When I was growing up there was no internet or mobile phones. How old does that make me sound?
We had Ceefax and Teletext and when I got to about 15 I managed to blag a telephone landline in my actual bedroom. I felt like I’d arrived, sat there on my Amiga, watching the Italian football on Channel Four, like the geek I was.
I grew up in Stockport, which if you don’t know is kind of like what’d happen if Manchester and Cheshire had a kid, then left it to fend for itself. For some reason which I still can’t fathom, I chose to go to secondary school further into Cheshire in a place called Macclesfield, 15 miles south of Stockport. It necessitated around an hour a day on a school bus. While all the other lads smoked surreptitiously and the girls tried their best to ignore their advances, I quickly got bored and found myself taking stuff to read on my way to school. Fanzines especially. I just had a thirst for knowledge, like what Jarvis Cocker said in that song he did. I didn’t come from Greece though, nor did I study sculpture at St Martins College.
That appetite for learning wasn’t really noticed in school. Mostly because the knowledge they continually foisted on me was dead, dead boring. Brow beaten teachers telling us about stuff we and they had no real interest in. School in the early 90s, that.
What I found more interesting were magazines. Even as a kid, I’d eagerly snap up anything that could be described as such, from the posh stuff that cost me my entire weekly paper round money to the home made stuff. My Grandad bought me Roy of the Rovers, then later Gary Lineker’s Hotshot Magazine. He even got me those slightly racist old Commando comics, “Eat lead, Fritz!”. It must have had an impression on me. No, not like that.
Travelling around the country watching an average football team presented a window to a world that I knew I wanted to be part of. Football fanzines presented a partizan view of the football club they were linked to. My team, Stockport County were late to the game when it came to fanzines. Most clubs began publishing their own punk-esque publication in the 80s but it took County until the beginning of their buoyant 1990s period before anything of note hit the streets. The Tea Party took its name from County’s traditional nickname – The Hatters, and was a revelation to my 14 year old eyes. It had real swearwords in it and cartoons of players, both of which set several cats amongst pigeons at the club. It had mocked up adverts. It was like a footballing Viz but for a lower division football team. It was perfect and I’ve still got all my copies.
I finished school with average results, particularly in English. I could spell, I had an imagination but writing about Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t appeal, strangely enough. All the best thinkers wrote their words on their wooden desks anyway, and I was no different.
The Tea Party reached 100 issues and decided it was a good place to stop. By this point, the influence of the internet was growing and the ability of a fanzine to print opinion pieces or topical content became an almost impossible challenge. Slowly but surely, most football fanzines began to slip away, though some remain, adapting to changing technology in a positive way.
By this point I’d become a fully-fledged magazine nerd. These days the word ‘Lad’ has proper wally connotations. In the 90s, as a teenager, it felt much more acceptable. Lad’s mags like Loaded and FHM set the tone for numerous copycats and made the more established men’s titles look at what they were doing and change accordingly. James Brown founded Loaded and in doing so created almost a bible for a generation. Previously I’d only really read anything remotely edgy or naughty in fanzines and perhaps Viz, which started as a fanzine anyway. Loaded took that formula but encased it in a format that meant shops would sell it. It worked.
For me, bad admin jobs and a slowly declining football club defined my week. I took to the internet fairly early on, and that phone line in my bedroom was tied up most evenings via dial up Supanet connection. I was paying about £70 a month out of my awful wages for that, but it was worth it. That thirst for knowledge finally had an outlet and I learned more in an hour scouring websites than I ever would have at school. No, not those types of websites.
I moved out of home, taking most of my magazines with me and losing lots more along the way and in the throes of playing at being a grown up that followed, I somehow became a Dad. Twice. With work unappealing beyond the weird and wonderful characters I was spending my days with, it was an easy decision to become a full time father and take a part time job teaching old people how to use spreadsheets. I’d decide on a career once I’d finished changing nappies.
I needed an outlet though. In a world before Facebook and twitter, internet forums were frequented. It was here that I realised all that reading had given me an ability to write stuff in a fairly natural way without too many spelling mistakes. I didn’t know what an adverb or a past participle was but who cares about that stuff? I still don’t.
Via one of the early forums, terrace retro, I found Swine Magazine, an online version of the traditional fanzine featuring some great writers who know their stuff, including the likes of Phil Thornton, author of the excellent Casuals book. I wrote a piece about becoming a full time father for the second time. It was the first thing I’d written that other people would read. It felt weird but people seemed to like it.
Gradually I wrote more and more. A half-arsed website set up with a former workmate Neil Summers took on a new slant when we decided to create our own ‘clothing’ fanzine. By this point, I had dabbled in my own Stockport County fanzine, something I intermittently maintain to this day. But as my football team’s fortunes found their way down the muckiest of toilets, the need for it to be documented ceased. Fanzines were always full of moans, but not for a full decade. Few clubs have fallen so far. My enthusiasm these days extends to turning up at five to three, but writing about it? Nah. Not really.
A more positive outlet was the clothing fanzine, which we decided to christen ‘Proper’. The ambiguous nature of the word seemed to fit, and we followed the familiar fanzine format for the first few issues, never expecting to go much further than that. We sold a hundred or so subscriptions for issues 1-3 then produced them issue by issue after that. It just carried on.
Fast forward to April 2014 and we’re preparing our 15th issue. It’s a million miles from the version we began with. For issues 11 and 12 we even got to work with the Godfather of lad’s mags, James Brown, who imparted several pearls of wisdom which have stood us in good stead. Above all else it helped us believe we could make Proper a genuine magazine in layout but with a fanzine tone.
Proper remains a time consuming hobby which barely pays for itself, but it’s an enjoyable hobby for Neil and I, who still put the thing together with the help of Mike Fallows. When I look at the first issue I cringe so much I nearly want to replace my eyes with pickled onions. But on the other hand, it shows some pretty serious evolution and I guess we take pride in that.
I still read fanzines and I could build a house with the piles and piles of magazines I’ve amassed over the years. My kids no longer need their nappies changing and I spend most days writing stuff about clothes for brands you’ll have heard of.
Without that early exposure to fanzine culture though, plus an hour a day to read stuff on the way to school I doubt I would have ended up writing anything.
Maybe going to a school miles away and watching a rubbish football team weren’t such a bad thing after all.