THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Ian Plenderleith discovers the nuanced world of sub-genre webzines

Good writing, keen comment and a reasonable smattering of wit constitute the US-based website Roundnotoval, which claims to be the “greatest unread football fanzine on the planet”. Its editors produce a new issue of news and opinions on the game worldwide every week, with a special focus on the US. This regular renewal of content gives the site the kind of fresh feel that is often lacking in the maelstrom of neglected websites that have fallen foul of misplaced enthusiasm in the great Cyber-Beyond.

Particularly interesting are the archived pieces on the downfall of the North American Soccer League, including an article on Henry Kissinger’s attempt to get the World Cup to the US in the 1980s, and the shenanigans that led to the demise of the New York Cosmos. And full marks for awarding one of their regular red cards to the glossy lads’ mag Total Football for the “unmitigated audacity” of its “lazy journalism”.

It seems commonplace for lowly staffed, small budget operations like the above to produce above average content, while big name sites with, presumably, a decent measure of financial backing post moribund prose with little substance. Teamtalk, however, does at least cover news from every club in England and Scotland, whereas many other sites ignore happenings beyond the Premiership. The problem is that in attempting to do justice to so many clubs, it spreads itself too thinly, and you imagine that Plymouth and Wrexham fans, say, looking for news on their side will be better served going to dedicated club or fan websites.

At first glance another newcomer, Matchon, also suffers from offering the same fare as numerous other general sites. Latest news, “live” results, columns of speculation on who will win what, and even the possibility to watch a video of Nigel Winterburn mumble disinterestedly about the coming campaign. Though I’m not sure why anyone would want to spend 30 seconds of their lives downloading, then another three minutes watching, Nigel tell us “we’ve got a fantastic squad and we could have an exciting season” while an anonymous reporter chirrups the word “obviously” into his face a dozen times.

Hidden at the bottom of the front page, though, could be the key to the site’s success – archived career statistics of over 15,000 players. A random search of Lincoln City players showed that not all data are complete or up to date (though David Beckham’s is), while the history of league results, whereby you can “astonish your friends with your knowledge”, gives results from the 1970s, and further back, but no scorers. Other sections on attendances and scorers yielded no figures at all beyond the last season, but if the archive is properly updated then it could prove a fine on-line asset to those of us who do not own a shelf of Rothmans Yearbooks.

If you’re still in a coma from listening to Nigel, head to the Football Sounds File at the It’s Up For Grabs webzine, where you can tune in to the interview clips and radio commentary for such historical moments as the Keegan “I’d-luv-it” interview or the first nine seconds of San Marino v England. The rest of the site’s not bad either, combining old but precious quotes, lists of celebrity fans, rehashed gossip and balanced, well-written features by the site’s editor and main contributor, Simon Myers. Small may not always be beautiful from a graphics point of view but, more often than not, it’s the diminutive operations which spawn the better writing.

From WSC 164 October 2000. What was happening this month

More...