New editors sought to keep alive 136-year-old stats bible

Former editor ERIC BROWN reveals a threat to the world’s oldest football annual and takes a look at the 136th edition of a publication originally launched during Queen Victoria’s reign.

The year 1887 will be remembered, among many other things, as the year a  number 11 batsman finished top of the batting averages as England won The Ashes in Australia.

Wicketkeeper Mordecai Sherwin, a genuine tailender, beat illustrious batting rivals to the top spot with an average of 30 as England recorded six successive victories over Australia.

Queen Victoria occupied the throne and the Marquess of Salisbury was having a second go at being Prime Minister though it is not recorded whether either of them celebrated Sherwin’s and England’s triumph.

Those who could afford an English daily newspaper in 1887 were restricted to The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph.

One publication appearing for the first time that year eventually established an unrivalled reputation for in-depth factual information and football trivia of the Sherwin variety.

Launching a mini-football annual known as The Athletic News Football Supplement and Club Directory must have been a considerable gamble with international and FA Cup football still in their infancy and plans for organised national league football still at discussion stage.

Yet this 16-page book became the most enduring of all football publications. It morphed into the Sunday Chronicle Annual in 1946, the Empire News Annual in 1956, The News of the World and Empire News Annual in 1961 and the News of the World Annual in 1965. From 2008 it became the Nationwide Football Annual.

Sadly the newly-published 2022-23 edition could be the last. Publisher Randall Northam and editor Stuart Barnes both intend to retire. Unless successors can be found, it could be farewell to one of football’s most familiar publications after 136 editions.

The annual was for years produced by employees at Hayter’s Sports News Agency under the management of Reg Hayter and long-term editor Albert Sewell, who came up with a design and layout still largely in use today.

By then it was known as The News of The World Annual. When BBC Television stats supremo Albert decided to take a back seat, a string of Hayter’s employees, who later graduated to Fleet Street, took stints in the editorial chair.

Barnes took over for the 2000-01 edition, the 114th. He says: “Attempts are being made to hand over the baton so the world’s oldest football annual can have a new lease of life. Some interest has been shown but nothing confirmed.”

Barnes’ latest effort underlines what a shame it would be if the annual ceased.

The four inch by six inch annual’s 546 pages are packed with football information including a review of last season, the 2022-23 fixtures, club squads for the new season, league tables, prize money, international results and caps, cup competitions, the absorbing records section and much more for a bargain £9.99.

Allowing such a football treasure trove to die would surely be nothing short of neglect. Anyone interested in taking the reins of publisher or editor should contact: 

Randall Northam – (01904 613475); or (07795 293016).