In our last blog post before Christmas, we turn the clock back 20-25 years and reflect on six England-related items fans may have been given as presents during the 1990s – particularly if they were a youngster at the time.
Gazza! The Game (1990)
In the wake of Italia ’90, everywhere you looked there was Paul Gascoigne. ‘Gazzamania’ had gripped the nation and the commercial benefits were seen as companies attached his name to products. That was certainly the case with this board game named after him, which to innocent child eyes seemed to be a completely new concept. But the reality was a bit different, as older relatives pointed out they remembered playing a very similar game called Penalty and more digging found the game had been released more recently as Kick-Off. MB Games clearly saw the potential for boosting sales of the game by renaming it after football’s newest star and sticking pictures of him in England kit on the cover, complete with including a poster of Gascoigne inside. But when you played the game itself, Gascoigne did not feature at all in any way.
Football board games don’t always work particularly well and many years have passed since I last played this one. But my recollection is it was one of the better and more enjoyable games of the genre, where having the trump card of ‘penalty’ in your hand could prove decisive. If on a football nostalgia kick, you could do worse than track this one down in one of its guises and give it a go.
England’s World Cup Heroes (1990)
Another spin-off from Italia ’90 was the set of VHS releases commemorating the tournament. One of the most popular of these was England’s World Cup Heroes, providing a chance to relive England’s seven matches over and over again. Brian Moore commentated on highlights of each match, with musical accompaniment on key moments such as David Platt’s winner against Belgium and the penalty-shoot-out heartache against West Germany. A companion video was Gascoigne’s Glory – focusing on his contribution to the tournament – and there were various other releases issued about the tournament. If you had withdrawal symptoms from Italia ’90 and wanted to recapture the spirit of the summer, then either waiting for Santa to visit or making a quick trip to Woolworths and handing over the cash for a video would resolve everything.
Having sat through England’s World Cup Heroes several times, Moore’s commentary became almost known word for word in places. But then just a few days after Christmas ITV screened their World Cup review and Moore’s words on England clips were different. Then reality dawned. For the VHS release he’d recorded commentary afterwards from a studio rather than using his original wording for ITV. Hardly a major concern, but somehow the video never seemed to have quite the same magic after that. The subsequent release of One Night in Turin has perhaps provided a more thorough visual account of England’s Italia ’90, but for a long time England’s World Cup Heroes was one of the main ways to recall it all in any depth.
Shoot! annual (various years)
Not specifically about England, but the national team featured prominently in the publication most years. From 1990 to 1994 the player depicted on the front cover was an England star, on a couple of occasions a Scotland player accompanying them to presumably avoid losing sales north of the border. Most football-loving adults of today would have received at least one football annual or yearbook as a child, whether it be Match, Roy of the Rovers, The Topical Times or numerous others. But Shoot! seemed the daddy of them all for probably two generations.
Deep down, I was never as keen on the annuals as the weekly publication. They usually seemed to have been produced months in advance and already felt a bit dated. But somehow they always felt like an essential part of Christmas when they were inevitably among the presents received. Although the regular magazine has had a rather turbulent time in the 21st century – leading to it eventually disappearing from the shelves – it’s been pleasing to spot the 2016 Shoot! annual on sale in the shops in recent weeks. If many youngsters today don’t appreciate the significance of the Shoot! brand, then their dads – and possibly even their grandads – can certainly tell them how it was once a key part of their football diet.
England Subbuteo team (various)
Although the onset of computer games meant Subbuteo was less in vogue by the early 1990s than it once had been, it was still fairly popular and there remained a wide range of teams for sale in most toy shops (sadly its initial demise was not far away). England fans were well looked-after, with each new kit usually greeted with a Subbuteo team being issued to match. The period also saw teams produced with a mixture of white and black players at long last. England may have crashed out of Euro ’92 in forgettable fashion but a few hours playing Subbuteo with Gary Lineker smashing the goalscoring record and leading them to trophy glory could help make up for it. Well, a tiny bit anyway.
FIFA International Soccer (1993)
Again a slightly more general item, but England were at the heart of the first game in the FIFA series from EA Sports – David Platt was on the cover and only international teams were included – which has become an annual favourite since then and grown beyond all recognition. Released just in time for Christmas 1993 on the Sega Mega Drive, the first edition seems primitive now from looking at the graphics and gameplay but several features were considered advanced and innovative at the time – crowd noise for example – and it was seen as offering more detailed animation than many predecessors in the football computer games market.
It was though not without faults even by the standards of the time, including no penalty-shoot-out mode to settle drawn games – perhaps a good thing for England fans! – and having a good chance of scoring simply by standing in front of the opposing goalkeeper as they prepared to kick the ball clear (it would frequently rebound off the forward and go in). Anyone playing as England wouldn’t find Platt, Alan Shearer or anyone else in the team, not even similarly named players. Instead it was invented names representing England or those who were involved in producing the game. The number of nations included was relatively small, mainly restricted to established football nations. But there was one exception whose presence was a little surprising – Qatar. Perhaps we should have known then that FIFA had big plans for them in the future…
Computer games and the FIFA series have long moved on, but there’s a part of me that preferred the more simplistic approach that was in place back then.
England Corinthian figures (1995)
What could anyone have wanted Santa to bring them in 1995 more than a Warren Barton Corinthian figure?
There had been attempts at models of football players before, but Corinthian broke the mould when it issued its first set of 16 England figurines late in 1995. It quickly became clear it was onto a winner, with the England collection soon followed by club sets and a second batch of England personnel in time for Euro ’96.
The strong facial resemblance to the players they represented, the fact you didn’t have to try to assemble or paint the figures after buying them and their pocket-sized nature meant the sets quickly appealed to fans, particularly as they could be neatly laid out and purchased either individually or in bulk packs (the latter being a particularly popular Christmas item). But still one question remained. How had Warren Barton, who won just three England caps in total, made it into the first set of 16 players ahead of more established names such as Paul Gascoigne?
Merry Christmas to all readers of this blog and followers of our Twitter account – we look forward to sharing many more England-related memories throughout 2016.