Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Future Nostalgia: Kit Launches For The Easily Impressed

Many years from now, historians and archivists will look back on 2015 and view it as the year when football kits properly crossed the line into the world of comedy. Oh it's got nothing to do with the kit designs themselves (although have you seen that new Bradford City shirt?) - it's more to do with the marketing campaigns used by some teams to launch their new kits.

Specifically we're talking about slogans here, for slogans are now, apparently, the be-all-and-end-all of your average kit launch. You probably thought that the kit itself was the central focus for any discerning team trying to woo its fans with a new outfit for the coming season, but no. Don't be stupid! If it ain't got a strapline, it ain't worth the shirt on your back.

Take the poster campaign for the Newcastle United 2015/16 Home Kit. Literally, if possible. It's the perfect example of how things are done these days. We have a small selection of outfield players along with one (and only one) goalkeeper, all of them are wearing the new kit, all of them are standing with their feet shoulder-length apart and all have the steely-eyed expression on their face of someone about to commit a very serious crime.

Yet there is also one other element of note: the slogan. It is no longer possible to just position your average bone-head footballer in front of a camera and tell him to look mean and moody. You need words. Inspiring words. Words that will make your average bone-headed too-much-money-in-the-bank-for-their-own-good fan think "YEAH! I'm gonna buy that shirt!"

And so we have the strapline: "Divided we are weak / United we are strong." Because they're Newcastle UNITED, ya see?

Someone wearing an expensive suit came up with those words with the unerring intent of making your average Magpies fan buy the new 2015/16 kit with all haste. And at least it borders on clever. Most of the slogans we're seeing with every passing week are either pathetic, confusing or downright embarrassing.

Liverpool's partnership with New Balance proves the point. 'Hold nothing back' we're told. If only the New Balance kit designers hadn't carried out that order explicitly. But what are we, as consumers, supposed to do with a phrase like that? Are we supposed to tackle everyday life with the uncompromising relish of a fox in a chicken coop? And if so, why should we accept it from a team that lost 6-1 against Stoke on the last day of the season?

Last season's kit was launched with the strapline '#Demand.' #DemandYourMoneyBack, more like.

Probably the best example of supreme bullshittery to emerge in recent days comes from the mighty Watford. 'Our Time Is Now' says the poster. Now if that isn't a copyrighter realising his entire life's become a cliché of the highest order, I don't know what is.

And technically, you could argue that Watford's 'time' was 1983 (not that we begrudge them another high point to rival Graham Taylor's peak of three decades ago). While Watford remain in the Championship, you could argue... well... you could argue.

Never ones to rest on their laurels when there's inane drivel to force down their fans throats, Tottenham have come up with a corker for their new kit - 'Stay Relentless' (coupled with the meek retort 'I will.')  Is there any point to all this? Seriously?

Even nowadays it's not uncommon for teams to merely take a picture of some of their players, overlay some text to the effect of 'New Kit Available To Buy Next Wednesday' and consider it 'job done'. Many teams still do that, and there's nothing wrong with doing that either. It shows that a team wants to sell a few shirts but aren't prepared to make themselves look a laughing stock either. Surely it's better to spend the money buying better players to improve your team than to employ a div with a degree who thinks he can co-ordinate an online sales campaign?

But wait - even the French are getting in on the act. 'Partout C'est Chez Nous' screams the poster campaign for the new Olympique Marseille kit, or 'Everywhere is our home,' for all you Anglophiles. Yeah, right. Great. Whoopee.

Not so long ago, the home kit launch for the French national team was accompanied by the words 'Provoque le destin' ('Bring about destiny'). Honestly, is this the start of a slippery slope that leads to an annual Eurovision Bunkum Contest? If so, we can probably do without it...

By now you're probably getting the picture, but alas this isn't the end. With the domestic season now over, there are still plenty of new kits to be launched and the vast majority of them will have a slogan that's supposed to inspire renewed hope and a determination to succeed. The fact that they've all become an anachronism of themselves only proves one thing: the world of football still believes its own hype more than it's ever done before. #againstmodernmarketing

-- Chris Oakley

Friday, 22 May 2015

Videoblog 7: Football kit design folder

Way back in March 2012, I wrote an article called 'I was a teenage kit designer'. In it, I confessed that in my early-20's, I went through a short phase of designing football kits using nothing more than some paper and a set of felt-tip pens. Happy days they were, matched in many ways by the reaction to the article that saw lots of people confess to doing the same thing in their own younger days.

It's possible that you may have read my original article and felt short-changed by not being able to see more of my designs. (Possible, and unlikely, no doubt.) If that's the case, feel deprived no longer as The Football Attic Videoblog 7 showcases ALL of my existing football kit designs from two decades ago, just for you.

Experience the hilarity of my whacked-out juvenile imagination, the despair of not creating a single decent England kit design and the eternal hope that one day, just one day, a major manufacturer might be influenced by my efforts. A true rollercoaster of emotions awaits those of you daring to watch this extended-length video full of felt-tip fancies, of that you can be sure.

-- Chris Oakley

Friday, 15 May 2015

England's Elusive Missing Moments: The 1966 Saga

Peter Prentice recently embarked upon an odyssey to find out what happened to some TV footage pertaining to England's finest football hour. Why did it disappear and what did it contain? Here, Peter presents his findings...

They thought it was all over...

...and so did I when I purchased the DVD of the 1966 World Cup Final only to discover the most complete version in the BBC archive fell some distance short of England's finest two hours. Short by a full nineteen minutes, not including footage masked by action replays.

Those missing minutes were to become an abiding source of curiosity, if not obsession. Nineteen minutes represented a significant portion of the game, especially as the extra-time period appeared largely intact. They had to have contained some action of note. After all, even the most uneventful midfield stalemate has its talking points.

So what were the incidents destined to remain unseen and undocumented for close to half a century?

Until a few weeks ago I thought that a question likely to go unanswered. But now, thanks to the uploading of a substantially longer German broadcast, itself incomplete, the secrets of those missing minutes can at last be revealed.

What they show is that while much of the missing material was inconsequential, there were one or two moments well worth preserving. Chief among them is a Bobby Charlton near-miss inexplicably left out of the BBC edit, and a Bobby Moore cameo that has even the German commentator salivating. They also appear to cast doubt on one of the many legends arising from the game.

Below is an embryonic listing of all the footage exclusive to the German broadcast, which would stand as the definitive record were it without cuts of unknown duration at 01:12:45, 01:24:08 and 01:32:43, and not shorn of a 22-second section at 28:39. It is also lacking some of the post-match scenes of its BBC counterpart.

First Half

00:16 – 06.00
Wembley in readiness – A sweep of the stands - Players and officials wait in the tunnel.

07:23 – 08:10
The teams line up for the national anthems.

10:38 – 11.04
The German players warm up – Seeler with pennant.

17:20 - 17:25
Cutaway to some pensive looking England supporters.

20:21 - 21:50
Tilkowski receives treatment after his aerial clash with Hurst.

22:37 - 23:07
Hurst shoots high wide and handsome from a Ball corner.

24:15 – 24:17
Extended cutaway to England supporters.

25:09 – 25:17
Extended German celebrations and additional footage of goalscorer Haller.

30:44 – 31.01
Hurst receives a congratulatory hug from Bobby Charlton - Cutaway to jubilant home supporters – The scorer jogs back.

49:20 - 52:20
Ray Wilson is forced to head behind after some patient German build-up - Haller's corner is punched clear by Banks – Schnellinger puts the ball out of play – Jack Charlton gets his head in the way of a Siggi Held strike - An England attack peters out.

54:51 - 56:08
A Haller corner is easily gathered by Banks - Cohen intercepts a Beckenbauer pass - A Hunt effort is blocked by Weber - Emmerich wins another German corner.

58:49 - 01:06:17
The teams make their way off and the Band of H.M. Royal Marines takes over – A dissolve to the Royal Box where the Queen refuses to let the half-time downpour dampen her spirits.

Second Half

01:07:27- 01:08:01
Cut-away to crowd – Throw-ins in quick succession from Stiles and Cohen.

01:10:58 - 01:14:28
Moore takes a return pass and flights a long floated ball into the box - Held is flagged offside - A Stiles cross is headed clear by Schulz - Jack Charlton wins a goal kick off Held yet still protests - The combative Stiles incurs the wrath of referee Dienst - Jack Charlton heads behind – A Schnellinger cross is headed to safety.

01:15:36 - 01:17:25
A poor goal-kick from Tilkowski - A misplaced pass from Haller - Some neat German interplay - A swift England counter ends with Peters shooting tamely wide.

01:21:30 - 01:25:20
Tilkowski punches clear – A moment to treasure - Schnellinger shoots over - Peters is again off-target - Moore miscues a clearance - Weber shuts the door on Hunt – Ball runs it out of play.

01:32:07 - 01:33:24
Tilkowski goes down following a collision with Beckenbauer – A Wilson cross is headed away - Bobby Charlton shoots narrowly wide.

01:34:31 - 01:36:20
Hurst just fails to connect with a Hunt through ball after good work by Ball - A Bobby Charlton piledriver is charged down by Schulz - Held hits the side-netting.

01:36:51 – 01:36:53
Additional footage of Ball getting to his feet.

01:38:33 – 01:38:46
Extended celebrations as England go in front.

01:50:43 - 01:50:58
The German supporters celebrate their last minute reprieve - Schnellinger delays the restart.

01:51:23 - 01:54:26
The inquests begin and the players take a breather - Ramsey rallies his troops - Stiles consults with Greaves - The German physios get to work on aching muscles.

(Note #1: If Ramsey really did tell his players to get up and not show the Germans they were tired, there is precious little evidence of it. His captain remains seated as he delivers his defining teamtalk and another England player can be seen sitting down close to the commencement of extra-time.)

01:54:40 – 01:55:10
The inquests continue as the teams prepare for another half-hour.

01:55:19 – 01:55:43
Extended footage of Gordon Banks and a lengthy wait for the game to resume.

Extra Time - First Period

02:06:37 - 02:06:57
Hurst makes his way back to the half-way line - England fans celebrate - The Wembley scoreboard operators are caught on the hop.

(Note #2: The BBC version includes an extra seconds worth of player celebrations.)

02:11:10 - 02:11:26
Hurst and Hunt share a few words before the restart.

Extra Time - Second Period

02:27:11 - 02:28:06
More England celebrations - Hurst and Peters trudge wearily back – Immortality beckons.

02:30:16 – 02:31:38
The German team collect their medals - Weber loses his footing – A well-deserved lap of honour – The England team await their turn.

02:32:07 – 02:32:10
The captain begins the victory parade.

02:32:18 – 02:32:50
England’s heroes take their bow.

-- Peter Prentice

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Football Attic's Hit Parade: We're Gonna Do It Again

It's a warm welcome back now to Dave Burin who continues our series on the great and not-so-great musical exploits of football teams down the years...
Who, or what, is Stryker?  He remains the Ali Dia of the mid-'90s rap scene, having somehow bumbled his way into the studio for Manchester United's 1995 FA Cup Final song, despite by all appearances, having no musical career before or afterwards. Much like the Stig, Stryker's identity is uncertain and possibly secretive. One Channel 4 documentary which focused on football songs claimed that he was an Arsenal fan from North London, though this has never been formally verified. And so, after 20 years of silence from this most enigmatic of one-time shouty football-themed novelty rap creators, We're Gonna Do It Again is the total sum of everything the world knows about Stryker. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

If Stryker did indeed write the lyrics to this bizarre musical hotchpotch, it might be fair to infer that he's gone into hiding. Like the music world's Salman Rushdie, Stryker probably has a bounty on his head from several United fans with long memories, still outraged by their club's name being associated with lines like
"Because we're up there - cream of the crop
You gotta get up early to keep us from the top."
Despite the Reds' dismal display in the ensuing final (they were beaten 1-0 by Everton), what this United squad put their name to on record was undoubtedly more shameful than anything they produced on the Wembley turf.

So, besides the lyrics sounding like a public schoolboy's painfully polite attempt at trash talking, what does Stryker and Man United's cliché-ridden hit (it reached #6 in the UK Singles Chart) actually sound like? Well... there's an aggressive, tuneless drum machine which doesn't fit the melody, and has very likely been left switched on in the background entirely by accident. There's a wall of inoffensive though slightly off-putting guitar wailing in the background. At some point a keyboard seems to drift into the forefront briefly, before fading away - in what is an entirely apt metaphor for Brian McClair's on-field performances.

Around the 2:37 mark, our host clearly decides that things are getting a bit too authentic, that somehow it might be nice to alienate those hardcore Reds who, unaware of what awaits, are queuing up to buy this on cassette (or, for the really trendy individuals, CD). So, he tells us "we'll leave you with a message, Man U for the cup". It's an abbreviation used only as a derogatory term by opposition fans, and lazily by clueless pundits. However, I'd be here for rather too long if I tried to quibble over terminology with a man who spells the word 'Stryker' as if he's only ever heard the word when said aloud by Andrei Kanchelskis.

And yet, for all that, I kind of like it. It's unpolished, it's rather naff, it's full of lines which seem like they might have been scribbled on the back of a shopping list or scrawled down as Stryker woke up at 3am, his head buzzing with puns that don't quite rhyme.  In an era of overly-slick, characterless club songs, or annoyingly ironic efforts (I'm looking at you, I'm From Wigan Me!), there's something decidedly fun and unashamed and cheerful about Stryker's effort.  Now, enough faint praise...onto the B-side.

The best way I can describe the B-Side as is 'listenable'. It is, more importantly than that, incredibly lazy. In 1994, United had reached Wembley with the sounds of Come on You Reds, a catchy collaboration with Status Quo, ringing in their ears. It was the first football club single to reach #1 in the UK Singles Chart. In 1995, they chose as their B-side... Come On You Reds (1995 Squad). That's right. This vastly different version was recorded by the same club just a year later, meaning that at least two different players were involved in recording this completely necessary re-recording of the previous year's cup final song. No version exists online of the '95 track, though if you listen the '94 version and just imagine something exactly the same, you'll know what it sounds like.

Objectively, United may have done better to simply re-release the '94 cup song, and not rope (supposedly) Arsenal mad Stryker out of his (alleged) North London home to rap about "scoring our way to victory". Still, We're Gonna Do It Again is a relic of its time, and for better or worse, it sounds exactly like a mid-'90s attempt at coolness from a football club desperate to repeat its chart success. The tinned drums are dreadful. The vocals are dire. The lyrics are ridiculous. And yet, it's destined to bring a smile to my face every time I hear its refrain:
"Here we go,
Here we go,
Here we go."
I can indeed say that this largely-forgotten hit holds far happier memories than the cup final itself. Just don't expect me to be so kindly nostalgic the next time an anonymous rapper tries to rhyme 'victory' with 'tree'.

-- Dave Burin

Our grateful thanks, as ever, to Dave Burin for a fine guest post. Want to write about football nostalgia for The Football Attic? Get in touch - we'd love to hear from you!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Sitting Alongside - The Golden Age of Co-Commentary: Part 3

The final part of our look at the men who commented on football, but not well enough to sit in John Motson's seat.

Keegan, Kevin

An early example of the superstar footballer snapped up by TV to give a players-eye view of the action being watched. And very well he did so too, first of all joining Brian Moore in the ITV studio for coverage of the 1978 World Cup before taking his place alongside him in the commentary box throughout the 1980's and 1990's.

Polite and discreet while understanding and learning his role, Keegan allowed himself to chip in more often in later years without ever being as pointed or scathing as some of his peers. In trying to elevate his sense of self-importance, his comments occasionally backfired on him, most notably during the 1998 World Cup match between England and Argentina.

After 120 minutes of play and the score at 2-2, everything rested on the final England penalty to be taken by David Batty. When Moore put Keegan on the spot (sorry - couldn't help it) by asking him to predict whether Batty would score, he replied 'Yes' and promptly gave the first live demonstration of foot consumption to a large television audience.

Unfortunate, but by no means the only indicator of Keegan's abilities, for the former England striker was always able to use his managerial experience to give tactical insight where others couldn't. A reliable co-commentator, still in demand on TV today.

Insight - 7.5/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 9/10 Humour - 5.5/10 Controversialness - 5/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.1/10.

Pleat, David

Just a few years after galloping onto the Maine Road pitch in 1983 to celebrate Luton Town's avoidance of relegation to the Second Division, David Pleat was in an ITV commentary box, giving his views on the 1986 FA Cup Final.

Pleat was on the verge of becoming manager of Tottenham, but if anything it was his media career that was just taking off as his easy-going, informative style of co-commentary was deemed just the ticket for the independent broadcaster. From the late-1980's onwards, his voice and his honest, analytical views were regularly heard on ITV, providing a calming and credible adjunct to proceedings.

Unfortunately, as many in his position do, he became prone to ever more regular verbal gaffs as his confidence grew. Even now, he allows himself every chance to be witty and humorous, although the reality is often somewhat wide of what his intentions are.

Perhaps, however, he can be allowed such indulgence. Whether at World Cups, FA Cup Finals or internationals, Pleat understood the science of football tactics and could count upon such knowledge to bolster his discourse. While not being the most dynamic of personalities he remains, on TV and radio, a knowledgeable and experienced figure.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 7.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8/10. OVERALL - 7.4/10.

St. John, Ian

Everyone knows that Saint was half of 'Saint and Greavsie', but in fact Ian St. John was an active co-commentator for ITV going way back to 1978. Providing his take on the European Cup Final that year between Liverpool and Club Brugge, he did similar work at the World Cups of 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990, along with numerous European and domestic cup finals well into the 1990's.

St. John's greatest quality was probably his way of speaking with confidence and conviction. In many ways, it wasn't what he said but the clarity and assertiveness with which he said it, and as a viewer you felt compelled to accept his views, no questions asked.

His delivery was often quite serious, but as someone used to working with the jocular Jimmy Greaves, he needed little persuading to drop his guard and enjoy any humorous moments that came about with a chuckle here and there. Because of that, viewers appreciated the warmer side to his character in contrast to his steely, determined delivery.

In general, however, St. John got the ITV co-commentating nod far more often than his partner Greaves because he could enhance the gravitas of an occasion. As a former player par excellence, he understood the importance of, say, an FA Cup Final from a player's point of view, and the need to take it seriously. This matched the revered tones of Brian Moore and therein you have the ideal partnership, as was shown by his many appearances behind the microphone.

Insight - 9/10 Speak-when-you're-spoken-to-ability - 8.5/10 Humour - 6.5/10 Controversialness - 6/10 Delivery - 8.5/10. OVERALL - 7.7/10.

And now a final look at some of the other names that have tried to convey the excitement of football... with different degrees of success...

Moore, Bobby: A highly underused contributor to ITV's coverage of Brazil v Uruguay and Italy during World Cup '70, Moore's comments were as entirely rational and polite as you'd expect from England's captain. Why ITV didn't bring him into the fold more for the big football occasions of the next decade or two, one can only wonder, but they should have done.

Ramsey, Sir Alf: Ironically, Moore's boss was used by ITV on a few occasions during the 1970's, but he seemed prone to tripping over his words and rushing through his delivery all too often. Lacking any humour and determined to retain as much dignity as possible throughout, Ramsey wasn't exactly cut out for co-commentary work and his appearances in the commentary box were rare beyond ITV's 1974 World Cup coverage.

Robson, Bobby: Another former England boss, although in the case of Robson, his co-commentary days began well before he got the national team job. Bobby Robson was still at Ipswich when ITV came knocking in June 1979, but he showed his versatility by doing well during their coverage of England's friendly match in Austria. Sadly he wasn't used much thereafter and his only other notable co-commentary work came during the Euro 84 Final for the BBC. Another case of 'what might have been'...

And there we have it - a selection of some, but not all of those individuals chosen for their ability to string a bunch of meaningful words together. These are the few that opened their mouths and spoke what was in their minds before their foot plugged the gap - a skill that is never as easy as one might think. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Football Attic's Hit Parade: Glory Glory Leeds United

And before you ask, that apostrophe in the title was put there to prevent all kinds of misinterpretation, for this is a new series looking at the world of football and its variable attempts to create music that sells in vast quantities.

Oh for sure we had 'Three Lions'. We even had 'World In Motion'. But what about those songs that barely grazed the lower echelons of the Top 40, or those stamped 'Rejected' by the producers of Top of the Pops?

Here at The Football Attic, we consider it our duty to remember all football songs, acknowledging their merits and failings with the sort of impartiality that an Eastern European voting in the Eurovision Song Contest can only dream of.

And so we begin with Glory Glory Leeds United, a song that was released in 1968 after Leeds won the 1968 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and League Cup, although some argue it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public prior to their appearance in the 1970 FA Cup Final.

Either way, it treads the well-trodden path that is 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic', a song that uses the music from 'John Brown's Body' and containing the familiar chorus 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah'. Inherently catchy, it formed the basis for many other football team songs down the years, not to mention one particularly notorious offering by The Goodies in 1974.

Leeds United's own version was sung by Ronnie Hilton, and here an entirely correct approach to recording football songs was adopted, namely to keep the involvement of any football players strictly minimal.

Hilton, born Adrian Hill in 1926, was a British crooner who reached the peak of his success in the 1950's by singing cover versions of popular American hits of the day. Once considered one of the top singing talents in the UK, his success was eventually tempered by the incoming rock and roll bandwagon led by the incomparable Elvis Presley. Come the 1960's, Hilton was looking for other ways to put his vocal expertise to good use, and towards the end of the decade he was lucky enough to be approached by a football team with a song and no singer.

Glory Glory Leeds United was the song, and it gave a potted profile of the team's recent successes, the captain, the manager and even the fans in all of its two minutes and forty-three seconds. It even dared to mention rival players and teams in the opening verse:
Manchester can rave about the Summerbee and Best
And there's Liverpool and Arsenal and Spurs and all the rest
But let us sing the praises of the lads we love the best
As Leeds go marchin' on 
Glory, glory Leeds United
Glory, glory Leeds United
Glory, glory Leeds United
They're the greatest football team in all the land
And so the relentless march continued with a comic-book description of Billy Bremner:
Now little Billy Bremner is the captain of the crew
For the sake of Leeds United he will break himself in two
His hair is red and fuzzy and his body's black and blue
But Leeds go marchin' on
By now you're probably getting the general gist, but suffice to say the last verse provides a final rousing mention of the boss and even the noisiest parts of the Elland Road ground:
In the Paddock and the Scratching Shed let's hear the voices sing
Let's get behind United and make the rafters ring
We're a team we can be proud of and Don Revie is the king
As Leeds go marchin' on 
 ...all of which tells you everything you need to know about the song, in essence. Yes, the players can be heard singing on the record, but only for the boisterous chorus which is probably very wise, given the tunefulness of most football players' voices.

Yet if you thought the A-side of this record did well with its various football references and rough, chucking-out-time-at-the-pub-like harmonies, you'd be well advised to check out the B-side, We Shall Not Be Moved. Once again written and sung by Hilton and based on an old standard, this one has even greater player participation and mentions half the First Division league table in the process.

But let's not peak too early. This is but one fine example of the football song. More will follow, you can be certain of that...

-- Chris Oakley

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fantasy Nostalgia: Fantasy League 1971/72

Well, there may only be a few weeks of the 1971/72 Football League season left, but we're quietly confident that our Fantasy League team's going to romp home to victory.

Oh alright then - here's who we've picked... It won't do any harm to tell you now...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Collectables in 1991-92

If you've recently read Greg Lansdowne's excellent book 'Stuck On You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise Of Panini Stickers', you'll know how much detail he managed to cram into 256 pages about the wonderful world of sticker collecting.

Now, especially for Football Attic followers, Greg takes a closer look at a pivotal time in the UK's sticker and card collecting market - the 1991-92 season...

Collectables will eat themselves

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

On reflection it was just the worst.

If you were a fan of football collectables, the Eighties splits opinion. Reading Rob Jovanovic’s book on the subject, ‘Swap Yer’ one would think it was a period in the doldrums.

Perhaps it is just that Rob is a ‘cards’ rather than ‘stickers’ kind of guy, but calling that decade a “barren time” and “dark days” for collectors are assertions that, in part, led me to write a book espousing the virtues of Panini, and stickers of that decade in general.

What followed in the early Nineties is a bit less equivocal.

It was a mess.

For those who had longed for the return of the football card there was a beacon of hope in the shape of Pro Set, yet its bright opening was quickly extinguished – partly by its own hand.

For sticker fans – or, specifically Panini sticker fans - it was the end of an era, encapsulated by the ‘Football 92’ (sic) album.

In fact the 1991-92 collectables season marked such a low point that it merits an unexpurgated retrospective.

It could be argued that having the opportunity to deal in four separate issues (six if you were able to get hold of two dedicated-Scottish versions on top) would be manna from heaven for those of a collecting disposition.

In reality, what was on offer was a dog’s dinner of a Panini sticker album plus three – three! - card collections.  

During the previous season, Panini had at least attempted to innovate (albeit badly) in an effort to counter the competition (new entrant Pro Set and the Sun’s ‘Soccer Sticker Collection’).
‘Football 1991’ begat not one but two different packets of stickers.

The red set, called the 'Foil Collection', was for club shinies, managers and Italia 90 World Cup action, coming out early in the season to lengthen the album’s presence. The 'Players Collection', in yellow, were the tried and tested individual head and shoulder pictures and team photo stickers, arriving in the familiar January Panini window.

Panini’s experiment was a failure – Pro Set was the collectable du jour for 1990-91 – but at least they tried.
By 1991-92 the album was remodelled to ‘English Football 1992’. It would be hard to find an album less Panini-like in composition.

Here is the crime sheet:

  • No Scottish stickers
  • Standardised head and shoulder shots had been replaced by action photos
  • Lower division football reduced to ‘Twelve of the Best from the Second Division’
  • No player biographies 
  • No foils/shinies!
Of course, there were mitigating circumstances.

Panini UK (along with other regions) had seen their budget severely cut – and, indeed, their resources dipped into in an attempt to manage leaks in other areas of owner Robert Maxwell’s empire -  and that was reflected in the resultant ‘English Football 1992’.

It was during this season that Panini lost the most controversial leader in their history – drowned at sea. Recovery in the UK – certainly in football terms – would take a number of years as Merlin became the prime mover. But that is another story.

If English collectors felt short-changed by Panini’s offering, at least those north of the border could feel like a wrong of the previous decade had been partially avenged. For many years, Scottish players were reduced to two players per sticker in Panini albums – a slight felt strongly by many.

Now, however, in ‘Panini Scottish Football 1992’, the Scottish Premier Division clubs were afforded a distinction not provided to their English counterparts that season.

They each had a shiny club badge.

With only 12 teams in the Scottish Premier Division, the album was padded out to the lofty heights of 180 stickers (compared to a still-paltry 276 for the English edition) with a section on Scottish players in England.

If Panini really were keen on cutting costs that year, why not produce the same stickers for players such as Chelsea’s Steve Clarke, who featured in both albums. Especially when the shot chosen for ‘English Football 1992’ is more of a crowd scene than a tribute to the now Reading boss.

But for all Panini’s sticker efforts, 1991-92 will go down in football collecting history as the year of the card.

American company Pro Set had capitalised on the over-egging of sticker albums over previous years with an innovative (for this generation of collectors) card set. Having made a successful entry into the lucrative US trading card market in the late Eighties, owner Ludwell Denny’s expansion plans showed early promise as it shifted around 20 million packets of the ‘Pro Set 1990-91 Collector Cards’ series.

With the help of football agent John Smith, Pro Set became the official card of the Football Association as it made a surprising, and successful, move into the UK.

That success was short-lived down to two factors.

Firstly, two rival card sets – Panini’s ‘Official Players Collection’ and ‘Shooting Stars’ – muddied the waters the following season.

Secondly, if the competition didn’t get them, Pro Set did a good job in bewildering collectors by issuing their 1991-92 edition in three different packets (Official Fixture Cards, followed by Player Cards in two parts). Like Panini’s sticker collection, they also chose to issue separately in Scotland.

Confusion reigned.

Each company pinned their colours to the masts of various football publications as they attempted to shout loudest amongst the cacophony of competing voices: Pro Set collaborated with Shoot! and The Sun, Shooting Stars with the newcomer 90 Minutes, while Panini worked with Match Weekly, Roy of the Rovers and the Daily Record in Scotland.

Similarly-proportioned cards had been hugely popular throughout the Sixties and Seventies as A&BC (subsequently taken over by Topps in the mid-Seventies) produced a series of memorable releases.

But whereas those sets were almost exclusively head and shoulder pictures, the latest collections (particularly Panini and Shooting Stars) were a hotch-potch of portrait and landscape action shots where the player represented would often be vying for attention with one or more opponents and/or or team-mates.

With Pro Set already seemingly an established brand – despite just one previous season – the new kid on the block was Shooting Stars. American-based billionairess Patricia Kluge set up Super League Publishing after her son had shown an interest in British football collectables. While Pro Set gave away 10 cards per pack, Shooting Stars went for 15 – a fair chunk of a 400-set.

With no experience in the industry, Kluge called upon the services of Merlin Publishing to distribute and market the collection. Founded by four former Panini employees/distributors, Merlin had already dipped its toe into the murky football waters, but ‘Team 90’ and their Italia 90 sticker albums had limited success. As a result they had decided to give football a wide berth while the volatile market settled down. To that end they were happy to assist Kluge without putting their name to the product.

As they had advised her, Shooting Stars proved to be a flop – as did every sticker and card collection that year - but it all ended happily ever after.

Kluge ended up taking a sizeable stake in Merlin, as well as introducing them to then Arsenal Vice-Chairman David Dein - who just so happened to be looking for a company to produce a sticker album for the recently-founded Premier League, with which he was also involved.

The rest is history.

While the 1991-92 collectables season had no winners, it did ‘turn out nice again’ for Kluge and her Merlin collaborators as well as, in the long-run, Panini. Even Pro Set had already ensured its place in collectables history for bringing about the revival of football cards in the UK… a legacy that lives on through Match Attax.  

Nick Berry had summed it up perfectly just a few years earlier… Every Loser Wins.

-- Greg Lansdowne

Our grateful thanks go to Greg Lansdowne for his excellent guest post, and a reminder to everyone that his fabulous book, ‘Stuck On You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise Of Panini Stickers’, is on sale now via Amazon UK and all good book shops.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Saint & Greavsie's DVD Football Quiz, 2006

What lucky people we are! As you probably know by now, we love bringing you guest posts written by fabulous writers, and here's another one penned by top blogger Rich Nelson!

Rich recently came up with the answer to the question: "Whatever happened to Saint & Greavise?" (whether you were asking it or not), and here he is to tell all...

As part of the buzz around last summer's World Cup, my local charity shops got involved and I was sucked in. The Heart Foundation shop were offering various football-related fare, so I parted with 199 pence for a box of childhood memories featuring TV stalwarts Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves acting as quizmasters. Perhaps fortunately, my wife, who was unaware of Saint and Greavsie as she had grown up in Finland, placed the box in the garage, before I could get around to watching it, in DVD board game heaven with a Jack Bauer-themed quiz and one about James Bond.

So eventually on a period of gardening leave between jobs, I found myself tidying said garage and deciding to give it a whirl. Well, after kicking the free gift football to the dog...

It didn't take long for the wave of nostalgia to rush over me like heroin. The opening credits roll with cigarette cards coming to life to the soundtrack of the ITV World Cup 86 theme. Greavsie drinking milk (for a change), some clips from Wembley games of the era and then we're away. Now I may have had my mind spoiled by the Skinner and Baddiel imitations of Saint and Greavsie, with the constant chuckling... But I was almost disappointed for St John to pile straight into the introductions.

The main menu screens fart out a choice of two sides - England or Scotland... It's as though the quiz itself is set in the 1970s. It's a game for one or two players (or teams), including the patronising option of playing with a cat. I opted to play against the dog. Thankfully for me he slept through the whole ordeal. Choosing England or Scotland makes little difference to the game itself, aside from the pre-recorded joshing between Saint and Greavsie during the rounds.

It's a very typical TV quiz once it gets going, following the formula quite closely of A Question Of Sport. For someone who grew up on the sparse fare of televised football in the 1980s, it was nice to watch the footage that formed the "What happened next" rounds, followed by, in the first case, a clip of Steve Bull scoring for England with some questions about Bully's career. I didn't realise he'd scored four times... I suppose those days passed me by.

Part of the drawback to a DVD quiz were the questions which displayed a league table, where you had to identify the year. You then click to reveal the answer, before confirming whether you got it right. If you're playing on your own, would you be honest enough? I'd never cheat against the dog, I couldn't forgive myself. Luckily, the painful memories at the end of the 1998/99 season remained.

That's pretty much it - quiz over, roll credits.

But if you float around long enough, you'll find a couple of Easter Eggs on the main menu - bloopers and memories feature heavily, but one of them contains the pair's efforts at creating an all-time World XI. There is some evidence of a wider view outside of the British Isles, although surprisingly it is Greaves, perhaps, with the benefit of playing abroad, who is more willing to look to players like Lev Yashin, Di Stefano and Puskas. The XI itself is certainly different from a lot of similar efforts. Can't imagine Ray Wilson featuring heavily.

And so that's it - I'm happy to send my copy to anyone who wants it, it'd certainly pass the time after a night on the pop. You may need a few beers to help get through it. Hit me up on Twitter - first come first served.

Such generosity - thanks Rich! So there you have it... if you want to play along with Saint & Greavsie, get in touch with Rich Nelson on Twitter (@EscapeToSuomi) and you could soon be receiving his very own copy of the game.

It also just leaves us to say a big thank you to Rich for writing us this guest post, and if you want to read more of his excellent writing, you can catch him over at the Escape To Suomi website at

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Worst. Penalty. Ever.

No-one ever said it was impossible not to score from the penalty spot, but at the very least you shouldn't be far off if you miss. The penalty spot, after all, is only 11 metres away (give or take a few centimetres), and the goalmouth itself covers just short of 18 square metres. Having your shot saved by the goalkeeper is entirely possible, but missing the goal by a considerable distance? Well that's got to be virtually impossible, wouldn't you say?

Not if you're Diana Ross, it isn't, but surely the one-time lead singer of The Supremes has had a rough deal for the last 21 years? When she fluffed her big moment during the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony, she may have caused a collective sniggering up the sleeve of the watching millions around the world, but it wasn't her fault really. Prior to her unfortunate swing and miss while singing 'I'm Coming Out', she'd probably never even clapped eyes on a football, let alone be paid to kick one on a professional basis. Why on Earth did anyone expect her to put the ball in the back of that shoddily-made net?

Footballers, however, are different. They're very existence revolves around the ability to kick a ball straight, and, in a penalty situation, towards a largely open goalmouth.

With that in mind, we're inclined to scratch our heads until they bleed at the sight of this anti-skill on the part of Francis Lee in England's last international match of the 1960's...

And now let's recap to see just how bad that penalty was:

Yep. As we thought. Awful.

-- Chris Oakley