They’ve taken down the goalposts this summer. There’s not even an international competition to keep us football fans going. So let me help fill the eleven week vacuum with some out-of-the-ordinary football magazines.
With ever-more intensive coverage of football in newspapers and online, you might question the need for football magazines. Sports news travels fast and today’s global interest in the Premiership means any story, however slight, gets passed about faster than Barcelona in their pomp. As I write, the hot story is that Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has been spotted buying packing cases at the Madrid branch of IKEA. The question is, where is he moving to? Cue endless speculation. Huge areas of newsprint and screen alike need to be filled, and this endless tittle tattle does the job nicely.
But what if you want a little more thoughtful reflection? That’s a tough ask at your local newsagent. Match of the Day magazine provides younger fans with an upbeat weekly diet of passionate fandom, and sets the tone for the rest of the mainstream magazines. Football’s great! Everyone loves it! Statistics! Most other magazines are tied to a club or competition, meaning any hope of impartial opinion is lost long before launch. The epitome of this is the match programme, with its anodyne columns and bland reports from the training ground. As a Chelsea fan, a rare highlight was one-time owner Ken Bates’ wild-eyed programme observations on the state of the game, the exception that proves the rule. There’s a general Pravda-like silence about anything controversial, with child-like awe the norm.
At the other end of the spectrum is the football fanzine, published by fans and sold outside grounds. If the official club programme and magazine are predictably positive, these fanzines tend to be predictably negative, dealing in conspiracy theories and campaigns against owners and managers. But if you dig a little deeper there are magazines that provide a more considered approach, making the case that football might just be the beautiful game. Several have been around a while, while others have appeared more recently.
When Saturday Comes remains the daddy of them all, a mix of geeky knowledge and wit that resonates perfectly with the football fan. Best described as the Private Eye of the football world, it records the monthly twists and turns of the world of football with plenty of opinion. If WSC is the honest journeyman of football mags, Sepp (named after UEFA chief Sepp Blatter) is your highly buffed Premiership star. The 178 pages of its sixth issue include an interview with Mesut Özil with photographs by Apartamento founder Nacho Alegre, an extraordinary set of football collages by Beni Bischoff, plus its regular round-up of new modelling talent from the 16 nations participating in the Championships. An earlier issue featured portraits of footballers drawn by Karl Lagerfeld. In a world where players are not only prime customers of the big brands but are also models themselves, a fashion magazine about football is far more natural than it might initially seem.
Other magazines rely on the fashion connection too, albeit less directly. The Green Soccer Journal generally takes a more writerly approach, but also mixes in a bit of fashion. Interviews in issue four range from actor/football fan Phil Daniels to Brazil star Pato, and there’s a behind the scenes report from the Sky Sports football studios. Shorter pieces examine the art of the corner kick and hear ex-player Marc Edworthy’s view of his eight club transfers. In this respect it fits a growth area of indie publishing, the magazine that reconfigures an existing genre to a broader cultural agenda. But they’ve also featured some clever fashion shoots – goalkeeper shirts laid out to mimic famous saves, for instance, and the creative team recently collaborated with COS on a clothing range.
More writerly still is The Blizzard, a quarterly bookish publication written by experienced sports journalists including Simon Kuper, James Corbett and Luca Ferrato. Here you’ll find thoughtful long reports on World Cup bids, reflections on football as a metaphor for war and a look at the methods of little-known but highly influential Dutch über-coach Wiel Coerver. The Blizzard is available to be read in ‘hard copy’ or digital versions.
None of these major on design – WSC is consciously low-key in design terms; Sepp is all about the pictures; GSJ is a careful blend of simple monochrome design and photography; and The Blizzard is plain, simple, legible. But two newcomers this season are not only more design-orientated but illustrate the widening interest in football. From the US comes Howler, a large-format publication published by veteran art director Robert Priest. A Brit who moved to New York, where he has designed many major magazines, this is his Kickstarter-funded homage to soccer. It’s a tour de force of design, every page heavily worked in typical US editorial fashion. Familiar match report photography features alongside exquisite illustration (from the likes of Gary Taxali, Brian Cronin and Sue Coe), intensely detailed opening spreads and infographic presentations of statistics.
At the other end of the physical scale, Field – the Match Day Paper is a weekly magazine that has been trialling free distribution outside Premiership matches. Slotting neatly between the official programme and independent fanzine (at just over A5 it’s about the same size as both), Field is 32 pages of newsprint with a couple of interviews and previews of each week’s match schedule. It looks great in a minimal, monochrome way but the initial issues have some editorial problems (are fans interested in previews of other matches, particularly if they were already played the day before?). But if they can overcome that it might just be the perfect attention-filler as you enter the ground and take your seat. It might even spur the official publications to try harder.