Rothmans Football Yearbook has been a significant part of my footballing life for thirty years. Over all those years I've not really tired of the annual digest of over 900 pages of English-flavoured football statistics.
And just recently, via eBay and some online second-hand booksellers I completed my collection by backfilling with the first four editions, 1970-71 through 1973-74. And thumbing through those early editions brought home – lo and behold(!) – how much the game has changed in that time.
Back then, the Football League cocooned a comfortable collegiate of 92 football league clubs, where the Fourth Division teams boasted a legitimacy that meant they could be referred to in categories analogous with top flight clubs. The closest you got to “Johnny foreigner” in either playing or managerial ranks were Scottish, Welsh and Irish folk. Two points for a win, competitive and highly credentialed cup competitions. Stadia or “football grounds” bore the name of the location, not the sponsors of the day. Plain playing strips, which barely carried the manufacturer’s badge, let alone that of the league or principal sponsor.
The Rothmans also had a much stronger domestic flavour. Internationals carried heavy coverage of the now long-defunct Home Internationals, which carried as much weight as European Championship qualifying. The European Cup sat nicely alongside the UEFA and Cup-winners Cups. World Cups were covered well, even in 1974 when
These days of course, companies such as Rothmans are on the nose, or more pointedly the lungs, and it’s been a few years now since Sky Sports took over the mantle of sponsoring this fact-fest. “Sky Sports" somehow typifies 21st century football rather than Rothmans of Pall Mall.