Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Collectables in 1980/81: Part 2

The second and concluding part of Greg Lansdowne's look back to the football sticker and card collecting scene at the start of the 1980's.

Having launched in 1978, the Daily Star felt confident enough to chance its arm in the football sticker market just three years’ later.

Although it would turn out to be a one-off, ‘Top British Teams’ was a decent effort from the newcomer.

Peter Batt, Chief Sports Columnist of the Daily Star, misjudged his audience in the foreword, however, by pitching it more to adults rather than the accepted target market of kids:

“Middle aged dads browsing through these pages will be instantly reminded of those magical pre-television days when the football circus came to town once every fortnight.

“If I close my eyes I can still inhale the steamy aroma of wet mackintoshes on the crowded top deck of the bus transporting us to wonderland.”

With 412 stickers, the Star opted for two First Division players to a sticker – slightly bigger than the Scottish versions we became accustomed to with Panini. Most were paired in the same clubs but occasionally you would get a Coventry player (Mick Coop) with a Nottingham Forest (Garry Birtles) or David Langan (Birmingham City) with Nicky Reid (Manchester City).

Where the newspaper differentiated from conventional albums was in the shape of their landscape publication, which gave them space for 14 individual player shots (as opposed to 13 from FKS and 12 from Panini that season).

With room for an extra squad member or two, Top British Teams featured a fresh-faced Ian Rush in what Americans would call his ‘rookie card’.

Nominally the players were ordered alphabetically but Ryan came after Suddaby for Brighton and Bannister after Hunt for Coventry when spelling went awry. There is even a rare shot of Clive Allen in an Arsenal shirt... albeit shoved in between Peter Nicholas and Neil Smilie at new club Crystal Palace.  

Claudio Marangoni (Sunderland) and Steve Archibald (Tottenham) compete for the worst superimposing job, the latter of which looks like his head has been placed on Lou Ferrigno’s body.

Claudio Marangoni, Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks

Selected Division Two sides were afforded 12 smaller-sized stickers (Chelsea, Newcastle, Swansea, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham) while 11 stickers were given out each to Aberdeen, Celtic, Dundee United and Rangers in the Scottish mix. These were sold as four to a sticker.

A swanky competition finishes the album, to win a complete ‘Video Outfit’ - in conjunction with JVC - by naming your best Great Britain team and a slogan for them! A closing date of November 30, 1980 indicates the album came out early season, meaning a lot of credit should be given for putting together, in the main, a worthy first effort.

Less credit goes to Topps for their album-less Footballer ’81 set.

Topps/A&BC had previously brought out series after series of impressive individual player cards but the latest effort would prove the beginning of the end (as just one more set was produced for English football thereafter before the US company took a lengthy hiatus from the UK).

Just as Panini would innovate from Modena and then transfer those ideas abroad, Topps’ US head office would set the guidelines for any tinkering to their products. So it went, Footballers ’81 imitated the same three-players-to-a-card format being used for American sports at the time.

Notwithstanding some bizarre card ordering, the basic premise saw players divided into club sides based on the 1979-80 First Division placings. In between fourth-placed arsenal and Nottingham Forest, in fifth, were the top scorers for the previous season’s Division One teams.

Leeds United and Norwich City were separated by England players; Manchester City and Stoke City were bracketed by internationals from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales; at the end were an assortment of Division Two players.

So far so moderate.

But then you find Larry Lloyd marooned from his Nottingham Forest team-mates, in with Manchester City. Quite why Billy Gilbert of Crystal Palace and Gary Owen of West Bromwich Albion are stuck together before the Second Division players is another mystery.

I will spare Topps’ blushes and leave their ‘out of ordering’ there.

Known as ‘pink backs’ (each Topps set used a different colour on the reverse to differentiate itself), Footballer ’81 packs were an attractive offering to any would be collector: nine picture cards (albeit three cards divided into three each), plus one of 18 ‘Super Star Posters’ and a stick of bubble gum.
Problems only start to arise when one looks deeper into the collection.

With just 198 mini-cards to the set, there really is no need for some of the players to crop up three times (as the likes of Paul Mariner, Glenn Hoddle and John Robertson do for their club, country and as last season’s top scorer).

Some of the photo selections also leave a great deal to be desired. Manchester United’s Ray Wilkins in a Chelsea kit (whom he left in the close season of 1979) appears quite reasonable compared to Southampton’s Kevin Keegan in a Liverpool shirt (a club he departed in 1977).

Brian Kidd would be forgiven for struggling to remember which club he was playing for at that time as he features on a Bolton Wanderers club card in painted on, badgeless, kit as well as on a top scorer card for Everton in Manchester City apparel.

I could go on... but it would be easier to put this collection out of its misery.

As a postscript, Topps did bring out an album for its ‘Footballer’ set in 1981-82 but there was a reason that collection was to be their valediction in England.

With the sketchy competition outlined, it just leaves Panini’s ‘Football 81’. As a previous Football Attic post has already done this album justice, I will close with some embellishing from Peter Warsop, who was the sales and marketing manager at WH Smith Distributors at the time, responsible for, among many other publishers, the sales, marketing and physical distribution for Panini UK:

“Nineteen seventy eight was a great year for Panini on football. As well as the World Cup we sold over 80 million packets of stickers on the Panini ‘Football 78’.  Nineteen seventy nine was down 10% but 1980 and 1981 shot back up to above 1978 levels. During this period we did market collections heavily but I put the main growth contributor down to completely overhauling the distribution system; this was done by reducing down fairly considerably the numbers of wholesalers involved. Those that remained had to provide agreed levels of service to retailers and their performance was carefully monitored and performance reviews given at regular intervals. Both wholesalers as well as retailers were put under some pressure to reward our marketing investments and due to the high volumes being achieved this worked in everyone’s favour.”

With the Daily Star bowing out after one year and FKS and Topps signing off in 1981-82, the path was well and truly clear for Panini to dominate for years to come.

Got any memories about the cards and stickers you collected back in 1980/81? If so, drop us a line and tell which collections you favoured most or those elusive players you needed to complete your sets!

Meantime, as ever, our sincere thanks to Greg Lansdowne for his wonderful blog post, and don't forget, you can buy Greg's book, 'Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall... & Rise of Panini Stickers' from Amazon UK and all good book stores right now (prices vary).

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