Back in 1979, the home shopping boom was in full swing as women up and down the UK (never men, of course) were filling out their application forms to stock up on everything they needed for a Yuletide to remember.
But what to get for little Johnny, the football-mad little scamp whose very existence revolved around soccer? To begin with, how about Freemans' wide selection of boots? From the gorgeous red stripes on the Adidas Inters to the stomach-turning green stripes of the Adidas Madrids, there was something for everyone and every budget.
Secondly, the name Gola equated to 'Cheapo' back in the late 1970's. An esteemed heritage in the manufacture of sporting equipment they may have had, but they were no Adidas and all my mates at school knew it. I therefore tried my best not to be seen in public sporting my Gola boots for fear of being pointed at and laughed out of town.
A pity, then, that Freemans had so many pairs of Gola boots on sale in their catalogue, but I dare say many children of my age ended up owning them. Either that or they're decomposing horrendously slowly at the bottom of a million and one landfill sites.
But hey - you don't have to be playing football to wear your nattiest footwear! When mooching around the house, you could still look the part (and look a prat) with a pair of 'soft fabric slippers with football scene vamp-print', whatever the hell that was. Perhaps that's shoe-making terminology for 'blurry image of the 1979 FA Cup Final'. Alternatives were available showing Kermit the Frog or Spiderman, but neither of them could stick the ball in the net like Alan Sunderland, so yah-boo to them.
How about a game of football before bed, though? No, not real football - Foosball! Freemans had not one but two foosball tables, one a cheap six-a-side version, the other a full eleven-a-side edition where both teams wore colourful kits reminiscent of that time when Colombia played Romania in the 1994 World Cup. (And before you ask, I have checked - Carlos Valderrama does not feature in this version).
As I recently mentioned on Football Attic Podcast 21, I used to own a foosball table when I was young. More than anything else, I remember the constant times when I tried in vain to bring the ball back into play whenever it rolled into the corner, beyond the reach of my rod-mounted players. Not for me the scoring of a Ronnie Radford-style netbuster; instead, the technical limitations of the game's design that required all too many drop ball situations.
Do modern-day foosball tables have some way of ensuring the ball is always reachable? Are the corners of the pitch sloped so that the ball always rolls back into play? If anyone knows, do get in touch...
You'll notice I cunningly said 'a game of football before bed' earlier with all the subtlety and poise of a highly-respected writer. I did so to lay down a smooth path towards the next item on the list which is a set of football pillowcases. (You don't get this kind of subtlety with Barry Glendenning, you know...)
There were three pillowcase designs to choose from, all printed in red, and all, totally coincidentally, sporting the name of a First Division team that plays in red - Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.
But enough of this undoubted mail-order flotsam and jetsam. What your 9-year-old self really needed was proper football stuff, and it was provided in spades on page 771 of Freeman's 'club book' bible. Here was where you'd find ACTUAL FOOTBALL KITS AND TRACKSUITS... as long as you supported Liverpool or England. Or both.
Still, PHWOOOAAR, eh? I mean look at those replica kits... don't they look fantastic? Virtually spot-on in every detail and as authentic as you could ever have wanted. Granted, the England kit by Admiral only had about six months of shelf life left before it was replaced by The Greatest England Home Kit Ever ®, but no-one knew that at the time.
The tracksuits were the same - beautifully executed and just like the real thing. But what about the price of all this stuff? Did Mum and Dad have the moolah to kit out their child in the style of Kenny Dalglish? Well a full replica Liverpool set from the Freemans Autumn/Winter 1979 catalogue would have cost you £8.95 - that's £44.88 in today's money. The 2014/15 equivalent from the Liverpool FC official online store costs £68.97 - that's an increase of 54%. Proof, if it were needed, that kids these days need very well-off parents to help them emulate their football idols.
As sick jokes go, however, the '12-panel laceless (i.e. made after 1964) football' must surely take some beating, for here was a cheap replica of the exact ball that eluded Bonetti three times in England's defeat to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup. The makers even managed to get the exact colour match by taking samples from a beige Austin Allegro.
Can you imagine Bonetti wanting to be reminded of that when he put his name to such a gift set? Perhaps it's no wonder that he retired mid-way through 1979 to become a postman on the Isle of Mull in order to get away from such things.
Finally, as was often the case with mail-order catalogues of this kind, there was a selection of books to calm the minds of young kids and First Division goalkeepers everywhere. Not that there were any football annuals, mind - just a big old tome entitled 'Purnell's New Encyclopaedia of Association Football'.
Running to 190 pages, it was a fairly generic compendium of records, statistics and various other facts and figures, the like of which many kids (such as my juvenile self) found fascinating while waiting to become a mature adult. Whether the book was more fascinating than actually being a mature adult is a matter for personal opinion, but at least you'd have been happier receiving it as a Chirstmas present than 'Purnell's Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Horses and Riding'. Bleggggh.
-- Chris Oakley