Twenty-Five Years Of When Saturday Comes
Disclaimer: As some of you will already be aware, Twohundredpercent was fortunate enough to win a gold medal – a metaphorical one, we should point out, not a real one – in the 2009 and 2010 When Saturday Comes Webwatch awards and, in addition to this, our site’s Ian King, Rob Freeman, Chris Taylor and Gavin Saxton have all been lucky enough to contribute to the magazine over the past few years. We mention this only in the interests of full disclosure; the following article has been written in full independence and is, we feel, a fair reflection of the opinions of us that write this site.
The mid-1980s were probably the worst time in history for English football. The beginning of the 1985-1986 season had been overshadowed by the aftermath of two different disasters at the end of the previous season. First of all, fire destroyed the wooden grandstand at Valley Parade, costing the lives of 56 Bradford City fans, who should otherwise have been celebrating their first ever promotion to the Second Division. Later that month, the Heysel stadium saw 39 more deaths, as a result of Liverpool fans charging their Juventus counterparts before the European Cup final – the only parallel with Bradford being that the construction of the ground was a major factor in the scale of the tragedy – which brought about the indefinite banning of English clubs from European club competitions.
In addition to the bleak backdrop of the season’s start, an argument between the Football League and the two major television companies (the BBC and ITV) had seen a blackout of the Football League until the turn of the year, but with so many other issues surrounding the game – continued hooliganism, declining attendances (less than 17,000 saw Tottenham v Liverpool in March 1986), club membership schemes restricting access for members to certain areas of the grounds, as well as the government’s proposed identity card scheme – had meant that publicly, few well known figure wanted to associate themselves with football. If anything, football was a bandwagon that had seen more famous people jump off, rather than jump on, and the most welcoming aspect of the forthcoming World Cup would be that as it was being held as far away as Mexico, it wasn’t likely to be dominated by English hooliganism.
The upside of this public feeling towards football was that, for the first time in decades, it was essentially reclaimed by the fans, and with the only magazines covering football being those aimed at kids, such as Match and Shoot!, or those aimed at the world game, like World Soccer, there was a gap in the market for those looking to read about the game. This gap was not filled by glossy magazines made by the usual periodical makers, but fanzines made by ordinary fans. Most of these fanzines centred around one club, such as The City Gent (Bradford City), The Leyton Orientear (Leyton Orient), Dons Outlook (Wimbledon), Fingerpost (West Bromwich Albion), Terrace Talk (York City), Wanderers Worldwide (Bolton Wanderers) and Townsfolk (Ipswich Town), and most were relatively short-lived affairs, although The City Gent (first printed in 1984) and the Leyton Orientear (1986) still survive today. In amongst all of these one-club publications arrived one fanzine aimed at the game in general, and is still around today – When Saturday Comes (WSC).
Originally edited by Mike Ticher, with Andy Lyons then a contributor, and now editor, the magazine was initially an offshoot of ‘Snipe’ (a London based music, art and culture magazine), but has forged its own identity to the degree that it’s now much more well known than it’s originator, not to mention that this month sees WSC celebrate its 25th anniversary. A remarkable feat for any magazine (World Soccer is the only football publication that has been produced longer), let alone one that has been independently published for its entire life. Unlike most magazines, WSC has remained successful by keeping itself relatively the same. This is not a magazine that has felt a need to change its identity every couple of years in order to keep up with the latest fashions within the industry.
This does not mean, however, that WSC has never changed – the first four issues were clearly hand-typed on a typewriter in such a fashion that makes it difficult to read 25 years later, when we are all used to word-processed magazines, and a variety of different web pages in an array of different fonts, and the style of the cover (always a satirical joke, inspired by Private Eye) has evolved as WSC has gone from typed, to black and white photos, to colour, as technology has improved, and the magazine itself, is now available in both paper-based and digital formats (although every cover issue has featured the same logo of a man wearing a shirt with “The People” adorned on the front, carrying a ball).
The levels of writers in some instances have also changed, as some of the contributors are full time writers, as well as the traditional ‘amateur’ contributors that the magazine has always used, but the ethos of the magazine itself remains the same. When Saturday Comes has always been football fans writing about football, for football fans, about subjects within football that fans are passionate about. Whether there are problems with their club, football in general, or you have just wanted to get it off your chest about football abroad, a specific season, or bugbear, or even if it is just football fan talking about that strange signing that your club made ten years ago, who broke his foot on his debut, and never started another game for the club, you are more likely to find an honest read of it, in WSC than anywhere else.
Where else would you find articles on Graeme Souness in Turkey, The Anglo-Italian Cup, Nicaragua v El Salvador, the debut of the first Soviet Union player in English football, the 1987 Finnish Cup Final, the history of match fixing in football, features on clubs at all levels of the league – including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and Labour’s proposed Football Taskforce from 1996 – presumably they just ran out of time to implement the “more equitable distribution of income between clubs” section in their thirteen years of government – along with a regular review of the month’s football and football on TV?. Not to mention a letters page even more eclectic than that random list of articles picked out from he piles of WSC issues at the bottom of my wardrobe, as well as the areas of football culture that WSC and its writers deal with best – off the field struggle.
Over the past quarter of a century, WSC has highlighted fan campaigns such as those against identity cards in football, campaigning for justice after Hillsborough, or just against the problems that occur in everyday football at all levels of the game, whether it’s at Manchester United, Mansfield Town or Maidstone United, whether it is writing about the individuals that cause it (as the first issue stated on the cover – “As I write this I’m looking at two pictures which just about sum up everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with British football today. One is of Pat Nevin and the other is of Ken Bates. They’re both smiling but Pat’s smile says: “I’m doing something I love”, and Bates’s says: “I’ve fooled you all”. I could go into detail, but I’m sure you know what I mean”).
One of the most important aspects of so many of these articles is that they’re written by people who have a better insight than most, because they are watching the team they’re writing about week in, week out, or they have an interest in the particular area of the game that they are writing about, so they generally know what they want to say, and if they need to research their piece they know where to start, because its within their field of interest already. I know that from personal experience, because I have had the pleasure of writing for WSC on three occasions. And that is the beauty of the magazine. Generally speaking, everyone writing for WSC knows what they are talking about, because they are talking from within their comfort zone.
Unlike some of the other football magazines that have cropped up on our newsagents’ shelves over the years, WSC has very few ‘big name’ interviews – very few interviews at all, in fact – with football people with a new boot, or a computer game to plug. Even the reviews are written in the way that reviews are supposed to be written, telling the reader why they might or (might not) like a product, rather than coming across with a puff piece, because it satisfies the advertisers not to have any negative connotations with their product. It says something about the expectations of readers that many of these other titles have long since vanished while WSC soldiers on. Even with the invention of the internet, and the explosion of football blogs, in recent years have not dented WSC’s place on the shelves – in fact it is WSC, and the fanzine movement in general, rather than the glossier competitors that have influenced the majority of football fan sites on the net.
Vast swathes of the mainstream media have no idea what the future holds for them at the moment. The internet and people’s expectations of what they should pay for quality writing have blown a hole in a long-established business model. Amid all of this uncertainty, there is talk of consolidation, consolidation, consolidation. In terms of football writing, When Saturday Comes remains the standard bearer for independent football writing in Britain, balancing the freshness that it had a quarter of a century ago with the respect that comes with its length of service. That we should still have such a vibrant publication after all this time should be something for which we should all be grateful.
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