Aidan Smith: Likely demise of Rothmans Yearbook is grim news

Bobby Lennox is pouring champagne into the Scottish Cup. Jimmy Johnstone, crouching down with him and holding another bottle, seems to be thinking about going straight for a swig. Jock Stein, eyes everywhere, looms over Jinky and next to the Big Man young Kenny Dalglish simply looks embarrassed for everyone.

It may have been sponsored by Sky for 15 years but to the aficionado it will always be the Rothmans.  Picture: Catriona Thomson
It may have been sponsored by Sky for 15 years but to the aficionado it will always be the Rothmans. Picture: Catriona Thomson

Elsewhere in this celebratory gathering, Jim Brogan sports a flower-power shirt, Billy McNeill has an arm round Bobby Murdoch and these two at least appear to be discussing the game just won while Lou Macari sings and David Hay harmonises. George Connelly, though, is on the fringes of the group and is most probably looking for the door.

The photo of Celtic after a replay triumph over Rangers can be found in the Rothmans Football Yearbook, 1971-72. This was the second year of the publication and there’s almost a surprised tone to the foreword, as if no one was quite sure how the enterprise would go. “It was our belief that there was an urgent need for a reference book on the subject of soccer to answer the arguments which always arise when lovers of Association Football gather together,” declared Rothmans of Pall Mall, to give them their full name. Yes, there was this need. As The Scotsman’s review of the Yearbook put it: “An important publication that fills a long-felt want.” But maybe not for much longer.

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Sky Sports, who took over sponsorship 15 years ago, have just ended the deal. It must have irked the broadcaster that people continued to call the book “the Rothmans” – at least in my office, they did – and now the famous old doorstop seems likely to go the way of all football guides in the internet age, or most of them at any rate.

As soon as I heard the grim news I dug out the oldest copy on our shelves and took it home to research this piece (Just make sure you bring it back when you’re finished – Sports Ed).

I thought the reason for the Yearbook’s probable demise would be obvious – Wikipedia rools OK ya bass – but it wasn’t, at least not to me.

Just a blizzard of dryly-presented stats, if that’s not a contradiction in terms? Not a bit. The ’71-’72 tome fell open at the diary recapping the previous season and suddenly I was 14 again, lying on my blanketed bed (no duvets yet), underneath my poster of Pat Stanton, ignoring homework, ignoring teatime summons, completely engrossed.

June ’70: “George Best [pictured inset] signed eight-year contract at Manchester United, £10,000-a-year minimum.” August: “Bobby Moore missed friendly at Bristol C. because wife had been threatened with kidnap attempt … Leeds U. first club to instal ‘police station’ at ground … C. Palace spy on crowd behaviour with field glasses and walkie-talkies … West Ham Res. beat Arsenal Res. (with Peter Marinello) in Football Combination final.”

September: “Glasgow Rangers captain John Greig sent off against Falkirk … Feyenoord won World Cup title beating Estudiantes who are dubbed ‘gangsters’ … Texaco launched £100,000 ‘British Isles Cup’ – Morton beat WBA, Motherwell beat Stoke C. and Nottingham Forest could only draw with Airdrieonians.”

Exciting, eh? It was if you couldn’t rev up YouTube and re-live the key moments but, prompted by the Rothmans, had to use your imagination. Just how fearsome were Estudiantes? Had they met John Greig? And was the C. Palace hooligan-watch just a front for some perverts intending to ogle Fiona Richmond when some time later she jumped into the Selhurst Park communal bath with the players? Not that I knew who Richmond was at the age of 14, you understand – or had heard of Men Only or understood the function of a “sex correspondent”. That was all one big mystery, oh yes.

Football with the strictly-controlled exposure of the sport – limited TV highlights, minimal live games, no pull-outs in the newspapers, only George Best a true superstar, everyone else round at Bobby Moore’s local playing darts, Airdrieonians living together in a little gingerbread house and only coming out on matchdays – was something of a mystery, too, and certainly compared to now.

But thanks to the Rothmans, schoolboys and the overgrown variety were fully conversant with a goodly number of facts, having memorised them in the long wait between editions of Match of the Day or Sportscene, and could quote them back today like they were as precious as their mothers’ store numbers.

Whoever said: “Football’s all about opinions”? They should be forced to play Estudiantes, with John Greig guesting, entirely by themselves. For they’ve merely encouraged everyone to become a journalist or a pundit or a blogger or a bore on the subject of the game. It’s liberating to drag yourself out of the stagnant pond of “insight” (under-thought) and “controversy” (over-cooked) and get reacquainted with straight-ahead narration of events, such as this from the ’71-’72 bible: “Buenos Aires police stated they would prosecute all 19 players sent off in the match between Boca Juniors and Cristal. A full-scale battle ended the game two minutes from time with three players going to hospital.” Absolutely no embellishment needed there.

The Rothmans described Peter Lorimer as “ubiquitous” that season. I hope that at 14 I was curious enough to wonder what the word meant, though I’m not going to pretend I looked it up in a dictionary, another reference book which was also big in ’71-’72.

Different eras. Football, goals, chatter, self-evident, bleedin’ obvious, anodyne truisms – they’re all ubiquitous now. And as an example of how different, the Manchester City page quaintly lists the club phone number. Can you imagine calling up the new global superpower today and how many options the recorded voice would present, and how long you’d have to wait? This is a club which has – what is it? – 13 of the world’s best full-backs. Forty-six years ago they made do with Arthur Mann from Hearts – not yet the Jambos, the Gorgie nickname is given as “the Maroons” – and you could probably have asked to get put straight through to him.