Against modern football

New fanzines give voice to fans tired of being taken for granted.

STAND (Against Modern Football) is a fanzine that was born in the summer just gone after a discussion between a few like-minded souls on an internet forum. The debate started after a post about the controversial "re-branding" of Cardiff City from blue to red at the behest of a Malaysian businessmen who believed it would help the "brand" in Asia. This wasn’t just a decision that dismayed tsupporters of the Welsh club. Fans of all football clubs couldn’t quite believe that more than 100 years of history could be written off in seconds in exchange for a few quid. If it could happen to them it could happen to any of us, and for the soon to be co-editors of STAND - Seb White (Yeovil Town), Daniel Sandison (Liverpool) and Mark Smith (Stockport) - it was the final straw. Something had to be done.

The volume of support for the idea, particularly on social media, lead to the first issue hitting the streets in a matter of weeks. This was a feat in itself given the time scale involved, but what made it doubly impressive was the fact the thousand copies that were printed sold out in no time making them quite the rarity. A few months later the third issue of the fanzine has just been published and it appears to be going from strength to strength.
 
So are we a load of old blokes moaning about modern football and declaring the game "dead"?  Well, not really - let me explain. The "Against Modern Football" movement is not new and has been thriving on the continent for quite some time. But supporters in the UK have by and large sat idly by as the game has changed irrevocably. The people behind STAND sought to change this and to provide a platform for fans from different clubs, in the UK and beyond, to set out their biggest gripes with the modern game, to take the piss out of the nouveau football fan in his jester’s hat, to mull over ideas of how we can improve the game for the greater good and to inform fellow supporters of the varying ways in which clubs are being destroyed from within.  
 
The latter has been the most eye-opening for me because the views of the real fan don’t always get the media attention they deserve. For example, the first issue had an excellent article from Nik Marsdin, a Blackburn Rovers fan. Nik explained, in very rational and dispassionate terms, just why the then-manager Steve Kean had become the focus for suchabuse and how the last small-town team to win the top league in England was being torn apart by their Indian based owners, Venky’s. This will have been news to people who are force-fed the views of ex-pros on Sky. But it wasn’t just a football club that was falling apart - it was an entire community and the story needed to be told. Football fans are very tribal by nature, but it has been refreshing to see just how quickly club loyalties have been forgotten in cases like this. 
 
We do get asked, “If you’re against modern football, what exactly do you want?” The simple answer to that is that we aren’t completely against modern football. Nor, as has often been lazily asserted, do we want a return of the death-trap stadiums, large-scale violence and racism that blighted the game back in the Seventies and Eighties. There are many good things about the game today, but there are obvious problems, such as ticket pricing, which need addressing. And there are also numerous matters which, because they’ve been with us for so long now, are simply accepted as being the norm when they really shouldn’t be. There are countless examples of fans having to travel hundreds of miles for early kick-offs or Monday night games just because the broadcasters - Sky or ESPN - have decided that particular game is the one that they want to screen. Do the fans get a say in this? Of course they don’t. Do the satellite companies care? No. Do the FA or the Premier League step in and stop this happening? Not a chance. Yet we’ve swallowed this rubbish for so long now they continue to do it. Just because we arguably didn’t put up enough of a fight in the past doesn’t mean it has to keep happening.
 
Sometimes, people will say to me, “It’s pointless - it’s too far gone so just walk away”. I’m not having that. I’m not accepting that there are only two options: swallow it or walk away. There is nothing to say that, en masse, football fans can’t force the government to look at implementing legislation which stops ticket prices spiralling further and further out of the reach of the common man. In 1990 Lord Justice Taylor stated (and this is quoted on the back of the secon issue of STAND): “It should be possible for clubs to plan a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand” We’ve clearly been failed in this regard, so why shouldn’t the government be involved - especially when other aspects of the Taylor Report have been implemented with such zeal?
 
STAND is only available in print form (despite endless requests for digitial versions of the long since sold out debut issue!). When it’s done properly, print still matters. Co-editors Daniel and Mark are also editors of two flourishing style magazines, Halcyon and Proper. The likes of The Blizzard, Late Tackle and Green Soccer Journal have also showed that printed publications can succeed in the technological age.
 
The internet is good, but there’s nothing like having a printed copy in your hand and there’s also something brilliantly collectable about a fanzine, no matter how basic the format. In an era of Sky Sports News and millions of blogs by faceless football hipsters who have never set foot in a ground (not in the UK anyway), we need fanzines more than ever because the views of the people who actually go to the game and have been going for years ought to be heard. It’s telling that Sky Sports News would rather interview some idiot outside the club shop on a Monday morning rather than get a fanzine editor on the phone. That’s the football fan Sky recognises - not the one whose views may go against the grain.  There are some fantastic writers out there who, without fanzines, would have no platform for their work. I shouldn't really single out individual magazines, but away from the bigger clubs fans of the much maligned Wigan Athletic produce Mudhutter and it’s one of the best reads around and is a credit to its editor, Martin Tarbuck, and its many excellent writers. Mudhutter is just one of many fanzines that deserve a wider audience, so cast your club prejudices aside and buy a couple when the opportunity arises.
 
The heyday of football fanzines was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the many weird and wonderfully named titles - let's never forget Brian Moore’s Head Looks Uncannily Like London Planetarium - did so much to educate and inform supporters. Two decades on, STAND has that same aim - anything to help football fans think that little bit more rather than being passive consumers of the modern game. So if you haven’t read STAND yet, give it a go. We are not an organised campaign nor are we a movement - not yet anyway! But if we can help to force change that will benefit the ordinary fan, then we will all be a little happier.
 
Follow Macca on Twitter: @The_Paris_Angel
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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle