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
How it used to be: Peter Barnes scores for Manchester City in the 1976 League Cup Final (Getty Images)
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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.