In Praise Of… The Topical Times Football Book

By on Aug 5, 2008 in History, Latest | 23 comments

Of the many things that young people no longer do that I did in my youth, buying second-hand books is one that I am fairly confident never happens any more – at least not annuals from market stalls. On Saturday lunchtimes, as a boy I would go to the old band-stand in the centre of Enfield market and flick through the acres of old football books that they seemed to have for sale there. The price was usually written in pencil on the inside of the front page, and it was seldom more than twenty pence. I purchased dozens of old football books this way – most often “Roy Of The Rovers” annuals (they also usually kept an box of old copies of the weekly comic, if money was particularly tight), occasionally Rothmans Football Directories and, most commonplace of all, old copies of “The Topical Times Football Book”.

The internet hasn’t been kind to “The Topical Times Football Book”. In an environment in which the most arcane of historical details have been recorded in almost gynaecological detail, the history of this austere publication seems to have been lost to the ether. Sitting here, flicking through a pile of old TTFBs (ranging from 1965 to 1982), the feeling of nostalgia is almost overwhelming. There are no adverts in any of them, and there aren’t even any mentions made of what “The Topical Times” actually is. It sounds like it should be a racing newspaper like the “Racing Post”, but there are no mentions made of gambling and not even a byline for what these annual books are actually a annual compliation of.

On top of this, there is an endearing egalitarianism to them. Opening, say, the 1968/69 edition brings up a two page article on Southampton and colour photographs of, amongst others (of course), David Munks of Sheffield United and Bobby Hope of West Bromwich Albion. If it wasn’t for an almost desultory interview with Pat McCrerand towards the back and a page of grainy black & white photographs of (what would now be called) That Night At Wembley, you’d never even guess that Manchester United had, that May, been crowned the champions of Europe for the first time, and tougher still to establish that Manchester City had seen off their city rivals in a First Division championship battle that went to the very last day of the season.

It is difficult to say what the target age of TTFB is. The humour is certainly gentler (each edition has at least one page of cartoons that make one’s toes curls with their corniness), and there are hints that children might just be in the sights of their writers. Certainly, there is little room for anything approaching criticism in the world of TTFB, and the three or four pages given over to cartoon strips that seem to be already ten or fifteen years out of date. The feeling of being a relic, even as long ago as the late 1960s and early 1970s, seems to be pervasive. Did anyone apart from PE teachers, as long ago as 1972, call football “footer”? Because they do in that year’s edition of TTFB. The 1971 edition even features a cartoon called “The Goalie’s Name Was Muggins”, an arcane, sub-”Boys Own” story about a goalkeeper with a name lifted straight from the script of “Carry On Camping”.

Easy though it is to laugh at the out-dated nature of The Topical Times Football Book (one thing that it reminds you is that Britain in the 1970s was a much greyer and duller place than our rose-tinted memories might have us believe), the surprising thing about it is that it lasted for as long as it did. Again, it’s a struggle to get a definitive answer on this, but the last edition of it that I could find on sale anywhere is from 2001. Whether this advert was similarly devoid of advertising is, I should imagine, open to debate. That it survives on so many bookshelves, still occasionally flicked through by obsessionists such as myself, should be no great surprise to any of us.

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  1. Not familiar with that book, but one I used to collect was the Rothmans Football Yearbook.

    Sadly I don’t possess any of them now.

    Ack when you are chucking out things why does it always end up being the wrong thing.


    August 5, 2008

  2. I’m pretty sure the cartoons in those things actually were out of date – weren’t they archived syndicate stuff? My late 80s/ early 90s ones nearly always featured a Scottish team conspicuously based conspicuously on Ferguson’s Aberdeen…


    August 5, 2008

  3. Another great thing about those old annuals is that they are so politically incorrect by modern standards, especially when referring to ‘continentals’. The Empire lives on!

    Good comment about Britain being much greyer and duller than is commonly remembered. The country as a whole was in a mess for many years.

    Michael Oliver

    August 5, 2008

  4. I vaguely recall my grandad’s 1967 edition featuring a cartoon strip by the name of ‘Dad’s Boobs were Terry’s Inspiration’


    August 5, 2008

  5. I’ve got two Topical Times Football books. One is from 1980 and has a melee on the cover with Kenny Burns of Forest battling mid-air with a couple of QPR players and one from 1979 with what looks like Man U v Birmingham on the front. I don’t recognise any of the players. Birmingham are in an away strip of white shirts and blue shorts. Definitely looks like the Brum badge though. Adidas kit.

    The 1980 one has a selection of cartoons on the inside of the hard cover called “Seen at the Match”, none of which make any sense.

    The 1979 one has a large shot of goalmouth action. The front one appears to be Arsenal and the back one is a bit of a tussel between Rangers and Celtic and a ref.

    Like you say… all very random and odd.

    The thing is, that when I was a kid I was given a few TTFBs that belonged to various relatives dating from the mid sixties. I remember that the inside front covers, in these old ones, always had some mad cartoon images of people playing football in the street. Does anyone remember this? They were a full double-page thing with people hanging out of windows and that sort of thing.

    Kev M

    August 12, 2008

  6. Kev, in the 1979 one you have, does it have a photo of players holding up the sub boards with the message Happy New Year spelled out by any chance? Can’t find the photo anywhere!!!


    January 13, 2009

  7. great photographs in those books, and the quality of the colour is amazing-bit like technicolour-they gave every team a fair deal – I still regularly leaf through them- nostalgia street is where you will usually find me

    mick corri

    April 29, 2009

  8. Turning out my loft I have a copy of the Topical Times Football Book No.1, featuring Bobby Charlton on the cover. Also the Sportsview Book of Soccer No.3 (1960)& The Big Book of Football Champions (1960). A more innocent era for football when big money was absent.

    George C

    August 10, 2009

  9. there aren’t even any mentions made of what “The Topical Times” actually is.

    There’s not a Wikipedia page for it, which disappoints me. I never knew what it was either, even when I was reading their football annuals.

    I think you mean “sights”.


    August 10, 2009

  10. i have the 61/62 and i think its great


    August 27, 2009

  11. Hi,

    I have just come across this website by accident and I can throw some light on the subject. ‘Topical Times’ was a sports paper that ran from 1919 to 1939. Approximately half of the paper was football. The British Library has 1,050 issues dated from 8th October 1919 to 30 December 1939. From 1927/28 to 1939/40 they also issued a ‘Topical Times Football Annual’. These were pocket size statistical yearbooks much like ‘Playfair Football Annual’ and ‘News of the World/Nationwide Football Annual’. There was also a ‘Topical Times Sporting Annual’ which also ran from 1927/28 to 1939/40 (I have four of these in my collection). Like the paper, approximately half of the Sporting Annual was football.

    The name ‘Topical Times’ was revived in 1959 when they started publishing the ‘Topical Times Football Book’. This of course was a very different type of annual to the original. It was what some would call a boy’s annual with lots of features and pictures. The British Library has all editions from 1959 to 2001 (I only have six of these in my collection). There was also a ‘Topical Times Girls Book of All Sport’ first published in 1960.

    There was an earlier sports paper called ‘The Topical Times’ that ran from 1884 to 1907 and a paper called ‘Topical Times’ that ran from 1913 to 1914, not sure if these had anything to do with the later paper (above).

    I hope this information helps in some way.

    David Godfrey

    February 19, 2010

  12. just found this website.the topical times in my childhood was the”book” to have.five or six of us would travel all
    over the country getting autographs of the players,believe or not
    autographers still use the “tops” as it was nicknamed to get former player who are still alive or those that have gone into mamagement/coaching.i myself have the full collection with virtually every
    copy having autographs in collected by myself.

    mike hulton

    October 17, 2010

  13. just had a sort through some of my dads old football and rugby books and found lots of these topical times football annuals some as old as 1931/1932. so can you tell me anything about them? they are all wrapped in tissue paper and very delicate. are they valuable? cheers for any info

    mark tipping

    November 30, 2010

  14. yes they are valuable to a collector


    January 5, 2011

  15. my late father owned the entire collection but dont have any idea where to sell them


    January 9, 2011

  16. i used to get Topical Times Football annual every xmas in the 60′s. the great thing was the large glossy colour photos. In the age of B&W TV, annuals was where you saw the actual colour of the team strips!and the team badges. 40 years on, I still have them in the loft.


    August 11, 2011

  17. I have The topical times sporting annual 1937-38 Would any body know the best place to sell it as im not a football fan and seems a waist for me to have it


    September 18, 2011

  18. hi im looking for a topical times sporting annual 1939 , my grandad played for manchester utd and hes in that edition , so if anybody has it that would b great my email is thanks

    chris wassall

    March 16, 2012

  19. can anyone give me an estimate of what a complete set of topical times football annuals(1960-2002)is worth.

    eddie fleming

    October 29, 2012

  20. The 1979 Topical Times cover is United v Ipswich from 27th August 1977 (it finished 0-0)

    The 1978 cover is from United’s 4-4 draw with Red Star Belgrade on the 12th August 1975


    November 7, 2012

  21. Hi while clearing out my loft, I have come across a copy of one these books, it has no cover but i think it’s 1962 is anyone interested?


    March 30, 2013

  22. I chanced upon this site of Topical Times Football Book. It’s a delight to know that so many of you still recall this publication with fondness. My first copy is from 1962-63 and it reminds me how important traditional illustration was at that time, well before the age of computerisation. I loved particularly the artwork of the life of famous footballers, e.g. Johnny Haynes and Gordon Banks. But a big thrill were the full colour pictures of football stars. Browsing the books now the footballers of those years certainly don’t look too glamorous (except Best perhaps) but that’s a reflection of the times when the world was not so sophisticated any way. And Topical Times was the right name and book for us, even for a Chinese boy in faraway Singapore in 1963.
    Hock Yew (Singapore) 25 Sep 2013.

    Yeo Hock Yew

    September 25, 2013

  23. Can anyone confirm that the 1967-68 Topical times book contains an article about Brechin City and there famous hedge.

    Has anybody got this book for sale

    David Dooker

    October 21, 2013

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