My cards on the table. I love(d) fanzines. That’s probably no surprise given I edited the hard copy TRUE FAITH from its inception until the point the format was overtaken by the possibilities of digital media.
A lot of people find that sad and I do too to a degree. I miss the tactile nature of fanzines, the smell of the glossy pages and being part of a tribe of fans producing and consuming independent, micro publications which allowed new writing to flourish.
We were always fringe publications and it was only ever a small demographic even knew we existed and an even smaller one that tipped up quids to get a copy. That was part of its appeal too.
A part of the style of fanzine writing has been absorbed into the mainstream but there are still people of my age and older who remember the world before ‘zine culture in the 70s – 80s when fans voices were never heard.
Fanzines (and probably all media) are subject to the availability of technology. TF was never published in the way of old punk ‘zines subject to the vagaries of manual type writers, prit-stik, staples and Xerox. We benefitted from the revolution in desk top publishing and photo-shop which enabled us to bring out a fanzine which looked slick and our debt was to Glenn Ashcroft (who we miss greatly) who laid out issue after issue using his extraordinary skills as a graphic designer which he gave to the fanzine gratis.
But it was all about the writing for fanzines. The quality of writing varied greatly but where you got a good editorial control you generally got great publications which spoke of the fan experience, our concerns, passions and stories from the terraces.
For the record my favourites outside of TF of course were – The Mag (Newcastle United,), Talk of the Tyne (Newcastle United), A Love Supreme (Sunderland), United We Stand (Man U), Fly Me To The Moon (Boro), When Skies Are Grey (Everton), The Gooner (Arsenal) and a good few more. I was miffed when When Saturday Comes stopped publishing the names of every club’s fanzine title on its back pages which is a grudge I hold to this day. That’s a joke.
For fanzine anoraks there was nowt better than losing yourself in the Sportspages shops in Manchester or London and leaving with half a stone of fanzines in a placca bag.
I can’t count the hours I’ve spent reading fanzines, making it my business to seek them out at away grounds from zealots hanging around on street corners punting the products of their spare time. To this day, I’ll have a 30 second crack with Barney pre-match from Red News (another great title) somewhere outside Old Trafford who’s still fighting the good fight and pick up one of his copies as well as the latest UWS too. I miss doing likewise with Phil and Graham on the traffic island outside Goodison shifting WSAG to fellow Evertonians.
Fanzines came from a moment in time … largely in the decade after Punk and its DIY culture which inspired a section of football fans to create its own platform. The era of the time was within the scope of Thatcherism, Heysel, Valley Parade, ID cards, hooliganism and of course Hillsborough. That was pivotal to it all too.
The experience of football was starkly different to nowadays – in many ways much better and in others a lot worse. The absence by and large of any football writing left a vacuum which fanzines in part, filled. There are several proper writers on mainstream media who cut their teeth in fanzines (George Caulkin – The Mag, Amy Lawrence – The Gooner, Jonathan Wilson – A Love Supreme off the top of my head).
In the last couple of decades we have witnessed the explosion in different types of fan media – notably message-boards where people under anonymous names could go and bicker over shite and lose their minds in pointless rows as intense young men tend to do.
Websites were probably the beginning of the end for fanzines and some have even supplanted the local press which has undergone a painful retrenchment for myriad reasons. I don’t know about you but if I want information about Newcastle United I tend to pop to NUFC.COM way before I attempt to thrash my way through the jungle of pop-up ads, click-bait headlines and all kinds on The Chronicle before I give up.
Now the landscape of fan media is utterly transformed with Podcasts, You Tube, blue-tick social media and attendant revenue allowing some of those dedicated to it to make a living from it. Good luck to them.
The question I ask though is – what’s the point?
I first wondered what was going on when I saw various ranting men on Arsenal Fan TV a few years ago outside of various football stadiums calling for Arsene Wenger to be disembowelled after a draw at Stoke with a new kind of black London slang. There was a car crash element to it but that stuff which led to the likes of me turning to mates and saying “what the fuck is this?” has elevated those who run it into bona-fide stand alone fan publications which to be fair have matured over time.
There are some I’ve spent time watching who I suspect have undiagnosed mental health problems jumping about in replica football shirts desperate for attention and unable to string a sentence together. The histrionics, the certainty in pet-theories without any substantive facts, the performative rage while filming themselves watching a game on the telly (Mark Goldbridge – Man U) and the blue tick twitter scam of constantly asking questions to drive engagement (aka clicks) – it leaves me cold.
Then of course there is the strange phenomenon of people setting themselves up as ITK (In The Know) fan accounts on social media who claim an inside track on transfer stories. They are largely laughable and many treat them as such but there is something going on in their heads for them to keep coming back – I guess they continue because the metrics which drive all of this convince them to keep at it.
I am at severe risk of sounding like a miserable old bloke here (guilty as charged) but I don’t see the plethora of new fan media being part of anything more than serving their own neediness, bank balance and ego. There’s no cause or movement is there?
And that’s a bit unfair too … I listen to loads of football podcasts when I’m out on my wanders, cycling or driving and genuinely feel as though they are a fantastic addition to fan media when they are done well. I’m not mad on You Tube if I’m honest and social media is a double edged sword. There’s some great crack on there and I feel as though I really like and know some of the people I regularly have a crack on with but on the flip side it really is tailor made for knackers who want to shout abuse behind their anonymity. It’s more tedious than offensive.
And there is so much of it. I joked to a pal at Man City away this season that one day everyone in the away end will be reporting on “my channel” (fast becoming the most soul destroying two words in football) and none of it will be worth a fuck.
My favourite Newcastle United fanzine writers (in no order): Gav Bradshaw, Sean Whelan, Big Duke, Richard Forster, Ian Cusack, Wallace Wilson, Ken Brown, Alex Hurst, Ted Edwards, Paully, Marc Corby, Pat Hughes, Gareth Harrison, Tony Higgins, John Milton, Chris Brolly, Neil Cranswick, Dave O’Brien, Billy Furious, Chris Tait, Tony Fiddes, Neil Smith, Chris Raper, Colin Whittle, Andy Trobe, Matthew Philpotts, Stephen Ord, Yousef Hatem, Chris Betts and apologies to those I’ll miss as soon as I put this online
Nothing in the new fan media has come anywhere near the quality put out by those writers who over the years have entertained and informed with their recognisable passion, humour and intellect.
I realise it is all early days and as happened in the fanzine movement the best titles survived and the rest bit the dust for a lot of reasons – they were shite, those putting them out couldn’t be arsed and people moved on with other things in their lives. The shakedown with the new platforms will take longer because the costs of setting up “my channel” (puke) are minimal and there’s not a lot to be lost just banging on with it.
I do sense there are some amongst this fraternity who want to use what they are doing as a springboard into the mainstream media. Some will make it if they have a definitive skill-set (e.g. have a journalism qualification) or are working in the media already. I have doubts how others will fare.
Not that that’s bad thing either. None of the writers I’ve name-checked above made it into the mainstream media though to my knowledge none of them ever wanted to. They had other things going on in their professional lives for that to be an ambition for them. Like me, they were happy to be fanzine writers and nowt more.
There’s also a generational aspect to all of this too. A lot of the new wave of fan media has grown up with SKY, reality TV, all-seater stadia and a far safer fan experience than the one many of us I’ve referred above to. It’s natural for that experience to shape what they’re doing. They don’t have the same cultural reference points as me and others and that’s no bad thing. And they’re less inhibited about being recognisable in public whereas my generation avoided it like the plague as it wasn’t unknown for us to get a clump from someone who didn’t like what had been said etc.
What about the future?
For me the written word will always be number one. Writers can spend hours compiling their thoughts, shaping how they want to express them and work on something informative and/or entertaining.
But writing is out of fashion. Podcasts and You Tube are way more popular and well, profitable.
It will change of course – the written word has never been dependent upon a tech leviathan in California for its survival and the vagaries of how they operate as hostages to Elon Musk, Mark Zutterbrg et al doesn’t strike me as a particularly stable means for an entire medium.
How long that takes to implode I couldn’t say but when it does we’ll still be here typing out shite about Newcastle United for your pleasure and thanking you for reading it.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892