Football’s Wisden? – A brief guide to the Rothmans Football Yearbook

Posted: 18th February 2015

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In the autumn of 1970, a new style of football reference book hit the stands.

In his forward to the new Rothmans Football Yearbook 1970/71, FIFA President, Sir Stanley Rous CBE, suggested that the new yearbook might take the place in football reference literature which the Wisden Cricketers’ Alamanack had held in cricket’s for over a century.

Indeed, Rothmans themselves, repeated this sentiment in their forward to the book on the next page following Sir Stanley’s one.

Published by the Queen Anne Press, the new yearbook was affiliated with cigarette company, Rothmans and this link would last over 3 decades until, in the modern football age, Sky Sports, who had been so instrumental in the game’s developed exposure since the launch of the Premier League in 1992, took over the mantle and the name of the yearbook as legislation closed the opportunities for tobacco company marketing in tandem with areas like sport.

Rothmans’ involvement with football was at the end of a decade of sponsorship involvement with various sports through the 1960’s. The company had linked itself with motor racing, tennis and cricket, taking advantage of the lack of restriction on where cigarette companies could advertise their brand name as a platform for selling their products.

This sponsorship had taken place in many countries, almost a first example of an integrated approach to globalised cross-border marketing by a major international company.

In the UK, Rothmans sponsored tennis tournaments in the 1960’s and through its’ brand names, Players and Benson & Hedges, had heavy involvement in cricket, sponsoring the new one-day competition, the 40 over John Player League, played for years after its’ 1969 launch, on Sunday afternoons and supported for a few years in the early 1970’s by a yearbook;

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Also, the 55 over Benson & Hedges Cup, launched in 1972 became the 2nd day long one-day cricket cup competition whose sponsorship / title was adopted by Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society in the early 2000’s after Benson and Hedges had to step back from sports sponsorship in the same way that Rothmans would be faced with the decision to stop its’ involvement with football and its’ yearbook, as we shall see.

From the early 1980’s, the Benson and Hedges Cup was also supported by the publication of a yearbook, the Benson & Hedges Cricket Year;

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Rothmans would follow their involvement with football in Rugby where they would be involved with yearbooks for both Union and League codes similar to the football namesake.

But in 1970, it was football’s turn.

In the UK, where before, as Sir Stanley pointed out, there had been many annuals and reference books on the beautiful game, most of these had been in the form of pocket annuals like the News of the World Football Annual which under different ownerships had been in existence since the days back in the 1890’s, it had been published as the Athletic News Football Annual;

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There had been many other titles including, as the Rothmans Football Yearbook was conceived, such well known and popular names like the Playfair Football Annual as well. But these annuals were pocket sized and this small format limited the scope of the information which they could provide.

The Rothmans’ Football Yearbook was going to be different.

As the years passed, the yearbook evolved gradually year by year and decade by decade as it established a place for itself.

In 2015, the book does indeed hold pride of place as football’s leading reference yearbook surviving many changes within football, a legislation enforced change in sponsor and name, the rapid development of the internet and digital age with both inherent opportunities and threats and a growing profusion of other reference yearbooks to meet the ever expanding information needs of a widening football fan market both domestically and internationally.

 

1. 1970’s – Filling a gap in the market

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In these early years of the 1970’s, the yearbook met and started to fill the perceived gap in the market for more detailed information about the domestic game which its’ originators had identified; the need for a Wisden style reference annual.

The first issue for 1970/71 was a larger size than its pocket counterparts and much thicker, with around 3 times the pages, running to 960.

This larger and longer offering enabled the inclusion of far more details about the specifics of the season just completed. Contents initially, were very similar to those included in its pocket counterparts but there was more information and across a wider range of topics.

More room enabled more areas of the game to be covered, both in and below the professional ranks.

While Wisden had always been well known for its sections on the County Championship with pages allocated to a review of each First Class county’s season, the Rothmans Football Yearbook made a start on a similar type of coverage by providing 2 full pages for each one of the 92 league clubs.

Indeed, this club section would be one of the strong features of the yearbook and one developed considerably over the years.

This first issue also included a feature called the Rothmans Golden Boots Award where the major football journalists had been asked to vote for the best team in Great Britain at that time, playing in a 4-4-2 formation, a factor which the yearbook editorial staff suggested meant that certain popular players who might have been expected to be included, like Manchester United’s Bobby Charlton, did not make the team;

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This feature would continue until the 1974/75 edition after which a new form of recognition feature would be introduced.

The new yearbook was promoted in other football media.

This advertisement was placed in an early season issue of the Football League Review magazine for the 1970/71 season (#509) as well as the November edition of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.

The copy emphasised the historical facts and records aspect of the yearbook with a clever headline focusing on Manchester United’s original name;

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Many positive reviews of the first yearbook were included in the 2nd year of the annual, for 1971/72;

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The Sunday Times called the book ‘A magnificent addition to any football fan’s bookshelf’.

The Daily Mirror predicted that ‘It looks like becoming an essential volume for any football fan’s library’.

The Sporting Life summed the book up as ‘An astonishingly complete volume which may soon rank as a ‘bible’ for the sport’.

However, despite these and other glowing responses, the editors would adjust the content edition to edition right from these early issues in an effort to find the right formula for the yearbook.

Initially, in the first issue, the yearbook’s content focused on heavily on the main records of the game followed by a review of the previous season. From the 2nd issue, this changed around with a club section and a review of the previous season being placed at the front of the yearbook with other sections and records now following.

In the 1972/73 edition, there was an amusing cartoon in the early pages.

Where today, some older fans can be known to call some players’ masculinity into question based on these players’ apparent inability to withstand any form of tackle or because they wear coloured boots, back in the early 1970’s, similar question marks were targeted towards players due to the explosion of long hair cuts which players now wore, breaking out from the shorter cuts of the 1960’s.

So in the early pages of the 3rd edition of the yearbook, this cartoon appeared;

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Also, at the back of this 1972/73 edition, we saw the first attempts by the publishers to tap into the collecting psyche of the yearbooks’ readers with this suggestion to send off for back editions;

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As the decade unfolded, no other cartoons were included but coverage of the major games most certainly were.

The 1974 World Cup in West Germany was previewed in 1973/74 and then reviewed after completion, in the 1974/75 edition;

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In the 1975/76 edition, the Rothmans Awards were introduced, replacing the Rothmans Golden Boot awards.

These were simply a selection of 6 people who were felt to have made significant contributions to the sport.

The first 6 to be selected were; Football Writers’ Player of the Year, Alan Mullery (Fulham), FA Cup Final goalscorer Alan Taylor (West Ham United), international team manager Mike Smith (Wales), Dickie Guy (Wimbledon), Colin Todd (Derby County) and lower division goal ace Dixie McNeil (Hereford United);

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In the 1978/79 edition, the 1978 World Cup was reviewed along with a special feature reviewing the League Cup Finals from 1961-1978;

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The European and international content expanded gradually too as the decade unfolded, although the emphasis of the contents was very much still on the domestic game.

As far as the people responsible for producing the yearbook, initially, although 2 compiliers, Tony Williams (a man who had been involved in football and especially non-league football publishing for some time previously) and Roy Peskett put the book together, these two were assisted by such names as Sir Matt Busby, Jimmy Hill and Denys Howell in an editorial board which, in turn, was supported by an advisory panel.

An advertisement for the 1971/72 edition of the yearbook in the Football League Review featured the members of the editorial board;

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As time passed, this rather cumbersome body of people was replaced by an editor, although there were various different people who took on the role as we shall see and ultimately, co-editors in father Jack Rollin and daughter Glenda Rollin who had filled a similar role in other titles including the Playfair Football Annual and it is these two people with whom the book has become associated strongly in recent times.

Through the first decade of the yearbook, there were two sets of black and white photographs in each edition featuring highlights from the preceding season.

The decade ended with the 10th edition;

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2. 1980’s – Consolidating the position

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By the 1980’s, the yearbook had become the ‘go to’ annual for fans, media and administrators alike.

Changes through the 70’s were in response to reader feedback and had been designed to make the book better both in terms of content and and the order of that content.

The club section evolved in detail as time went by and included team photos from the 1983/84 edition and these became full page by the 1989/90 issue.

As in the 1970’s editions, major championships were covered throughout the decade.

As far as the editor position went, the decade saw some chopping and changing.

The 1980/81 edition (above) and the next two issues were edited by Jack Rollin.

In 1983/84, Tony Williams returned to the book as editor;

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Then from 1984/85, Peter Dunk took over the editor’s position for 4 editions;

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New content saw results of the European leagues included in the 1985/86 edition along with a history of football in the Olympics.

In 1988/89, Jack Rollin returned as editor;

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This edition also included a new section on South America.

By the end of the decade in the 1989/90 edition, teams from the Conference were now featured in more detail and features like obituaries were included at the back of the book.

 

3. 1990’s – Responding to change

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The 1990’s was decade of much change in the organisation of the sport especially in England, with the launch of the Premier League and in Europe, with the changes to the European competitions, lead by the repackaging of the European Cup into the Champions League.

These changes could be seen in the yearbook where as usual, the main details of each season were covered with an ever detailed club section at the start of the book, plus coverage of the World Cups and European Championships.

For example, the 1990/91 edition (above) featured the 1990 World Cup.

Since the 2nd edition, there had been a review of the season (although this did not appear in the 1981/82 edition) but from the 1991/92 edition, this review became a day-to-day diary of events throughout the football season for the first time.

The 1993/94 edition covered the launch of the FA Premier League.

The 1994/95 edition was the 25th and included Ryan Giggs on the front cover, a player who would become perhaps the most iconic name in the opening two decades of the Premier League era.

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In the 1995/96 edition we saw the first example of father and daughter team in the editorial side of the yearbook, Jack and Glenda Rollin coming together with Glenda taking on a role of assistant editor;

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The 1996/97 edition had the Rollins in newly defined role with Glenda as editor and Jack as executive editor.

A sign of the changing times, this edition noted for the first time, players who were from overseas in the squads of the league clubs.

In the 1998/99 edition a new feature, ‘Viewpoint’ provided a platform for a key figure in the game to write about the game. The first article was by Terry Venables;

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The decade finished with an edition which now included a 10 year record and a list of managers for each club in the clubs section.

 

4. 2000’s – New legislation, new sponsor, new name

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By the start of the new millennium, the yearbook was well and truly established as the top football reference book for fans, media and administrators alike.

The front cover of the 2000/01 edition (above) included a quote on the top of the front cover from BBC commentator Alan Green to that effect.

But change was coming.

With legislation implemented that restricted severely tobacco companies’ ability to advertise on the back of sporting events like Rothmans had been doing for so long, a new sponsor for the yearbook was needed.

Consistent with their decade old commitment to broadcasting and promoting English football, especially through the Premier League, Sky Sports saw an opportunity to create a slice of marketing synergy by taking over from Rothmans.

The 2003/04 edition of the annual was now titled the Sky Sports Football Yearbook;

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The content remained relatively fixed through the decade. By now, the editors felt they had the right formula and they stuck to it.

But there were minor adjustments like an increased focus on the clubs in the Football Conference and from the 2005/06 edition, its’ two divisions, the Conference North and South when these were introduced;

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The 2008/09 edition included a special review of the FA Cup Final’s through their history.

The 2009/10 edition was the 40th and inside was a special review of British clubs’ performances in Europe since European competitions began in the mid 1950’s;

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5. 2010’s – Facing competition

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In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the Sky Sports Football Yearbook under the guardianship of Jack and Glenda Rollin has continued to produce a comprehensive and detailed yearbook for its’ readers.

But in recent times, printed football reference material has to contend with the vast array of information supplied on the Internet.

However, there is still a demand amongst football fans to have hard copy publications which they can take down from the shelf, turn the pages and enjoy as they search for a piece of information or just browse.

But as the digital age has fostered a wider awareness in the game amongst domestic fans, the publishing industry has responded.

There are now available yearbooks which cover the various regions of FIFA. Published by Soccer Books Ltd., the European Football Yearbook has been published since back in the late 1980’s. But this established title has recently been supplemented by yearbooks covering North and Central America, South America, Africa and Asia.

Looking at the game globally, since 2006, Oliver’s Almanack of World Football, a tome even thicker than the Sky Sports Football Yearbook, has been published annually (also by Headline interestingly), providing a vast and comprehensive body of facts and figures for the football fan interested in all the football nations literally worldwide from the largest to the very smallest;

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While all these titles are designed to cover football predominantly other than in England, nontheless they are competing for the football book buyer’s money, especially as more and more fans here in the UK broaden their interest and knowledge of the game abroad.

Recent editions of the yearbook have stuck to the successful formula evolved over the last 4 decades. The yearbook does what it says on the tin as far as providing a vast array of information to keep the football fan, enthusiast and those involved in running the game.

 

Hardbacks

While most football fans will be aware if the softback editions of the book, from the start of its’ life, the yearbook has been published in a hardback edition as well..

The hardbacks have always been published with dust wrappers although the one for this edition of the 1970/71 yearbook is missing.

At least we can see the Rothmans crest printed on the front cover which would usually be hidden by the dust wrapper;

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I’m not sure of the publication numbers of each type of book but certainly nowadays, when collections of the yearbook come up for sale, it is very rare to see collections of hardbacks.

Although hardbacks can be found on Ebay and Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Collectability / values and prices

On the question of collectabilty, I think it’s the case that as time passes, collectability, price and value will all increase.

There is much talk amongst collectors and dealers I meet at auctions about the of 1st issue, the edition for 1970/71; that this one is the only rare one and the only one which has any value over and above a few pounds.

To a degree this is true. The 1970/71 edition can sell for anything between £50 and £100 depending on condition.

But that’s not to say that the other books are not collected and have a growing perceived value in the marketplace.

The 2nd and 3rd issues for 1971/72 and 1972/73 respectively have a higher value than average as do the remaining 1970’s editions and and job lots of these can command decent values.

Currently, editions from 1980 onwards are relatively easy to find, although from a condition perspective, while the 1970’s editions often have faded pages, collectors would be best advised to check the binding of some of the 1980’s and 1990’s books as this was not always as tight as it might be and sometimes, the binding can open up at certain page joins. So thse editions look good but once opened can be less so.

As I understand it, the production processes used with the binding was more solid for the earlier and later editions and this splitting open issue mentioned above is far less likely to occur.

Sets or near complete sets are often advertised on Ebay and the price that sellers attempt to realise for these lots can be anything from £150 to as high as £600, although it’s likely that such sets will rarely reach the higher end of this range, if at all and are more likely to sell for lower amounts.

As with so much memorabilia, the prices realised will be a function of many factors including the condition of the books, especially the 1970/71 edition and the other early 1970’s years and how much the buyer wants the lot at that particular time in relation to their available funds.

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Final word

What is the legacy of the Rothman’s Football Yearbooks and what place does the yearbook have in football reference literature?

Has the yearbook become Football’s Wisden?

On the one hand, I can’t help wondering whether actually, if it’s even fair to compare the 2 books?

As the 2015 domestic cricket scene approaches, so does the publication of the 152nd edition of Wisden. So far, we’ve not yet reached the 50th edition of the Rothmans / Sky Sports Football yearbook.

If we start to compare, we aren’t comparing like with like, as the saying goes.

Due in part, I’m sure, to its longer life and the fact that therefore, there is a longer collecting history with Wisdens, there are also a multitude of other factors which collectors of the cricket bible get involved with like the issue of rebinds, restoration, facsimile editions, dust wrappers and many, many other topics.

Also, from the early editions, the Rothmans yearbook has concentrated on statistics and reference information while Wisden has always been known for its’ written word too.

When picking up a Wisden, I know I can look forward to a good read if I have the time. But with the Rothmans yearbooks, you have a different experience; it’s far more about the statistics and the information.

Also, an aspect of Wisden which is very difficult to replicate with the Rothmans yearbook is written coverage of every 1st class domestic match. With Rothmans, the volume of professional football’s league and cup matches is just too large to allow for an individual report for each one, like you will find for all the County Championship matches and Tests in Wisden.

Indeed, since the expansion of one-day cricket, especially the explosion of T20 cricket across the cricket playing world, Wisden has become more like its’ football counterpart in providing sections which are reference only without any form of match report. Quite simply, across all formats world wide, cricket has become more like football in this respect and Wisden has felt the need to evolve accordingly in how it covers all the games.

In summary, the Rothmans / Sky Sports Football Yearbooks are just not old enough yet to have created the size and value of collector market with all the many issues and interest that collectors of Wisden face with an almanack whose early editions are now very rare books and commanding a value of thousands of pounds.

Another way of looking at it might be to ask the question where would Wisden have sat in cricket reference literature or from a collecting perspective in 1910 when it would have been about the same age as the Rothmans / Sky Sports Yearbooks are now?

However, on the other hand, Sir Stanley Rous’ stated hope was not necessarily that the yearbook would match Wisden page for page but that it would become the number one reference book for football as Wisden had become for cricket.

I don’t think there is any doubt that this has occurred, despite some of these differences outlined above.

Definitely, we can say that the Rothmans / Sky Sports Football Yearbook has established itself as the respected number one football reference book for coverage of football both domestically and worldwide.

This position has been created in the context of some criticisms of the book in its’ early years, especially by statisticians about the validity of some of the information in some of the early editions.

But maybe such teething problems were to be expected? The early editions were the first time that a reference book had been put together with nearly 1,000 pages which were heavily focused on statistics and information as opposed to articles and features.

Indeed, others have pointed out a few obvious glitches where the information was plainly incorrect on first inspection or found out to be wrong later on.

However, from what I understand, these early errors and problems are not to be found in the yearbooks we see today. No doubt, Jack and Glenda Rollin have evolved their compilation and checking processes to minimise errors and mistakes?

The yearbook was the first of this kind of long and detailed reference annual in football, it has set the standard, raised that standard as time has passed and now continues to lead the way.

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Category: Football Annuals

Tags: Benson and Hedges Cricket Year, Football League Review, John Player Cricket Yearbook, News of the World Football Annual, Rothmans Football Yearbook, Sky Sports Football Yearbook, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

4 Comments

William Kirk

Most definetly the top book on football. I have every edition but doubt I would sell for a top price of £600 mentioned on goalsandwickets.co.uk

Thursday 7th May 2015 - 7:21pm

midfielder

Thanks for reading the post, William. I am sure you are right about the £600 value. Indeed, I'm not claiming that the sets are worth £600; this is the figure some people attempt to sell them for. I've adjusted the post accordingly to spell this out. Thanks again for looking at the site. Best wishes, Mark

Friday 8th May 2015 - 12:08pm

Stuart Robinson

Interesting article, thanks. There's a complete set on sale on ebay right now at £250 and it's not selling. Ebay has made it much easier to buy old copies, but this also seems to have resulted in prices being pushed down from the days when you had to scour second-hand shops for early issues. Just one thing - please remove those apostrophes from its' - it's just its! (it's meaning it is, the only time its ever has an apostrophe). Thanks!

Tuesday 25th August 2015 - 11:01am

midfielder

Thanks for the feedback and punctuation tip too, Stuart. On pricing, I think it's inevitable that the internet overall but especially Ebay has increased supply of so many items resulting in prices dropping. On buying Rothmans, I tend to want to see the books now before buying them to check overall quality but especially the binding on post 1980 issues. Best wishes, Mark.

Tuesday 25th August 2015 - 11:38pm

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