballs (vaguely) and flavoured like smokey bacon. They were cheap, tasty and guaranteed to clog up your whole mouth with the sort of substance which, these days, you're more likely to find pumped into wall cavities as insulation material.

For the average football-loving child, however, there was more indulgence to be had thanks to the canny marketing of Smiths' Crisps. Their idea was to create the Football Crazy Club, which kids could be a member of if they sent off enough the required number of empty crisp packets. Once a member, they'd receive all many of goodies through the post such as the obligatory newsletter, stickers and anything else they could churn out for little or no expense.

Even if you weren't a member of the club, you could still send away your wrappers to pick up special items, like the 'Laws of Football' booklet advertised here. It was as if Smiths Crisps were saying "We know you like football, so allow us to give you lots of nice things in return for buying our corn/potato snacks."

How very convivial, and how very 'Seventies'. It just wouldn't happen now, though. Kids, I'm convinced, aren't interested in stickers or posters or 'Rules of the Game' booklets. Crisps must still be popular with kids though, aren't they? If so, could you persuade them to send off 15,700 empty packets in exchange for a copy of FIFA 15? Nah, thought not.

-- Chris Oakley

'F.A. Rules OK' image by kind courtesy of Football Cartophilic Info Exchange.

Friday 6 February 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 1

When idly passing by an hour or two, it's greatly satisfying to recall happy memories of long hot summers, pre-decimal coinage and the sweets you used to buy from the corner shop on your way to school. Kola Kubes, in my case. Or occasionally Mint Humbugs. Or Jelly Babies.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, football commentary. When feeling nostalgic, there's nothing better than remembering an era when a football commentator on TV was joined by someone who occasionally (and only when invited to do so) would give their personal thoughts on the game in progress. These 'co-commentators,' as they became known, were usually ex-players or current league managers, or both, on very rare occasions.

What they provided was insight - insight that could only be gained from someone involved in football at the very highest level; an antidote to the speculative ponderings of Brian Moore, John Motson and many more besides. Many were naturals in their new-found role but others were less self-assured or, to use common parlance, just plain piss poor.

And so it falls to The Football Attic to record the contribution made by these men, and as we do so, let's give a score to each one based on five main categories:

Insight - Being able to say something that wouldn't have naturally occurred to the viewer and could only be said by someone who knows football inside out.

Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - In short, knowing when to keep schtum and respecting the commentator's top billing as main speaker throughout the game (we're looking at you, Mark Bright).

Humour - Adding comedy with a light touch whenever necessary without thinking it was a chance to perform a stand-up routine to a nationwide television audience.

Controversialness - Lacing your dialogue with just enough opinion to get the audience at home discussing the relevant issue at great length without polarising the entire audience.

Delivery - Speaking the words in your head without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Or as if English is your second language, for that matter.

And now, let us begin...

Atkinson, Ron

An unfortunate place to start for reasons already apparent, possibly, but let's do what we can. 'Big Ron' caught the attention of ITV's men in suits having assembled a West Bromwich Albion squad that regularly qualified for European competition in the late-1970's (ask your grandparents). Always at ease in front of the camera for those vital post-match interviews, he finally took the ITV shilling during the 1980 European Championships where he assisted Martin Tyler and Brian Moore.

Proving he could talk convincingly from a manager's point of view about tactics, formations and individual players, he became ITV's co-commentator of choice for many years. World Cups and domestic Cup Finals followed in abundance, but he soon found himself relying on mangled metaphors and twisted idioms (cf. "Early doors," "tourneyment," etc) to build any sense of personal idiosyncrasy. And that's to say nothing of the plethora of foreign player names he mispronounced.

Not that it seemed to harm his career as Atkinson went on and on into the 1990's and 2000's, taking in Champions League matches and any other high-profile event that he was called upon to oversee. Then came the crashing end to it all when he was heard making awful racist comments about Marcel Desailly after a broadcast of the Chelsea v Monaco match in 2004. Atkinson's microphone was still on when the UK broadcast had ended, and the live feed was still being heard in other parts of the world - not that Atkinson was aware at the time.

The sack soon followed and his long career ended abruptly - justifiably so. True, Atkinson was good in his day, but in light of his final, enormous gaff it's anyone's guess why he wasn't caught out sooner.

Insight - 8.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8/10 Humour - 5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 (before his career ended) Delivery - 7.5/10. OVERALL - 7/10.

Brooking, (Sir) Trevor

No sooner had Trev hung up his boots for the last time at West Ham than he was being dragged forcibly by the shirt collar to his first BBC commentary gig. Mild-mannered and the sort of 'nice young man' your Nan would have approved of, Brooking fitted the BBC profile of polite respectability perfectly. Ironic, given the calibre of people they were employing in other areas of the organisation *coughYewtree*.

Brooking made an early appearance in front of the TV cameras at the start of the 1970's as a studio guest on ITV's 'The Big Match', but it was behind the mike that his post-playing career came to pass at the Beeb.

Though the Upton Park idol offered much in the way of wholesome decency to his co-commentary role, he regrettably became known for not being able to form a strong opinion for or against any particular argument. Were it not for the fact that Humpty Dumpty got in first, Brooking would have led the way in sitting not only on fences but also walls or other free-standing structures wherever appropriate.

That aside, he became BBC's 'Mr Reliable,' putting in many hours of service during the World Cups of 1986 and 1990, appearing also in sound only for every FA Cup Final between 1989 and 1997. England internationals and domestic spectacles also appeared on Brooking's CV and by the time he stepped down from his duties, there was barely any football event he hadn't co-commentated on.

If only he'd said something controversial once in a while...

Insight - 6/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 4/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 6.7/10.

Charlton, Sir Bobby

Much like Brooking, Sir Bobby had every box ticked when the BBC were looking for someone to take on the role of football co-commentator, but with one additional 'wow' factor - he'd won the World Cup with England.

Who better, then, to cast his eye over football's rich tapestry of theatre and zeal than one of the great gentlemen of the English game? Although his temperament really was gentle, he was also constructive with his comments and tremendously encouraging to players and teams that had played well.

His first major outing with the BBC came at the 1978 World Cup where he joined David Coleman and Barry Davies in the commentary box, coincidentally during the same tournament where his brother Jack was performing the same task for ITV. They'd repeat the same cross-channel double act during the 1982 World Cup, too...

Before long, Sir Bobby was drafted in to cover the 1980 and 1984 European Championships, the World Cups of 1986 and 1990, plus a host of other key matches. His quiet, easy-going style coupled with a series of well-honed, relevant observations made him the ideal choice for the BBC, bringing dignity and respect to a role that can be divisive in the wrong hands.

When the 1990's arrived, we saw less and less of the Man United hero (blame Trevor Brooking for getting in first when the talent was being booked), but by then he'd earned a well-deserved rest. A career in co-commentating almost as exemplary as the one he'd had when playing, Sir Bobby Charlton knew how to talk about the game, and when to do so. Take note, all ye who follow in his footsteps.

Insight - 7/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 10/10 Humour - 4/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 9/10. OVERALL - 7.0/10.

And before Part 1 comes to an end, a quick mention for some other co-commentators who tried their hand at coherent football-related speech while a huge viewing public listened intently...

Bond, John: More of a studio panellist, he sat alongside Brian Moore for the crucial England v Hungary qualifier for World Cup 82 at Wembley. Slightly grumpy in vocal tone, no-one could deny his knowledge of the game or fail to appreciate the apposite comments he made.

Brady, Liam: Former Arsenal midfielder and a classy one at that, most of his punditry work was done for Irish broadcaster RTE in latter years, but his co-commentary skills came to light when Ireland reached the 1990 and 1994 World Cup. Knowledgable and not afraid to give his views when asked to do so.

Channon, Mick: Another ITV pannelist par-excellence, and one who dared to lock horns with Brian Clough in the process. Behind the mike, he was just as plain-spoken and amusing, and refreshingly so. Sadly he didn't co-commentate all that often, nor did he do that windmill thing with his arms when he spoke, but you can't have everything.

Coming up in Part 2:
A famous footballing brother, an old big head and an even bigger chin... who could this possibly be a reference to...?

-- Chris Oakley