Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Cricket in Tiger - Part Two

Barrie Tomlinson is among the greats of UK comic history, dating back to when he first joined Fleetway Publications in 1961. Barrie became Tiger editor in 1969 before taking on the same role from the launch of Roy of the Rovers in 1976 (but retaining involvement in Tiger). Those two comics represent the tip of the iceberg for Barrie’s work in publishing but as this blog is titled Cricket Attic we’ll be focusing on Tiger’s hugely significant contribution to the summer game – especially during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Part two of this exclusive interview covers the post-1977 era once Tony Greig’s time as Tiger’s first cricket columnist was up:    

Cricket Attic: Tony Greig’s departure from the England side meant you were looking for a new cricket columnist and you settled on Geoff Boycott. Except negotiations were tough and they went right up to the time he was due to leave for the 77/78 tour of Pakistan as vice-captain. But you got your man in the end! Geoff became quite the signing for Tiger as he was pictured with the comic around the world and promoting competitions such as for ‘Test Match’ games. You also did a cricket quiz book and annual with him as well as becoming Melchester Rovers chairman in 1984. Not to mention his illustrated ‘Play the Geoff Boycott Way’ coaching series. That must be one of the best player relationships you ever had?

Barrie: The negotiations were tough but we got on well. After all these years I am still in touch with him. I am so pleased his time working with my comics was a happy experience for him. I mentioned in my book ‘Comic Book Hero’ that I once went to Lord’s Cricket Ground to meet Geoffrey Boycott. It was a non-match day and at that time the ground had lots of rules and regulations. They wouldn’t let me into the ground, despite me saying that I had an appointment with Geoffrey and I was from IPC Magazines, a very large publishing house. No entry. I was stuck outside. Then I said “I’m from Tiger!” Immediately, attitudes changed. “From Tiger? Of course you can come in!”

That’s what Tiger meant in those days. Everyone loved the title.

We still keep in touch – here’s a recent photo!


 

 


Geoff even played Trevor Francis at Subbuteo with Dickie Bird at the 25th anniversary event in 1979 – quite a trio!

I was pleased to invite so many stars to our Tiger birthday celebrations. The Subbuteo match between Geoffrey and Trevor was something special. As was having Dickie Bird as referee. Dickie was a great fan of Tiger and I always enjoyed listening to his cricketing stories. After the 25th party, I remember we all went out to dinner afterwards. It was a great evening.


 

Once Geoff Boycott joined the SA rebel tour in 1982 you were looking for another cricket columnist…who better than Ian Botham. I understand some of those negotiations took place in the pub?   

It wasn’t because of the rebel tour that we changed writers. It was just time for a change and Geoffrey had already made sure that Ian knew all about Tiger. Yes, I did first meet Ian in a Fleet Street pub!


 

David Gower was also a big friend of Tiger – writing an exclusive article for the 1979 'World Cup Superstars' poster magazine and putting his name to the ‘Stumped’ cricket quiz from 1982. You also took a famous photo of him in a swimming pool, with a copy of Tiger in hand. What do you remember about working with David?

It was a pleasant experience!  At that time, all the England cricket team seemed to know about Tiger.


 

There weren’t many cricket cartoon strips in Tiger but one was around at the time you started as editor ('The Slogger from Down Under') and there was also one at the end of the magazine's life in 84-85 ('Paceman'). Other characters would also turn their hand to cricket in the summer (especially Billy Dane and Nipper). Why do you think there was never a truly memorable, long-running cricket cartoon strip in Tiger?

We had so many very good, established stories that it was difficult for a cricket story to compete against them. I was always keen for established football stories to feature cricket in the summer.  I’m proud of coming up with the idea of Billy Dane having a pair of Dead-Shot’s old cricket boots!


 

Besides the regular contributors you also had numerous other famous cricketing names involved with Tiger such as Denis Compton, Ted Dexter, Jim Laker, Bob Willis, Phil Edmonds and Brian Johnston. Do any stories particularly stick out from them?       

The players whose names you mentioned all came to our Tiger presentation lunches. It was thrilling to meet my boyhood heroes Denis Compton and Jim Laker.

I edited a magazine for Phil Edmonds for his benefit year and that was great fun to do.  All the famous people I met during my career were really nice people. Tiger had a good reputation and that made it so much easier!

Thank you to Barrie for speaking to Cricket Attic.

If you want to know more about Barrie’s life in comics here are his two books to date…with a third on the way! 


 

Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Roy-Rovers-Stuff-Story/dp/178531212X/ref=sr_1_2?qid=1655462986&refinements=p_27%3ABarrie+Tomlinson&s=books&sr=1-2

Comic Book Hero - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Comic-Book-Hero-Working-Britains-ebook/dp/B075WTT9KR/ref=sr_1_8?qid=1655462986&refinements=p_27%3ABarrie+Tomlinson&s=books&sr=1-8

Friday, 17 June 2022

Cricket In Tiger – Part One

Barrie Tomlinson is among the greats of UK comic history, dating back to when he first joined Fleetway Publications in 1961. Barrie became Tiger editor in 1969 before taking on the same role from the launch of Roy of the Rovers in 1976 (but retaining involvement in Tiger). Those two comics represent the tip of the iceberg for Barrie’s work in publishing but as this blog is titled The Cricket Attic we’ll be focusing on Tiger’s hugely significant contribution to the summer game – especially during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Part one of this exclusive interview goes up to 1977 and the end of Tony Greig’s time as Tiger’s first cricket columnist:    

Cricket Attic: Having joined Fleetway in 1961, you became Tiger editor in 1969 and transformed it into the publication it became during its heyday in the 1970s. Among your innovations was to make it purely a sports publication, introduce the Tiger Sports Star of the Year and to focus more on ‘real life’ sport besides the fictitious characters (including an increasing amount of photography). Some of the front covers with celebrities during the 1970s and early ‘80s are iconic – did you make a conscious effort to feature more ‘real life’ sport alongside the popular fictitious characters?

Barrie Tomlinson: I'd been a reader of the original Eagle and I’d been impressed with how the editor featured real life sport alongside the stories and had articles by top sports personalities. I thought Tiger should be the same. A bit of a gamble but it worked! The Tiger Sports Star of the Year competition was very popular with readers and with me. We had some great winners, including Ann Jones, Gordon Banks, Jackie Stewart, Mary Peters, David Steele, James Hunt, Geoffrey Boycott, Peter Shilton, Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson.

CA: The first cricketer to win Tiger Sports Star of the Year was David Steele in 75/76 and you spent a day at the County Ground, Northampton to award him with the trophy. What do you remember about that day?

Barrie: It was a good day! David was a nice man to meet and to chat to. He later visited the Tiger offices and I was pleased to show him how we produced the title. At that time, our presentations were quite low key. They later became star-studded presentation lunches!


 

CA: In the early ‘70s you had photos of cricket team groups and some individual player pics in ‘Your Choice’ but the cricket coverage really cranked up a notch in 1975 when you had a World Cup booklet series and signed Tony Greig as a columnist. Had did you manage to sign up the player who became England skipper that summer?


 

Barrie: I can’t remember how I first made contact with him but I can remember going down to see him at Hove and being impressed with his enthusiasm for writing his Tiger columns.

CA: You had a coaching session with Tony, batting and wicketkeeping, so what was that experience like?

Barrie: It was a bit magical. I picked up more tips in ten minutes than in a lifetime of coaching!

CA: During the 1975 summer you also did a photoshoot with the Australian touring side and even got Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to dress up as Santa for a future Christmas edition. How did you manage to pull that off?


 

Barrie: I spoke to their British agent and arranged a photo session at London’s Waldorf Hotel.  They were great guys and seemed to enjoy posing for the Christmas photos.

CA: Tony Greig continued to write for Tiger during the summer of 1977, when he had been recruiting players for World Series Cricket. That must have been quite a coup?

Barrie: Yes. Tony and myself had long discussions about how the articles would continue and continue they did!


 

CA: You mention in 'Comic Book Hero' that there were plans to launch a cricket magazine and you went to Australia to see Tony Greig and Kerry Packer to build contacts. Can you please give me a bit more background on this?

Barrie: Yes, I put the idea forward for a modern Shoot! style cricket mag. I needed to make lots of contacts so I went out to Australia and got to know England and Australian players and journalists.  I thought we could make it a magazine reflecting the changes Kerry Packer was making with his World Series Cricket. Tony Greig was very keen but Kerry Packer wasn’t so much. It was during an Ashes series and Geoffrey Boycott was certainly there so I guess it was the 78-79 Australian season. Anyway, when I got back, I was told to produce a football magazine, rather than a cricket one! Top Soccer was the title, eventually launched for a short-lived run from September 1979 (David Hunt was ultimately asked to edit with Barrie focusing on his existing publications).

Next week – Part Two…the Geoff Boycott era!

If you want to know more about Barrie’s life in comics here are his two books to date…with a third on the way!

Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Roy-Rovers-Stuff-Story/dp/178531212X/ref=sr_1_2?qid=1655462986&refinements=p_27%3ABarrie+Tomlinson&s=books&sr=1-2

Comic Book Hero - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Comic-Book-Hero-Working-Britains-ebook/dp/B075WTT9KR/ref=sr_1_8?qid=1655462986&refinements=p_27%3ABarrie+Tomlinson&s=books&sr=1-8

 

Thursday, 30 July 2020

1993 AXA Equity & Law League Shirts

Cricket In Colour – Part 2

The story of the first coloured clothing in county cricket...

You never forget your first.

And so it is that county cricket fans of a particular vintage will always remember the 1993 season with great fondness.


Prior to that year, club shops (or tents/trestle tables depending on the venue) had very little on offer in terms of garments upon which your county’s name could be worn with pride.

A sun hat here, the occasional t-shirt there…a rosette if your team reached a Cup Final.

That all changed when the Test & County Cricket Board (TCCB) finally jumped on the coloured clothing bandwagon – already sported in Australian domestic cricket for a decade by then – to mark the relaunch of the one-day league competition.

There had been talk of such attire being showcased for the 1992 season but those plans were rebuffed.

Once the counties got wind of how many 1992 Cricket World Cup shirts were sold by English distributor and manufacturer Hogger Sports (in the region of 100,000), the potential pound signs that fluttered past their eyes proved irresistible.

Coloured clothing – of some form – was not an entirely new concept in English cricket as various shades and hues were donned as far back as the 1750s until the end of the 19th Century.


By the time of the early 1990s, however, there was a conservatism that had the sport in a firm headlock.

Indeed, according to TCCB marketing manager Terry Blake, had negotiations taken a different turn ahead of the 1993 relaunch of the one-day league, coloured clothing might even have been delayed still further:  

“The Sunday League had lost its sponsor (Refuge, after the 1991 season) so in the planning for the new tournament I distinctly remember a debate about coloured clothing,” says Blake. “In those days quite a lot of things were beginning to open up. So, for instance, the England team was also able to have a sponsor for the first time. It was around then we got Tetley Bitter on board (first appearing on the Test shirts in 1992). Stump logos were agreed; pitch logos began to come in more often and other things of that sort.

“I remember two things distinctly: one was going to Persil and asking them if they wanted to sponsor the Sunday League and they could have the choice of keeping it white and appealing to the traditional fan base – here’s the sponsor that kept cricket in white clothing in England. But they didn’t agree to it so we inevitably went towards coloured clothing.”

A sponsorship deal was eventually brokered with AXA Equity & Law in August 1992 – at £2.5m over three years with matches now consisting of 50- rather than 40-overs-per-side - and a lavish catwalk event was held at The Oval that autumn to showcase the new kits  

“One of the selling points for AXA was that it was going to be in coloured clothing – so there would be something new and innovative for them to latch on to,” explains Blake. “We had a lot of insurance companies involved around that time (Britannic, Refuge, AXA - who took over Equity & Law - and Cornhill). Anything to stand out from the crowd was a positive, so AXA were right behind the [coloured clothing] initiative.”

On the back of their Cricket World Cup exploits, Hogger Sports was assigned to do the manufacturing.

Having been part of their previous success, former Essex and Nottinghamshire fast bowler Ian Pont was once more a key member of the Hogger team:

“Basically, the 1992 World Cup gave us all the confidence to take it forward,” says Pont. “There was little if any history of replica sales of shirts. So the TCCB were pretty happy to insist that the Sunday League be played in colour and, of course, we were the only company with a track record. It was very odd, having been a player four years previously, going back to Lord's in a corporate capacity and having to deal with county chairmen and bosses!”

For the all-important design that would make or break the success and legacy of the shirts, the TCCB got Tobasgo Creative on board - who had also been involved with the 1992 CWC.

Tobasgo’s Gail and Alan Martin opted for a small number of patterns that would ease both the design process and the eventual manufacturing required from Hogger Sports. 

Gail Martin explains: “It was decided to keep the number of different designs to four purely for simplicity - and that these would provide enough colour ways to differentiate each team. Coloured clothing came with the introduction of day/night games and the white ball - it was important that the pads were also coloured so that the ball was easily seen.”

Pont adds: “The four options of design meant we could control the fabric patterns and production. As we were supplying ALL the kit to the players as well, it was a very large investment and we didn't want 18 different designs. Far easier to produce different colour ways.”

Unsurprisingly, some of the more established elements of the media and county memberships were appalled by what they saw as the defilement of the county game.


With 18 different approaches to promoting the shirts, it was a lot harder for Hogger to reap the type of rewards they had for the World Cup, when just the interest of the two finalists alone was enough to make the investment worthwhile.

“We decided at the end of 1994, that it might not be as financially fruitful to stay involved with the coloured clothing in the UK,” Pont continues. “Some of the counties were slow to take up the opportunity whilst others, like Lancashire in particular, really embraced it. We paid the TCCB a cut of the shirt sale price in return for the right to the UK market. In 1995, they realised they could charge for the rights, due to its marketability, and that’s when we decided not to bid for the kit - as it wouldn’t make economic sense. Pony decided to go for it presumably as they could then leverage other clothing into retail outlets, but paid far more than we wanted to.”  

Despite the lukewarm attitude in some quarters at the time, many fans look back with reverence at their team’s first venture into coloured clothing. Indeed, several counties have worked the original AXA League shirt into their marketing over the last few years.

Having also been involved in designing the 1992 and 1999 Cricket World Cup shirts – not to mention the branding for T20 cricket in 2003 among numerous other cricket assets – Tobasgo can lay claim to one of the most accomplished sports branding portfolios over the last 30 years.  

“I think sometimes we underestimate what we actually achieved - too busy enjoying it I suspect,” says Gail Martin, modestly.

Hogger Sports had a much shorter involvement in cricket – ending with the 1994-95 England World Series Cup outfit – but their dynamism in the promotion of coloured clothing at its outset in the UK should never be underestimated.  

Pont reflects: “I am proud of the fact that we spotted this opportunity and began a wholesale development of coloured clothing into domestic cricket. There was HUGE opposition to coloured clothing from the counties in 1993, but the sheer numbers of shirt sales from the 1992 World Cup proved that fans would want to wear their team shirts. It’s an odd thing as an ex-professional cricketer to be involved in something as historic as coloured clothing but, thanks to Bill Miller (Crampton/Hogger MD) and his vision, we managed to make a difference. And I really think the game is much better for it.”