My Life as a Fanzine Editor
It was thirty years ago today. Well… a bit more than that. But I was never great at deadlines. And “it was thirty years a month ago, give-or-take” doesn’t scan with my oh-so-knowing Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band reference.
Song titles and music references were a common source of fanzine and fanzine article titles for better writers/editors than I (i.e. most of them). The Kingstonian fanzine I edited and co-wrote for eight years ended as “The Searcher,” marking the hero worship of The Searchers by the then-Ks manager Chris Kelly’s (or, to give him his full title, Chris ‘no, not the Clapperboard one, the Leatherhead Lip’ Kelly).
But when it began, in March 1988, the title ‘NHS- No Home Stadium’ wrote itself, as Kingstonian had just begun a temporary enforced exile, just outside Kingston borough, the timing of their return dependent on ground development plans. How times have change… ah… Fortunately, we could change the name to “New Home Stadium” after moving to Kingsmeadow in 1989, to live happily ever… ah.
Before we began, football club fanzines were close to becoming/being pretentiously-labelled a ‘movement.’ Club publications Bradford City’s ‘City Gent’ and York City’s ‘Terrace Talk’ and ‘national’ periodicals ‘Off the Ball’ and the still-going-strong ‘When Saturday Comes’ (WSC) were regularly being joined by new titles.
I laughed lots at WSC, issue 9 (with its entirely blank back-page column headlined “Kenny Dalglish – In Conversation”). And I saw non-league fanzines at Sportspages bookshop on London’s Charing Cross Road (where all the cool fanzines hung out), from Wealdstone and fellow Isthmian-leaguers Dulwich Hamlet. As I wrote in my first NHS editorial: “‘If they can do it,’ we thought to ourselves, ‘so can we.’ This first issue is a testament to how wrong we were.”
Whether that proved false modesty is others’ call. We were early bandwagon jumpers, not late trailblazers. We probably fell foul of the major gripe of contemporary reviewers of club fanzines, the ‘in-jokes,’ references to obscure club issues. And with average attendances filed under ‘gatherings’ (“when’s kick-off?” “when can you get here?”) most Ks issues were very obscure indeed. However, NHS got lucky on many counts.
Firstly, club fanzines were being well ‘reviewed,’ suggesting that fans were getting the in-jokes and expanding their reach beyond home gatherings. Thus, NHS issue four was rave-reviewed in ‘City Limits,’ London’s cult listings magazine (i.e. fewer readers than main mag, ‘Time Out’). Secondly, we had the comic, artistry of early co-writer and schoolmate, Kevin Pamphilon, who first introduced me to Ks (er… thanks?).
In January 1988, Kingstonian drooped out of the Surrey Senior Cup at lower-division Chertsey Town, with Micky Droy (yes, THAT one) dismissed for a borderline assault. To Kelly, it was a rotten refereeing decision. And he proclaimed the Surrey Cup “a Micky Mouse competition, with Micky Mouse officials.” Cue Kev with a wonderous drawing of Micky Mouse in refereeing gear, an Issue One centrefold, which more-than-compensated for my puny prose (long-time workmate Julie Willis later encapsulated us in brilliant cartoon form, despite having, proudly, NEVER setting foot inside a non-league ground
Thirdly, Kelly, always a maverick figure, liked our irreverence, often name-checking, thereby semi-legitimising us, in his regular programme column. And lastly, production values and costs were as zero as they looked. In 1988, ‘cut-and-paste’ was just that. Word processors were not quite ‘of the future’ but they hadn’t reached chez Murphy. Each page was typed on rickety typewriters, on A4 paper, and reduced onto A5 pages, with lines visible around the final product if it wasn’t ‘pasted’ properly. Pictures would be photocopied at least twice before publication. ‘High-definition’ they were not. Barely visible, they often were.
I could pretentiously suggest that a punk rock fanzine spirit was evoked by these ‘basic’ production values. The 12 issues of arguably the most famous, ‘Sniffin’ Glue (and Other Rock ‘n’ Roll Habits for Punks)’ were 11/12 years before NHS (which seems a short time now but was half-a-lifetime ago for me then). But there was no comparison beyond being as scruffily put-together as they looked.
Production and selling was drudgery. I can thank Les Easterbrook for the first three issues. But names cannot be named for others as some printing/copying venues were ‘unwitting’ contributors to our zero costs. This let us raise considerable funds for Ks and other projects, which offset the inevitable criticism we received for our ‘irreverent’ attitude to the club. But if production was of another age, research was from another planet. Times was hard, I tell you. ‘Google’ was still a hurtful, childish nickname for someone with bi-focal glasses. And, kidz, you REALLY ‘don’t know how lucky you are.’
Kingstonian’s FA Cup first round proper appearances merited ‘special’ issues (big crowd to sell to). ‘Special’ plans were made in 1993, only for Ks to be giant-killed (ish) by Met Police in the fourth qualifying round. But, an issue came out on First Round proper day anyway, with an “FA Cup First Round Special” headline over a picture of a laughing policeman (geddit?).
A few-second ‘Google’ search of the song ‘Laughing Policeman’ would elicit one. But, in 1993, I could find not ONE jolly copper pic to cut/paste. Then I remembered that Private Eye magazine, much of whose style we shamelessly nicked, headed a regular feature with a line-drawn but recognisable image of a smiling copper. It just did the job… just in time.
On the upside, we befriended other clubs’ fanzine people, notably Bishop’s Stortford’s ‘Crossrhodes’ and Dulwich’s ‘Champion Hill Street Blues.’ Crossrhodes’ Gareth Stephens deserves mention (and copyright fees, tbh) for phrases I use today. “The old ones are the only ones” could have been coined to review my ‘comic’ musings.
And even ‘spats’ with other publications, produced much thought-provoking material. Hendon’s ‘Sleeping Giant’ reported Kingstonian home games as war zones, largely, if not totally, preposterously. We had some real fruit-looper fans. So, our reaction, “WTF are they on about?”, mixed with an occasional “yeah, that was me, sorry.”
This warped view of our military capabilities reportedly emanated from “a slightly-embittered man… with a dog,” called ‘Desmond Doggie.’ Whether ‘Desmond’ was dog or owner, I never knew, as we never knowingly met. Although as ‘slightly-embittered’ describes an all-too-high percentage of non-league fans, we may have unknowingly met. Either way, thanks for the material.
Thankfully, OUR targets never knowingly met us. Ourselves and Crossrhodes followed referee Graham Poll’s depressing rise through non-league ranks with shared dismay at its inevitability. “Martin Fry from ABC,” we called him. “Fry’s a better ref,” we added. And “we hated Graham Poll before it was fashionable,” still ranks as a boast.
Poll probably never met us. George Borg, Barking’s barking boss did. Thankfully unknowingly. Borg was a(nother) fanzine writer’s dream, a ‘combative’ touchline/dug-out presence. Our ‘breakthrough’ issue (the one reviewed by ‘City Limits’) centred on Borg’s brainstorms one hot afternoon. He invited every caustic crowd commenter to meet him “in the car park afterwards” (one NHS contributor’s elderly dad was over-keen to accept) and an issue virtually wrote itself.
Later, as Harrow Borough boss, Borg, serving one of his umpteen touchline/dug-out bans, stood by me and two other fanzine regulars, taking visible pride in our nodding and smiling in pretend agreement with his constant, ridiculous rantings, blissfully unaware of how much piss we were taking.
And touchline piss-taking was another area where we got lucky. Our regular match-reports were only our skewed perspectives ‘from where we were standing” (the title of the ‘match-report’ section). Thus, were reams of comic material produced by countless contributors, faithfully reported as ‘one Ks fan said.’
Occasionally this was me (“Oi, Bob Dowie, your twin brother’s really ugly”). But when someone marks a victory at Basingstoke with “this is better than sex… whatever that’s like” or sings “red platoon with heavy casualties” as seven opposing fans singing “red army,” you take notes and take the credit. Swathes of the fanzine really ‘wrote themselves.’
And we had fine writers. Phil Windeatt (whose Dad fronted-up Borg at Barking), a card-carrying Trotskyist, broadcast journalist and South Bank Show film researcher. His “Old Dubbin” column (nope, me neither) included ahead-of-his-time perspectives on women’s football and the appalling non-league club fund-raisers, “Gentleman’s evenings” and musings about his pre-teen days watching Ks successful 1960s side.
London-domiciled Buckie Thistle fan Micky Ross was a sign of Ks more successful times, a Ks fan we DIDN’T recognise when travelling back from an away game. He majored on Scottish junior football, which some pilloried as irrelevant to Ks, until they read, and invariably enjoyed, his work. After a fabulous Adrian Littlejohn goal for Plymouth knocked Ks out of the FA Cup in 1995’s second round, Micky wrote: “If players have better skill than you and show it, no matter how fleetingly, you can’t complain.” As articulate a generosity in plucky defeat as I’ve read.
Fellow-Scot Pat Keating was introduced to NHS by the great review of which I remain proudest, from Rangers fanzine “Follow” (unknowing of my Celtic leanings). Alas, he took issue when I edited one of his contributions for lazy, racial stereotyping, and he started his own fanzine, ‘Kool for Ks.’ It was good, if a bit ‘Judean People’s Front.’ And people who have dismissed it since as “no NHS” or “no Searcher” are being very kind to us.
Nevertheless, the fanzine was nearing its natural end. By 1993/4, Kelly started taking himself more seriously… and took us more seriously too. This was no coincidence. He became Ks general manager, then well-remunerated chief executive (though not obscenely so, in fairness). He was hopeless at both. We said so. We were banned from selling inside Kingsmeadow.
And, by 1995, I’d run out of ideas. ”At about the same time as Chris Kelly did,” I noted. I produced two special, single-issue mini-issues. In late-1996, “The Sack” marked Ks and Manchester City being level on five managers each for the still-young season. And in 2004, “Khosliar” documented, in 24 all-too-fillable pages, Ks then-chairman Rajesh Khosla’s Donald Trump-esque relationship with facts.
However, I couldn’t
access work photocopiers to avoid production costs maintain my creative flow. It was time for younger people (“Weaving in and Out” was an excellent 2000s Ks fanzine, not connected to the current Twitter account of that name) and time for blogs to take over.
I don’t re-read the old ‘zines, in case I was writing sh*te all along. But other contributors’ work has stood up well. And this article is as much about thanking them, while I have the time, as belatedly marking the 30th anniversary of my first (self-) published literary doodles.
The fanzine might not have started at all if Micky Droy hadn’t seen red at Chertsey Town. And I might not be the much-lauded writer I pretend I am at parties… or would if I ever got invited to any. So, thank you, Chertsey referee… and all contributors to Ks’ first fanzine.