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Friday, 25th July 2008

Probably the biggest arguement agains the existence of men in flying saucers trying to communicate with mankind is the fact they always talk to rather strange people. Having had the smarts to get here it seems to have escaped their attention that landing on the field of a major sporting event is more likely to announce their prescence. Soccer gives an ideal opportunity. An alien craft landing on the World Cup finals stadium just prior to kick off is going to be an attention grabber.

it was probably less dangerous head-butting an opponent than the ball

Joking aside (see above) I suppose I should begin this review of a vast area by laying down a few ground rules. First the name. I am going to call it Football, Americans and others call it Soccer and it is also called Association Football to differentiate it from Rugby Football.

Well I stick with Football that's what I played in on the school playing field, or at least Footie, but lets try to keep things vaguely simple.

Before we read further, understand one thing. I am not a football fan, I support Ipswich Town (which shows you just how interested I am in the game). Partially my lack of interest in the game stems from my total inability to kick the ball with any degree of control. God gave me two left feet when quite clearly I am a right footed player. So it is all pretty much sour grapes which follows.

Although I decry the American's lack of knowledge of Football they are one of the few countries which have entered a team in every World Cup contest. Even if there were unpleasant rumours they wanted to split the game into quarters to squeeze more advertising space in. Still as long as nobody ever asks me to explain the rules of American Football or Baseball all will be well in the garden.

It might well go under many different names but this is nothing to the number of cliches it has spawned. I am not going to get involved in all that hackneyed nonsense football commentators blurt out for fear there might be five seconds silence during 90 minutes of play where we can sit and watch the match in peace. Makes me sick as a parrot that. I should take more of an interest in football really my cousin plays for England. He scores goals so it makes him a valuable commodity. It is no real great claim to fame, he hardly knows I exist and with over 20 first cousins it is more of a surprise I am not related to most of the others.

Boguslavsky, Sports Records 2nd series

I have got past the third paragraph and not really upset anyone yet, backwoodsmen excluded, so this has to be sorted out before we go much further. Football is not my favourite sport as a viewer I find darts has more excitement but that says more about me than football. The game itself has been overrun by money and although the fitness and skill levels have improved beyond all recognition, so what. Men's tennis has as well and you rarely see the ball returned anymore. Improvement for improvements sake may well not be such a good idea. Afterall what are the odds that The Record Company, The talkie cigarette card [1934] could be issued now (the 'cards' were actually capable of being played on a gramophone.) with ten famous footballers wheezing out their preference for the manufacturer's cigarettes.

Right at the end of the 1920's Alex Young was bought by Arsenal for £4,000. He had already got four international caps for Scotland and was to appear in four league championships and both cup final victories See his likeness on Godfrey Phillips, Sportsman, Spot the Winner.

However much you dress the game up it is not a game of intellectual rigour (don't get me wrong it is not necessary to be thick to play, Paul Gascoine take note), this is not chess on turf, commentators take note. Long may this continue, imagine if kicking a ball about became as dull as learning your 8 times table.

What it is though is a game where tribal differences are expressed, it divides cities like Manchester (Manchester City, Manchester United) and Liverpool (Liverpool, Everton). It sets town against town and of course it unites nations against common enemies, other nations.

England may not be the birthplace of football (who actually invented it is disputed, naturally) but it was where it spent its formative years. In 1872 the first international match was played against the old enemies, England and Scotland. The game was spread throughout the empire till now it is a game played by almost every nation in the world.

Football has been well served with cigarette cards. If you were a footballer in the 1930's and were not on a cigarette card then odds were you only thought you were a footballer. It has been calculated over 10,000 different cards were issued on the subject of football by cigarette card manufacturers up to the Second World War. In fact it would seem that the last issue of my beloved Wills was Nov 1939, Association Footballers (no frameline, for those that care.)

Franklyn Cards soccer site has a database of over 10,000 cigarette cards dealing with the issue of football, check it out if you are trying to locate particular players.

This number is just the tip of the iceberg once you go beyond the WW2 watershed and include the trade cards. In fact you can probably triple that number and add a bit. This gives plenty of scope for the theme collector me thinks.

The earliest footballing cigarette card is considered to be the series issued by Field Favorites cigarettes which issued one set, Footballers. It is one of those sets which either inspire or mortify, depending on your view point, as it is not actually known how many cards there were in the set. I know of one card, D.McLean, Liverpool but there are likely to be others. The set had been thought of as an 1890 issue which goes to prove that card collectors are not football fans. D.McLean was the Captain of this side but not before 1892 as Liverpool was formed in that year. Murrays now lists the set as issued in 1893 which seems a better idea.

In 1911 Murrays cigarettes usefully issued a set of cards entitled, Football Rules as series of 25 cards. Just in case you were not sure this set covered such useful topics as:

The Ball
Goals
Dimensions of the field of play
Players in position
Throw-in.

The ball comes with an illustration of just that. Scoff all you like but did you know the following:

A football field must be between 100 and 130 yards long and between 50 and 100 yards wide. Now that is some variation really. There is another card which deals with International dimensions, these are between 110 to 120 yards long and between 70 to 80 yards wide. This was news to me, imagine if this was also the case in snooker for example. Rather like boxing, the defending champion got to determine the size of the table.

Better re-check that card about the ball. The modern game demands a ball between 27 and 28 inches in circumference and weighs between 14 and 16 ounces. Of course in 1911 footballs were a very different proposition, more like kicking a medicine ball about in comparison to the modern effort. I'm not even going to get involved in the off-side rule its too complicated even armed with my trusty cigarette cards. Ogdens attempt to explain the rule in the 5th series of Boy Scouts [1914] with the final card of this mammoth series card 225. Trust me they had good reason to leave it till last, the other 224 cards were just warming you up for the brain exercise needed.

Before I move on let me dazzle you with trivia, Salmon & Gluckstein, Heroes of the Transvaal War [1901] series of 40 has Col. Major Powell (Later Major General and Chief Scout). Whilst at Charterhouse he kept goal for the school.

Okay so it really was trivial and not altogether of any relevance but I liked the continued connection of football and boy scouts.

Now we have decided on how big the pitch is to be, which was an unexpected problem, and exactly what the ball should look like then time for some of the finer points of the game itself.

Perhaps you are not ready to put on those football boots just yet, feasibly you should be a spectator first. As most things there is a whole sub-culture held together by a common language. If you cannot speak the lingo then you are going to be excluded from the gathering. Well W & F Faulkner were kind enough to issue a couple of sets of cards in 1900, Football Terms. The first set deals with the names of the men at various positions on the pitch along with the basics of the situation. Having acquired this set you can scream, 'Hands', 'Offside' 'Over the Line' and 'Penalty.' I would advise, 'Touch' being used with some caution on the terraces.

The second series gives further insights into the game where you can now give praise to the players you have identified in the previous set. Shout words of encouragement such as 'Mark you man.', 'A Good Pass'. Or alternatively, and perhaps my favourite, 'Missed' - What Ho! She Bumps. The card depicts two men clashing heads as they go to head the football. With the weight of the original ball it was probably less dangerous head-butting an opponent than the ball.

Failing all this just scream, 'Here we go, Here we go, Here we go. Here we go, Here we go, Here we go-o.' [Repeat]. Those with pretensions of grandeur should shout 'Off-Side' regularly; nobody knows what it means.

Having got to the ground the identification of the team is made very easy by the numerous sets which deal with the club colours. Gallaher, Association Football Club Colours [1910] is a series of 100 cards and covers quite a bit of ground. It will help you identify Greenock Common and Third Lanark, clubs which rub shoulders with clubs such as Liverpool and Tottenham HotSpur. For those that want to identify individual players there are literally thousands of cards dealing with this arena. Nowadays with the blurring speed at which sides change strips for the purposes of increasing club revenue it is no bad idea to check what your side is actually going to look like when they march out of the tunnel.

One of the treats of 1997 was finding a card for Steve Millership. He was looking for a card depicting his footballing Grandfather who played in the FA cup during the 1930's. I found a young looking grandfather and the reverse of the card mentioned the final and gave a glowing report. I do not usually supply odd cards like this but really who could refuse that one?

Ogdens AFC Nicknames [1933] 50 in the set gives you a chance to prove just how much you know about football being able to casually drop the clubs nicknames into the post match conversation. Failing to acquire this set, if you are near the coast just say, 'Didn't the seagulls have a good game?' It usually does the trick. Once again the adventurous can shout, 'Up the [insert club nickname here]'. Careful with this one though it can cause misunderstandings for Arsenal fans (I cannot believe I have just written that). Fortunately the set tells you the nickname is The Gunners for this team and lets all be thankful.

Speaking of rubbing shoulders, the shoulder charge is a footballing technique which is identified on

Players, Hints on Association Football [1934] a series of 50 cards and representing a good staring point for all those people that have seen enough and now want to strap the boots on. Illustrated by drawing rather than photograph it is visually a very nice set with plenty of sage advice.

Players, Hints on Association Football

It starts well enough: How to kick, card 3, Kicking to swerve the ball seems a bit technical, maybe Pele was a collector of cards. Card 45 shows a goalkeeper sporting a flat cap. The text says when not to catch the ball and should be something of an eye-opener for modern goalkeeper's which the rule book seems to believe are made of glass. 'This is specifically the case', reads the text, 'when he is being harassed by opponents and there is possibility of his being charged through goal.' Card 42 is passing back to the goalkeeper something that became an epidemic which had to be controlled so now the goalkeeper cannot pick-up the ball if it was passed back to him by his own side. A big improvement to my mind since the goalkeeper has become capable to striking the ball the distance of the pitch, to many games started off with the ball being passed to the goalkeeper from the centre spot. I rarely watched more.