Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Remember League Ladders?
Free gifts in comics now seem to be mainly produced by outside firms who supply various cheap plastic novelties within an appropriate package for the relevant comic. Therefore similar mini pinball games etc could turn up in anything from Dandy to Spectacular Spider-Man just with a different backing card, and with most UK comics on the whole aimed at a younger reader than they used to be, free plastic toys are the standard.
Twenty, thirty, forty years ago things were much different. Free gifts were a rare treat, not an expected regular feature. They were used to help launch a new comic or to give it a boost at occasional intervals. Producing the free gifts in-house, editors had to be inventive as the budget usually limited them to creating ideas from cardboard (or at a push, cardboard, elastic bands, and maybe a balloon).
The variety of free gifts they came up with will be a subject for a later blog, but amongst the most popular were the "Football League Ladders". Readers of the football magazine Shoot! will no doubt remember those, as they were given away in Shoot! No.1 (1969) and yearly thereafter for decades. However, the idea was older than the magazine itself, as Valiant proudly presented them free back in September 1964. (See photos.)
A simple concept: a single sheet of card, with pre-cut "Team Tabs" down each side which you'd press out and place in the pre-cut slots on the division "ladders". (Third and Fourth Division teams usually came free the following week.) Every Sunday we'd study the papers for each team's position, and change the tabs around to accurately reflect their latest standing. Even for a non-sporty type like me it seemed fascinating and would occupy a half hour or so.
I wonder how many readers kept up the chore throughout the whole season? Not me I'm afraid. I'd always give up after a few months, and the League Ladders would either be put away and forgotten, losing half the tabs in the process, or thrown away to make room for more comics.
Do the football mags still give away these Ladders at the start of every season? Somehow I doubt it, as I'm sure kids now just bookmark a footie page on the internet for the team positions instead. (Plus there are more divisions, more leagues... too complex for a simple cardboard chart perhaps?)
As I said earlier, I'll be writing a blog covering free gifts in general eventually, so if you have any memorable favourites, let me know and I'll try to include them. (I'll be mainly focusing on the 1960s to 1980s.)