Digging into my backlog of pre-war sets to write about. Might as well start off with some soccer to fill the some of the hole that’s resulted from cancelling sports worldwide.
These are from the 1934 Player’s Cigarettes Hints on Association Football set. They have very similar artwork to my 1928 cards but depict generic footballers instead of specific people. As a result this set is super cheap since it’s not about the players but is instead a more thematic checklist.
Since thematic checklists are something that I love about pre-war cards* I was not deterred by the absence of any real players. Plus as a soccer fan I love just seeing the artwork and reading the backs as a way of learning how the game looked and how it was played 85 years ago.
*The Romance of the Heavens set is a perfect example of this kind of thing.
Many of the cards feature routine actions that soccer players are expected to be able to make. Kicking, tackling, saving. etc. In many cases, such as not kicking with your toes, the advice is as valid today as it was back then. In other cases such as not knowing how a ball swerves, it’s clear how far the modern game has come.
Most of the cards are vertical but there are a handful of horizontal ones. I especially like the horizontal artwork since it offers both a wonderful depth of focus in the composition and the player’s-eye perspective of the field is fantastic.
The “‘W’ Formation” card is particularly awesome because it captures the specific moment in soccer strategy where the W-M formation was taking over England.
Flipping those cards over shows that three of them describe still-relevant tactics. The card describing the outside forward cutting in feels like it could still be describing the modern inverted winger. As someone who came of age with inverted wingers being described as a modern development to the game, I love seeing the idea described in the 1930s as just regular tactics.
The “‘W’ Formation” card meanwhile continues to be super-interesting since it describes the development of the “M” component of the formation in the centre half dropping back into the middle of a three-man defensive line. I grew up with 4-4-2 as the default formation everywhere and while I’ve learned about the evolution of tactics and formations, I also haven’t ever seen a primary source like this which describes an earlier standard.
Some more cards I just love. The goalkeeper’s cap is awesome. “When not to shoot” makes me laugh since it’s probably the most-relevant card for any youth coach. The kickoff card though is a great follow-up to the W formation one since it shows the five-man forward line before the two inner forwards drop back behind the center forwards and the wingers.
Also, with the modern game* allowing you to pass the ball backwards immediately from the kickoff, seeing three men in the circle instead of only one (or the two I grew up with) is also a huge change in how the game actually looks.
*As of 2016!
On the backs of these cards, I love that letting the ball run is presented as a specifically-Scottish strategy but it’s the goal kick description that really jumps out a me. Most of the cards describe what usually happens in a game and, by extension, what players should learn to do. The goal kick card though suggests strategy despite it not occurring regularly in games.
Rather than kicking it long the card suggests that keeping possession and passing it shorter to a teammate might be a better course of action than the standard procedure. As a Barcelona fan who believes that teams should keep possession and try and play out the back, this makes me very happy .
Some more tactics cards which show that the game is still very much the same as it was then. All of these are about passing or seeing the potential of space where a play might develop. There’s something especially wonderful about the empty green field that these cards suggest which reminds me of the abstraction in Richard Swarbrick’s Gareth Bale animation a decade ago.
There’s a lot more field out beyond the edges. These cards suggest the promise of that empty space and the potential to just run into it. It’s that space and the collective gasp by the crowd when a perfect ball is played into it which is what captures a soccer fan’s imagination.
I’m intrigued that the passback card doesn’t mention the goalie picking up the ball. In many ways this description, while a bit more conservative than the modern game, suggests that the pass backs were originally much closer to the way we use them now than they were in those dire years when you could just kill time passing back and forth to the goalie.
I also need to point out how the triangular movement card mentions the change to the offsides law. In 1925 the law was changed to reduce the number of defenders between an attacker and the goal line from three to two. I’m not sure why this would make certain plays harder unless perhaps this card represents a tactic that’s re-developing after defenses had adjusted to playing a newer offside trap.
The rest of the cards are similarly cool with great artwork and colors. It’s a great set and a lot of fun page through and read.