July 2002
Reference Points


The Rothmans story. Association of Football Statisticians. Henrik getting fresh


Rothmans occupies the same position in the football world as Guinness does in the realm of trivia. Just as there are millions worldwide who have never tasted a drop of the black stuff yet can quote chapter and verse from the Guinness Book of Records, so too are there countless devotees of the Rothmans Football Yearbook who have never allowed any of Rothmans other products to ever foul their lungs.

It is a strange situation whereby a company issues a publication, mainly as a means of advertising another product, only to find that the book they've produced quickly eclipses the brand it is meant to promote. But, as football fans, we should be grateful.

An entire generation has grown up, totally unaware of the comparative desert that students of football history dwelled in, prior to the publication of the first Rothmans in 1970. I can see you thinking, 'there he goes, big ad for the new Rothmans at the top of the page, this is an advertorial.'

Let me reassure you this is not the case. The appearance of a new Rothmans has the same effect on me as the approach of spring brings to others. It heralds a new beginning, the onset of a fresh season, a time to forget all the tribulations of the past and look forward to a glorious future.

Like spring, I know it won't last. That it won't be long before the dark winter nights set in and dreams of championships, cups and European glory have been consigned to the memory archive for another year .

But while it lasts, it's good. And it was looking at the link at the top of the page that set me thinking about the pre-Rothmans time - the dark ages of football history.

What was available in those days? In Scotland there were a few dedicated publications. The Peter Bell Annual was one. Other sponsors produced booklets too. I shouldn't give them free publicity so let's just say that one particular annual was produced by a whisky company whose most famous product was an equine beast of a light-coloured hue.

But the undisputed king of football annuals in Scotland was the one which would be proclaimed loudly by hawkers on the terracing at the start of each season:


The 'Wee Red Book' or the Evening Times Football Annual, to give it its Sunday name, has been around for at least a century - the Mitchell Library in Glasgow has a 1902 edition. And even in its post-1990 incarnation as the 'not-quite-as-wee-as-it-used-to-be red book' it remains a much-loved part of the Scottish scene.

The doyen of Scottish annuals

But what did it actually tell you? It gave the coming season's fixtures and last year's tables, cup and international results, a list of internationals, junior addresses, four really small pics and some of the worst adverts in the world. (there are no penalties when you shop at xxxx, you score a goal every time).

It could settle a few arguments and it was convenient to carry. But it didn't have any depth. Last season's league results were absent, as were players appearances or a retained list. For a list of players, a supporter had to buy the 'Weekly News' with its two-part pull-outs at the start of the season and form guides by 'Peter Black' and 'The Captain.'

Further afield, the Racing & Football Outlook Football Annual was (until the mid-70s) also in the small-sized category. And it came with six years previous results. Intended for the pools punter, but a goldmine for the stats freak. It also gave an analysis for the coming season - at least for teams in the old First Division.

Six years form - a statto's dream

But it too had drawbacks. Interminable tables of old pools coupons, listing which numbers produced the most draws - as if being listed at number eight meant a team was more likely to draw. A bit like today's lottery bore who tells us that its the 14th time in the last year that the bonus ball has been in the twenties. In any case, no punter ever stood on the terracing and declared " we're certs to win today, we're 45 on Littlewoods and home teams have won 80% of matches over the past ten years.'

It had other irritants too. Some teams had their squads listed while others didn't. And, worst of all, while English teams had their chances for the year ahead analysed by the shrewd-sounding 'Ex-Manager' ,Scots hopes were discussed by the patronisingly-named 'Ben Lomond.' What was a bloody mountain supposed to know about football?

Racing & Football Outlook's Scottish correspondent

The market leader though, pre-Rothmans, was the News of the World annual. This had a distinguished lineage. Originally known as the Athletic News Annual, after that the Sunday Chronicle, then the Empire News before settling on the title by which it is still known today.

It had everything the Wee Red Book had, bar the junior information. It also had a few 'star writers' ghosted articles. It had European details which the others either ignored or dealt with peremptorily. It didn't just list past league winners but the top three. Coverage of internationals was more extensive. There was a bigger photo section. It had a records section and a diary of the season.

And while rather too much space was wasted on minor English leagues and both rugby codes ( as far as this plooky-faced kid was concerned), it listed total appearances and goals scored for the Scottish First Division. Sure, at 5/- (25p) it was a week's pocket money but it was money well spent.

And that, my friends, was the situation. Until August 1970. Rothmans Football Yearbook blasted onto the scene and blew the opposition apart. Overnight, football statistics were revolutionised. At last there was a football publication that could be compared with Wisden. One that didn't have to be hidden away in a jacket pocket.

At 18/- (90p) it was a hefty price - but for a 14-year old with over £2 a week coming in from a milk round, I could afford it. While it cost a lot more than any other annual it was only a few bob more than an LP (note: 14-inch diameter, circular, black, vinyl object which is the historical forebear of the cd).

This book had the lot. Every game, every line-up for the previous season INCLUDING THE SECOND DIVISION ( although this didn't always feature in the early editions). And the historical material. Bliss! Every World Cup. All the European competitions from the start. Scottish Cups and League tables since the dawn of time. I swear I nearly went to bed at night dreaming of the 1929 Scottish Cup Final instead of Raquel Welch. I said nearly - I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea.

Rothmans very quickly established itself as the 'bible' of the game. Most of the others survived and still thrive to this day. For what Rothmans did wasn't to take away from the other annuals but to prove that a market existed for the kind of publication which cricket enthusiasts took for granted.

And 32 years on it is still going strong despite many attempts to rival it and overtake it. In the 1980s as sponsorship of the Leagues took off, similar publications arrived on the scene. The Scottish League published its own annual review. Backed by a variety of sponsors this survives today. The SPL, somewhat greedily, produce their own annual too. There's no need for two such books.

Canon, the Daily Telegraph and Panini all tried to muscle in on the Rothmans market without success. Panini's was the closest in content. And it was cheaper too. But it suffered from trying to cram the same information into fewer pages. Try reading a single-page Panini entry for an entire 44-game season and you'll see what I mean. It's enough to send an eagle down to the opticians.

The 1990s brought a different kind of threat as the English leagues tried to boost their own publications by withholding information from Rothmans that was previously given free. Thankfully, the issue was resolved.

Today, Rothmans is not only still undisputed Number One, its position is safer than ever. This is precisely because of the fragmentation of football. Why pay separately for books from the SPL, SFL, English Premiership and the Nationwide League when Rothmans has the same information under the one roof?

Answer - you don't. OK, now it's time to click on the link at the top of the page. The new Rothmans is available from Amazon at a lower price than it was TEN years ago. And if you do buy it after clicking from here, then you'll be making a small contribution to help keep this website ticking over.

The book that broke the mould.

And the previous number one

Last week we brought you the sad tale of David Seaman's book on eBay (don't all cry at once). This week we are happy to be able to tell you that absolutely no one was stupid enough to pay £4 for the "Henrik Larsson Fresh pine air Freshener with nodding head and swivel waist" which has been re-listed.

Sadly, not all Celtic fans show such good taste. One silly Bhoy has forked out several quid for the "Argentina, here we come" Scotland 1978 tea-towel!

Stats Life

Once upon a time there existed a body called the Association of Football Statisticians. Formed in 1978, it was dedicated to recovering and recording the long-neglected statistical side of the game. From a few enthusiasts in the south-east of England, it quickly grew into a worldwide body of over 1,000 members. Your correspondent has been a member - on and off - since first discovering them in an article in FA News in 1982.

Given the sterling work they've done, the AFS should be looking forward to their 25th anniversary next year with pride. Yes, the organisation is Nirvana for the anorakally retentive. It is the only group on Earth where anyone desperate to write about, let's say, Grimsby Town reserve left-halves of the inter-war period, would get house room. But apart from the public service of keeping such obsessives off the streets, the AFS has a lot to its credit.

It has helped put football statistics on a par with cricket. OPTA is the shining new, sexy face of stats. Without the AFS it would never have existed. The AFS has been at hand to provide sportscasters with instant updates. You didn't really think that when Jim Commentator says " United's fourth is the first time they'e scored so many away since that marvellous night in Melancholia three years ago and the hat-trick for Giggs is his first away from home since his voice broke" that they really KNEW that?

Sorry, not since David Coleman in his prime has a TV front man been able to declare instantly that " East Fife's last-minute strike at Links Park leapfrogs them above Montrose into seventh place on goal difference."

No, the AFS has provided much of this information over the years. And that is why it is sad to see the state it is in today as it struggles to survive. It appears that they have become involved with some commercial enterprises which have backfired. Also, there have been personnel changes at management level within the AFS. I know little about these and do not intend to offer comment on them.

What DOES concern me is the devastating effect this has had on one of the game's most respected and authoritative bodies. Today, that respect is being eroded and the authority has gone. Let me explain:

Take their website for example. You would think that it would have a name that reflected the organisation. It used to be called the-afs.com and that is still the link provided on many websites. Try entering that into your browser's address bar and you will be taken to a Florida-based internet search company called Search44.

The AFS now uses the hardly-distinguishing address of 11v11.co.uk. It gets worse. Any non-member wanting to ask a question can do so - provided they're willing to stump up a minimum of £50 to do so. Fair enough for a mass media organisation too lazy to carry out their own research but a bit steep if you're just trying to find out who scored in a Cup Final.

Stick to our SFAQS. They're free - and they're more reliable.

AFS members can still seek out info without additional cost - for the moment. The AFS hasn't published one of its quarterly bulletins for nearly a year. Now it says it will resume doing so but will introduce an online membership fee as well. So members face a £20 p.a. price hike.

And what do they get for their money? Firstly, a challenge. Will the website let you log on? Or will it refuse to accept your password? Sometimes the former, other times the latter. On those lucky occasions when you are granted access, what does it offer? Well, to be fair, the players database seems to be kept up to date. Even loan signings in the close season are accurately recorded. For instance on the day Robbie Winters finished his loan spell at Stoke, the information was available on the AFS website.

But in other areas it is woefully lacking. Nothing on the World Cup Finals for instance. Last season's Scottish League Cup Final is missing too. And the Scottish Cup came to an abrupt end in 1999 as far as the AFS is concerned.

These though are simply updating omissions. Annoying but easily rectified. Far more worrying is when wrong information is given out. And not just the kind of mistake we can all make but grossly inaccurate info that should set off all kinds of warning bells before ever being committed to cyberspace.

An AFS member was compiling the programme for John Duncan's testimonial match and wanted to know the line-ups for a match between the Scottish and English Leagues. He already knew the score (2-2) and the date (March 1973).

This was the reply he received THREE WEEKS LATER from a site administrator:

England: John Swannell, Derek Gamblin, John Delaney, Ted Powell, Ray Eaton, Dave Bassett, Roger Day, Larry Pritchard, Rod Haider, Barry Friend, John Butterfield, Tony Bass;

Scotland: A Kruzycki, A McFarlane, I McGowan, William Currie, C Thompson, J Wilson, I Fallis, J McLaughlan, A Scott, V Franchetti, J Rutherford

You're scratching your head, aren't you? Who are these players? The Scotland line-up comprises seven from Queen's Park and one each from Spartans, Drumchapel, Albion Rovers and North Shields They did all play in an England-Scotland match in March 1973. But at AMATEUR level.

Now, here's the rub. Presumably when looking at the line-ups the administrator noticed the 3-0 scoreline. Did he just assume the questioner ( who was after details from a game that finished 2-2) had got it wrong? Did it never occur to the site supervisor that maybe the name John Duncan should figure somewhere? Or that the teams would be listed as LEAGUE sides, not England and Scotland?

Let's be charitable and assume that the person making the reply isn't that knowledgeable about Scottish football. Even so, you would have thought that a cursory glance at the names in the English eleven might have prompted a pause before hitting the reply button. There's only one name anything like recognisable to most fans. And surely anyone would think twice about an international line-up Dave Bassett appeared in?

So, three weeks after submitting his question, the member gets a ridiculously stupid reply. And they expect non-members to fork out £50!

For the record, the actual teams were:
Scottish League: McCloy (Rangers), Jardine (Rangers), McGrain (Celtic), Connelly (Celtic), Johnstone (Rangers), Hay (Celtic), McLean (Rangers), Stanton (Hibernian), Parlane (Rangers), John Duncan (Dundee), Arthur Duncan (Hibernian)

Football League: Shilton (Leicester City), Mills (Ipswich Town), Nish (Derby County), Kendall (Everton), McFarland (Derby County), Moore (West Ham United), Weller (Leicester City), Channon (Southampton), Worthington (Leicester City), Richards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Bell (Manchester City)

John Duncan scored both goals for the Scottish League.

With no disrespect intended to the amateurs, this is a slightly more distinguished grouping of players.

Perhaps worst of all though, is the fact that this information lay unchallenged on the AFS site for a month. As I said earlier, this is a worthy organisation and I hope it can overcome its current difficulties and regain the prestigious status it worked so hard and so long to obtain.

But if this is typical of the AFS in 2002 then it may not get to see 25 candles on the cake next year.

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