At school football cards became the new currency and status symbols . The first person to collect the full set of first division players would be hailed a hero , but with only ninepence a week pocket money I would be hard pushed to get the full set . that’s why we played cards for keeps .
There were three different games we played with our football cards . Topsy , where you would alternately flick your cards against a section of wall from an agreed distance and the first person to land one of his cards on top of another won all the cards that had been flicked . Another game was knocksy where each player would stand an agreed number of cards against the wall and taking it in turn would flick a card to try and knock the ones leaning against the wall down . The person who knocked the very last card down won all the cards thrown . Knocksy was a test of nerve as it could often use up all the cards you owned , but the winner was always assured of a big haul .
Like golfers have caddies a top card player would have picker ups . These were normally mates who supported one player or another who would gather the winnings from each game and would be rewarded with any swaps you won . Of course in an ideal world when one was going for the full set , one only played with ones twicers anyway , but necessity meant I’d risk all several times before I became the owner of that first set of football cards in our year complete with team photo cards which had the full checklists. I was amazed to find that the team photos were Manchester City ( the current league Champions in the 67-68 season ) and F.A cup winners 1968 West Bromwich Albion . To this day I remember those cards featuring players which were so common you couldn’t give them away , there was nothing more disheartening than seeing five tatty cards bearing Jeff Astle or Jim McCalliogs photo thrown into the one game of topsy . “Go on I’ll give you six Jim McCalliog’s for a Bobby Moncur “. ” No chance ” . Every day I lived and learned .
At this time I found the football cards far more interesting than the game itself . Going to actually see a football game was a promised future event like getting a bike or winning the pools . “When you’re seven Tony will take you ” was all my mother would say ; I knew it would be torture , he’d hold my hand purposely too tight squeezing it with his long bony fingers and pull my arm half out of its socket as he dragged me across busy main roads , call me cynical , but I knew the only way our Tony could stop me from wanting to go to every game was to make sure my first experience of a match was as big a nightmare as he could make it . Going to a real match could wait . In the evening after school I’d take my wad of football cards out of my pocket and go to our Tony for his unbiased opinion on each player . Our Tony who was fourteen had seen them all in action and would tell me according to his red eyed view of humanity . This way I heard that Ralph Coates of Burnley was a fine player , but Bobby Moore was shit ; Jeff Astle was good , any Manchester City players , Alan Oakes , Colin Bell , Glyn Pardoe , Francis Lee Mike Summerbee were rubbish ( and dirty , ugly and lucky into the bargain , probably why they won the championship above United that season by three points , a small detail my wise older brother omitted to tell me as he brainwashed me daily with his special dianetics of the die-hard red ) . Oh how I would memorize his every word to inform my class ,mates at school . Ron Davies of Southampton , good header of the ball , Allan Clarke Leicester City good player , Jim Macalliog Sheffield Wednesday hmm not bad , Emlyn Hughes Liverpool , a whinger . I couldn’t keep up with him though when Willie Morgan who was playing according to my cards for Burnley went to Man United for £100,000 , his form as a player suddenly improved because our Tony went from describing him as over rated to telling me he was almost as good as George Best and not even the baby Jesus was that good . Of course any and every Man United player was described as brilliant from Shay Brennan through Law Best and Charlton to the ball boys and reserves , they were united by being world beaters . People joke about treating football like a religion and I did sometimes get confused from the Busby Babes in Munich up in heaven and all the saints who survived it like Sir Matt Busby , Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes to George Best , they like Jesus had come down to make the world a better place to live in and good would always triumph against evil . And yes I believed . I believed in Jesus and the Virgin Mary , I believed that there was a Holy Ghost and you shouldn’t be frightened of him , Guardian angels , St Michael defeating Lucifer and that Manchester United likewise were triumphant and glorious and won every game they played eight nil . I imagined Everton’s Howard Kendal turning to Alan Ball after a ten nil thrashing at Old Trafford saying ” well done Alan we kept them down to ten goals “.
In the evening after school I’d go home and get my full set of football cards out , dividing them into teams . Joe Royle , Howard Kendal , Jimmy Husband , Alan Ball , Gordon West , Ray Wilson ; Everton . Wyn Davies , Iam McFaul , Jimmy Sinclair , Bobby Moncur , Newcastle United , Rodney Marsh , Ian and Roger Morgan , Tony Hately ; Queens Park Rangers . George Graham , Bobby Gould , Ian Ure , Bob Wilson Arsenal . and so on . Then the team photos , West Bromwich Albion F.A cup winners . 1968 and Manchester City , League Champions 1968 . This Manchester City League Champions lark confused me . Our Tony told me Man United were the best team in the world , the champions of Europe Wembley 1968 versus Benfica ( St Michael conquers Lucifer ; Man United 4 Benfica 1 and I believed Eusebio to be SATAN) . He’d even been allowed by my mother to take two days off school so he could go ; while I watched nonchalantly at home on T.V , never in any doubt whatsoever that the reds would triumph . After all it’s what all the adults told me would happen , United never lost , I was just surprised it took them all that time to score four and George Best hadn’t scored the lot . What worried me though was if United were champions of the world and the best , then how come they weren’t on my checklists .
The very foundations of my faith were shaking . Kids in school who forlornly taunted the United suporting majority that Man City were the champions and the best and the fact that they were on the checklist lent heavy weight to their argument …our Tony was wrong . In the all red Christian household a crisis was looming , I was turning into a City fan . I began gazing at my cards with Lee , Bell , Summerbee , Mulhearn , Tony Book and Neil Young and saying if you are truly the champions let me see . Besides our Tony was getting on my nerves and I liked City’s socks with the bit of maroon around the top and the maroon stripe on their white shorts.