An F365 love letter to… erm…Football365

Date published: Friday 8th December 2017 12:22

Johnny’s letter this week is to a long-running football website on that there internet thing. That’ll be football365.com, then. Oh that’s us.

 

Why the Love?
F365 has been around for 20 years this year, and this week we proudly won the FSF Online Media of the Year award.

When F365 was launched in 1997 by Danny Kelly and three others, it wasn’t a website, it was an email. Back then, it was all dial-up internet connections and compuserve email addresses that were just numbers. If you had an internet habit, it cost you a small fortune. You couldn’t just sit and read websites, unless you were super rich. To get around this, you signed up for F365 and got sent a special bit of reader software. So once you’d downloaded the email, you could read it offline.

It was that way for a couple of years and at the time, big newspapers aside, there wasn’t a lot of competition. Even blogs didn’t exist, though there were newsgroups where fans of clubs could interact.

I always knew F365 was different because before it launched, Danny sent out an email asking what we’d like to read in it. I replied to say it was my dream to read about football and German progressive rock in the same piece, preferably Amon Duul I – the anarcho collective, not the much more commercial Amon Duul II! He replied to say ‘one day this will happen’. Little did I know that it would be me who wrote that piece a few years later.

In the early days, David Icke wrote a column. Sometimes it’d be about football, sometimes it’d be various bizarre conspiracy theories. As Sarah Winterburn recounted to Nick Miller (another alumnus) on The Set Pieces:

“It actually ended because just after 9/11 he tried to write a column where he said that the Americans had done it themselves. We had to go ‘I don’t think we can use that really’. So he then threw his arms up in the air and was muttering about freedom of speech, and saying that the Americans had got to us. So that was the end of that beautiful relationship.”

Talking of beautiful relationships, Andy Gray ‘wrote’ for us for some time and was titled ‘the best pundit in football.’ This basically involved Winty ringing him up, writing down some of his thoughts and being called darlin’ a lot.

When in 1999 it was floated on the stock exchange, the 365 Corporation was suddenly valued at £500 million, despite not having ever made a profit. So, like Twitter, then, but with fewer death threats. The next couple of years were some shade of insane.

There was so much money sloshing around for a while that there’d be Christmas parties at the National Museum and other salubrious extravagances. 365 expanded into Music, Gardening and most famously of all, Future365 which was all horoscopes.

Per Sarah: “Russell Grant was involved. We used to try to cross promote, so we’d end up with someone casting runes ahead of football matches. There was one where we did some sort of radio programme where we had Joe Kinnear stood in the office in this little room with egg boxes round it and then we had somebody coming in and telling us what his horoscope was or something. It was absolutely f**king mental days, I mean, just mental.”

The 300lb roaring gorilla that was F365 was run out of a huge Georgian house at 52 Gloucester Place in London. It is now the HQ for something called Jo Malone, which says it’s home to ‘forward-thinking mavens’, so no change there, then.

The first day I walked in to talk to editors Steve Anglesey and Howard Johnson about writing for them I asked the first person I met – Dave Tarbox – “how do they pay for all this?” He didn’t know. No-one knew.

In fact, it didn’t really seem to occur to anyone that you had to make money to survive (unless you’re Twitter). I’d worked for myself my whole adult life, so it was the first thing that occurred to me. But, hey, it was party time so the pedal was put to the metal.

It’s hard to properly say now just how different F365 was to anything else online at the time. It was well-written and well-edited and produced to a really high standard. But it was closer to being a fanzine, than being a mainstream thing. Also it was on this modern weird thing called The Internet which all the old press hacks genuinely thought was a nerdy fad. I mean. They really, really did. Even now, I think some of them still think that.

We did football, but it did it in a different and unusual way. Nothing was off-limits. With two fantastically creative editors, Citeh fans (even that spelling, along with ManYoo was part of the fanzine culture) Steve and Howard at the helm and with Danny Kelly’s experienced guiding hand, it sailed at top speed into uncharted waters.

Things like ‘lookalikes,’ which some people probably still think is very modern fun, were untypical fare at the time. Mediawatch has also been there pretty much since the start. In the early days it was more about silly things in the papers and less a dissection of nonsense pumped out like so much slurry that the modern football press has become dominated with.

The Letters page was always a popular feature and it’s where I first appeared in 2000. I would create odd, long letters about Alan Shearer retiring in order to join folk group the High Level Ranters and Glenn Hoddle evolving into pure white light. There was nowhere else in the media that would have even published these missives, much less celebrated them with ‘Letter of the Day’ accolades. But they were food and drink to F365 who aimed to paint with an entirely different colour to everyone else. Steve offered me a column in November 2000 and I never looked back.

 

Superhero Skills
The fact that any football website has survived for 20 years in the topsy-turvy world of the internet is in itself a remarkable thing. There have been ups and down. There were a lot of lay-offs when the money was gone and it went to South Africa for a time. There have been lots of different owners but the website in 2017 has literally never been more popular.

F365 was also great breeding ground for people who went on to success elsewhere. Steve is now a founding editor of The New European newspaper, where you can still get a flavour of the bite and humour of his early F365 work. Howard is editor at Rock Candy Magazine, revisiting his glory days on Kerrang!

Sheridan Bird, who was once our Serie A man, is now a TV presenter in Italy. Alan Tyers is a writer at the Telegraph. Pete Gill is Sky Sports F1 Digital Director. Philip Cornwall is a production editor at the Guardian and Observer. Matt Stanger is editor at The Set Pieces and is the Football League reporter for TheTotallyFootballShow. Nick Miller is freelancing for the Guardian, ESPN, Eurosport and the Independent. And that’s just a few.

Others such as Tim Stannard, Phil Hornsey, Adam Fraser and Neil Rowlands all went onto to do good things. Sorry if I’ve missed anyone out! Oh, there was Iain Moody too, but we’d best draw a veil over that.

Down the years there have been some classic and really original features. The Gary Neville diaries, the Michael Ballack diaries, classics both. Manchester United-supporting Kok Wee went down in history too. Pete Gill’s rejoinder to Winners and Losers – ‘Whinger and Moaners’ – was easily the most fierce vitriolic feature we’ve ever run.

And who can forget Not The Euros 2008 written by myself and Alan Tyers. This brought us the England C*nts v Non-C*nts battle (though some of the non-c*nts turned out to be c*nts) along with the further adventures of Big Sam and Reidy, who at one point were holed up in the ventilation system of the Bangkok Hilton drinking snake venom. We ended each of those with a mock poll to which 1% always said Frank Lampard, no matter what the question was.

Remember Podball? An early podcast back in about 2008, it was usually me and Winty talking about pubic hair, or me wanting to have it off with Fabio Cannavaro. No-one listened to that. We were ahead of our time, I tell you! Me and Sarah and Alan also used to record sketches in a studio in Leeds. The only one I can remember was about then Boro manager, Gareth Southgate, played by me using Donald and Davey Stott’s voice, trying to get Mark Viduka to stop eating parmos.

Then there was Planet Tabloid. A weekly five-minute drama that me and Alan wrote and recorded, featuring an old school hard-bitten editor (me) and a puppyish modern chap (him) who thought calling lesbians “pipe smokers” was wrong. We put a load of work into it but no-one listened to that either. We are open to being commissioned again. Then again, satirising the football press is impossible now. They do that with their own existence.

Over more recent years we’ve begun to look at football media and the people who work in it. This led me and Alan to come up the PFM concept. Neither of us can remember exactly how or when, but it was definitely something to do with Tim Sherwood and Jamie Redknapp. PFM has now become a by-word for…well…a Proper Football Man. We all know who that is and what it means. You don’t hear as many people in the media saying ‘Proper Football Man’ any more. Maybe that’s a small win.

We’ve evolved over the years as we’ve got older and wiser and that’s probably been a key to success. Sarah has been editor for about 16 years now and part of the success of the website is down to her ability to spot writers and contributors who can each bring a different flavour to the F365 dinner, but who will fit in with our vibe and attitude.

Also, her ability to correct grammar has bailed me and I’m sure many others out of many a faux pas. She’s so loyal, down-to-earth and you couldn’t wish for a better editor. Football media is an industry which is full of ego-fuelled people who like shouting more than listening. Sarah stands against all that. Proper, is the word. Can’t half bloody drink, an’ all.

It should also not go unsaid that for many years as a woman in football media she suffered incredible abuse from sexist bigots. It’s not as bad these days but my god, the horrible things people have written over the years. Just as well they make them tough in Huddersfield, eh.

Not once in 17 years have I ever been asked to write piece about anything. My brief from Steve in November 2000 was to simply write whatever I wanted to write: to do my thing. And over 2000 pieces later, that’s still not changed. To have that sort of freedom is amazing and I feel very lucky, really.

Not once in 17 years have I missed a deadline. Not even while on an Amtrak train that had broken down outside of Reno for 24 hours during the 2004 Euros. I stood in the heat of the Nevada desert, phone in hand, getting some sort of signal, calling an AOL dial-up at an exorbitant expense, connected my laptop to it and eventually, at a cost that far exceeded what I was paid to write it, managed to email Sarah the piece. It occurs to me now, that is illustrative of the loyalty and teamwork that we’ve all always had.

 

Style Guru?
It’s just a plain fact that everyone who has ever worked for F365 is a beautiful, physically impressive human, who is an incredible lover with an almost insatiable libido and a highly stylised fashion sense that turns heads in every street. We can’t help it. It’s almost a curse.

 

What The People Say
F365 is a bookmark in many people’s life. It’s that thing you read on your lunch hour. It’s what you read when you’re pretending to work. We’ve been in people’s lives for so long that many got in touch to tell us about it and to say nice things:

– It’s the first and last website I look at every day and have done for more than 10 years. Fantastic combination of news, articles and interest pieces from excellent journalists who don’t follow the norm. Love it, with thanks!

– I’ve been reading for around 19 years, and writing to the mailbox with varying degrees of frequency for 17 years – the site feels like a community for the football fans who wanted more than the traditional papers offered. It’s a neat trick as I suspect you’re bigger than we think

– I’ve been a regular since 2001ish and remember Citeh ManYoo, Not The World Cup but mainly Rock and Roll Football musings!

– I imagine modesty will prevent John including this (you imagine wrongly, Leon!!!) but… I‘ve just had a football book published & it wouldn’t have happened without Johns F365 columns. Musical references, personal experience, the perfect balance of humour & gravitas…everything I aspire to as a football writer

– Degsy Bilton paid for my holiday with his Blackpool 4-3 Bolton tip in 2011

– I’ve been a daily reader for more than 10 of your 20 years. The thinking football fan’s source for news & opinion. Whilst writers have come & gone, the honest, insightful analysis has remained to the same high standard, without taking yourselves too seriously.

– I hate Fridays. Sometimes if I’ve been out of the office most of the day, then I print everything to take home with me to read, it’s 30 bleedin’ pages!

– One day, about 15 years ago, I stumbled across Mediawatch and it’s been my lunchtime reading at work ever since. Having spent most of those years as a sports journalist made it even better. Thankfully my work never appeared in it!

– Started reading you guys 14 years ago. And have read you most days since. Winners and Losers, Cheeky Punt, Portrait of an Icon, Big Weekend – all brilliant. Miller, Gill, Stanger, Storey, Nicholson. I even had the odd mail appear in the Mailbox. That’s CV-able.

– Didn’t know what to make of Johnny after reading his first few articles. All a bit too rock n roll, I got laid loads in the States, I was always off my tits. But my God did I warm to him. His coverage of Leicester winning the league was my fav ever 365 “stuff”.

– The Neville Diaries were also brilliant too. Always wondered whether he ever read them.

– F365 is to my 43-year-old adult life what my BMX was to me as a 10-year-old. Daily escapism. Please don’t ever get a puncture.

– Entertaining writers who can make you laugh and provoke thoughtful argument. What’s not to like

– Be upstanding for the First Lady of online football writing, The Duchess of Huddersfield, Sarah Winterburn. The boys take the glory, but it’s her train set.

– Was introduced to you in an Internet cafe in Fiji in 2002. Can honestly say I’ve visited the site almost every day since. Emailed in twice, been published twice. Keep up the good work!

– Let’s go meta and mention the mailbox. Full of budding amateur writers given an outlet, but the range of topics, from all over the world, is incredible – from the top of the Premier League to Grantham Town to Zweigen Kanazawa and everywhere in between.

– The site has helped to develop my understanding of the game and educated me to look beyond the cliche driven bilge of the punditocracy. Analysis that puts the paper journos to shame and opinion pieces that have helped to shape my wider world view.

– The one website I read daily. Mediawatch and Winners & Losers are the pick of the reads.

– It’s helped keep me company every lunchtime of my working life to date. Thanks team.

– No better place to get an opinion and pass it off as my own.

– Essential lunchtime reading every day for your standard office worker like me to get through the rest of the afternoon.

– F365 was the main reason my old Aussie dad saw the use in having a computer – this was 12 years ago now and he still checks it daily.

– Wonderful,honest and wears its genuine heart proudly on its sleeve. Mediawatch a joy. Survived the scary SKY family link to come back afresh and nowt beats seeing your letter appear in the mailbox but nice to remember it’s not just EPL in the UK.

-I’ve been a reader from 2001. It was my go to website for everything I needed. Lunch at my desk reading you, P Gill, Winty etc columns. And the daily scroll down the mailbox to see if mine got posted. And on the very rare occasion it did. 16yrs later I still do. Congrats to all.

– As good as it gets. The breadth and depth of topics you guys cover and the fact you always manage to find a different angle is phenomenal. Never scared to call out the status quo and I love you for that.

– The doyen of internet football fanzines; non-judgemental, non-clickbaitable, intelligent, smart, and the best method to waste many a working hour.

– As an almost daily reader ever since I used to receive it as an email back in ‘99, I can’t think how many hours of high quality and original content I’ve read over the years. Thank you all x

– Getting published in the mailbox as the last email which used to be the funniest. Phil Neville and the ladder. Winners, Losers since Pete Gill Johnny’s articles that balance a roughness and heart. Storey and Lukaku. Winty’s brilliance

– Obvious high is Mediawatch and the Neviller Diaries, but really loved the recent ‘portrait of an icon’ series. Happy birthday F365!

– Football websites spend hours in meetings discussing and then
trying to implement ways to get people onto their homepage and clickthroughs from articles. F365 have had that mystery solved for ages – just write great content. Simple as that. Some of the best columnists around too.

 

Future Days
Back in the day, I would typically write a long, sometimes salty story, which, if you were lucky, illustrated something about a current football issue. These days I try not to write directly about football at all, but instead consider football’s place in our broader culture and lives. And that’s such a classic F365 thing to be allowed, indeed, to be encouraged to do. In that, the spirit of the original website lives on, I think.

While I’ve always thought the standard of writing has been consistently high for 20 years, at the moment I think it’s amazing. We have the 2016 FSF Writer of the Year, Daniel Storey, knocking out some incredible stuff. We have relative new boy Matt Stead doing likewise, as well as other really interesting contributors like Steven Chicken and Peter Goldstein to name but two.

We all bring something distinct and different to the party. I suspect that’s why it works. Contrary to what some people think, we don’t have a some sort of pre-agreed agenda, we don’t all like the same things, don’t all agree with each other. But together we cover a lot of bases. We have people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and me in my mid-50s writing and that helps paint the full rainbow, I think.

Personally, F365 absolutely changed my life and I’ll always be grateful to Steve and Howard for giving me a chance 17 years ago. It gave me a platform to develop as a writer. It gave me an audience. It gave me, well, fans. In 2006 I collated some columns into a book called Footy Rocks, in 2010 I wrote We Ate All The Pies – How Football Ate Britain Whole, in which I considered exactly how the game had become so inculcated into British life. That made the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2010 long list.

Subsequently, all sorts of incredible things happened for me, such as being an Edinburgh Fringe reviewer and being on the Fosters Comedy Awards panel two years ago. I got asked to write for the Daily Record, the Teesside Gazette and so many other publications. I was even on TV last year with Gabby Logan, Alan Shearer, Colin Cooper and Simon Bird talking about North East football.

In the last four years I’ve got into crime novel writing, with 15 now to my name, the 16th due out in January. All of these amazing things and more are ALL, absolutely ALL because of F365. All because some brilliant mavericks gave me a chance 17 years ago. All because they believed in me and my madness. As Todd Rundgren once said: “We need just one victory and we’re on our way.”

With traffic stats hitting an all-time peak this summer, we must be doing something right. The website is big in popularity but small in staff. With just four full-timers, it’s a lean operation, to say the least. It runs on passion, commitment and teamwork.

Compared to those hazy days of excess in Gloucester Place, it is very different. But then, these are very different times and even 17 years on, I still feel every bit as passionate about writing for the site as I ever did.

F365 is a resilient beast with a huge and very loyal following and a unique place in football media. And hopefully, that will always be the case. Who knows what the future holds but one thing I do know is that if we asked readers what they liked most about the website, 1% would still say Frank Lampard.

John Nicholson


More Related Articles