Christmas Day 1959 and legions of schoolboys up and down the country feverishly unwrapped the very first Topical Times Football Book. On the cover Bobby Charlton smacked a leather ball out of a pillar-box red background and, although this wasn't the first yearbook, it heralded the golden age of the Christmas football annual. As the sixties progressed, the shelves in Woolworth's and the local newsagent began to bulge with titles reflecting the expanding, exciting world of football - Charles Buchan's Soccer Gift Book nestled next to the International Football Book and the Midlands Soccer Annual.
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These annuals were educational and insightful, taking the reader into the changing rooms, the supporters' club lounges, and the manager's mind ahead of a tough season. Beautifully illustrated, they helped shape the football consciousness of a generation.
In The Heyday of The Football Annual Ian Preece and Doug Cheeseman bottle the essence of these publications. They travel back in time to a world where Forfar Athletic and Doncaster Rovers had equal billing with Manchester United and Arsenal, where debate raged over the use of goal average, and Huddersfield v Carlisle was the main game on Match of the Day.
Along the way, leading football writers Richard Williams, Jonathan Wilson, Patrick Collins and Derek Hammond, among others, share their memories - not only of 'soccer' annuals but of an era when the unveiling of Dundee's new stand was deemed worthy of a two-page spread, and Scunthorpe's pre-season tour to Ibiza merited a lengthy feature. This was a world where footballers grew chrysanthemums for a hobby, drank tea down the local café to pass the time, and Coventry City were the go-ahead club of the future. For better, and (certainly) for worse, it's a world long gone.