Thursday, 11 June 2015

Collectables in 1980/81: Part 1

Once again it's our absolute pleasure to welcome back Greg Lansdowne who this time takes us on a sticker-packed trip down Memory Lane to the start of the 1980's. Here's Part 1, with the concluding part coming soon to The Football Attic website.

By the time of the 1980-81 season, resistance to Panini’s allure in the football collectables market seemed futile.

An irresistible mix of self-adhesive stickers, up-to-date strips, official club badges (in foil!) – all readily available to a hypnotised audience – made Panini the album to collect.

And yet…

FKS and Topps had been left bloodied and bruised following the entry of Panini into the UK mix from the late 1970s. Prior to that, the pair had dominated the collectables scene with their picture stamps and card sets respectively (Topps having bought out A&BC in 1975).

Rather than bowing out gracefully they carried on for the 1980-81 campaign, like washed-up boxers getting off the canvas on the count of nine to take another beating.

Panini’s ‘Football 81’, Topps ‘Footballers ‘81’ and FKS’ ‘Soccer 81’. What more could any collector need?

Why, the ‘Daily Star Top British Teams Football Album’, that’s what.

Each of Panini’s rivals provided a style of their own but none came anywhere near to putting up an offering likely to compete with the market leader.

It is possible to encapsulate this collectables season in one player: Peter Withe.

The legendary striker had just signed for Aston Villa that summer, at the start of a season to remember for the Villans.

Looking back at that Championship-winning squad in Panini’s double page spread, there sits Withe, in the bottom row of the second page, looking resplendent in the claret and blue outfit for which he is best known.

From this collectables high point, it quickly descends among the rivals.

While Panini traditionally waited until January to get their album out – ensuring the current season’s kits could be utilised – the rush to be first to market among competitors had more negatives than upsides.

Hence, Withe appeared in Newcastle United kit – from where he had moved in the summer of 1980 – in the Daily Star album. Topps opted to paint a claret and blue strip over one of Withe’s many former outfits.

Neither of these were satisfactory but FKS really pulled the stops out when it came to committing a Peter Withe fashion faux pas. If it wasn't bad enough to use a picture of the forward in the shirt of local rivals Birmingham, Withe had left that club in 1976 and played for a further two clubs since (Nottingham Forest and Newcastle).

Despite this oversight (among others), FKS did put up a reasonable showing with their Soccer 81 album. At 450 stickers, this was a comprehensive set that is mostly (if not solely) let down by copyright issues. With Panini having long since agreed deals with the English and Scottish Football Leagues, as well as their respective players’ associations, FKS needed to tread carefully.

As a result, the club badges are artist’s impressions – with varying degrees of inauthenticity.
Leicester City’s resembles a primary school art project; Manchester City’s elaborate badge was just too much like hard work; by the time they got to West Ham United they had completely lost interest!

Although the desire of Panini’s competitors to get their collections out early meant a large chunk of the head shots were taken from the previous season’s press call, this wasn’t as much of a problem at the time, as it was less noticeable with kits barely changing from season to season.

Except Brighton & Hove Albion had made a drastic alteration, for example, ditching their blue and white stripes in 1980-81 for an all blue shirt, making it obvious FKS and Daily Star were using dated photos from 1979-80.

‘Soccer 81’ opened with a review of the previous season, plus a swift welcome from Bobby Charlton at the bottom of the article (“I hope you enjoy collecting and swopping Soccer 81”). Also featuring a competition tie-in with Charlton’s soccer schools, the England great would later shift allegiance to Panini as the decade went on.

A continuing issue (not quite on the scale of the FKS ‘Soccer Stars 80’ album) was the presence of two clubs sharing each double page. It saved on paper but was not pleasing to the eye.

As has been recounted in other articles (as well as in my book ‘Stuck On You’) one of the more piquant aspects of these old albums (for the anally retentive football fans among us) is the errors that, pleasingly, crop up quite regularly.

In what one can only assume was an undetected cock-up by a photographer when captioning, Gordon Cowans appears as both himself and Des Bremner in not just ‘Soccer 81’ but also the Daily Star album.

Eccentric kit choices are also to the fore with, for example, Plymouth Argyle’s Brian Bason in a Chelsea shirt, despite having left the Blues in 1977.

Scottish clubs are featured prominently in equally-proportioned stickers to their English counterparts. To distinguish them, they are bordered by Scottish flags – except FKS forgot to add them in some instances, such as Paul Sturrock of Dundee United.

Similarly, a section of ‘USA Star Players’ (with players from the NASL) were framed by American flags, giving us a rare opportunity to collect UK domestic stickers of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller among others.

FKS were pioneers in the recycling movement by offering a discounted Umbro sports bag – as endorsed by Gary Owen – in exchange for 20 empty packets.

While Panini benefited from the huge promotional push of giving the ‘Football 81’ album away in ‘Shoot!’, FKS carried on their relationship with ‘Scoop’, - a comic that eventually ceased publishing in October 1981, the same season in which FKS also gave up the ghost.

Greg Lansdowne concludes his round-up of the collectables scene of 1980/81 later this week here on the Attic website. Meantime, our huge thanks to Greg, and to Alan Jenkins of Football Cartophilic Football Exchange for unearthing the above image of the rare FKS ‘Soccer 81’ album 'free with Scoop'.


  1. Thank you for the article.Brought back great memories.I collected the Topps cards at the time.Danny McGrain (pictured) was a favourite of mine.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Paul. I think you and I were among the few who collected the Topps Footballers '81 series. I am only around 30 short of the set but those I have are of varying quality due to the difficulties involved with extracting the cards from each other.

  3. Collected most of the Topps cards in the mid to late 70s, but even I give up the ghost when they produced the 1981 edition. Just didn't seem right multiple players on one card, even if you did like the gum.

  4. Hi
    I actually have a Paul Sturrock sticker with emerge flags around it , is this rare