The football cartoon was an inexplicably popular staple of football publishing in the second half of the twentieth century, and so, in a dubious BTLM tribute to their longevity (rather than their humour), our new regular Football Funnies series looks back on decades of bad puns masquerading as light relief from proper football writing.
We should probably make clear the distinction here between football cartoons strips and football cartoons. The former was well represented in respected comics like Roy of the Rovers and Scorcher that at least had a format that allowed stories to develop over multiple frames. The cartoons we are focusing on here were mostly of the single frame variety.
These were a between-the-war publishing invention and in an age when photographic reproduction was cumbersome and costly, cartoons were seen as a cheap and easy way to bring a visual break to heavy blocks of text. And yet even as photographs became more cost-effective for publishers, cartoons remained with us more out of habit than for any other discernible reason. It certainly wasn’t because they were howlingly funny to football fans young or old, even when put in context of simpler times when Carry On films attracted millions of paying customers to cinemas.
The Carry On reference is perhaps apposite as that particular strand of British seaside postcard humour tended to flavour most football cartoons too. What these cartoons lacked in mirth-inducing guffaws, they made up for as interesting chronicles of social trends and a rapidly evolving football culture. Among the typical cartoons about pedantic referees and battleaxe football widows; as the 60s and the 70s arrived cartoons also reflected both serious and banal developments in the game: whether terrace violence or long-haired players. Trends in broader popular culture like glam-rock and punk were even referenced.
Each edition of Football Funnies will feature a set of cartoons drawn from a range of periodicals from the 1950s to the 1980s and focus around a single football theme. Our first reflects the cultural shift that took place in the 60s when football’s once scorned brutal hard men started to become fetishised as anti-heroes of the game. Disclaimer: BTLM accepts no liability for split sides or chortle related ailments caused by the publication of these cartoons.