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Saturday, 5th July 2008
Captain Marvels

T here is considerable debate in the domestic soccer arena that the current reliance on foreign players will ensure our national side sinks further into the arena of mediocre.

The argument has to be sound, if domestic players cannot get to play top class games (because foreign players are better) there will be a downward spiral.

Now we all know in the good old days of black and white, even before TV was invented when industrial chimneys poisoned the factory workers and the industrial fortnight saw everyone heading to their local seaside resort, be it Skegness or Blackpool things were very different.

Quite how different was brought home to me when I was appraising a set of Ogdens, Football Club Captains. [1936] a series of 50 cards.

Ogdens produced a good number of football based sets including one of the earliest sets in 1908 (Famous Footballers) as well as some pretty inventive sets such as the Football Club Badges series which was in 1910. This went one stage further than most on the production front as they were actually shaped.

They were in a hurry to sign him obviously

All this early stuff and shaped stuff is reflected in the prices of these sets so it is kind of Ogdens to have produced a football set that now sells at a slightly lower price nowadays. Even better that this set must represent some of the best footballers of the day.

I do not know how many times I have sifted through the set one way or another but this time I turned over card 31. ..he is the only member of the present team who was not born within four miles of the clubs head quarters.

So there you go the rot had started in 1935.

Card 31 highlights something else about the set as the chap illustrated is F.Harris, captain of the Leigh Rugby club. Back then football was association football and rugby football. Still is, but the distinction is often forgotten as mention football and it really means only one thing today (in UK anyway.)

In this instance it is the first 22 cards which deal with the people that only play games with their feet and the remainder deal with the people that are capable of playing with both their hands and feet. This page deals with the digitally challenged first 22 cards.

So lets plough on with some of the things which seem to have changed in the beautiful game over the last sixty odd years.

Firstly you notice a goodly number of the people had real jobs at some time or another. E. Blenkinsop (Liverpool captain) actually worked down a Yorkshire coal mine as did J Bruton (Blackburn Rovers) at card 5. Not uncommon EA Hart (Leeds United, card 13) did the same trick. Still by the 1930s the professional football game seems to enable the 22 to be professionals (this was not the case with all the rugby representatives).

Tommy Cooper

Secondly you might think some of the teams which are represented are rather strange. Card 2 is JG Bestall of Grimsby Town for example. Perhaps less surprising is AG Campbell of Huddersfield town on card 6 given the fact they were the Man Utd of their day (sort of).

Well as it transpires the 22 cards represent all the first division sides (in the days when the first division was just what it said it was, the first division, rather than the second as it is today). Two first division sides of that season were omitted. These being, Brentford and Bolton.

The two teams included in their stead, despite being in a lower division were Spurs and Leicester. Both these sides had performed well and featured highly in that years promotion race.

Card 22 shows W Tremelling. He was the captain of Preston North End. This team had managed to burst into the top division in the 1933-34 season. This was a club with history even in 1935. In 1889 they had beaten Wolves in the FA Cup final (you may remember this is the competition not important enough for Englands dreams of hosting the World Cup so the holders Man Utd cannot defend their win) to complete the first football double.

On the subject of Manchester United, they are not represented in the set, well they were just not good enough. Fret not though Man Utd supporters, Manchester City was good enough (thought that would please you) card 8, Sam Cowan. They were really rather good then, in 1934 Sam had led his team out to victory in the cup final (the card rightly assumes you know which final that is) beating Portsmouth in 1934. They even were allowed to play in the final the following year. Those heady idealistic days when the oldest soccer tournament in the world meant something.

Card 7 is an interesting card for a number of reasons. For one some descendants of the fellow asked me if I could find some cards with their relative T. Cooper upon them. I surely could and such cards always have a special place in my affections ever after. Another reason is the card notes the chap had light hair which made him very conspicuous on the field. Seems an odd comment which might well have had some relevance in the Italian league but it must have been snow white to be of any note in the UK. The fact the illustration shows his hair no fairer than the chap next to him is a ponder. The third reason is the card does not really fit in with the set.

It is the only card which describes a chap as (Late of Derby County). The reverse of the card makes it plain he moved from Derby to Liverpool in 1934 and presumably the artwork had all been done and commissioned in advance so there was just no changing the image. Seems a little odd though.

Just to prove there is very little new in the world, card 3 has the Aston Villa captain, D. Blair. In a period of rashness which is so often a characteristic of the young he headed to America, drawn to the possibilities of football there. He was back soon enough though. Some things do change though as he was signed up to Aston Villa in 1931 after he had been seen playing for Scotland against Wales. They were in a hurry to sign him obviously as it took place in the railway station waiting room in Wrexham (those were the days when waiting rooms actually were waiting rooms and they were unlocked).

It should not be forgotten a good many players in the English league were in fact Scottish. For many years Scottish players were entinced down South. This has changed a bit lately, Scotland got Gazza a few years back but they had the good sense to send him back.

This Scots connection brings us neatly to one of the greats of the game, Alex James, captain of Arsenal and on card 16. Any selection of great footballers is not a selection without this man in it somewhere and if the selectors memories are either to short or to addled for him to be included, walk away from the conversation, it aint worth it :-) By 1937 Alex had retired from the game.

The card makes the point that James was a schoolmate of Gallacher, some school team that would have been.

D.Thackeray (card 21, captain of Portsmouth) was also a product of Scotland.

In the same set is WR Dean, Dixie Dean as he is probably better known now. Captain of Everton and footballing legend.

Details from Card
The centre-forward and captain of Everton, Dean has set up a record which has never been surpassed in the long history of the game. After having served a short apprenticeship with Tranmere Rovers he went to Goodison Park in season 1924-25. Since then, without including season 1934-35, he has played in 371 matches embracing League Cup and Internationals, and has scored 379 goals, or an average of more tha one a game. He has also gained every honour, a cup-winners medal, League championship medals of the First and Second Divisions and sixtenn International Caps. In addition he has played for the Football League five times.

He was nicknamed Dixie because his complexion suggested someone from the Deep South rather than Merseyside. A few years after this set of cards was issued there was an unfortunate incident in the 1937 FA Cup tie with Spurs. Dixie was in his usual form and had scored two goals, knocking Spurs from the championship (4 goals to 3). A raucous voiced Spurs supporter was heard to comment upon both Dixies complexion and parentage. Dixie spoke to police officer nearby and then walked up to the fan whereupon Dixie landed a punch opon his tormentors chin which sent him reeling back into the crowd.

The police rushed forward to shake the hand of the man that had popped the lout back in his place and the crowd cheered Deans unexpected talent. Dean was not charged for the incident.

That is not just an example of how the game has changed but of how the world has changed and perhaps we will leave it there for today.