Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Football Culture - Fanzine Culture

Fanzine culture in British football was most prevalent in the 1980's and early 1990's. At this time it was often very easy to find 2 or 3 publications on sale at most top league grounds. However, times have changed, so I was surprised to see that the fanzine of the year for 2007 - 2008 is up and running albeit sponsored by what seems to be another anachronism The Football Pools .

I haven't been back to Britain for nearly 3 years, so I can't say how important printed fanzines are, although last time I was there I noticed that The Oatcake was selling like hotcakes at Stoke and Clough the Magic Dragon seemed to be doing a roaring trade at Burton. It's true that the British public as a whole have always been keen to get their hands on printed journals, as newspaper circulation in the UK compared with other European Countries illustrates, but in recent years the Football Pinks and Greens from various cities that formed an integral part of Saturday evening have fallen by the wayside, so it may be correct to assume that fanzines would have followed suit.

Some commentators have been quick to blame The Internet as one of the factors in the decline of fanzine culture, but to me this seems a bit lazy, and it may be stated that they provide a valid alternative. For example, Yeovil's Ciderspace has always existed as an excellent on-line fanzine and Gillingham's Brian Moore's Head has made a successful transition to an on-line fanzine after ceasing publication in 2005. Some people might be misty eyed about the old fanzine seller flogging fanzines in the cold weather outside The Shay just covering his costs, but wouldn't you rather have a couple of pints in the pub before the game and then publish your thoughts for free on The Internet in the comfort of your own home? Exactly. Not that I want to be disparaging about the people who still sell the fanzines, as they are doing a kind of service to the local club, community and fans, but I think some of the people who are dismissive of Internet based fanzines shouldn't belittle them either.

It's not just the technological changes that have led to some fanzines transformingfrom shabby magazines to electronic versions, but changes in society that led to a demise in some of the impact that fanzines had. In the 80's British football was in turmoil, it limped fro m one disaster to another, attendances were at their lowest and most politicians saw fans as animals; even Tory MP David Evans was of this view despite him being the chairman of Luton Town. Therefore fans needed a voice and the new desktop publishing technology available at the time was just what they needed. It's no exaggeration that fanzines such as King of the Kippax (Manchester City), The Mag (Newcastle United) and Not the View (Celtic), actually had an impact on the powers-that-be and Luton supporters through fanzines managed to do what Wimbledon didn't by Saying no to MK. On the other hand some fanzines like Bernard of the Bantams (Bradford City) and Wise Men Say (Sunderland) provided a bit of light relief at what was a difficult time for football in Britain.

By the start of the 1990's fanzines had become more mainstream with shops in Manchester and Nottingham selling fanzines from clubs across the country and more popular national fanzines, such as When Saturday Comes appearing in mainstream newsagent's like WH Smiths. Sociologists were also writing tomes on fanzine culture and I even found a paper from the period given by an Argentinian professor where he eulogises about the impact the Paper Tiger had at Aberdeen. Other countries were also following the trend with fanzines from Scandinavia (including one from Gothenburg in English), Germany and Holland appearing. It has been suggested that this mainstream acceptance of fanzines led to their downfall, as they no longer represented the fans. I think this suggestion along with the suggestion that the Internet led to a dearth among fanzines as perhaps oversimplifications.

The biggest changes to football culture came in the late 1990's, at this time Euro 1996 had attracted every Thomas, Richard and Henrietta to football and a new Labour Government was trying to show everyone how much they liked football, which formed a stark contrast with the Thatcher years. When Saturday Comes - The half decent football magazine, was charging more than a half decent cover price, however a lot of it's articles still focused on the negative aspects of the game at a time when everyone was happy. WSC has continued to be a popular magazine standing by its ethos from the early days, but other fanzines that remained pessimistic during a time of optimism either folded or ended up as parodies by having to grumble about how crap the new kit looked or how rubbish the pies had become.

We all new the good times couldn't last, and now maybe we should have listened to the fanzines in the mid to late nineties. Ticket costs continue to spiral, the gap between the rich and poor clubs has become even worse and the total disregard for the traditional fan base with the idea of playing premier league games abroad shows that the bubble could burst very soon, so maybe it's time once again to reclaim the game and salute the fanzines

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