When I was a kid of about nine or ten in the late seventies, there were no computers or Sky television to occupy us. We used to play out a lot – Playing kerby and football with our regulation size 5 Wembley Trophy Footballs and riding our Raleigh Choppers. That was great if it was fine, but this is Great Britain and rainy days frequently stopped the outdoor fun.
Indoors was a different matter. Sure there was children’s TV with Blue Peter, Cheggers Plays Pop and Runaround but only after school and only until the news came on at half past five. On Saturdays you could always watch World of Sport with the wrestling but what did you do while the darts was on? Fortunately for me my late seventies and early eighties were rescued by a subscription to Shoot! Magazine and my discovery of League Ladders.
A couple of weeks before the new football season started, Shoot! Magazine contained the best free gift that was ever given. Two sheets of flimsy cardboard. The sheets contained the Team Tabs, dodgily cut and ready to press out with all the teams names colourfully printed in their club colours (or quite often in some baffling random colours – Aldershot and Crystal Palace spring to mind - oh and that season when Plymouth played in purple!), and also the League Ladder itself – A square of card with the four English Divisions and three Scottish Divisions and a slot cut for every position in the league. The team tabs went into the slot corresponding to their league position.
The idea was that every weekend, after the matches had been played, you brought the League Ladders up to date by rearranging the positions of the team tabs according to the new league positions. This was usually a job for Sunday night after you’d finished taping the charts off the radio. This was because you only got a quick look at the tables on Grandstand on Saturday evening and you couldn't just press ‘pause’ back in those days. No, you had to wait for your Grandad to be finished with his Sunday paper before you could get down to the important business of updating your League Ladders.
But the truth was, barely had my club settled into mid-table mediocrity before I had given up the weekly, and frankly somewhat tedious task of bringing the tables up to date. That was because there was a much better game that you could play with League Ladders – The FA Cup Game!
It was only many years later that I discovered that I wasn’t the sole inventor of the FA Cup game but that young boys up and down the length of the country had also figured out for themselves this alternative use for League Ladders.
This is how it goes - You take your team tabs and put them all into a receptacle of your choosing. Mine, I vividly remember was a Sun-Pat peanut tin. You give it a good shake and start drawing them out one tie at a time. At this point you may wish to annoy your parents by adopting your best and loudest Bert Millichip voice and saying “Exeter City…will play…West Bromwich Albion..” etc. The League Ladder card was the perfect place to arrange the tabs as they were drawn out.
Then came the serious business of playing out the ties. In my method, both team’s tabs went into the Sun Pat tin and after a good shake were emptied out onto the carpet. If a team’s tab landed face up, that team were awarded a goal. A handicap system could be applied where teams were awarded extra shakes per division higher. The winning teams then went into the draw for the next round.
My Team Tabs barely saw out the season. All that shaking meant that they’d gotten a little bit soft and…well…fluffy round the edges. Luckily, it would soon be August and that meant new League Ladders! By the time I was into my teens, the Sun Pat tin was showing signs of wear with the odd dent and a rusty inside due to the beating it took from all the tabs. I now know that other people used dice to settle the ties, which seems so obvious now but never occurred to me at the time!
So what else did League Ladders do for me? I still to this day know the home grounds of all the 92 league clubs – at least as they stood in 1978! No-one will ever tell me that Swansea City play anywhere other than Vetch Field and Everyone knows that Derby County play their home games at the Baseball Ground! It was right there printed on the bottom of my tabs.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and amidst all the technology that’s available to keep us entertained – Playstations, Netflix, Sky Sports, Drone thingies with cameras on them – I wake up one morning wanting nothing more than a set of League Ladders to play with. So here they are – my childhood – and possibly…hopefully…yours too! – recreated for the modern age. These are modern League Ladders – fan made – designed to get your nostalgia buds tingling!