The Football Attic today welcomes Simon Craft from Virile Games to the guest-writing roster as he takes us back to a time when footballers were frequently big-headed. Wait a minute - wasn't this supposed to be a blog site about football nostalgia?
I was born too late for Subbuteo. As a child of the Nineties, raised on an instant-thrill diet of American cartoons and Um Bongo, I was reluctant to undertake such chores as ironing the pitch and learning the rules, so my set was doomed to remain under the bed, unloved.
What my generation needed was something a little less dowdy, a little more attention-grabbing. Something individually sculpted with a name-engraved base. Something, in other words, a lot like Corinthians Headliners.
Though the figures were available in packs of four or twelve, these were priced too highly to interest a football-sceptic mother, and were in any case absent from the local newsagents. My only avenue for acquiring them, therefore, was in the form of the ‘secret sachets’, which contained a single figure wrapped in a foil bag so as to conceal his identity until after purchase.
The unveiling procedure that my eight-year-old self undertook once out of the shop contained not excitement, but dread: what if it’s another Warren Barton? Of course, the playground presented an opportunity to exchange doubles, but the pickings were on the whole slim. I’d retrieved the goalposts and balls from my discarded Subbuteo set to act as props for my Headliners’ games, but the low numbers meant that for some time the scene resembled a casual game of headers-and-volleys rather than the exhilarating matches I had envisioned.
Thankfully, on the eve of Euro 96 a further twenty-four England players were immortalised in big-head form, and by the time the tournament kicked off I had managed to assemble a starting eleven. Its spine was recognisable, and strong: Seaman in goal, Adams at the back, Ince calling the shots in midfield and Shearer (clad, unlike his team-mates, in the grey away strip) leading the line.
Elsewhere, I had been forced to improvise. This meant starting berths for some lesser-known fringe players: Adams was joined in a three-man defence (back when they were fashionable the first time round) by Steve Howey and John Scales, while Barton and John Salako ran the channels. It also meant that some were forced to learn new roles: unaware of Barry Venison’s playing past, I was fooled by his flowing locks into believing him a flamboyant Batistuta-type striker, so he was press-ganged into partnering Shearer up front. The most striking tactical innovation, though, was undoubtedly Tim Flowers’ deployment as a holding midfielder – a role he adapted to surprisingly well.
Against a backdrop of ‘Three Lions’ and dentist’s chair celebrations, then, my rabble toiled against imaginary international foes, attempting to succeed where their real-life counterparts would ultimately fail, and emerge victorious from a major competition. The likes of Bulgaria, Turkey and Denmark were crushed without remorse in group-stage triumphs with improbable scorelines: 9-1 wins, accompanied by Nick Barmby hat-tricks, were not unheard of.
It was as though, even prior to the semi-final defeat at the hands of Germany, I had already internalised the law: England never win anything.
In the years that followed, the figurines – later known as ProStars – grew to span dozens of sets and thousands of players. Meanwhile, I quickly outgrew them as I abandoned imaginary play: by France 98, my mind was occupied instead by accumulating all twenty-three of the Sainsbury’s official England squad medal collection. There’ll always be a brief period of my childhood, though, which can be encapsulated best by a single image: a plastic Barry Venison with a gargantuan head, rising to meet a cross, and missing by millimetres.
Our thanks go out to Simon Craft for his fine recollection of Corinthian ProStars, and as ever we urge anyone else with a desire to write for us to get in touch. Email admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com with all the details, and we could soon be publishing your article!