FOOTBALL MEDIA IN THE UK: A CULTURAL STUDIES PERSPECTIVE
Dr. Richard Giulianotti
THE MODERN PERIOD
THE POSMODERN PERIOD
THE FOOTBALL FANZINE
THE FANZINE SPECIFIC QUALITIES
THE NEW FOOTBALL CULTURE
Now, the fanzine tends to have a number of specific qualities:
I've taken in some examples of these particular features of football fanzines. With these examples, I'll pay particular attention to the Aberdeen fanzines. I've written a chapter on these fanzines, and this will appear in a forthcoming book. But, I will also mention the fanzines of other Scottish clubs, and how these reflect the points that I've just made.
- It is produced by 'amateurs' - that is, the people who write the fanzines and who publish them are not professional journalists. Also, they do not make much money out of them - it is not their main source of income.
- The format of the fanzine should not be too professional. That is to say, it should not possess colourful photographs, or have the typed pages all in the same font and typeface. The fanzine should, classically, look like as if it has been put together, with a lot of cut pages and some glue to stick them all together.
- The fanzine regards itself as the 'voice of supporters'. It is there to give expression to supporters, who feel that their views will not be expressed through other, more established forms of media.
The fanzine therefore tends to define itself against professional media, especially against local and national newspapers. You will often find that the writers in the fanzine express very critical views of professional journalists, and the stories that they write on particular aspects of football. The fanzine will also tend to define itself against the official match day programme, which is produced by the club. I don't think that they have such a thing on the continent. But in the UK, every club produces its own programme, which is sold on match day. Many of the bigger clubs also produce their own weekly newspaper, which is sold to supporters. Fanzines tend to define themselves against these official club publications.
- The content of the fanzine can often verge on the libellous and the defamatory. Its criticisms can be extremely strong - sometimes, it can verge on the area of 'bad taste'.
- The fanzine also feels that it can express criticism of the club which it supports. It can criticise the management, the owners of the club, the players, and even the fans and readers of the fanzine.
- This means that the fanzine stands in a clearly political relationship to the different institutions relating to one football club. It will define itself against many of these. It will be tend to express opposition to the official supporters' club, which all football clubs in the UK organise. This is because the leaders of these clubs are regarded as too quiet and unwilling to voice their views.
- Fanzines also play an active part within the cultural politics of football. They tend to take a left-of-centre or liberal view on key issues, such as racism within football, sexism, football hooliganism, the commercialisation of football, and the policing of football.
- On some occasions, fanzines may also provide a forum through which football supporters can generate or express a peculiar sense of cultural identity. What I mean is, they may actively assist in generating an identity which was not there previously within the club and its fans.
Now, as I stated earlier, Aberdeen currently has two football fanzines. One is called The Red Final, the other is called The Paper Tiger. These two fanzines were born from the dissolution of the original Aberdeen fanzine, which was called The Northern Light (Picture 4). The circulation of the Aberdeen fanzines varies, between sales of 1,000 to 4,500.
The key question is what effect football fanzines have had, on the UK football culture. Well, I think that they have had several definite effects, at a variety of levels:
- The Aberdeen fanzines are certainly produced by amateurs. Most of them have professional jobs, usually in employment such as teaching, in the service industries working woth computers, or as white collar workers with oil companies. However, most fanzines sell for approximately £1 - which is much more than the cost of production. So, the fanzine writers can make some money, but this is not declared for tax purposes....
There are some fanzines which do not have an amateur ethos any more, but have instead become rather professional. For example, the fanzines of the two top clubs in Scotland, Rangers and Celtic - the editor of the Celtic fanzine actually does this job as his full-time occupation. And, this leads to some criticism among the other, more amateur fanzines; they argue that this professional position reduces the independence and spontaneity of the fanzine - that in some way, professionalism goes against the critical, yet fun-centred spirit of the fanzine.
- This tension that strikes fanzines - between professionalism and modernity, and amateurism and tradition - is reflected in the format of the fanzines today. The Aberdeen fanzines, for example, ARE produced in a professional way. They are printed by printers; the cover of the fanzines is of a standard kind, using the same masthead on every issue; the people who write in them, do write in an articulate manner; the people who draw the cartoons, can draw. And yet, they do not contain colour photographs. They do not allow advertising inside the fanzine.
- Scottish fanzines are certainly in existence to promote supporter views. As one editor puts it, they are there to 'give supporters a forum' for these views and opinion. Clearly, there is a deep-seated view that other forms of media do not serve this function. It is certainly the belief of fans who write into fanzines, that there is too close a relationship between the football clubs and the mass media. This belief is based on the perception that the fans do not hear about the real things which go on inside clubs.
Also, there is a view that many newspapers are too biased in favour of particular clubs. It is thought that sports journalists do not provide enough critical writings on football clubs or on football personalities. The supporters who write in to the newspapers often find that they do not get to express themselves in a fair and open way; their letters are not printed, or edited too much, or heavily criticised, without the right of further reply.
At Aberdeen, for example, the conflict of the fanzines with the media is dichotomous:
Other Scottish fanzines tend to define themselves against club newspapers - which inevitably do not contain any criticism of the club. For example, the club newspaper of Glasgow Celtic is called The View. Hence, the Celtic fanzine is called Not the View.
- Firstly, the fanzines criticise the Scottish press, for being very biased in favour of the top clubs. For example, the top selling tabloid in Scotland, the Daily Record, is called The Daily Ranger (indicating the support of the sports journalists at that newspaper for Glasgow Rangers).
- Secondly, the fanzines also argue that the local press in Aberdeen do not have any critical relationship to the club at all. For example, the local press do not criticise the management of the club, any players, or any of the club's directors, even though the club may be losing matches, losing supporters at the gate, and selling its best players. When supporters write to the local press to express criticism, this criticism is usually mocked. Hence, the Aberdeen fanzines also mock the local press, in turn - and in particular, they have a go at particular journalists, who argue that journalists lack a critical vantage-point.
- As I say, fanzines try to express the views of supporters. However, this can lead to some potential problems, about deciding what views can be printed. Many articles and cartoons verge on the libellous. They put on paper a lot of the rumours and half-truths which tend to surround football players. Issues relating to political extremism, or sexual deviance, or financial malpractices, or physical infirmities - these are all the classic material of football discourse, at a popular level, which can provide a case for financial damages if these are presented in public.
One of the Aberdeen fanzines hired a lawyer to look at their fanzine. The lawyer was not a lot of help to the fanzine. She reported that the content was 'abusive', but could not say if any court case brought against the fanzine would be supported by the judicial system.
Thus far, the legal position of fanzines, regarding their content, is an untested area. The culture of football promotes the idea that football players should be able to take criticism - perhaps this is one reason why there have been no court cases brought by clubs or players against fanzines.
There was one court case brought by the editor of a fanzine, against another fanzine. The court action was raised by the editor of the Glasgow Rangers fanzine, who complained that a Glasgow Celtic fanzine had libelled him, when it claimed that the Rangers fanzine supported extreme right-wing political groups and neo-Nazi organisations.
- As I've indicated earlier, the fanzine also feels that it can express strong criticism of the club that it supports, and the people who are employed at the club. The fanzine culture emerged at a time in the late 1980s, when supporters of football teams were regularly criticising the lack of interest which the directors paid them. Many fanzine writers were members of the Football Supporters Association, and demanded that the football clubs should have a supporter on the board of directors. Fanzine writers also tend to be left-of-centre in their political views - hence, they do not have a lot of faith in the businessmen and professional executives who try to organise their football club like a business rather than a cultural and social institution.
This self-critical aspect of fanzines is one of their most important roles, in relation to the football system within the UK - it is also one of the most popular ones. Some fanzines discover that they sell more copies of their fanzine when the club is going through a bad period - for example, when the team is threatened by relegation, or a manager is becoming very unpopular. At moments such as these in the club's genealogy, the fanzine plays a crucial role in mediating and reflecting the criticisms of supporters, when no other outlet tends to play this part sufficiently.
- Fanzines are therefore more likely to be supportive of the more militant supporters' organisations at football clubs. Some fanzines are very hostile towards the 'official supporters' clubs', because these fans tend to be quiet and supportive of the club management and club directors. This is certainly the case at Aberdeen. The people who started the Aberdeen fanzine were members of an official supporters club. In 1986, they had attempted to criticise the directors of Aberdeen, by writing to the local media and by publishing a newsletter. However, these supporters were threatened with expulsion from their supporters' club, for being disloyal and not showing support for the club - so they resigned and started up their fanzine.
- As I mentioned earlier, the fanzines are undoubtedly left-of-centre in their political views. Probably the strongest issue for fanzines, in a cultural politics sense, is racism. Fanzines are universally opposed to this; they regularly criticise their fellow supporters for engaging in racist chanting. Indeed, some fanzines were started by supporters, as a way of expressing their disgust at the racist chanting of fellow fans. For example, the Manchester United fanzine 'Red Action', or the fanzine of the Edinburgh team Hibernian, called 'The Proclaimer' - both were inspired by their founders' desire to challenge racist chants among their fellow supporters.
- Now, in the case of some fanzines, there does appear to be a bit of a paradox in relation to their wider humanism. While on the one hand, fanzines tend to be explicitly anti-racist, on the other hand you find that their representation of other teams and supporters creates a form of 'neo-racism'.
For example, Aberdeen fanzines tend to concentrate heavily on their opposition to supporters in the Glasgow area of Scotland - and by that I mean fans of Rangers and Celtic. Now, the Glasgow area of Scotland is not a particularly wealthy area, and tends to be stereo-typically associated with an underlying culture of poverty, ill health, crime, violence and religious bigotry and sectarianism. As these pictures show, the Aberdeen fanzines are not slow to use this in their caricatures of Rangers (Picture 5) and Celtic (Picture 6) fans. To some, these images may border on neo-racism. The editors of the fanzines claim that this is not so - they say that, with racism, you are attacking someone on the basis of their colour, which they did not choose; with football fans, it is their choice regarding which club they want to support; in the case of Rangers and Celtic fans, the fanzines are simply indicating that a particular kind of person tends to choose to support this kind of football club - a slightly convoluted kind of logic.
Football fanzines have turned to a new area of cultural politics - and that is the impact of new laws and legislation on football. As you will know, we have a rather right-wing government in power in the UK - since 1979, at least. Hence, rather strong criminal legislation has been passed, to tackle the 'problem' of football crowds. Now, football fanzines did not say much about the anti-hooliganism laws of the 1980s and the early 1990s. However, in 1994, new legislation was passed, as part of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA). And, this act has criminalised a lot of the behaviour that takes place at football matches. For example, if you swear openly, or start a chant with swearing in it, you can be arrested. Also, if you have an extra ticket for the football, and want to sell it, at face value, with no profit involved, you can be arrested.
Now, this piece of legislation has led to the creation of a new social movement - Football Fans Against the Criminal Justice Act (FFACJA). This organisation has its own web page, and tries to agitate against the legislation. The FFACJA use football fanzines as a medium for publicising their hostility to the legislation (Picture 7). The classic fanzine medium - the cartoon - is a popular way of publicising this campaign.
- Finally, it may be said that football fanzines can both reflect and provide football supporters with a sense of fan identity. For example, the fanzines of Rangers and Celtic, also look at issues relating to religious identity and to Irish history. These issues are strong among supporters of these clubs, but they tend not to be discussed by the media or by officials of the clubs themselves.
At Aberdeen, the identity of the supporters tends to be rooted in their difference to supporters from Glasgow. The Glasgow fans tend to criticise two aspects of the Aberdeen fans:
The fanzines have been central to a collective reply to these accusations.
- It is claimed that Aberdeen fans lack the passion or intensity of Glasgow fans. At matches in Aberdeen, it is said that the silence is only broken by the rustling of sweet paper or candy-wrappers.
- It is also said that Aberdeen fans are very rural and bucolic in the way of life. This rustic persona is also said to manifest itself in forms of primitive sexual deviance, especially in relation to sheep. The phrase 'sheep-shagging bastards' is often heard, emanating as a chant against the Aberdeen fans, among the fans of Rangers and Celtic.
In some ways, this places the supporters in an oppositional relationship to the football club. It is a common thing for football clubs to have their own mascots, and these come out and are paraded before the crowd at football matches. The mascots are the invention of the directors or the professional people marketing the club - they do not come from the supporters.
- Firstly, they do acknowledge that matches in Aberdeen tend to be quiet, but they argue that a lot of the noise and passion in Scottish football, is based on religious intolerance and bigotry between supporters of Protestant and Catholic teams, especially Rangers and Celtic. The argument of the fanzines is therefore that this kind of support for a football team is not something that they want.
- Secondly, and perhaps most perversely, the Aberdeen fanzines have embraced the stereo-type of being 'friendly' towards sheep. The cartoons in the fanzine often picture sheep, attending matches with football supporters, or in erotic poses (Picture 8). The sheep is the emblem of the fanzines - it is, if you wish, the totem of the fanzines. In this sense, embracing the deviant identity becomes a means of mocking it. Since the beginning of this promotion of sheep, as a kind of fallic symbol, inside the fanzines, many younger supporters have taken on this absurd identity - by sometimes carrying an inflatable sheep to football matches, or wearing sheep badges and so on.
At Aberdeen, the mascot is a bull - of course, as the Argentinians would expect, because of the Aberdeen Angus. However, in a sense, the bull stands in a kind of conflictual relationship to the real totem of the supporters - the sheep. The emblematics of the sheep, of course, stand in clear conflict to the interests of the club - in attempting to project the football experience in a nice, safe, friendly and uncontroversial environment, to a family audience. The sheep, and the origins of this emblem, rather undermine this image.
- So, in a sense, without taking the application of Levi-Strauss too far, we can say that the fanzines do assist in creating a supporter identity. And, on occasion, this supporter identity can undermine or can conflict with the identity that the football club is trying to promote (Picture 9).
So, fanzines have had an effect on football culture in the UK. Historically, they provide a bridge, between the old football culture of the postwar period in the UK, and the new football culture, that is reflected in the new football media.
- They do provide an outlet for the views of supporters. In the long-term, this can force the club into listening to the views of the more critical or militant supporters. At Aberdeen, the fanzines have made some minor advances. Some of the fanzine writers have met with the directors of the club. One result of this meeting was a relatively minor but symbolic one. After the meeting, supporters of Aberdeen discovered that they were greeted by staff of the club in a more friendly way, especially in the ticket office, where the staff were much more helpful than in the past. I also believe that the fanzines have played an important role in campaigning for the sacking of managers at football clubs - Aberdeen are included here.
- Among supporters, as I have tried to argue, they have helped to develop particular senses of fan identity.
- Within the media generally, fanzines have had a very strong effect. Today, on national television and national radio, many football programmes have a very relaxed and 'informal' format. On television, there are 'fanzine'-type football programmes. On the radio, there are fanzine-type programmes, which have funny sketches and comments about football players and officials. There are also more 'phone-in' shows - in which supporters can call in, and voice their opinions on a number of issues within football. Finally, within the local and national press, the fanzines have had a clear effect. Some newspapers regularly interview people who write in fanzines, and seek their views and opinions. Also, the format of some newspaper reporting on sport, has become more fanzine-orientated: there are more cartoons, more humour, and more criticisms of football institutions.