Confessions of… A Teenage Fanzine Editor

In the first of a new short feature ‘Confessions of…’, Matt Arnold writes about being a teenage fanzine editor in the mid-1990s and trying to avoid being sued…

“Oh, the fanzine?”

“YES! I found some copies at home!”

*Sigh*

Please, please leave them there”

This is a conversation I have, on average, about four times a season. The last occasion was at half time against Orient last month.

The reason dates back twenty years, to the post-Fever Pitch, pre-forums, pre-social media, pretty much pre-internet mid 1990s. These were the glory days of the Fanzine, or ‘Fans Magazine’ (A note for younger readers; a magazine is sort of like a blog, but trees have to die and everyone loses loads of money).

Back then, across the land, ‘When Saturday Comes’ occupied a special place in all right thinking supporters’ hearts, and, in Swindon, the excellent ‘69er’ had seized with gusto the baton discarded by the deceased, and much lamented, ‘Bring The Noise’.

So, with the misplaced confidence of youth, aged 14 , I concluded I too could offer fellow Town fans informed opinion, entertaining features, and what we were a good fifteen years from dubbing, ‘LOLs’. I was almost certainly wrong.

It started as 16 pages of A5 black and white, retailing for 20p and photocopied on the sly. Definitely not, I should point out as he still gets a pension from them, at my Dad’s place of work. Despite questionable quality, the inaugural issue quickly sold out, due, in no small part, to a tiny first print run. There is, after all, only so much surreptitious photocopying you can do at, what I repeat, definitely wasn’t my Dad’s place of work.

‘The Randy Robin’, as my nascent fanzine was ‘hilariously’ titled, made waves with it’s sophomore edition.  The Adver ran a story, front page no less, about this incendiary tome BEING BANNED from the County Ground. A classic case of ‘The Man’ trying to ‘keep the kids down’ if ever there was one. Thus, I was pictured, pubescent and piqued, outside an empty County Ground, brandishing a copy of my contraband rag.

Except, and here’s a confession, it didn’t really happen like that.

Employing the sort of low cunning that really should have later landed us careers as football agents, my friends and I had decided to whip up some free publicity. So I rang up the club, to innocently enquire whether I could sell the fanzine at the ground. Not unreasonably, the mandarin dispatched to deal with this upstart, informed me what I already knew, that only official publications, ie the programme, were permitted.

Murmurings about this snub to entrepreneurial schoolboys by crusty officialdom soon reached the ear of a friendly journalist, and, lo, tidings of this little local difficulty were duly dropped through the Town’s letterboxes just days later. Profile plumped up by the local paper, the next few issues the Randy Robin followed a familiar course.

While most teens loudly berate what they perceive to be their parents’ failings, it was the dubious paternal influence of the Swindon Town board we regularly raged against on our pages. Alleged mismanagement by these older squares even inspired the fanzine’s finest hour, a special free edition, produced in under 24 hours, as a response to the deadline day (under) sale of Jan Aage Fjortoft.

It would be naïve, and not a little self deluding, to suggest that the swiftly photocopied scribblings of a schoolboy helped fan the flames of protests that erupted post-match behind the Arkells the match after the flying Norwegian departed. But in a time before forums and social media, that issue of the Randy Robin promptly articulated the anger that most of the home crowd felt.

Aside from our often inexplicably irate editorials, and adolescent angst, much of the material was light hearted, even silly, designed, in the days before smart phones, to fill a few minutes pre match. It was always a wonderful feeling to see fellow fans, some of them actual adults, flicking through our work in the stands.

But it couldn’t last.

An end of season issue included a collection of quotes cribbed from various sources, summing up Towns campaign. When produced on my parents’ word processor, this seemed far from our most contentious piece. We had, after all, in the very same issue, filled the center spread with a Wild West-style poster of Town board, who were, apparently, ‘Wanted for the Attempted Murder of Swindon Town Football Club!’

The motive behind this melodrama escapes me now, and indeed, I suspect wouldn’t have stood up to much scrutiny at the time. Never the less, it went unremarked on.

Unlike the aforementioned article, which included a quote, attributed to a local journalist, about how “The words Steve McMahon and ‘man management’ don’t go together in the same sentence”. The remark had been lifted, not from the journalist’s own writings, but a piece in a fairly niche Football League magazine. A magazine it transpired that I’d managed to misplace, as said journo penned an angry polemic in the Adver, strongly denying ever having uttered this sentence. Perhaps, in fear of a Sam Morshead-style banning from the club, the slighted hack showed no remorse, giving the fanzine both barrels in print.

He, rightly, derided our legally dubious disclaimer in the front of each edition ‘We’re all under 16, so please don’t sue us’; before drawing readers attention to our flagrant, shameless and un-credited use of the paper’s copyrighted photos in the fanzine.

‘The Randy Robin’ limped on, but this was the beginning of the end. By the start of the next season some fans were refusing to pay for their copy, as it was “full of lies”. An accusation, incidentally, that you could apply to many teenagers writing about football today; only they do it on their mobile phones and have the ability to convince the world, via their ‘In The Know’ Twitter account, that they are an informed industry insider, rather than a football-obsessed adolescent.

And the less malevolently minded can share with fellow fans anywhere in the world, thoughts, jokes, opinions, even, if they must, ‘banter’, 24 hours a day.

There is have no need for arcane, off-line entities like fanzines.

Today’s youth (and how my 14 year-old self would hate that I grew up to use that phrase) will never know the pleasures of waiting for the local paper to drop on the mat to hear the latest transfer news, of following your side’s midweek away games on Ceefax, or, yes, of writing up and distributing your own ill-advised thoughts on actual printed paper.

Printed paper that definitely wasn’t photocopied at my Dad’s place of work by the way.

Follow Matt Arnold @HaroldFlem

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