THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

20 May ~ The editorial in WSC 104 (October 1995) expressed some frustration with the football publishing boom of the 1990s

Wotcher and welcome to a brand new football magazine. We're daring to be different. We're from the street, not a cul de sac, and we want to know what you, Joe Punter, Mr Bloggs, the geezer at the back of the away coach with a six pack and a roll-up, think about the game that Bill Shankly so rightly said that thing about (sub in copy here – Ed). What are the best terrace songs about Bovril and Subbuteo? Who does Jimmy Hill think he is? Why don't you come over here and say that? All these questions and more will be answered each month, or your money back.

Only kidding. If you're flicking through this edition of WSC in a shop, well done for finding it (and if we were in the porn section have a quiet word on our behalf). You can hardly have failed to notice – football magazines are taking over the world: store detectives now collar anyone leaving a newsagents without buying at least one magazine trumpeting exclusives on Ryan Giggs' holiday snaps or Alan Hansen's favourite episode of UFO.
 
Over the past couple of years, the market has been pored over by researchers who have discovered more than can possibly be good for them about the likes and dislikes of 18- to 25-year-olds who would pick Le Tissier in preference to Batty, prefer bottled beer to draught and would be prepared to consider buying shinpads endorsed by the 1994 Brazilian World Cup team. The end result is that publishers are now jostling for the attention of every sentient being who has ever been mildly interested in football.
 
Not that we're complaining. We'd worry about anyone over the age of 12 who found something to hold their interest in the official club magazines, but the last thing we'd want would be a return to the period BGT (Before's Gazza's Tears, that pivotal moment in football history with which only someone who has been in solitary confinement for five years wouldn't be fully familiar).
In those days, anyone wanting a football magazine to read on their way home for school was well catered for by Match and Shoot!, but purchasers over the age of 16 had fewer options to choose from than the San Marino national coach.

There was a very thin (in content if not quantity) glossy called Football Today and one of the many versions of Football Monthly, limping along as a shadow of the magazine it had been in the days when it still had Charlie Buchan's name in its masthead.
 
Fanzines weren't available in shops apart from specialist outlets like Sportspages and a handful of independents – WSC had been going for two years before we were allowed over the threshold of a high-street newsagents – and the publishers who are now bursting to tell you about who's hot and who's not in the Premiership were contentedly beavering away on advert-packed doorsteps about cars, computers and yachting.
 
So, never a better time to be alive than now, though it's anyone's guess what will happen after the European Championship Finals. If England have done well and look to be on course for the 1998 World Cup, expect a media frenzy to dwarf even the obsessive level of coverage devoted to the game in the past year: there'll be daily newspapers for each League club, Terry Venables will be in every TV commercial, and Sir Bert Millichip will replace Queenie as Head of the Commonwealth.
 
But if the tournament is a catastrophe for England, it is possible that the football magazine market will suffer a knockback, too, as publishers' cash is channelled back into trying to turn on car-owning computer buffs who sail at the weekend. The past couple of years may then come to be seen as a brief golden age for football publications.

But, for all we've said about dreading a return to the creative desert of the 1980s, that wouldn't be a true reflection of the way things are: football magazines are piling up on the shelves because a market has been identified and is now being tapped, but there are nothing like as many new ideas as there are new titles, and the seam could soon be over-mined. (The main shaft is jammed up with state of the art drilling equipment; we're crouched in a sidetunnel with a pickaxe.)

It may not be too long before the current trend for conscious irony in magazine coverage of football culture will reach saturation point. There is a limit, after all, to the number of times you can stand being told about Escape To Victory and terrible old perms and "There's some people on the pitch who think it's all over . . ."

Then we'll back with the complacent conformity in style that the fanzines reacted against in the first place, a circumstance in which the Football League Review would come to seem revolutionary. All of which, we don't mind telling you, has given us an idea...

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