God is in the detail

Some football sites want to tell you what you really need to know – but this month Ian Plenderleith celebrates those which go in the opposite direction and champion the glorious irrelevance of it all

 “Fascinating but spectacularly pointless” is a label that can be applied to many things in football – mascots, Alan Parry, the Rumbelows Sprint Challenge, Danny Wal­lace’s runs down the wing. To celebrate the game’s abund­ant tapestry of interesting but superfluous facts, people and memorabilia, On The Web this month unscientifically nom­inates a list (what could be more fascinating but pointless than a list?) of the top four Great But Useless websites.

4. Forty Year A-Z Players’ Career Details
What have Dean Martin, Steve Earl and Mark Smith in common? Top singers, obviously, but they have also played for Scunthorpe United. This information is available at the above-named site for certain, but not all, English and Scottish league clubs, but only going back as far as the 1959-60 season. However, new clubs are being added all the time, and don’t be put off by the randomness of the starting year.

Steve Earl’s career span was intriguing. He signed from Appleby Frodingham in 1974-75, didn’t like what he saw, went back to Appleby Frodingham, gained some more experience, and then returned for a second spell at Scun­thorpe from 1978-80 before moving to the appetisingly named Wichita Wings in the US. I used not to know any of that. Let your eyes wander and lose yourself in history. Be reminded of the forgotten mediocrities of yesteryear. Vince Grimes, for example (143 appearances in a Scunthorpe shirt be­tween 1977-82). Was there ever a name that better summed up the essence of post-war Eng­­lish football in the era before prawn vol-au-vents and other snazzy French imports?

3. Australian Online Soccer Museum
This is not to say that Australia has no soccer history worth speaking of. These sites are be­ing celebrated, not denigrated. So log in and read about the game’s roots down under, when teams such as Carlingford Magpies Merry Far­mers would jog to and from games, a necessity when they played local rivals Granville. “Our boys were no angels,” recalls one ac­count, “but there were plenty of wild colonial boys down there at Granville. If they got beaten in the game, the visitors would have to make a getaway quick smart before they were pelted with stones and missiles.” The road to the 1974 World Cup also makes for a good read (striker Ray Baartz was “felled by a ka­rate chop” from Uru­guayan de­fender Luis Garisto in a warm-up match). Then take a look at the series of car transfers issued by BP featuring teams of the Victorian State League in the 1960s. You’ll want the set

2. Galleries of English Football Cards 1965-66 to 1974-75
That brings us nicely to this webpage, which documents the names of the confectionery and petroleum companies that issued football cards and memorabilia during the above per­iod, the number of cards and, in some cases, links to galleries of the entire series. This site reminded me that I never really knew what an Esso “Squelcher” was (but I col­lected them anyway), and that, for a long period during 1972-73, I was upset with my Dad be­cause he refused to tank up at Cleveland, which was issuing huge great sexy stickers of “Forty Golden Goals”. He said their pump prices were too high. And though Esso’s FA Cup Centenary Medals were shiny enough, a seven-year-old knows no good substitute for a sticker. Esp­ecially when all his mates have got them.

1. Bob and 1970-71 Footballers

The top award goes to Bob Dunning for his site devoted to the 1970-71 season. Why that season in particular? Well, why the hell not? You can look at pictures of team squads in the days when they experimented with a cur­ved single line (Aldershot) or a triangular overhead shot (renowned innovators Chester City). Find out that former England international Bob Langton was manager of Burs­cough FC that season. Or that ex-Huddersfield player Roy Ellam was last seen running the Nel­son Inn in Thornton Lees. All in all, it’s a hotchpotch of completely worthless con­tent, regularly updated by a devoted host. Spin your rattles in tribute to a truly great but useless site.

From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month