Johnny’s letter this week is to the papery things that educated us about football before the internet. That’ll be football magazines, then.
Why the love?
Football magazines have been around since 1951 when Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly was first published. There had been football publications of one sort or another prior to this, mostly in black and white newspaper formats, but Buchan’s self-published title was the first we would recognise as a magazine today.
Its popularity – it sold an incredible 250,000 copies per issue – ensured that more such publications would follow, most notably World Soccer which launched in 1960 and is still running 58 years later.
The late ’60s saw such legendary titles as Goal and Shoot hit the newsagents along with the Football League Review, Jimmy Hill’s Football Weekly and others that came and went.
Each title took a different approach. Some were news-based; others more features orientated. By the early 1970s Shoot and Goal were simply massive, each shifting a muscular 220,000 copies every week!
The ’80s and saw Match, When Saturday Comes, 90 Minutes, The Footballer, FourFourTwo and Total Football, among many others. Some continue to this day, while others lasted months and years.
Every football fan loved magazines for the uncontroversial reason that they were entertaining and informative. They provided a more in-depth look at the game than was available on TV or radio. Broadcast football media was pretty thin gruel until the ’90s and so you topped up your hit of football with your favourite magazines.
These days, the big sales numbers have gone, apart from for World Soccer whose Wikipedia page suggests a circulation of 331,000 in 2013, though I find that a little hard to believe. FourFourTwo shifts 50k-ish, WSC does 20k-ish.
For me, as a young subscriber to Shoot and Goal and a teenage fan of World Soccer, it was the photos which really captured my imagination. They showed me distant places in Italy, Argentina and Cowdenbeath and in that, provoked my imagination and a sense of romance about football. These magazines inculcated an innate sense of collectivism in me, they showed me how we were all one, bound together by our love of the game; all staring at the action on the pitch, wherever we were in the world, both near or far.
Mags like Shoot had unintentionally funny interviews with players asking for their favourite music and food etc. In the ’70s they all liked Elton John and Neil Diamond, prawn cocktail, steak and chips and black forest gateau. In the ’80s, they all loved Dire Straits and Phil Collins, prawn cocktail, steak and chips and black forest gateau. In the ’90s it was Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet, prawn cocktail, steak and chips and black forest gateau.
In the 1980s there was a blurring between the approach of fanzines and magazines with the publishing of When Saturday Comes. Hugely influential, even its title was both romantic and poetic, suggesting the start of something as yet unknown. It fundamentally understood that there was a desire for intelligent football writing about something other than the mainstream, big club norm. It is impossible to overstate the importance of WSC in the culture of football media in UK. Even now, it feels ahead of the curve. There was simply nothing as radical and well-informed as WSC in the world of British football. I’m not sure there even is now.
The brilliant thing about all magazines is how they visually reflect the era that gave birth to them. The fonts used, the layout, the colours chosen – all very much reflect the culture the publication existed in.
This is the first Shoot cover. Note “for boys”. Disgraceful and the sort of deeply ingrained sexism that we still need to fight to this day.
There was also the start of the season league table ladders. Early on in Shoot these were card tags which you slotted into a league table. Later they were more sticky, plastic things. The excitement these created in our young selves will never be matched by anything made of 0s and 1s. This was proper interactive media which required you to note the scores and move the teams up and down the league. Because the team tags were always in the club’s colours, it was also a brilliant way to learn all 92 Football League club strips and it’s amazing how deep that went, to the extent that even today, I can still recall that Hamilton Academicals played in red and white, Motherwell in amber and maroon, Barrow in white and blue…
What the people say
It’s interesting how magazines fitted into the routines of our lives from an early age. We all knew the days the new issues came out. They were our thing. A little bit of culture that was all our own that we could keep and collect in our bedrooms. And even in adulthood, there’s nothing better than picking up a magazine at the station to read on a long train journey; a reconnection to our childhood and once again we are little, absorbing every word and staring at each picture. So this week’s contributions were full of the warm glow of the memory of good times.
‘Used to love 90 minutes, first mainstream football mag that took the p*ss and had fun.’
‘Once bought Match from Frankley services on the M5 coming home from holiday. I was 9. I remember feeling excited reading it as it was just ahead of the new season (’94-’95). With today’s blanket coverage, I wonder if kids today have quite the same sense of anticipation I used to feel at that age with weeklies like Match and Shoot. Age is probably part of it, but I suspect our instant-gratification ‘the-internet’s-fast-so-why-isn’t-everything-else’ culture has eroded things in this respect. That’s life, I guess!’
‘Once wrote into Match letters section back in 2000 after Jack Walker died. Not only did they print my tribute but Mark Bright replied to it in the same section. Can feel that buzz now. Pre-Twitter, those mags provided a great channel between kids and people in the sport.’
’90 Minutes was a great magazine in the early ’90s, even if my parents never realised I was probably a bit too young for it.’
‘Loved 90 Minutes and Total Football a little later. However it’s Topical Times annuals that I blame for knowing random things about football. Proper journalism aimed at football fans young and probably old too. Not a ‘Wicked!’ or ‘Tekkers!’ in sight. Thank goodness.’
‘I’m lucky enough to remember Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. There used to be a Popular Book Centre in New Cross where you could buy and part-exchange magazines of all kinds. I bought a ‘best of’ annual from Amazon and remembered loads of the content. Bliss!.’
’90 Minutes. Bit edgy, a move away from the posters and bland interviews of the other mags, some snark, the Fools Panel predictions. Absolutely loved it. In our tiny corner of the world at school, we 90 Minutes-ers felt ourselves superior to the Match/Shoot crowd.’
‘Shoot and Match were the kids’ equivalent of the Radio and TV Times. Couldn’t only read one, had to have both. Just thinking about them now makes me feel 10 years old. Too much coverage of football these days.’
‘For me, World Soccer and FourFourTwo stand out as well as WSC. I started with World Soccer just under 20 years ago and there’s nothing like it for giving you an insight into the game in far flung places, and making you aware of some amazing (upcoming) players.’
‘I first heard of players like Krancjar, Cesc, Sigurdsson, Palermo and Zlatan in their hallowed pages. Their depth of knowledge and research really is amazing if you’re into football outside of your own country.’
‘When Saturday Comes. An absolute joy to read.’
‘My bedroom wall was covered in posters from Shoot and Match! When Italian football started on Channel 4, I added World Soccer into the rotation. The good old days when we were borderline starved of football news, as opposed to being turned into f***ing foie gras with it.’
‘I was always a big fan of 90 Minutes. Much like Football365 it blended serious articles with light humour and never took itself too seriously. I remember writing in as letter of the week won a free pair of Adidas Predator boots. After 90 Minutes I moved on to When Saturday Comes. It also once came with a free copy of the NME and I held a subscription of that from around 1994 – 1999.’
‘As I grew up, FourFourTwo was a great subscription each month. So many excellent features and pieces, particularly ahead of each season and major tournaments. I will certainly be buying this month’s ’90s Football special.’
‘Match was massive for me as a kid. Lived opposite a newsagent so thoroughly believed I was often first in the country to get a copy. The pop-out card t-shirt league ladders before each season were fantastic. Until I lost them all by the end of August.’
‘I genuinely thought players wrote their own columns in Shoot. Loved the free cardboard league table at start of each season with team tabs you moved up and down after each set of results – well what else was there to do in the ’70s?’
‘Went from Roy of the Rovers, to Match/Shoot, to WSC and the Onion Bag and loved them all. Between football mags and Smash Hits/NME and sweets/fags I spent 95% of my disposable income at newsagents age 10 to 17. Haven’t been in one for years..’
‘For me it has to be the wonderful Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, which I think was the first real football mag. I guess I’m showing my age here!’
‘World Soccer – a quality buy of the best football writers and journalists, in one place, with loads of tournament details and insight.’
‘All I need to say is ‘You are the referee’…’
‘Was obsessed with Shoot, in the Glenn Hoddle years especially. They did a special on his new boots with extra stud for better turning. I’d never seen anything like it in a magazine.’
‘Fond memories of Match back in the ’90s, a must-have primarily to take all the posters and plaster them onto the bedroom wall much to my parents’ chagrin…’
‘No publication has come close to providing the sheer joy that ’90s kid me once felt at completing an entire team of Match Mega Posters. Halcyon days.’
‘Loved World Soccer in the mid to late ’90s, improves my knowledge of world football immensely and helped with finding bargains on Championship manager!’
‘Used to read my brother’s Shoot! Nobby, Football Funnies, You Are The Ref, Super Focus, Tartan Talk…I remember in the mid-70s the latter had a title font which was like the Goodies logo, only in tartan.’
‘As a kid, loved reading the results and tables sections, just so much information crammed in.’
‘I remember a 442 from about 96 maybe that had an interview with Gianluca Vialli in it and I used the picture of his face to cover my maths book.’
‘Before media saturation of football, Shoot and Match were the only way to get some insight into your club and players.’
Magazines have a future if they get their content right. When Saturday Comes is a brilliant publication, full of original intelligent and passionate writing and it knows its market well after 32 years.
Even in the digital age, we still all love to hold something in our hands. Reading a football magazine is an entirely different experience to reading on a computer. It feels analogue warm. You can collect them and build them your own archive of publications. They help you document your progress through life and remind you of times long gone, that otherwise you would forget. And it’s not just the articles and news in them, it’s also the adverts and the style of print type that sends you back down the vista of years. They are both sporting and cultural history. They are entertainment and information. And perhaps most importantly of all, in an age suffering an existential crisis born of its innate shallow disposability, they offer some permanence. No website can ever offer you that.
In 2018 we are adrift in a sea of information that matters so little to us, that means so little to us, that we are not even prepared to pay a small fee to read it, no matter how great it is. No-one ever expected a magazine to be free and no-one expects it to this day. That’s because we respect something material. Psychologically, it feels more real and more worthwhile.
Football magazines by their very existence stand against the throwaway digital society. The best ones give life more depth, more heft, more enjoyment. And, y’know what? Somehow, in the digital age, they now seem kind of modern. Long may they thrive.