As a football mad kid, one of the highlights of my week was collecting our comics from Hamer's, the newsagent at the top of our street. Reserved and kept behind the counter would be Look-In! for my sister and Shoot! for me. When a new football title, Match, was published in 1979 I had that too but Shoot! was the main event. So much so that when we moved to Spain for a year my Nana would post it out to me along with jokes she'd copy down from Tony Blackburn's radio show. It was about two weeks out of date - the magazine, not Blackburn's jokes , they were waaaaay out of the date already -by the time it arrived, but that was how I kept in touch with the scores and what was happening back in England. News traveled slowly in the late 70s.
One thing that made Shoot! stand out was their famous League Ladders. At the start of each season they'd giveaway a piece of folded card with a slot for each position of all the English and Scottish divisions and fiddly little cut-out tabs for every club. With the Sunday Mirror in front of me I'd lie on the floor and painstakingly arrange all clubs in their current league position so, at a glance, I could tell you throughout the week - should anyone care to ask, and they never did - that Sunderland were sixth in the second division and Torquay were 15th in the fourth. I didn't support one specific team for many years; I just loved football, full stop.
Last week I bought a few old copies - three for a quid - down the market. From 1975 and 1976 they are a few years earlier than when I started getting it but they're exactly as recall them and the features the same. There are big-name columnists like Liverpool's Kevin Keegan and QPR's Gerry Francis who weren't scared to offer an opinion. Francis expresses his pride in being named England captain aged 23, "the youngest international skipper in Europe" and then takes a journalist to task for inaccurate reporting, "I am afraid Mr James has unjustly wronged me and devalued the Daily Mail in my eyes". Like Mr Francis's mullet, some things never change.
You Are The Ref was another popular feature. "Before a match you see a player inserting contact lenses into his eyes. Do you (a) take no action or (b) refuse to allow him to play?" Then there was the Focus On... questionnaire in which players revealed with predictable regularity their favourite food as steak and chips and their favourite singer Olivia Newton-John.
One player who stands out in the issues I bought is Laurie Cunningham. I loved Laurie when he played alongside Cyrille Regis for West Bromwich Albion; such exciting players. Black players weren't a common sight so always seemed that little bit cooler to me, especially with flair like Cunningham. WBA had three in 1978: Cunningham, Regis and Brendon Batson, which allowed manager Ron Atkinson to name them the Three Degrees without anyone batting an eye. Cunningham would go on to play, with great acclaim, for Real Madrid - including a European Cup Final but in 1976 he was still plying his trade in the second division for Leyton Orient. In his Focus feature from the 9th October 1976 issue Laurie doesn't come across as the archetypal mid-70s footballer. His favourite singers are Isaac Hayes and Bob Marley and I get the impression his heart was somewhere else. If he wasn't a footballer he thought he'd be a professional dancer and the story goes he would pay his fines for being late for training by winning dance competitions.
He was certainly his own man. Look at these answers. Favourite Player: Nobody. Favourite Other Team: None. Most Difficult Opponent: Nobody. Personal Ambition: None. In fairness Laurie did have an ambition of playing for England, something no black man had done, which he would achieve six times.
Tragically Laurie Cunningham died in a car crash, aged 33, in 1989.