LAST WEEK Red Issue, the United fanzine, announced that their January edition would be their last. After 25 years of following the most successful period in their history, they, like Ferguson, have called it a day.
I’ve never read it and I won’t be lamenting its passing for obvious reasons but yet another fanzine has gone to the wall and that at least is saddening. The voice of the fans is important and on occasion it offers views, concerns and celebrations that the official written word never could or allow.
Look at what happened after Lambert’s goal last week. We can talk about that for days, but the club could not. Rickie Lambert was booked, presumably for promoting some form of civil unrest, so it can hardly go shouting about it. No, fanzines are supporters talking to supporters so it’s a little sad when another disappears.
Now we have Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and while both have their pluses, they are virtual in form only. You can physically hold a mag. You can take it home with you. You can read whole articles rather than 140 character snippets. You can laugh at cartoons. You can even smell it. (nothing can match the smell of a new mag).
You can come back to it later rather than having to scroll down pages of screen to find what you want. You can give it a cursory look in the ground or on the way home before it completes its journey, taking up permanent residence in your bathroom, yellowing next to a tin of Vim.
My own fanzine experience –from reader to contributor- is a pretty common one. Like many I wanted to write about LFC on a full time basis. After all, I spent most of my time thinking about them, loving them and arguing with them so why not?
I could combine my love of the written word with the passion I feel for the club, the culture and the game as a whole? It was worth a go at least but the chance of someone paying me a living wage to write about the Reds seemed a long way off. Still is, to be honest.
Writing about football, any football, is a great thing because the well never runs dry. With every passing day something happens or someone says something and your opinions are apt to pitch and sway accordingly.
Views change all the time too (see Michael Owen) and I was no stranger to this. One minute I didn’t like Kevin MacDonald, the next I was advocating a new contract but, at the time, this was all in my head. I mean, where do you start?
I considered journalism but that was a distant dream, particularly as that required proper courses that took years to complete and required actual fees rather than the grant assisted education I was used to. I considered writing a Nick Hornbyesque book but didn’t have a computer and writing longhand was a pain in the arse. No, I was left to my thoughts and views and that was never going to be enough. Then came fanzine culture.
It seemed an obvious solution but it was a nerve wracking prospect. After all, they had good, even great, writers and they wrote aggressively, fantastically on subjects such David Moores, Phil Boersma, the size and mass of John Barnes and Jan Molby and how the greatest team in the world could be vastly improved by xyz.
There wasn’t much in the way of fair argument as most articles were dogmatic and carried a tone of ‘Don’t argue’. I liked that but I wasn’t ready to have my observations torn to the shreds just yet. Instead, I just read whatever I could and nodded or frowned.
My favourite ‘zine by some distance was Through the Wind & Rain, edited by Steven Kelly, who wasn’t and still isn’t Steven F Kelly – the writer of the Shankly and other LFC books. TTWAR had the lot. Great covers, cartoons, articles named after Led Zeppelin songs regardless of their context and the great ‘Mancwatch’ – a collection of redtop quotes from sympathetic journalists making out that the United of that time were world beaters rather than an average Cup side who hadn’t won the League in two decades.
The sycophancy of, say, Steve Curry sat next to some of Big Ron or Ferguson’s more outlandish statements. The tone was never gloating but one of ‘they really said this after they lost to York City’. Ask any reader about ‘Mancwatch’ and they’ll go all misty eyed and reel off a list of favourites.
Best of all was the editorial and diary entitled ‘The Story So far’, written by Steven himself. Even when we were doing well he’d find something to moan at and, finding a kindred spirit, I agreed with every word. He was fair in his targets. If United and Everton had the piss taken out of them, our own club got it far worse, be it the players, the ground, the pubs, the press conferences, the haircuts, the kit, the everything. Dripping with sarcasm and humour rather than outright hatred, Steven fast became my favourite writer and still is to this day. He’s finally made it onto Twitter as @goat_boy_1959
I liked the other fanzines too – The Liverpool Way, Red All Over The Land, Our Days Are Numbered, When Saturday Comes – but TTWAR felt like home. They liked Buzzcocks and Bowie and thought lager was a bit posh. This had no interest in being inside the club or anything like that. It was more for looking over the fence and peering in before going home to listen to Undertones albums.
A lot of Twitterati seek that form of inclusion from within the club. The ‘in the knows’ and ‘I get texts from Brendan’ seems to be a new thing and something that was absent from fanzine life. We had no interest in having a pint with Roy Evans and even if we did it would be to talk about Shankly and Chris Lawler rather that the point of Neil Ruddock.
We enjoyed the distance between the terraces and the corridors of power. That was their world and this was ours and it was the only way we could keep all criticism and praise pure. If you get too close you become dazzled by the lights and it’s difficult to voice opposition at that point.
As Hicks and Gillet discovered, there has to be a ‘them and us’ element to support at times. The club is accountable to its fans so fanzines have an important role if sit-ins, marches, demonstrations etc. are called for. I’m not just thinking of us here but of Hull City and Cardiff last season. We have the right of dissent.
Sure, you can go too far as the Southampton fanzine wishing death on their then manager Ian Branfoot but mobilisation in times of trouble is vital and fanzines sounded the trumpets.
As Liverpool declined the issues became thicker in size and more in-depth in analysis. It’s not easy writing about your team if you’re doing well. No one wants to read that. You’re living it instead. I can’t think of anyone who would want to watch us lift the League trophy and get their laptop out when they could be drinking themselves sick and singing till their vocal cords erode. It’s different if we’re not doing well and, given that the TTWAR contributors had Souness to play with, there were plenty of pages to fill.
Fanzines also kept the disparate and dissolute informed. Thanks to my mates moving to Somerset and Leeds I spent much of my non-Uni time going to the game on my own. On my own but seldom alone. When the Kop was standing you could keep your own counsel if you fancied or find yourself dragged into debates by groups of lads whom you didn’t know.
Personally, I loved standing next to old men who weren’t quite ready to make the natural progression to the Main Stand. Moany or pissed or both, they were great entertainment. I can remember one old boy collapsing into fits of giggles every time Peter Davenport touched the ball. He’d point and hoarsely gasp ‘Jesus, they paid money for him!’ Fanzines were the written word of what was said in the stands.
That’s the difference between now and the Twittersphere of today. If you couldn’t make the game you had fanzines to talk to you as fans do, from the very heart of the ground itself.
Before too long I dropped the match programme altogether, having tired of Ken Addison’s talk of the Commercial Development Team, and would get into the ground early to read whatever else was on sale that day. I’d identified the writers who were funny, those who were not, those who took themselves far too seriously and, more importantly, those whose ideas I could nick and pass off as my own.
I was ready to go in. I took the plunge and wrote a letter –an entry level piece rather than a full article- about the last day of the Kop and what it was like to have a ticket in the away end (in’s in and all that) that day. Pleasingly, I received a handwritten letter thanking me for it. Handwritten! It even had a little gold sticker on the back with the printed address on it. We’re going back a bit now, obviously.
I sent in the more letters, some of which make embarrassing reading today (‘Pegguy Arphexad could make a career here’), but was still finding my feet. Not because I didn’t think I could write, but because I was worried about an audience. If people you’ll never meet think you’re a tit then fine but the risk of someone who might recognise you and point out at ‘that dickhead who thinks we should drop Barnes for Hutchison’ before getting an entire pub to sing at you? No, ta.
Yet people did it. And people sought them out on match day. When TTWAR went all technological and had a forum (it too gathered unto God) people would talk of how they saw Mr Kelly selling the fanzine and would report that he wasn’t quite the curmudgeonly crying arse that he made out to be. ‘He actually laughed once’ someone noted. The written word was great if you could hide behind anonymity but real life was a little too real. Still, I had to do something.
In 2003, I wrote a farewell piece about Patrik Berger and it was given a double spread. I wouldn’t say it established me as a fanzine writer but I pretty much appeared in every subsequent edition – such was my arrogance and the paucity of copy elsewhere. Since then I’ve been lauded, bollocked, sniffed at, stalked, hugged, and shouted at in pubs, as a consequence. It gave me confidence enough to write for other fanzines too and, having read Kristian Walsh’s letter to Mark Lawrenson, gave me the nerve to ask Andy Heaton about The Anfield Wrap.
Of course, not all fanzines are good. I’ve read some terrible ones thanks to going through a phase of picking them up at away games. Many are just offensive for the sake of it, writing far more about their rivals than their own club. I don’t mean Red Issue here. I know the stories – the KKK thing, the ‘grief junkies’ line etc. –but it was never written for me so I’m not bothered. I do know that if you put ‘Liverpool fanzine cover’ into your search engine of choice over half of the images are from them.
That’s not to say that other club’s fanzines aren’t worthwhile. King of the Kippax was great as is Sunderland’s A Love Supreme. A special mention to United We Stand, who once told me that although they obviously don’t like Liverpool, they’d rather we didn’t die. A fine sentiment for this new age.
Yes, there are some awful fanzines too; mixed with poor writing and over-enthusiastic prose, but even they have their place. Fans are making their own pages rather than just endlessly following the company line and that’s to be applauded.
Times have changed now. Half and half scarves, family areas, mascots etc. and a changing audience have made the written word and subsequent selling it outside the ground a difficult job. The Liverpool fan has changed over the years and while something edgy, political and street culture obsessed as The End was a perfect reflection of its times, it wouldn’t last five minutes with today’s demographic. If the past had rushed forward to our next weekend and there were people dishing out Coal Not Dole stickers, would there be many takers? Different times, different fans, different media.
TTWAR came to a close in 2009 when message boards and up to the minute news sites became more prevalent. Social media killed physical copy as fans could read and spout opinions immediately rather than issue them quarterly. Boards even had their own flavour. Red and White Kop is a fair distance in tone from Red All over the Land while TTWAR barely mentioned the match at all, preferring to concentrate on Joy Division B-sides and the films of Werner Herzog.
Even prose is on the way out, although thankfully not altogether. If you wanted to start something up now you’d look at a podcast rather than a quote from the printers. All you need is Skype, some basic editing equipment and an iTunes account along with a few mates.
This very site offers a webmag (I prefer ‘pixel based periodical’) rather than something you can smell at the match. No doubt Red Issue had countless rivals and competition when they were in their pomp but they had the advantage of selling directly to the people who went to the game rather than international supporters group who had no idea what Sam Platts is. That market has got smaller and smaller while the more widespread audience is growing and growing and there are probably not many Far East United fans that would settle down to read a reminiscent piece on Lou Macari.
I love the line in the West Wing where speechwriter Toby Ziegler is shouted down by a prospective voter when he is asked to test his media soundbites for the upcoming Presidential campaign. As the voter storms off, angry at how every line is examined for popularity rather than political substance, an aid asks Toby who he was. ‘That’s my guy,’ he explains, as the man disappears into the crowd. ‘That’s who I write for.’
So it was with fanzines. I wrote for people who were pissed off at the queues at the turnstiles, at George’s taste in music, at Carlsberg being the only beer of choice and who missed an Anfield which had an oversized paint tin on the pitch before kick-off. That would mean little to the Tokyo Reds, which isn’t to denigrate them but they had the football to think about while we had the culture too – the local culture. That’s my guy. That’s who I wrote for.
I hope fanzines can stick it out in the social media age. We still need to read something on our way back from the ground after all and maybe, just maybe, there’s a batch of writers who will be allowed to cut their teeth as many of us on The Anfield Wrap did.
Support your local fanzine. Fans are the most important thing in the game and it’s great that we can all talk together. Not just within our club but with other clubs too. Plus, we need reading material in the bog.