‘I’m surprised that football fanzines have survived’

Image copyright Paul Gilham

The purchase of a fanzine remains part of the match-day routine for many football fans, who value an independent, sideways and often light-hearted take on the state of their beloved clubs. The BBC has asked the editors of five publications that are still in print – despite the competition from online offerings – to choose their favourite covers.

“In some ways I’m surprised that fanzines have survived,” says Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters Federation.

“You might have thought with the rise of social media and the internet they would have vanished years ago, but they haven’t.

“I think it is partly due to in some cases a sense of great loyalty… but also because some have very high-quality writing.”

The Gooner – Arsenal

Image copyright The Gooner

Mike Francis admits that he was pretty much goaded into forming The Gooner, one of the country’s oldest fanzines.

During a trip to a bookshop on Charing Cross Road, he picked up a Chelsea fanzine for his then boss, a Blues supporter, and was given the reply: “That just proves we are a bigger club.”

London rivalry also features in one of Mr Francis’ favourite covers.

“Around the time that that cover came out [November 1988] we were on a run where we were beating Spurs every time we played them,” he remembers.

“Clearly, as Arsenal fans that was a high point of the season.

“We’d probably beaten them five or six times [in a row] and that was how that cover came about because we were asking: ‘How are Spurs ever going to win a derby?’

“We then thought of the most famous Derby winner, Shergar, and that was how the two came together.”

Despite its popularity, Mr Francis admits he still “cringes” at his “amateurish” drawing of a horse in a Tottenham shirt.

Image copyright The Gooner

The fanzine has become more polished in its appearance over the years.

The idea for the cover of Issue 235, which featured manager Arsene Wenger in style of a Roy Lichtenstein portrait, came about during a trip on the London Underground.

“I think I just saw an advert on the Tube for a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition and I just thought that it would make a great style for a cover.

“Darren [the fanzine’s designer] was always keen to try new things so I suggested it to him and that is what he came up with.”

At the height of its popularity, Mr Francis estimates they were selling 7,500 copies of each issue, but that figure has dwindled to about 2,000.

The Gooner will cease publication at the end of this season.

The Square Ball – Leeds United

Image copyright The Square Ball

“Some of the best fanzines have some of the worst [football club] owners,” says one of The Square Ball’s co-editors, Paul O’Dowd.

First published in 1989, the fanzine has covered league titles and Champions League football, but also the lows of administration and relegation to English football’s third tier.

Mr O’Dowd, who runs the fanzine with three others, says one of his favourite issues they have produced is the “Kenopoly” edition.

Produced during the 2009-10 season, it was what Mr O’Dowd describes as a “sarcastic and satirical” look at the way then Leeds owner Ken Bates ran the club.

“We were working on it for a couple of months… it just seemed to sum up Ken Bates,” he says.

“He would use everybody else’s money for whatever business he was doing.

“It was just our way of being sarcastic and having a go at Ken Bates in a very artistic way.”

Image copyright The Square Ball

Mr O’Dowd says another of his favourite covers was the “Hoof” edition from 2012-13, mocking the “horrible” style of football played during Neil Warnock’s tenure.

He says that when the editorial team saw the photo of Michael Brown, it perfectly encapsulated the topic that they wanted to cover.

The headline, written in the style of an Oxford English Dictionary entry, helped to get their simple message across, Mr O’Dowd says.

He explains: “It was to the point, very matter of fact.

“It just summed up the football at the time that was just horrible, and we were paying top dollar to watch it which was the annoying thing.”

United We Stand – Manchester United

Image copyright United We Stand

United We Stand has been following the fortunes of Manchester United since the fanzine was a created by a 15-year-old Andy Mitten in 1989.

He says its focus on original content has kept it popular through 275 editions.

One of the publication’s early editions gained notoriety, when it wrongly called the outcome of the 1991-92 First Division title race, the last campaign before the introduction the following season of the Premier League.

United We Stand’s headline read: “Champions at Last,” a nod to the fact that they had not been champions for 25 years.

But the Red Devils then lost three games in a row to hand the title to arch-rivals Leeds.

Image copyright Getty Images

“I’d had 4,000 copies printed and I was stood outside Old Trafford making an absolute fool out of myself,” Mr Mitten remembers.

“I was getting loads of abuse because of it, and quite rightly so.”

Perhaps luckily for Mr Mitten, a recent house move means he can no longer locate that particular cover, but its notoriety endures.

He is more fond of the June 2017 edition, a tribute to Wayne Rooney before the club’s record goal-scorer left to rejoin Everton.

“At the time, most United fans online saw him as persona non grata,” he says.

“[The cover] was our way of saying… he has clearly dipped as a player but he has been a fantastic player here.

“We’ve put him all of these different shirts because Manchester United change their shirt every five minutes, because they are a commercial beast like every football club.

“But there was nothing commercial about that goal [the one depicted on the cover] – it was just pure beauty.”

Blowing Bubbles Monthly – West Ham United

Image copyright David Blakemore

Blowing Bubbles Monthly is the brainchild of David Blakemore and has been entertaining West Ham fans since 2012.

The fanzine was initially going to be online only, but a test print run proved so popular it is now produced monthly.

Its editor, David Blakemore, says their September 2016 edition (pictured above) is one of his favourites.

“In a season full of highs and lows… it just captured one of the brighter moments, that first goal at the London Stadium,” he says.

“We also had an interview with [co-owner] David Gold in there which set the tone for the rest of the season.

“We just felt page after page it was one of our stronger issues.”

Image copyright David Blakemore

The September 2017 issue is one Mr Blakemore says feels significant because they “stuck their neck out” and questioned then manager Slaven Bilic’s position.

He says the decision was not taken lightly.

“I think most knew that Bilic was on the brink at that time,” Mr Blakemore adds.

“That vocal minority who were calling for his head had gathered momentum and by September it was starting to go full power.”

Given that the Croatian would be sacked just a few weeks later, it appears Blowing Bubbles, picked their moment perfectly.

Bandy & Shinty – Nottingham Forest

Image copyright Bandy & Shinty

The team in charge of the unusually named Bandy & Shinty, a relatively new Nottingham Forest fanzine, freely admit they are not “traditional fanzine sellers”.

Born out of a meeting at a pub to celebrate the club’s 150th anniversary, the four-man team behind the publication tend to send out their fanzine via post.

The appeal? The chance to still enjoy match-days with family.

The fanzine’s name is a nod to the two hockey clubs that met to form Nottingham Forest in 1865.

History also is an important part of each issue’s cover.

“The Brian Clough one (pictured) was extremely popular,” says Sean Hockett, one of the team behind Bandy & Shinty.

“I like the fact that a fair number of Forest fans will just be able to identify that image.

“It is based on a photograph when he is sort of laissez-faire.

“He has got his thumb to his nose and he is almost irreverent about the fact he is having his photograph taken.

“It just encapsulates Brian Clough as a character.”

Image copyright Bandy & Shinty

Mr Hockett says issue six is also a personal favourite, because it features their most detailed piece of cover art.

“It has taken us out of that zone of just using a silhouetted image,” he adds.

“I like the fact you have got the image of John Robertson in the middle of the passport instead of the Queen.

“As a piece of art I just think it’s lovely.”

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