Football cards were first issued in 1887 by Bradford toy shop owner John Baines. The self-styled ‘Football Card King’ operated from a dolls’ hospital on Bradford’s North Parade, and distributed his cards from a brightly-painted carriage pulled by a horse with a monkey on its back.
The small shield-shaped cards featured colourful depictions of teams and kits, and sometimes drawings of popular players. Baines created demand for his products via ingenious promotions, including hidden gold medal cards that could be exchanged for prizes. Eager Victorian kids would queue outside confectioners for new deliveries in an effort to get hold of the latest cards. They traded them via a card-flicking game known as ‘skaging’, with the winner taking all.
Inevitably, as the popularity of Baines cards soared, competitors arrived, notably from WN Sharpe, also from Bradford, who produced a huge range of ‘Play Up!’ cards featuring hundreds of different teams and players. Tobacco companies also began to produce football cards. The first set of football cigarette cards was produced in 1896 by Manchester firm Marcus & Co. The ‘Footballers and Club Colours’ collection is now extremely rare and valuable.
Illustrated comics and serials were also all the rage in the late 19th century, and football was a popular subject matter. Comics such as Fun and Funny Folk published cartoons highlighting the humorous side of football, and young Victorians were gripped by football serials that appeared in magazines like Big Budget and the Boys of England Journal.
The king of the football comic serial was Maxwell Scott, the author of such potboilers as Stolen: The English Cup!, The Goalkeeper’s Revenge, and The Missing Forward, many of which featured his popular character Kenyon Ford, 'the most famous of modern detectives since the death of Sherlock Holmes'.
Victorian comics also promoted football tournaments for readers, such as the Big Budget Football Cup, which offered winners a ‘grand-looking’ silver cup and ‘handsome’ medals.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.
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