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.
 
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How it used to be: Peter Barnes scores for Manchester City in the 1976 League Cup Final (Getty Images)
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad