One of the ways that the internet has revolutionised communication, perhaps more than is generally realised, is the way that it allows people to find an audience for their opinions. Now, sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is a bad one, and sometimes it just leads to fools wibbling on about their life story into the deep echoing void of cyberspace. However, before the internet, whether you got a wider audience for what you wanted to say very much depended upon the whim of an editor somewhere, who controlled access to the letters pages and comment columns (at least so far as the written media was concerned).
It was, in part, this lack of voice which gave rise to the football fanzine. At the end of the 1980s there was a sudden upsurge in the authorship of such things, borne perhaps of a desire by fans to resist the attempts of the Thatcher government to bring in identity cards for football supporters, but also as a way of expressing frustration at the running of their favourite club side.
In a gradual way I became sucked into this. Distribution was usually by way of selling outside football grounds on match days, and I never have been one for going to several matches a year. The leading publication, When Saturday Comes, was not then available in newsagents, therefore there were really only two ways I could get hold of anything that I wanted to read.
One of these was by mail order, but as a poor student I wasn’t willing to make that sort of financial committment. The other was to visit the legendary Sportspages bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, which stocked a phenomenal number of such publications, from the big and well known to those specific to individual teams to the obscure and esoteric.
Fortunately, at the same time that all of this happened I was looking for a job for when I graduated and so spent a fair amount of time down in London. When I was there I would visit Sportspages, pick up whichever fanzines took my fancy, and read them on the train back to Staffordshire.
In this way I came to be a regular reader of Heroes & Villains, a fanzine for Aston Villa supporters such as myself. It was so well put together and such a fun and interesting read that I continued reading it for many years, becoming a subscriber almost as soon as I had a job.
Many years later, in around 1995, I decided to send them something I had written, entirely speculatively. It was a series of spoof predictions for the coming year and much to my surprise and delight was published in the first issue of 1996. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of that, as it was the first article I ever had published (and was probably totally meaningless to a non-Villa fan!).
Emboldened, I submitted a further piece. I can’t remember what that was about, possibly my first visit to Villa Park, but it was enough to earn me a phone call of thanks from the legendary editor Dave Woodhall (I say legendary because he is still there, on an almost Ingram-esque mission to never retire from the magazine he founded).
For some reason I stopped contributing after that. I’ve no idea why. I suspect I felt I had nothing more to add. Eventually my subscription lapsed and I never renewed it. I don’t remember why that happened, either. The magazine’s still going, though, and I love the way their website maintains the slightly amateurish look that the original fanzines had. I’ll certainly never forget the first place that published my work, all of those years ago.