Johnny’s letter this week isn’t to a human but to something very influential, that is still made out of good old-fashioned wood pulp. That’ll be When Saturday Comes, then.
Why the love?
It’s only appropriate that this is being published on F365 because there’s a possibility that this would not even be happening where it not for WSC’s existence. While this website launched in 1997, WSC had paved the way for what might be called an alternative football voice 11 years earlier. It had opened up a new seam in the football coalfield which it, we and others have been mining ever since.
The love for the magazine stems from the fact it was born out of the feeling so many of us had for so long that football fans were treated by media and press like slack-jawed idiots who just lived to drink lager and fight. The idea, though intrinsic to our lives, that you could love football but also have a passion for art, politics and music was one that had been resisted by media until 1986.
From the start it set football in its proper context as part of civic society and as a sport that had its place in the cultural and political pantheon of modern life; a sport which taught you about history and about humanity. It wasn’t just kicking a ball around and swearing, though it was that, as well. It wasn’t all intellectual stuff – it could be silly and occasionally broad in its humour. But what was crucial was that it painted with all the colours in the box and not just two.
Launched back in the dark days of 1986, when football fans were herded around like dumb cattle, it remains a bastion of intelligent, passionate, witty, and well-informed football writing. Almost anyone who is any good has written for them over the last 31 years: Harry Pearson, Gab Marcotti, Daniel Gray, Barney Ronay, Nick Hornby and over 400 more.
Personally I’ve always loved how it absolutely accepted from day one that football isn’t just about what happens on the pitch in 90 minutes, it is so much more.
If you want to know why we love it, just look at the photo of the week. If it stirs your soul, you get WSC. If it doesn’t, you don’t.
A glance at the new features on the website about the plight of Oldham, the disappearance of old floodlights and Glasgow’s “other” derby tells you how deep and wide their content is. The ‘badge of the week’ is Workington and there’s a review of Stephen Constantine’s autobiography, ‘From Delhi to the Den.’ It is an all-in-one football vitamin and mineral which provides all of our football dietary requirements. It is footballing Berocca fizzing in the glass of our life’s water. It is, and always has been, the antidote to the shallow crapology which for too long was the warp and weft of football media. If you look at copies from the first two years, they look low-fi, but the content and attitude look so 2017. I picked one at random from 1988.
In these days of specialist podcasts, a discussion about how the media is addicted to thuggery wouldn’t be especially unusual, but back in 1988 it was simply off the charts. It was so far ahead of the curve that everyone else didn’t even know there was a curve.
From day one, when it was photocopied and hand-stapled, it has always been interested in the whole of football, both domestic and global. Those who think they’re being so withering and clever by decrying so-called modern “football hipsters” perhaps don’t understand that it isn’t a modern fashionable phenomenon to be interested in life outside of the top flight of English football. Many people have always wanted to sample different flavours from football’s groaning smorgasboard of epicurean delights.
No football was too obscure or out of the way for its attentions. Oooh, a piece about Socialist football clubs in Italy? Great. Something about the glory years at Crook Town? That’ll do nicely. Great East German European Cup games? Yes. Get in.
English – and I do mean English – football has always had a strong streak of chippy navel-gazing and ignorance of elsewhere. It comes out all the time. Look at how Phil Thompson and Paul Merson dismissed Marco Silva when he was appointed at Hull City.
“What’s he know about the Premier League? What’s he know?” said Merse.
“When there are a lot of people out there who know about the Premier League, about what’s required to dig in. He’s not got a clue,” said Thommo.
And why? Simply because Silva was not British. WSC stands against this sort of dunderheedery. It always has.
And it hasn’t sold out to a big publisher. It’s been reported that discussions with IPC did once take place, but the publisher’s representative kept referring to George Best as “Bestie” and this was enough to put them off doing a deal. In an era where corporate culture frequently knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, this is noble stuff and should not be underappreciated.
It’s also so great to have a publication that was a lad-free zone, where banter would not be had. Where the oi-oi-saveloy brigade were held at arm’s length and with disdain.
Editor then and now Andy Lyons has always been clear where he stood, saying: “We don’t review hooligan books, for the same reason we don’t review children’s books.”
Because it is divorced from the Fleet Street daily football barf-o-rama, and has no interest in getting access to players or managers, it allows for writing that is free from being mindful of not upsetting friends in football, or kowtowing to media organisations that must be kept sweet for financial reasons. It is independent and thoughtful and isn’t craven to anyone.
The quality of its writers is obviously axiomatic to its continuing success. It’d be impossible to pay homage to all of the brilliance. However, one piece must stand alone in the pantheon of great writing. One thing that is at the very apex. Yes: Taylor Parkes’ review of Tim Lovejoy’s appalling book, ‘Lovejoy on Football.’
You can read the whole thing here, but this paragraph stands out, not just as part of an excellent review but, like so much great WSC writing, it has a deeper insight:
‘Hopelessly banal and nauseatingly self-assured, smirkingly unfunny, it’s a £300 T-shirt, a piss-you-off ringtone, a YouTube clip of someone drinking their mate’s vomit. Its smugness is a corollary of its vacuity. I hope it makes you sick.’
‘Its smugness is a corollary of its vacuity.’ That it possibly the most perfect sentence ever crafted in this field. The magazine’s existence is justified by this alone.
More seriously, their response to Hillsborough was definitive.
And the cover? Perfect.
It was first produced in a very homemade way and looked like the sort of fanzine you might buy outside any football ground.
Even though it has moved on from those analogue days, it thankfully hasn’t gone glossy. It is still printed on proper paper and in that is a model of comforting consistency.
The comparison to Private Eye is an accurate and a good one. Some don’t like it when there are political pieces and just want it to be about football, but frankly, they are always destined to be ignored because football is political, because it exists.
What the people say
‘The message board thread of mascots looking sad during minute’s silences always cheers me up. Worth googling.’
‘Taylor Parkes destroying Lovejoy is the singular greatest bit of football writing ever.’
‘I read it because it’s funny, in depth and informative about football. It doesn’t want or try to be Loaded or FHM.’
‘It’s half decent.’
‘Living in Czech Republic, it arrives late and immediately out of date. No matter. Articles are full of love on every subject, no matter how obscure.’
‘Absolutely love it. Intelligent, well-written features for and by people who like football, not just specific teams. Bought one issue, immediately subscribed. Doesn’t pull punches, just honest, genuine, interesting football writing.’
‘I used to buy it with the Private Eye when getting on a train to see a girlfriend in Chester. I put as much weight with it as I did the Eye.’
‘Did a two-week placement there in 99. A look at the credits in the current issue, the same people still work there today. A labour of love.’
‘Something I regret not keeping faith with. Loved it as a teenager, read it and re-read it.’
‘Never know where to start reading! Letters, Book Review, TV Watch, Classic Video. Just a pleasure and high standard every month.’
‘Superb magazine. Always illuminating articles, great non-PFM perspective on all aspects of the game. I work at a newsagents and can read mags on my breaks for free, I still buy WSM. It’s second to none. And the dissection of Lovejoy should have won a Pulitzer.’
‘The best football mag. Articles about stuff you’d never read anywhere else, with humour taken straight from a cold, wet terrace.’
‘Only just discovered it – it’s an absolute gem and teaches me a lot about a football culture I thought may have been dead before I was born.’
‘Pioneering. Beam of light in dark 80s. Stayed true to its principles. And used to publish my articles. Every blogger owes them something.’
‘It’s the most important magazine about football there’s ever been, and it’s the true voice of fandom, through the good and bad years.’
‘Still has a VHS cassette review column! And rightly so.’
‘First read it as a kid when I was too young to understand almost everything but the Dave Robinson cartoons. Honoured to write for it now.’
‘Proud to have written for it as it feels far more than most like its audience would understand & take in your opinions and reference points.’
‘Real football, doesn’t hero worship players.’
‘Most remarkable thing about WSC is that it has never compromised from issue one to now, still bares its teeth, still calls it as it is.’
‘It recognises football exists outside the Premier League, while understanding there is just as much fakery and nonsense in the lower leagues.’
‘I’ve subscribed to WSC for over 25 years. Love its cynicism and unwavering desire to speak the truth. A true voice of real fans.’
‘Have bought every issue since before football was invented.’
‘It planted the revolutionary idea that wit, culture, education, erudition and politics were not mutually exclusive to football. As such, no WSC, no F365 – simple as that.’
‘Read it for years, lucky enough to write for it also. Has moved with the times but still at heart a fanzine. Editorial a must-read.’
‘If WSC never existed, neither would F365 – the first medium to actually stand up for all fans equally, treating us like Actual Human Beings.’
‘I moved into a house in Manchester once, and the previous incumbent had a subscription. For 3 years I was treated to its loveliness without charge. I would feel guilty but when you’re getting gold for free, you get over it quite quickly. It really is tremendous.’
‘The Letters page is a monthly masterclass in footballing geekery, pedantry and story swapping, and as such, utterly joyful.’
It’s funny really. It used to be out on the left wing of the game, a number 11 with chalk on its boots, ploughing a lonely furrow, but today it is possible to see the influence of When Saturday Comes everywhere, from the erudition and humour of websites such as The Set Pieces or James Richardson’s podcast and TV work. You can see it in the words of the likes of our own Daniel Storey, as well as Adam Hurrey, Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox to name but four.
I shall leave the final words to the estimable Robert Nichols who set up the wonderful Middlesbrough FC fanzine Fly Me To The Moon in 1987, which is still running under his guiding hand to this day. He sums up the impact and importance of WSC perfectly:
“We were all immensely proud of When Saturday Comes; it was a national neutral fanzine. That’s how we thought of it: a national platform for fans. Through WSC everyone could see fans could be funny, fans could challenge, fans could be radical. Fans would be noticed.
“I remember when our own fanzine made the When Saturday Comes fanzines listings we would be punching the air. We had made it. We were national. We were When Saturday Comes approved. And that meant the world.
“It has always been a font of ideas that have inspired a thousand or two fanzine articles. We would huddle round each new issue in the office and raid it for inspiration. Through When Saturday Comes I first became aware of one of my all time writing heroes, the great Harry Pearson. When Harry mentioned my all time Boro hero John Hickton in When Saturday Comes it absolutely made my week.
“We borrowed how to do the list of credits, titles, cover jokes so much. I even bought their cartoon clip art for FMTTM. We were all post punk new wavers. We were brought up on DIY music culture. I even placed an advert in WSC for my band Shrugs debut album.
“Every other article title was a Fall lyric in fanzine land. And When Saturday Comes set that standard too.
“When Saturday Comes has retained its relevance, it’s humour and it continues to shout out for the underdog. It remains the fans’ own national fanzine. A continued inspiration. Still an exciting read.”
Amen to that.