Friday, 23 January 2015

Billy Hamilton's Football Academy (1985)

Many have tried and failed to encapsulate the world of football in a board game. Whether it be the thrill of scoring goals in a big match or the mental discipline required to manage a great team, you can be sure it's been recreated at some point for the purpose of entertaining children and their families.

Among the lesser-known titles is Billy Hamilton's Football Academy, a game supposedly conceived by the erstwhile Oxford United, QPR and Northern Ireland striker. I want to believe this is true, and there's nothing to suggest it wasn't, save for a bit of tinkering by the board game manufacturers. I say this because Hamilton's express wish appears to be to detail every aspect of a player's career from being a humble apprentice through to winning the World Cup (potentially, at least).

Detail is very much the watchword in this game as can be seen on the board which is dazzling in all its colourful splendour. The playing area is circular and has concentric tracks flooded with illustrations and text that provide all the intrigue and fascination that make you want to play in the first place.

Between two and six people can take part, and the object is to travel around the board initially as a football trainee collecting Skill and Effort tokens by rolling a dice. The outer ring of the board is where the action takes place in this first part of three, and the messages found on many of the spaces show where Billy Hamilton's own experience comes into play. "You volunteer for extra training - Gain 2 Effort" and "Manager adds you to first team squad - Gain 2 Skill" give an insight into the continuing struggle to improve as a young player.

But there's also a notable mention of the more menial tasks that have to be done when you're setting out at the bottom rung of the football ladder. One space instructs you to "Sweep the terraces - grab a broom" whereas others speak of clearing snow, running a bath, cleaning boots or 'making a nice pot of tea for the pro's after training'. There's no denying Hamilton's intent to show the less glamorous side of being a footballer alongside the fame and adulation, and this adds to the charm of the game.

There's also the chance to gain or lose tokens by picking up a 50/50 card or a Linesman's Flag card. Once again, the devil's in the detail as you're told "You have put the wrong studs in the 1st Team's boots - Lose 2 Effort" or "Linesman flags as you control the ball with your hand - Lose 1 Effort". And you wondered why this game wasn't endorsed by Diego Maradona...

Three circuits of the outer section of the board have to be completed before moving onto the second part of the game, and if I'm honest, those three circuits get less interesting the longer they go on. Though the messages and the collecting of the tiny plastic tokens starts out as being quite enjoyable, it does get a little tedious towards the end. No matter, because the next bit of the game concentrates on being a fully qualified professional, but before that can be done, there's some mathematics to attend to.

To determine the position you're going to play in for the rest of your career, you first need to divide the number of blue Effort tokens you received by three, then add that number to the amount of red Skill tokens you've accumulated. If the total is 19 or below, your lot in life is to become a goalkeeper; 20 to 24 and you'll be a defender, 25 to 29 and you're a midfielder whereas 30 or more ensures your fate will sealed as a striker.

Being a striker undoubtedly gives you a strong chance of winning the game, because in Part 2, you travel around your positional track on the board taking instructions from whatever the rule book tells you. Suffice to say that the rule book has more favourable messages for the strikers than it does for the goalkeepers.

Goalies roll the dice and move around the ring of green shirts, while the defenders are on the orange ring, the midfielders are on the blue and the strikers are on the pink. When you land on a space, you use the relevant number to look up the accompanying message in the book. The optimal outcome is to collect one or more goal tokens in readiness for the final part of the game and many of the messages provide in this respect. "Save a penalty - gain 2 goals" or "Score with an overhead kick - gain 2 goals" could be the outcome, but you may just as likely be dealt a slice of life with the message "Visit a supporter in hospital" or "Interviewed on local radio" that carry no goal tokens. In this instance the game falls a little bit flat as by now you're purely focused on gaining goal tokens. Are you really bothered if you've 'entered a fun-run for charity' or 'visited a children's home'?

Any such interest in the minutiae of being a footballer starts to fall away quickly by the time you reach the final inner circle of the board, for it's here that you enter the 'International Stage'. An extra dice comes into play now as you attempt to traverse the last 18 spaces quicker than your opponents. The skill comes in 'pledging' the right number of goal tokens (those pleasing flat yellow plastic footballs) to ensure the right result on the dice. By adding your tokens to the number on the black dice, then subtracting the number on the white dice you end up with the number of spaces you move forward. If it's a minus number, you move backwards.

Any goal tokens you pledge go back to the bank, so it's vital to land on a space where you earn more tokens to keep you going. "You make your international debut - gain 2 goals" is the sort of thing you want to hear at this point, whereas "Go to tailors and measure up for a squad travelling suit" probably isn't.

Anyway, without really being fully aware, the final ring of yellow spaces is leading you to eventual glory as a World Cup Winner, but it's an anti-climactic finish that lacks all the triumphant messaging you want to see as you reach the peak of your footballing career. Not only that, but as I found in playing the game, you can easily run out of goal tokens before you even reach the end, thus highlighting an unfortunate shortcoming of the game.

When the end does come, however, you're left with conflicting feelings about the hour that's just passed. On the one hand, you have to admire the effort that's gone into the making of the game, from the delightful coloured football boots that act as playing pieces, right through to the real-world instructions on the board and the ease with which you can get started without reading copious notes that are hard to understand. Unfortunately the element of submersing yourself in the fantasy of being an actual footballer weakens as the game progresses. There's less need to chuckle at the wording as you realise it's all about gaining tokens and getting to the middle of the board first, which is a shame.

For all that, however, there's not a football board game in the world that's perfect and for that reason it has to rank among the better ones that are available. Well done, Mr Hamilton - you may not be a World Cup Winner, but you certainly gained 2 Effort where I'm concerned.

-- Chris Oakley

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Worst of Collecting Panini

A few weeks ago, we gave you the first part of our double-header where we look at the ying and yang of collecting Panini stickers. Previously, we explored the delirium that could be gained from the opening of a simple packet or the sight of a shiny badge among its contents.

It wasn't always that good, though - far from it. Sometimes the act of collecting Panini stickers could make us disappointed, frustrated and downright angry. Well maybe not angry... considerably displeased, perhaps. So let's look at the downside of having an incontrovertible addiction to this self-adhesive sideline...

Misaligned multi-part pictures

Sometimes Panini could be their own worst enemy, but with the best of intentions. From very early on, the Italian company knew that it could make a big impression by combining multiple stickers together to make a bigger image. This was particularly useful for team pictures where lots of detail could be seen in a clearer way.

Unfortunately the stickers didn't always line up perfectly in the album, and this was never clearer than when Panini created four- or even nine-part pictures. Piecing together stickers to make a larger whole required spatial awareness and an attention to detail known only to the world’s finest forgers. Even when possessing such undoubted skills, however, the outcome could look, well… cubist.

If you were applying each of your stickers in, say, a clockwise pattern, you had half a chance of creating a seamless masterpiece. All that was required was a little overlapping here and there to account for any mis-cutting of edges on Panini’s part, and you were away and laughing. Unfortunately, it was often the case that the first two stickers you obtained were for the opposite corners of the big picture. This meant after sticking in the first corner, you couldn't tell for certain whether the opposite one was going to be in the right place, let alone correctly aligned. And don’t even think about using the outlines in your album as a guide - that would likely lead to misery and frustration.

If you knew that each of the individual puzzle pieces had been cut precisely along their horizontal and vertical axis, you’d have had far more confidence in placing your stickers where you thought they ought to go. Sadly, Panini’s cutting machines often had all the accuracy of a Daily Mail article with the word ‘foreign’ in it, thereby ensuring a world of pain and agony for those of us wanting to create the perfect composite display.

Bad cut 'n' paste jobs

Truth be told, Panini are by no means the worst offenders when it comes to bad Photoshoppery. Other unnamed sticker manufacturers *coughFKS* were making ham-fisted attempts at tweaking their pictures long before Photoshop was even invented - and making a worse job of it. The same can be said of Topps’ trading cards too.

The fact is that sometimes a new sticker collection goes into production just too late to allow for new photographs to be taken, so a last-minute artistic amendment is required to make a player picture look technically correct.

This is all well and good… if the doctoring is done respectfully and with a deftness of touch. Unfortunately Panini didn't always succeed in this respect, and the results tended to be, at best, confusing - at worst, an utter horror show!

This particular crime (and you’d be surprised just how prolific it was and still is) usually manifests itself in the phenomenon known as ‘random head on generic shirt / tracksuit.’

These are often done for a variety of reasons. As already mentioned, a player might be new to a club at time of printing so there is no official head shot of him in the correct shirt. Sometimes the team just doesn't have a collection of Panini-friendly head shots (this is especially common amongst international teams and usually affects smaller nations). More common, however, the Sweeney Todd-esque butchery occurs due to the dreaded licensing issue, which we’ll come to later.

When these cut 'n' paste jobs happen, a number of factors conspire to determine the quality of the outcome. How much time the artist had, the quality of the pictures available, but usually the overriding factor would appear to be how much of a toss the artist could give… often not much.

As an example, we present possibly the worst ever example...Robbie Fowler from France 98. Come on! At least paste the head behind the shell suit collar! Disgraceful!

Licensing Issues

We get it. In these days of image rights and tightly controlled cash cows, Panini will alas not be able to have free reign on everyone’s pictures. A common occurrence in early '90s video games, a lack of official license meant that non FIFA titles would often see the London Blues featuring Jean Frank O’Zola squaring up to the Northern Reds and their star man, Derek Canota, and we just accepted this. It even added to the feeling of rebellion if you preferred the non-officially endorsed games.

Yet for Panini this state of affairs has brought nothing but derision. Having looked back through the years, it’s clear that this used to affect a lot of international teams, but of course in the days before Google, our innocent eyes saw no wrong. Could we really be so sure that wasn't Saudi Arabia’s actual kit that season? Nowadays, it’s a lot harder to get away with, but what irks the most in recent times is that of the England team pages.

Since rival Merlin got their hands on the exclusive rights to the England team, we've been subjected to a parade of shame, with the famous Three Lions replaced by nothing more than a circle with a red cross in. Now maybe we could deal with this if it was the worst it ever got, but the horror continues.

For the Euro 2012 album, each team had not only their usual team array of player pics, but also an extra three stickers to showcase their stars ‘In Action,’ with photos of the stars from an actual match - albeit with the official Euro 2012 ball looking suspiciously photoshopped into most of them.

So what did England get? Well, not only were all the England players just a series of floating heads on a white t-shirt, the ‘action’ shots appeared to be the same floating heads, only this time floating in some kind of green cosmos! It’s almost reached the point where we’d rather England not qualify than suffer this endless humiliation!

Half-sized stickers for ‘smaller’ teams

It never meant much as a child, supporting an English club. Every year, Panini would release their much-awaited annual sticker collection - Football 78, 79, 80, and so on - and every year we would fill up our albums until we were exhausted of pocket money or enthusiasm. Yet one thing never seemed peculiar or just plain wrong to us: Why were the Scottish players always on half-sized stickers?

One answer may lie in the fact that as small children, we were somehow pleased with the fact that you appeared to be getting more for your money; two players for the price of one probably seemed very generous back in the day. Through adult eyes, the reality is all too stark, however. Where Panini were concerned, Scottish players weren't good enough to appear on a full-sized sticker of their own, so they’d have to budge up and allow a colleague to share the limelight.

This seems grossly unfair now. Granted, Scottish football didn't have top billing south of the border like English football did, but if you’re marketing your sticker collection to a British market, why not treat Scottish players with the same importance as the English ones?

Imagine the kerfuffle if Panini had applied the same sensibilities to some of the less successful English First Division clubs. Would Leicester City or Stoke City fans have been happy if their favourite players had been shrunk to half-sized representations of themselves? Probably not.

The argument could be extended to those countries making an all-too-rare appearance in one of Panini’s World Cup albums. No full-sized player stickers for South Korea or Algeria when we were kids, oh no.

Anyway, you get the idea. Equality was never one of Panini’s priorities for many years, but at least they corrected that in more recent times. Better late than never.

Elusive / Bountiful Stickers

Collecting Panini stickers is one of the most random things you can do in life. You could walk into any newsagents in the UK and ask for any packet of stickers from any box on any given day, and the stickers you’d find within your packet would have been placed there randomly by Panini on any given day too.

Yet if that’s all true, why did you always end up with eleven doubles of Southampton’s David Armstrong when you were still yet to catch your first glimpse of that Liverpool shiny badge after several weeks of collecting?

Such tales of inconsistency can be found buried deep in the psyche of a million and one former collectors and it’s no surprise that conspiracy theories have abounded for decades. Were certain stickers produced in smaller numbers to generate greater sales as kids tried desperately to get that elusive Leicester City goalie with the crap moustache?

In truth, it seems unlikely, but that does little to relieve the ongoing irritation of not finding those hard-to-find stickers… and the rapid accumulation of those you cared little for.

There wasn't much you could do with your swaps once you’d failed to exchange them with all your playground pals. One idea favoured by some was to use them as decoration for a school book. Let’s face it, football stickers were always going to be better than that piece of wallpaper your Mum gave you, to say nothing of that page from Razzle that your mate had nicked from his older brother’s secret magazine stash.

If done correctly, however, an exercise book covered with multiple versions of the same sticker could be as artistic as an Andy Warhol print (albeit without the rainbow colour palette).

The only downside was that you’d have to spend several terms avoiding the sight of Kenny Burns unless you had an alternative and, frankly, better looking player instead. (Sorry, Kenny…)

Nothing's ever perfect, so it seems, but what did you dislike about collecting Panini stickers? Was there something that always irritated you about the ripping, peeling and sticking that made the Panini legend what it is? If so, leave us a comment and let us know!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

England v Yugoslavia programme, 1986

England's exit from the 1986 World Cup may have been a little earlier than fans would have liked, but everything was going to be alright. Bobby Robson's side were now brimming with confidence and feeling assured that they had all the qualities needed to qualify for Euro 88.

Despite England's 1-0 friendly defeat to Sweden in their first match after Mexico 86, their campaign to reach the 1988 European Championship finals in West Germany had started well. A 3-0 Wembley win over Northern Ireland in October 1986 got things off to the perfect start, but now came Yugoslavia - something of an unknown quantity for Bobby Robson and most of England's fans.

Always the dark horses whenever an international competition came around, Yugoslavia were erratic in their consistency. They'd reached the finals of Euro 84 only to come bottom of their First Round group, and followed that by finishing fourth out of five teams in their qualifying group for World Cup '86.

They undoubtedly had some decent players, yet for some reason they couldn't be relied upon to gel together well when it was really necessary. This, plus the rising profile of Gary Lineker, however, would provide all the motivation England needed.

Lineker found himself on the front cover of the official programme, proudly showing off the Adidas Golden Shoe he received for scoring 30 Everton goals the previous season. Inside, Albert Sewell marked Lineker's entry into England's top 20 goalscorers chart and wondered if he might one day take top spot above Bobby Charlton. Ultimately, he'd fall one goal short of Charlton's 49, whereas both look like they'll soon be overtaken by Wayne Rooney who's currently on 46.

England's starting XI against Yugoslavia at Wembley saw only six players present that faced Argentina at the Azteca five months previously. Chris Woods replaced Peter Shilton in goal, while in midfield, Gary Mabbutt got his first call up in three years to replace Bryan Robson. It turned out to be a memorable night for the Tottenham stalwart as he opened the scoring with his one and only goal in an England shirt.

The other goal on the night came from Viv Anderson, himself a rarity on the England scoresheet. Having seen his appearances for the national team dwindle since the start of the 1980's, Anderson enjoyed a return to the side while Gary Stevens was unfit and scored his second and last international goal to complete the 2-0 win over Yugoslavia.

Bobby Robson spoke of the visitors' thorough preparations for the match and doubted whether the England camp knew just as much about the Yugoslavs. Also weighing on his mind was the paltry attendance for England's previous game against Northern Ireland. "I can't deny I was disappointed at the attendance" said Robson. "I don't consider 30,000 to be a big crowd for an England fixture at Wembley. But let me make it quite clear that I know we have no divine right to large crowds; we have to work to earn the support." No doubt he'd have been more pleased with the 60,000 that eventually turned up on the night for the Yugoslavia match.

Away from the match, the Under-21 squad was under the spotlight in Robert Steen's article 'Catch 22 For The U-21s.' England had done away with the Under-23 team in 1976 to allow greater development of players emerging from the Youth team setup, and the undoubted dividends of doing so were now been reaped. England had won the UEFA Under-21 tournament in 1982 and 1984 and were semi-finalists in 1978 and 1980. Now a new breed of players were hoping for an imminent breakthrough into the full England team under the guidance of Dave Sexton.

Among the squad of 18 named for England's first U21 qualifier of the 1986-88 campaign against Yugoslavia were some familiar names. Tony Dorigo of Aston Villa, Stuart Pearce, Des Walker and Nigel Clough of Nottingham Forest, Tony Adams and David Rocastle of Arsenal, plus Tim Flowers of Southampton in goal... A fine vintage of players, but they were to be the last group to make it to the semi-finals of the UEFA U-21 tournament until 2007 when the likes of James Milner, Anton Ferdinand and Ashley Young were the new names in the frame.

As far as the 1986-88 campaign was concerned, England fell at the final hurdle after a defeat to eventual winners France. Their side featured a couple of nobodies called Eric Cantona and Laurent Blanc, in case you were interested.

Finally, the official match programme gave a warm send-off to Vernon Edwards, the England team doctor who was a familiar sight when giving players urgent treatment on the pitch (and off it). Edwards had suffered a heart attack during the World Cup in Mexico and had reluctantly taken the decision to step down from his duties. Mel Henderson asked Edwards about his England memories and one particular tale stood out for sheer weirdness:

"Sir Alf Ramsey was in charge when Dr Edwards joined the England set-up and in 1971 they accompanied the youth squad to Czechoslovakia for the UEFA Championship more commonly known as the Little World Cup."

"He recalls: "We won the trophy but the trip was memorable from my point of view for an extraordinary incident that occurred when the entire goal rotted at ground level and collapsed on Trevor Francis."

"He received an horrendous injury and at first I feared he had fractured his leg. We seemed miles from civilisation and had a journey ahead of us to Prague for the next stage of the competition."

"I decided to apply a Plaster of Paris splint and had to do it in my bedroom. You can imagine the mess it made!"

Never mind that... since when did you hear the phrase "Match abandoned due to goalposts rotting at ground level'? What a weird football world we lived in back in 1986...

-- Chris Oakley

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

See also:

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.

See also:
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