Words by Danny Brown
A soggy fanzine seller, groaning under the weight of a huge bag, latest issue clutched in hand, bellowing ‘Get your fanzine, just a quid!’. A sight as common at a football ground as long hair and short shorts were 20 years ago. But sadly (not so much in the case of the shorts), it’s also a sight that’s vanished in today’s game.
Despite this, there’s still a small army of creators spending endless hours each week writing, editing and producing their ‘zines – just to stand in the pissing rain on a matchday, hoping they can flog enough issues to cover the costs. Dave Wallace, founder of King of the Kippax is one of these creators.
A lifelong Man City fan, Wallace was a prominent member of the Football Supporters Association in the eighties and decided to start his own fanzine, in order to give a voice to fellow blues’ supporters. In pretty standard City fashion, the ‘zine was born out of a cock-up on the opening day of the 88/89 season.
“I intended to start King of the Kippax in the summer of 1987, but we were moving house at the time so instead I decided to contribute to the first City fanzine, Blueprint, instead. However, there were some editorial differences and the final straw was when the fanzine missed the start of the 1988/99 season, meaning my perfectly presented article was hacked and chopped.”
Deciding to take matters into his own hands, egged on by his mate Martin Gordon, then editor of Sheffield Wednesday’s ‘Just Another Wednesday’ fanzine, Wallace put together the first issue, printed a few hundred copies and plucked up the courage to sell it on the terraces. On 24th of September 1988, King of the Kippax was sold for the first time, away at Barnsley. City won 2-1.
“When we started the ‘zine we dedicated it to Colin Bell, the real King of the Kippax!”
The inspiration for the name of the ‘zine was Colin Bell, the shining diamond in a dominant City side that hoovered up trophies under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison in the sixties. Crowned the ‘King of the Kippax’ by the City faithful, Bell’s nickname referenced Maine Roads famous Kippax stand, one of the largest and loudest singing sections in England at the time.
“I’d always written to the papers, won competitions in the programme and together with my wife Sue produced topical cartoons which we sent to local radio presenters and the club which were well received under the pseudonym ‘King of the Kippax’. When we started the ‘zine we dedicated it to Colin Bell, the real king!”
As anyone who followed the sport at the time will know, the eighties was a bad time to be a football fan in England. Marred by a series of tragedies, the rise of hooliganism and the persecution of football fans under the Tory government, it was through this dark period the need for a new method of fan expression was born.
“1985 was a watershed for football, marred by the Bradford Fire, Heysel and the death of a fan at Birmingham when a wall collapsed. In fact, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Fans didn’t have a voice and the reporting in the media was very fan negative and didn’t reflect the humour and camaraderie of the majority of ordinary match-going fans.”
“Fans didn’t have a voice and the reporting in the media was very fan negative and didn’t reflect the humour and camaraderie of the majority of ordinary match-going fans.”
“At the time hooliganism was rife, policing and stewarding left a lot to be desired and football grounds were antiquated. Away fans were banned at Luton, English teams banned from Europe, Maggie Thatcher wanted ID cards, Ken Bates wanted electric fences at Chelsea and Bernard Halford (City’s club secretary) thought that hooligans should be birched!”
“The total content of a fanzine is provided by ordinary fans who have a passion for our club and understand the match going experience, whereas football journalists, general speaking, usually have to toe the party line, and see things from within their bubble. We wanted to know about the support, the humour, the songs, but journalists only concentrated on the actual match.”
Wallace wasn’t the only one frustrated by the lack of opportunities for ordinary fans to have a voice on the issues of the day. Coinciding with the birth of the FSA, fanzines began springing up on terraces around the country. Around a dozen general fanzines came into existence at this time, plus around fifty club-based ‘zines. These numbers rose into the hundreds at the peak of fanzine culture.
“Most of all we intended to provide a platform for fellow fans to express themselves with humour. And they did.”
Walk into any pub on a match day and you’ll find no shortage of opinionated football fans ready to share their ‘expert’ rantings, opinions, analysis and conspiracies with anyone who’ll listen. In the days before Twitter, it was fanzines that gave the wannabe managers, armchair pundits, and terrace prophets a platform to share their views with fellow supporters.
“Our original intention was to publish regularly, with up to date and balanced views, hitting the major issues, reflecting on events with comment and opinion, supplying information, and most of all providing a platform for fellow fans to express themselves with humour. And they did.”
“Some contributors have stayed with us more or less from the start, others have dropped off and been replaced and we now have sons of contributors joining the gang. We always encourage new writers and are especially pleased when aspiring sports journalists join us then go onto bigger and better things. Our current youngest match reporter is just fifteen.”
“There is some duplication of subject matter, but all with different angles and styles of writing. Fanzines differ from the mainstream as we have license to say things as they really are, or how we perceive them, and we can ridicule our opponents and rivals (within the realms of human decency).”
“We don’t get told to ‘stick it up our arse’ as much when selling after games we’ve lost!”
When it comes to change, City have seen more of it than most, both on and off the pitch. Once a self-professed ‘comedy club’, City fans of a certain age will remember the age of dodgy managerial appointments, relegation, derby defeats and that fateful day when goalkeeper David James got a run-out up front. If they didn’t laugh, they probably would have cried.
Nowadays, the club is more likely to make headlines for winning another trophy than their latest on-pitch calamity. The ‘Typical City’ curse seems to have lifted, but the sense of humour remains an important part of the City psyche. Even in the age of money and trophies, City still find the time to laugh at themselves – and King of the Kippax is perfect evidence of this.
“The main difference for us has been the fact that we can be much more positive, and whereas in 1999 our front cover was an ironic shot of Nicky Weaver holding up ‘a trophy’, we’ve been able to celebrate our recent title and cup successes with joyous front covers. Additionally, we don’t get told to ‘stick it up our arse’ as much when selling after games we’ve lost!
In the early days the running of the club was the major issue, and whilst there are still some gripes, it is the misrepresentation in the media, the bitterness of the established clubs, and the strangeness of UEFA which dominate the pages.”
Nowadays, fanzines hold up in quality even against the glossiest club programmes, but that wasn’t always the case, as Wallace testifies: “Originally articles and letters were handwritten (one was written in crayon on a piece of cardboard from a cornflake box!) and sent to us by post, then typed up by my mother-in-law on a typewriter borrowed from work.
These were then cut and pasted (with actual scissors and glue!) into an A4 format then put onto A3 sheets and hand delivered to the printers. A few days later, the finished zine was delivered, by me, to the outlets around Manchester then sent out to subscribers and sold outside the ground by us and some willing friends at future home and away games.”
“We now receive articles by email; they are checked, corrected, headlined and highlighted with cartoons added. They’re then sent to Graeme, our layout fella, who adds any pictures and puts together the final ‘zine, which we give the last edit. Over the years, we’ve built a network of loyal subscribes worldwide, which continues to amaze us.”
However, while the internet has made the process of writing and editing a fanzine easier, the rise of social media has inevitably caused a decline in readership. In 2019, many of these fanzines have disappeared all together as United’s Red Issue did back in 2015, citing ‘the stench of modern football’ as the reason for doing so.
“Whilst it’s fun interacting with fans, it’s not much fun selling on the street in the wind, rain, hail and snow these days.”
“It’s had a massive effect. Sales peaked in 1991 and since then there’s been a steady decline. With regard to football there is much more instant information on social media, and visually on the vlogs, so that has affected the fanzine which generally reflects and anticipates ‘goings on’ in a more measured way on a roughly monthly basis.”
“We started over thirty years ago, and during that time we’ve established a loyal readership because of the quality of writers and, I think, because we have never missed a deadline and have always strived to print most of the contributions. We’ve lost quite a few sellers recently, and whilst it’s enjoyable interacting with fans, it’s not much fun selling on the street in the wind, rain, hail and snow these days.”
It’s a testament to the graft put in by Wallace and his wife that King of the Kippax is still alive and kicking after thirty (that’s right, thirty) years. With the social media revolution showing no signs of slowing, the future for fanzines looks relatively bleak. But Wallace thinks there may be hope yet, and believes the younger generation might play a big part.
“Though going on-line is probably the future, our regular readers tend to prefer a paper magazine and, as it has been reported recently that people are returning to books in preference to reading on kindle, whilst vinyl records are also making a come back, so maybe the times are a changing and diversifying, but not yet over. Watch this space!”