Long before the “Coalition of the Willing”, there was synergy of a different kind between the United States and Australia – found in the designs of their football cards! In the 1960’s & 70s, many non-sport series were reproduced under licence from Topps in the US, and many sports card designs were adopted & adapted for local conditions.

The sixties in Australia was a simple time – Dad went to work while mum stayed at home in the kitchen, football was played on a Saturday, and kids stayed inside long enough to down a vegemite sandwich and a glass of milk before they raced back outside, playing madly until dark.

It seems to be also have been a time when the Scanlens Sweet company, who produced famous gum products for years in Australia, were without design initiative (or designers) when it came to their very own sports cards.

Times have changed on all these fronts – workplace equality, the football merry-go-round leaves us unsure where or when our team will play, and kids prefer computer simulated games to any actual physical activity.

Likewise Australian sports card manufacturers have designers the equal of any other country, but for a moment, lets cast our gaze back to a simpler time when this wasn’t as apparent…

Topps NFL 1959

A classic design for this set of 176 cards, incorporating 5 or 6 different “pattern” background
colours, stars in many poses clipped out and hand painted, and the two toned name.

Scanlens 1963

Smaller card, with smaller writing, no team or position on front, poorer quality photos, and a basic
biography on rear (Topps 1959 has a magic coin rub quiz) but no doubting the similarity.

Topps NFL 1966

The classic “TV” series of cards appeared
in the US in 1966, featuring stars of the game in a variety of portrait and action poses. Features player stats on rear

Scanlens 1967

Almost identical TV woodgrain effect, lettering
and positioning. Number is on the front instead of rear, and the rear of this 72 player set makes up a large Black and White puzzle.

Topps NFL 1967

Another colourful Topps set, with a full
oval border of varying colours surrounding an action pose by players. Follows the Topps football 1958 design quite closely.

Scanlens 1968 A

The “horse-shoe” series otherwise known as 1968 “A” – the first set released in 1968. Multiple colours in the arched borders, and once again,a puzzle on the rear. This design was virtually repeated in 1978
– the first of the “Portrait” years from 1978-1982 that left many collectors cold.

Topps NFL 1968

A really nice set by Topps, great shots,
beautiful colours and more fun “magic coin rub” backs. Interesting to note that all photos are taken during the day (as the pro footballers were full time even then) as opposed to many VFL photos being taken at dusk before training, or in the dark
after training. As per the VFL cards, the team logo was placed in either corner, dependant on the shot.

Scanlens 1969

A real yearly cycle is evident here – the front of these two cards is virtually identical. Once again the rear makes up a large puzzle. Unlike the US
set, Scanlens preferred to (with the odd exception) match the colours of the oblong bar at the bottom of the card with those of the profiled team. Scanlens repeated this basic layout for the 1976 series.

Topps NFL 1968 Die Cut/Stand-ups

A smaller sub-set of “Stand-ups” complimented
the 1968 Topps football set. Featured players and blank backs.

Scanlens 1969 Die Cut/Stand-ups

Almost identical to the Topps stand-ups
of the previous year, 18 additional cards were released by Scanlens to go with the 1969 release. Even the folding instructions are replicated here, along with the blank back.

Topps NFL 1973

A whopping set of cards released by Topps
in 1974 featuring more than 500 players and checklists. Tag at top of black border/frame, flag at bottom, and some nice action poses are features of this set.

Scanlens 1974

Practically identical in every way, this
set also extended the Scanlens Footballers set from its previous high of 72 to a monster 132 plus checklists and stickers. Scanlens chose to match the flag and tag designs to the colours of the team, and have opted for black rather than a matching colour

Topps NFL 1978

A mixture of player portrait, training
poses, and game-day action are framed with a multi-coloured oblong shape. Noticeably less interesting and cheaper design signals the direction a troubled Topps company would take for the next decade until the hobby was revitalised by adult collecting
in the late 80’s.

Scanlens 1979

In keeping with some of the less than inspiring
designs by Topps throughout the late 70’s and 80’s, this basic set featured player portraits framed with a variety of coloured oblongs.

Topps 1965 Baseball

One of the most popular baseball sets of
the 60’s featured a coloured flag on each card.

Scanlens VFL 1966

Any other year and this passing resemblance
might go un-noticed. But coming just one year after the popular “flag” design of Topps 1965 Baseball series, the similarities are too co-incidental to ignore.

Topps Baseball 1968

Another popular set by Topps which features
a sandy coloured canvas “material” style pattern.
Team was placed in a coloured circle to represent a baseball. The rear featured a brief player profile and the usual satisfaction for the American obsession with statistics.

Scanlens Football 1970 & 1972

With the exception of the VFL logo and
the colour of the puzzle on rear (it was Black and White in 1972), these two releases by Scanlens were identical. Even some of the player photos were repeated. As opposed to the Topps release, the team is placed in an oval shape (like a football) which is coloured in the team’s main colour.

Topps/O Pee Chee 1979/80 Ice Hockey

Blue border with a sash leading down to a circle containing the hockey team’s logo.

Scanlens Football 1980

With the exception of the VFL logo and the name being shifted from the top to the bottom of the card, the Scanlens release is very, very similar.

Fleer US AFL football 1960

Topp’s rival, Fleer, released football
and baseball cards in the early 60’s, and again through the 80’s. This set from 1960 profiled the NFL’s upstart rival league the AFL (American Football League) which included teams that,
since the merger of the 2 leagues in the mid-60’s, have endured to become house-hold names – including the Denver Broncos.

Select retro 2003

From 2003 Select “retro” set of 32 cards. There is more than a passing similarity with the 1960 set
to the left – action shot of players clipped out on a coloured background, and the football field graphic
at bottom left.

Topps NFL football 1956

The early years of Topp’s football saw this basic design hit the streets – and it was a huge hit with
American kids.

Select retro 2009

From the 2009 Select “retro” set of 36 cards. How they get away with this is anyone’s guess, and why Select would not want to do an Australian “retro” design instead of copy a (pretty crummy) one from the US is puzzling. I don’t relate because I grew up in Australia – do you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *