How to save football’s “bible”

Sports commentator John Motson – always a fan of the book. Photo: PA

THE LATEST edition of the yearbook that has forever been known as the “Rothmans” has reached its 50thanniversary, but how long will the doorstop of football data be around?

The last two books have been backed by the tabloid newspaper, The Sun – an unlikely partner but nevertheless a welcome one. In 2018, it was revealed that the publication was in danger of ending, just two years off its 50th. The Sun stepped in, but the lack of appetite from the previous sponsors underlined that the times had changed and like many over items we once took for granted, consumer behaviour and technology had almost made the football “bible” redundant.

It’s understandable that the unwieldy 1,000-page handbook might no longer be so crucial to football journalists, statisticians and geeks. The online world provides everything you can find in the book and laptops, tablets and phones make the whole process far more portable. When the book was first launched in 1970, it was a revelation – nobody had ever produced something that contained so much essential information.

Those early books were quite literally, “unputdownable”, from the line-ups of every game played in the past season to primitive maps of football grounds and diagrams of great goals. Then there was the Rothman’s XI from the previous campaign, people like Banks, Moore, Charlton and Johnstone staring back at you among the facts and figures. Each season, the arrival of the Rothman’s was eagerly anticipated, the first sighting was almost like the first Cuckoo of spring or the new wine from France.

The book’s weak spot was its lack of editorial, a shortage of genuine comment or insight on the state of the game or new developments. Unlike cricket’s Wisden, on which the Rothman’s was based, reading material was scarce. Plenty of reference work, but very little flesh on the bones. The diary section which was very popular and acted as a useful aide memoire, was scrapped some years ago and with that went a record of events and a sense of context.

Most yearbooks fell by the wayside down the years. The only real contender has been the old News of the Worldbook which has lived beyond the demise of that newspaper and still acts as a handy rucksack companion. In some ways, this book is more suited for the current age than the heavyweight champion.

But if the Sun book fails to live beyond its half-century, somebody, somewhere, should consider repackaging the product to meet contemporary requirements. Let’s face it, everyone wants info on football, the game has never been more popular. But younger people will not, in a million years, carry a big book around with them. They want everything at their fingertips.

The ideal offering could combine print and digital. The older generation of fan will still prefer to have a paper version, not just for the completist in them, but also because there’s an element of trust in the printed word. At the same time, digital means there are no limits and the product could leverage the advanced technology that is being used to exploit “big data”.

The new book could be substantially smaller but contain all the essential information that would enable continuity to be maintained. Repetition could be avoided, variety introduced and complementary editorial satisfying a definite need.

A slick, streamlined book, along with vast databases that would be accessible through the purchase of the printed version, may breathe new life into the yearbook and also win new followers.

As it stands, the small print of the book gets harder to read for the book’s traditional audience. Pretty soon, the old die-hards (of which I am one, incidentally), will find the purchase of a magnifying glass or special lighting is needed to make full use of a tome that has become an integral part of being a football fan.

I’m glad to say I have all 50 editions, but I would welcome a change if it meant it would survive into the future.


One thought on “How to save football’s “bible”

  1. I also have every edition (or will have when I get the ‘new’ one).
    This article sums up the golden years of the early editions. It was the first time that line-up information was available in one place. This was a joy.
    I like that this article doesn’t just wring its hands at the possible loss of a long-standing friend but also offers a possible solution.
    But, overall, I am not that optimistic. The digital age provides many benefits (typing this is one small example!) but is also a steamroller that can’t be stopped. The ‘Rothmans’ may end up being flattened…

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