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Monday, 17th December 2007
We are the...

A t the end of the last millennium

t there was a 'heavyweight' programme trying to determine the great and the good of the century. I am not sure if it intended to be focusing on this century but that is what it amounted to and there was considerable bias to the last twenty years. Perhaps not surprising for the 'now' generation that can churn out 'The Best Dance Album Ever Vol. 33'. Still around a suitably circular table the experts had gathered to suck their teeth and steeple fingers in front of furrowed brows.

One reviewer described a participant of the programme looking so pained you could easily believe he was undergoing major surgery as he spoke.

Still is Tony Blair more important than Lloyd George or more importantly more powerful than Bill Gates and where does Richard Branson fit into the mix let alone the British Royal Family.

Ali was voted the century's greatest sportsman which is something so ingrained in the world's psyche you barely dare mention anyone else for the position but that was about it.

All too intense for me, a Simpson's video had to be examined closely instead (The Cartridge Family et al)

Even the gentle game of bowls has been hi-jacked

It is a popular game to play if you find yourself in agreement over politics and religion you can always pick an argument with a 'who was best' type question.

In 1934 and then again in 1935 Gallaher produced series one and series two of Champions. They neatly avoided what to do about Ali as even this great man was not fighting at the time.

Boxers were involved but this obviously was not a vintage era of boxing champions at least in the minds of Gallaher. Probably because the series with but a few adjustments be called, British Champions.

Each of the two series had the familiar 48 card format (familiar at least to Gallaher collectors) and both cast the net far and wide to find sporting champions to fill those cards. I use the term sport loosely as Sir Donald Campbell (series A #32) more record breaker than actually engaged in a traditional sporting activity. Nor for that matter are H. Scott-Paine (2nd series #12) GET Eyston (2nd #25) or GH Stainforth (A, #368) who were also in the business of beating speed records.

Still I have been political in setting up a question I thought should be asked and then answering it how I like rather than actually listening to the question which was asked. If the set had been called Sporting Champions there could be grounds for complaint, but it isn't so there isn'tt.

Hence we can also have Mr & Mrs Mollison (A, #27 & 36 respectively) better known for flying exploits.

Still there is self-selection going on as most are from the world of sport and a rather British world of sport at that. Cricket is in there in abundance and it is moot point quite how many champion batsmen you can have but about half a dozen appear in the two sets as does a similar number of bowlers. Given these are selected from males playing in the England (or rarely Australian) cricket teams the set does seem a bit over burdened with cricketing goodness. Imagine me suggesting too much cricket in a set of cards, but everything has a time and a place and even I can have too much of a good thing.

Bunny Austin

Then there is tennis, clearly UK was rather good at this game during the period. There are approximately a dozen cards in the two series. The reverse of the HW Austin (Bunny Austin) cards notes that Britain had regained the Davis Cup after some 20 years of failure. This obviously explaining the number of tennis cards. Now all a 'Brit' has to do is get passed round one for national hysteria to break over us. At least there are some women represented in the tennis group.

So cricket and tennis are doing well for Britain in the mid-thirties (as are speed records for that matter)

The series decided that to just includ human being was rather restrictive and a number of animal stars make an appearance on the set. The most important group of which being greyhounds, both track and field versions of the breed. Greyhound racing obviously being a big thing in the 1930's.

Other beasts on the cards include a couple of racehorses in a set which also showcases the tiny tormentors which sit atop them. Gordon Richards and Steve Donoghue appear in series A and series 2 respectively and there can be little disagreement to their inclusion. In 1933 Gordon Richards had just beaten the 1885 record of Fred Archer by riding over 246 winners in a season.

A great deal has changed in the sixty years since this set was put together and none demonstrate the change more than card 17 of the first series. J.McKinlay appears on this card.

Some of you may well know this gentleman was the winner of the English Bowls Association Championship (crown green not the glorified game of marbles that is indoor bowls). The fact a lot of you don't is not the real issue it is the fact the fellow was well over 60 when he did this.

Even the gentle game of bowls has been hi-jacked by people below the age of 40 now and the over-60's in the final stages of a major tournament is a rarity. There was even a streaker at a recent indoor bowls event recently.

The same holds true of billiards / snooker (including the bit about a streaker). Three giants of the game appear in the set, Lindrum, Davis and Sidney Lee.

Joe Davis held the world championship from 1927 to 1946 now that deserves inclusion. World Champion for 19 years is impressive. Nowadays the huge prize money has meant snooker, once the preserve of the semi-retired type, is now for the under 30's who retire by the time they are in the mid-30's.

No harm in that, watch a televised game from the late 1970's and realize just how much better the standard of play is today than it was even then.

Still before this degenerates into, 'they are getting younger all the time, don't know what life is about' nonsense I'm glad to have got past the age when the army would want to call me up or the England team would wish to me compete in the Olympics (with all the drug scandals it could be conscription is required if we are to field an Olympic team).

Now have a look at card 46 of A series. Megan Taylor was 14 and representing Great Britain in the 1928 Olympics at Lake Placid. Even with the young superstars the Russian machine used to churn out that is pretty young.

Footballers seem to get a less than fair shake of the stick when compared with the cricket and tennis types. The two that are included are Alex James and Dixie Dean and you cannot fault those choices. Perhaps Gallaher took the view there were enough football cards floating about already and perhaps they were right. Gallaher could harldy be accused of being anti-football given the number of cards they produced on the series.

The football tally does raise a little if you add the rugby types which appear in the set and it is nice they were not forgotten.

Given 1932 was an Olympic year perhaps it is no real surprise there are a number cards dedicated to those that ran about a bit. Potentially the strangest of this grouping being the the leaping Lord Burghley (he competed in hurdles if you want to split hairs). Still he was serious about it, being the only British athlete to get to two Olympic finals in 1932, at which event he was also the British captain.

The Leaping Lord himself

Things were all very different back then as T.Hampson on card 29 demonstrates. His actual occupation was school teacher so naturally enough in 1932 he set the Olympic record for the 800 metres (1min 49.8 sec). These were the days of the gifted amatuer, days which are not going to be coming back anytime soon in the world of sport.

Did I mention there were a couple of golfers in the set? Thankfully Gallaher did not include Bobby Jones or anyone of his ilk otherwise it would now become difficult to complete the set and would cost and arm and a leg.

This would be unfortunate.

The scans of cards from this set shows it has the hallmark of Gallaher about it. The illustrations are not overburdened with non-necessary lines. There is certainly a simplicity of line and colour about them which I cannot entirely condone. Still if we were all the same it would be most tedious.

Certainly this is a set of its time. If you were to put together 96 cards under the title of Champions it would look very different today in just about every single respect..