Fan culture

Scotland's trailblazing fanzine The Absolute Game is making a comeback. But, wonders Tom Davies, has the printed word had its day as a tool for fans?

The welcome return of The Absolute Game seems bound to induce bouts of premature nostalgia in fans of a certain age and attitude; a throwback to the days of co-ordinated campaigns against ID cards and dodgy policing, to when the floor of Sportspages bookshop in London would be covered in inky outpourings of anger and calls to arms; to the days when jokes about haircuts and bad away kits really did seem like the cutting edge of radical humour.

Co-editor Paul Hutton  mulls over The Absolute Game's revival and concludes the market for articles about Luncarty Juniors remains untapped

Sometime in April, presumably fairly early in the morning, a few hundred lovers of Scottish football will have had a bit of a fright. And that’s before having seen Craig Brown’s squad for the Poland game. Leafing through their morning mail they will have found a copy of The Absolute Game. Perhaps they gazed in a bemused way at the throwback design, wondering where they had last seen its like. And maybe they afforded themselves a wee smile as they realised their subscription money hadn’t been invested in some ropey dotcom after all.

The former boss of Creation Records, Alan McGee, recalls how Robert Fleck lured him to StaMford Bridge and tells how football rescued him from drugs – or was it the other way round?

Did you become a Rangers fan solely because of your upbringing? It must have been at the time when Celtic were the dominant club in Scotland.
When you’re seven it comes down to who you hang around with. I was at a  Protestant school in the late Sixties. I knew some Celtic fans too but the first league match I was taken to by my dad was to see Rangers – although I actually saw Celtic first, in a pre-season match against Queens Park. We lived near Hampden and they were the local club. I used to watch them too for the first couple of years that I was interested in football. You could go when you were ten and you felt safe with a space of your own in this big ground.

John Williams of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research examines the findings from the latest Premier League fans survey and a similar report covering Nationwide League clubs

Embarking on the National Fan Survey is, even now after a few years of trying, still something of a dip into the unknown. Experienced clubs have a nasty habit of “forgetting” exactly what it was they had done last time to achieve a reasonable supporter sample. New recruits have to be carefully schooled in the job to be done.

Time for a chat with Mark E Smith of The Fall, whose football experiences include encounters with a goalkeeping plumber and a controversial match against the Icicle Works

You grew up in Salford, which is more United than City. Is there a reason why you’re a City fan?
Not really, just to be contrary I suppose. Also you want to support the opposite team to your dad and my dad had been a United fan. Back in the 1950s he’d to go to away games on his bike – he’d cycle to places like Leicester. But I converted him to City. I had another United connection, though. I applied for a clerical job at the Edwards family’s meat factory after I left school. It was £9 a week. It might even have been Martin Edwards who did the interview. He said “Well the meat wagons come in, just sit there, fill in these forms and file them.” I said, “When would the job start?” and he said “You’ve started” and he left me in the office.

Michael Palin tells WSC about his favourite players, being an England fan and his love for both halves of Sheffield

Who was your favourite player when you were growing up?
Jimmy Hagan, who was an inside forward with Sheffield United, was one. I’ve kept a scrapbook from when I was nine or ten with cuttings about him and other players. Before television you’d keep in touch with football mostly over the radio so it was important to keep pictures of the players. I had a great soft spot for Newcastle at the time, the Robledos and Jackie Milburn in their Cup sides, and Matthews and Mortensen at Blackpool. It was always players from the northern teams though, because I identified with them more. 

Supporting England still has its problems as Martin Cloake finds out

It may now be acceptable to admit to being a foot­­­­­­­­ball fan in polite company, but declare yourself an active England supporter and the old suspicions re­surface. Watching the telly and wanting England to win is fine, but actually going or, worst of all, following Eng­land ab­road, surely means there is something wrong with you.

Dominic Smith attended England v Scotland and got a view of the two differing types of England fan

It’s been a few years since I watched a group of England fans – all replica shirts, union flags and Blackburn Rovers tattoos – follow a middle-aged woman down Wembley High Road, jeering and repeatedly calling her a “Paki”. Part of the dark old days which the FA and the media – all eagerly campaigning for the English 2006 World Cup bid – would have us believe are long gone.

Paul Whitehouse tells WSC about his love for Spurs, the basis of Ron Manager and the first ever pop record he brought

Who did you want to be when you were a kid in the playground?
George Best, Alan Ball. I did play all the time when I was a kid, I wanted to be a footballer more than anything else. I liked the ad hoc games best, playing on concrete.

To mark WSC's 150th issue, we invited three critics with different links to the magazine's past to reflect on changes in fan culture since 1986

WSC The term “fan culture”, which barely existed when the magazine started in 1986, has now become commonplace. But it seems as though there is actually less of a unifying fan culture now than there was then. Are there things that still bring people together, from Premiership to the Third Division, as we assumed there were when we started? 

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