Independently produced magazines written by fans for fans, fanzines have come a long way from the 1970s cut ‘n’ paste publications. Today, fanzines are found mainly in sport and music. The first sports fanzines started in the 1970s, notably Foul (1972), a satirical football magazine largely inspired by Private Eye. Both then and now, fanzines locate themselves between the PR-filled club statements and the sensationalist hype of the mainstream media, and some have argued they represent cultural resistance by challenging dominant ideas.
Foul was rather nostalgic, but its ideology is less important than its satire and independent spirit. That fans could write passionately and coherently about football was itself significant. Foul also provided a breeding ground for journalists who later became mainstream, like Eamonn Dunphy 178 fantasy football and Peter Ball. It did not last beyond 1976, but it was the precursor of the articulate passionate male worldview later expressed by many club fanzines. Nearly all football fanzines believe that football belongs to the ordinary fans, and that it must be saved (or reclaimed) from capitalist interests, politicians and media. The ordinary fan has football’s interests at heart, and will defend it against exploitation by business concerns and politicians, and without these fans, it will decline inevitably. Thus, most fanzines have a political dimension, even if not in a party political sense, and many offer prescriptions for football’s future and its organizations, as well as discussing the team, board, supporters and authorities.
However, fanzines also reflect wider cultural perspectives, reflecting musical tastes, fashion and styles. The 1980s Merseyside football/music magazine The End for instance had interminable debates about the origins of ‘scally’ dress sense and youth culture. All these elements to a greater or lesser degree are visible later in the wider fanzine movement. Often, regional identities (formed around politics, musical taste and genres, and various styles), were created, expressed and developed via fanzines. All fanzines, whether they cover football or music, originate from the 1970s punk rock era, when messy sheets of badly Xeroxed A4 paper were distributed at concerts, complete with spelling mistakes. The flaws were not due to laziness or incompetence, but expressed the fundamental punk DIY ethic, and the fact that the fanzines were an antidote to mainstream magazines like New Musical Express and Melody Maker. The first punk fanzines had titles like Sniffin’ Glue (started by Mark Perry), and 48 Thrills, written by Adrian Thrills. Other important titles included a new wave magazine called Jamming! (by Tony Fletcher). The ethos of these fanzines is clear from one edition of Sniffin’ Glue, where Perry printed a picture of three chords with the caption: ‘Now go and form a band’. These fanzines were outside the mainstream music press, and made no concessions to traditional sensibilities about language, expressing themselves in a very raw fashion; some see the early fanzines as both organic expressions of a scene in themselves, but also as a response to the way that the mainstream press were extremely slow to pick up on punk. Music fanzines are slightly different from football fanzines: by definition, they are about interpreting and discussing a cultural product, in this case records and songs. Football fanzines take an oppositional stance to their clubs (to the point where some have been sued and others banned from selling inside stadia), so they are situated as social actors inside the football world. Music fanzines sit outside the music world and comment upon it: they are more positive and celebratory, and act more as conduits of information than as conveyors of opinion and cultural positions. They will interview bands, discuss the records, lyrics and concerts, and act as a non-oppositional forum for fans.
Football fanzines usually argue that interviewing players is wasteful and defeats the publication’s objective, which is to offer an independent site for fan expression. Moreover, the football fanzine world is more concentrated than the music fanzine world, since the central cultural product, football, is the same everywhere. Only perspectives and loyalties change. Music fanzines fragment into genres or individual bands, generating divisions and making the creation a sense of unity harder.
The biggest, most mainstream football fanzine, When Saturday Comes, lists all the fanzines it knows about; there is no equivalent unifying forum for music fanzines. The technology used by fanzines has also developed with the decades. The 1970s saw old typewriters and office Xerox machines, the 1980s had the personal computer revolution, and the 1990s witnessed some fanzines in existence only on the Internet or via electronic mail. This has led some theorists to accuse fanzines of hypocrisy (bemoaning modern trends while using the technological results of those trends to create their publications), while others have suggested fanzines are breaking down local and regional barriers, creating a global culture.
A common question is, who writes and reads fanzines? It is hard to say who reads them, since most surveys have not generated adequate samples, but most football fanzine editors are male, politically left-leaning, articulate, probably formally educated after age eighteen, and middle or lowerfanzines middle class. It is much harder to say who edits or reads music fanzines (though clearly far more women are actively involved), as there is no way of knowing the totality of the scene since it is so split into genre and band loyalties. However, the mid-1980s saw a clear tendency for people to become involved with music fanzines as a way into mainstream journalism: in 1997, the editor of Loaded! (a masculine culture magazine for the ‘lads’), James Brown, began editing a Leeds music and style fanzine called Attack on Bzag. For some, fanzines are simply ways for fans to indulge their unimportant opinions, shouting pointlessly amongst themselves, but it is clear that fanzines are also an important form of cultural expression. In a world where it is increasing difficult for alternative views to be heard, fanzines offer fans of football, style and music the chance to express themselves to their peers.