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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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.