My first exposure to football writing of any substance came when I started to leaf through my dad’s copy of The Oatcake on Stoke City matchdays.
As a devoted Match Magazine and club programme reader, The Oatcake – then a no-frills, black and white effort – initially seemed to have little to offer me beyond a couple of cartoons and jokes about Port Vale.
The fanzine was sold dutifully outside the ground every home game, and as I got older I began to appreciate it more – mainly because unlike the programme, it was honest and prepared to talk about how crap we were.
The Oatcake is still running after almost 30 years, a remarkable feat given the perceived gradual disintegration of fanzine culture. Though certain fanzines have found an audience and continued to thrive, others have ceased to exist. The explosion of football ‘content’ on the internet has meant the traditional printed mag, to many, is no longer the essential purchase it once was.
Meanwhile, podcasts, the dorky younger brother of fan media, are constantly increasing in popularity.
So popular in fact, that this summer they have even generated online chatter over a major podcast transfer story, as James Richardson’s departure from Guardian Football Weekly to new project The Totally Football Show had podcast nerds tweeting feverishly in anticipation.
It’s been a big summer for football podcasts. In addition to The Totally Football Show, there have been new offerings from The Telegraph and The Independent while the evergreen Football Ramble has launched a new show dedicated to European football.
Yet even further down the scale, smaller, club-specific podcasts are springing up and finding an audience. Whilst the big clubs have naturally been popular (an iTunes search for Arsenal podcasts returns 33 results), it’s not uncommon for clubs in the Championship or below to have two or more dedicated shows. Some of these have generated enough success to be able to stage live shows, and more and more podcasts are scoring interviews with the biggest names in the game.
— TotallyFootballShow (@TheTotallyShow) August 21, 2017
The reasons for the increasing popularity lie in the medium’s democracy and simplicity. Podcasting is open to anyone with an internet connection and a microphone. Whilst the established podcasts are professional, studio-based affairs, the ‘record in your kitchen’ spirit has helped facilitate an exponential rise in would-be pundits.
Natalie Bromley, from Burnley’s No Nay Never Net podcast, says: “Podcasts have been steadily increasing in popularity over the past few years, but the spike in interest in football podcasts has been rapid.
“The appeal is obvious: they are free, they are accessible and they are produced by fans. Fans from far away can connect with their clubs and can get a more rounded discussion as an alternative to content published through official club channels. They are engaging with the new generation of tech-savvy fans.”
It is tempting, therefore, to see podcasts as 2017’s version of the fanzine, allowing fans a voice they have typically been denied in mainstream outlets. However, the nature of podcasts gives them the upper hand over printed publications in many respects. Football writer Kristan Heneage sees podcasts as a much more inclusive platform.
“It’s a way to ingest football while doing something else. It’s also a lot more inclusive than reading an article. Say a good podcast gets 5,000 listeners a week; the cost to produce 5,000 fanzines is a lot and that’s before we even touch on distribution.
“It’s also a one-sided conversation. You can write letters to them for sure, but with the landscape as it is with Twitter and Facebook, podcasts play a part in a constant and evolving discussion.
“It feels less like you’re being lectured and more like you’re involved. That’s all fans ever want is to be involved, whether you have friends who you can discuss it with or not.”
The ubiquity of podcasts hasn’t sounded the death knell for fanzines. Whilst podcasts are free and readily accessible, fanzines remain an essential part of the matchday experience and diehards at grounds all around the country this weekend will be flogging their magazines in all weathers.
According to Sammy James, creator of Fulham podcast Fulhamish: “Fanzines and podcasts have a lot in common in that fans seem devoutly loyal to both mediums, and you don’t see that as much with online blogs.”
It is uncertain what the future holds for the printed fanzine, but the content explosion has forced many to adapt. Either through going digital-only, building up a social media presence or, as is the case with many fanzines, establishing their own podcasts.
Podcast producer and fanzine writer Jon Mackenzie sees the two platforms existing fairly harmoniously, despite the recent digital boom.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that fanzines are being replaced. Technology has allowed fanzines to move with the times and allow writers and designers to do really interesting work, and it’s also meant it’s easier for people to run podcasts which don’t sound like they’ve been recorded in a cave.”
Perhaps podcasts are the perfect medium to carry the spirit of fanzines into the digital age. They are a representation of the desire of supporters to be the ones setting the agenda on their club.
As Sammy James says: “I would much rather what hear Steve in the Hammersmith End has to say about my club than Danny Mills. Also, the fact these pods are independent means that listeners are getting the true opinions, rather than the slightly rosier view that a club is always going to dish out.”
Just as the rise in fanzines in the eighties and nineties were a reaction to the media’s blinkered perception of football supporters as uncultured brutes, podcasts have likewise proved that the mainstream media isn’t the pinnacle of what’s possible in football analysis.
As the appetite for interesting, alternative football content develops, podcasts are going to be even more central to discussing the issues at the heart of the game.