BY CRAIG STEPHEN
It’s hard to imagine, in this digital age, with forums, fanzones, unofficial club sites et al, a time when fans had no outlet for their anger, disappointment, forward-thinking ideas and self-effacing humour.
Up until the 1980s the letters pages of the local rag might have been the only way of supporters writing about how they saw their club being run/run down.
But, in the middle of that decade, as the casuals were running riot and fans were treated en masse as hooligans, the first fanzines came along; the paper equivalent of an incendiary device lobbed at the board.
They were predominantly black and white and typewritten, with staples in funny places and made with the help of Pritt Stick. Once off the printer’s press, they’d be thrust in the direction of bemused supporters outside grounds.
Today, few printed fanzines remain, although new ones keep cropping up while old favourites like Not The View just won’t go away.
Personally, I love the printed zine – force of habit maybe – but it’s the ability to stick it my pocket or bag and read it on the train that appeals.
The daddy of them all was The Absolute Game which appeared at the end of 1986 and broke new ground by covering the likes of Stenhousemuir and Berwick Rangers, with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that inspired many people to start-up their own zines.
It lasted 60 issues, up until 2002 with a break in-between, a pretty good run for an A4 black and white zine that largely avoided the so-called Old Firm and focused on weightier matters such as the eccentric antics of Albion Rovers’ chairman and the use of hand-held radios to keep up to date with what was going on elsewhere.
The mid-80s was a strange time for Scottish football – the team always qualified for the World Cup, the ban on English clubs meant more attention on our teams in Europe (and, like the national team, that meant general failure), the New Firm and Hearts were still threats to Celtic and Rangers and Jimmy Hill was THE figure of hate for everyone north of the border.
But it was also a time when the casuals ran riot – literally – and football was considered some sort of unlicensed boxing match.
TAG was motivated by a general lack of accountability among club chairmen and the blazer brigade at the SFA/SFL while those chairmen reached the pinnacle of odiousness in the likes of Wallace Mercer.
The TAG team (sorry) claim to have sold about 3,000 largely Old Firm-free copies an edition, by subscription and via record shops mainly, and been the breeding ground for some writers who ended up in the national press, writing about Brechin City and East Stirlingshire.
About three years ago, on a visit to the attic in my Dad’s house, I came across a box full of zines with most of TAG issues contained within and became engrossed in some of the stuff in there – particularly the po-faced insightfulness of regular columnist “Bruno Glanvilla”, features on women’s football, Junior and Highland leagues, basically anything the mainstream press ignored. Even Pat Nevin’s top ten musical favourites featured – all Cocteau Twins, New Order, Josef K, The The and Wire.
It wasn’t the first Scottish “fanzine”, a prototype called Fitba Crazy appeared briefly in 1984, and the internet seller Zinescene stocks, or stocked, zines dating from 1980. The first British zine to take off was When Saturday Comes, which began in about 1985 and through the years has mutated into a near-glossy publication that you can now get on the high street, and even in New Zealand’s capital city for about three times more than you’d pay in Britain.
It once listed virtually every zine in the UK and beyond, and from this I would stick a postal order and an SAE in return for Bradford’s City Gent, Gillingham’s Brian Moore’s Head Looks Like the London Planetarium, St Mirren’s There’s A Store Where The Creatures Meet (named after a line in The Doors song Love Street), a Cliftonville zine that seduced me with a free vinyl single by a local band called The Wait and too many others to keep up with.
And every club had one. Even Montrose – which had a couple – one of which seemed to think zines existed to publish in-jokes and purile comments, but redeemed itself with some good pieces on past players and criticised the board. Which is what every zine did, of course, sometimes leading to petty bans from the stadium grounds. Zines contained match reports, history lessons, in-depth articles, cartoons, best/worst players and some were lucky enough to get interviews with players or coaches.
The joint Manchester United-Celtic fanzine Our Day Will Come was written by people with views marginally left of Leon Trotsky, and a solely Celtic fanzine Tiocfaidh Ar La was proudly republican and socialist. It’s also an excellent read, and a couple of years ago signed off from the published version with a free CD of rebel songs. It’s now an e-Zine.
They weren’t the only ones to deal in controversy. The excellent Aberdeen rag, The Northern Light, was banned from one of its city stockists, Boomtown Books, which sold radical literature on feminism, Ireland, Socialism et al, over a “sexist” cover, when it played up to its reputation with a picture of Flossie wearing stockings and suspenders. Meanwhile, a Dundee United zine copped dogs’ abuse with a supposedly racist image of Raphael Meade.
Fanzines continue to flourish, such as the various Celtic ones, the granddaddy of which remains Not The View; Rangers’ Follow Follow; Motherwell’s Waiting For the The Great Leap Forward, Hearts’ No Idle Talk and Always the Bridesmaid and there may even be a mini-revival mirroring that of music and other cultural zines.
I will leave with a quote from the Northern Light on the legacy of that particular publication: “TNL’s greatest achievement was, in my view, that it gave our fellow supporters a voice that reinforced in print what many of them were thinking – reinforcing their prejudices, if you like, and never more so than when it came to the removal of two managers.”