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Mag Mania -the evolution of the modern football magazine

by Tony Hogg
(Article originally written in April 1990 for Hammer News)

Charting the history and development of football magazines from their humble beginnings in the late nineteenth century as strictly black and white two tone productions, to the lavish, high-gloss, predominantly full colour issues that we know today, gives the reader as good an insight into the origins, advancement and growth of our national sport, than is likely to be found in any other medium.
The earliest example of soccer magazine I discovered during my research into the subject was a 14 edition part-work issued by Hudson & Kearns, entitled Famous Footballers 1895-1896, edited by C W Alcock & Rowland Hill. The work consists of 224 large pages and incorporates many illustrations, among them team group shots of Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Corinthians, Millwall Athletic, Royal Arsenal, Sheffield United and Wednesday, Stoke, Wolves and the Welsh national side.
To my mind, this publication represents a direct parallel to the massive part-work being heavily advertised at present - Inside Football. Albeit in more modest form.

In 1906 C W Alcock and F J Wall, with the assistance of many contributors, put together another major part-work for those well-known producers of football-related publications, The Amalgamated Press, entitled: Book of Football. A complete History & Record of the Association and Rugby Games. Not strictly football news magazine, but that area was already catered for by Football Chat, which featured the work of top cartoonist of the day, Dudley Ward on the front cover, and first appeared on the Victorian newsstands in the 1890s, selling at One Penny! It must have sold well, as the magazine was offering £250 in competition prize money in its Wednesday October 10, 1900 issue. A substantial sum to be bandied about in those austere times.

By the 1920s, magazine publishers had moved away from the idea of offering money prizes to attract more readers, towards giving 'free gifts', usually consisting of coloured team pictures, cards featuring leading players, or informative booklets, again drawing a direct comparison to today's marketing inducements of free stickers and albums.
In pre-World War Two days, the leading producers of boys' papers and football weeklies were D C Thomson of Dundee and London-based The Amalgamated Press, who were involved in a private war of their own - a no-holds barred circulation battle, which would not have disgraced modern-day publishing giants Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch in its intensity.
The rival companies were engaged in a constant struggle to poach one another's readership during the 1920s and 30s, with Thomson's Adventure, Rover, Champion and pride of the fleet, Topical Times, pitted against Amalgamated Press' Triumph, Football Favourite, Sports Budget and Football Weekly.
A battle for ascendancy reached its peak in 1925 when more than a dozen free booklets were given away by the two protagonists. Adventure issued three albums featuring coloured portraits and action shots entitle 'Star Footballers of 1925', followed by the 'Cup Fighters of 1925', then 'Great Players of Today'.
Inevitably, Amalgamated Press hit back with Triumph, presenting no less than five albums which as a complete set featured team pics of all the Football League Cubs and also the Scottish First Division.
They kept up the challenge later that year (1925) with Football Favourite, releasing a three-part 'Football Handbook' and further sustained it with stable mate Football Budget's offering of 'Who's Who of Famous Footballers' also in three editions.
Not to be beaten, in the following ten years Topical Times produced a veritable flood of free booklets which included the titles 'Who's Who' in two parts, 'Britain's Best Footballers' (1927), 'A Cup-tie Record Book', followed by '100 Football Stars' then in four parts, 'The Star Team Photo Album' (1930), 'Young Players Who's Who,' '1,500 Football Stars and All About Them' (1938).
Still Amalgamated Press kept up the challenge, with Football Weekly issuing two more free 36-page booklets in 1936 entitled 'Book of 100 Famous Football Clubs' and 'Book of 650 Football Stars'.
The 'giveaways' issued in those far off days have since often become more sought-after as collectors' items than the product they embellished and enhanced the appeal of, and the ultimate aim of some collectors of football memorabilia is to match up the free gift with the relevant magazine. No mean feat today.
After the war, football magazines largely let the contents of their respective titles speak for themselves, although boys' papers continued the free gift trend, with titles such as Hornet, Wizard, Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and Hotspur at the forefront in the fight for readership.
The two main contenders in the football magazine market after the war were Fleet Street-based The Sporting Mirror and Sport, which was published in Ireland and which, despite its title, was mostly devoted to football.
These two fine magazines ceased publication in the 1950s, however, leaving the way clear for a new contender to corner the weekly football magazine market - Soccer Star.
Published by Echo Publications of Ludgate Circus, London EC4, with its editorial offices housed at nearby Carter Lane off Ludgate Hill, Soccer Star followed the time-proven format of its two predecessors with either a team or large action picture adorning the front cover and four back cover panel portraits.
A comprehensive weekly results & line-ups service for every League and Cup match played in England, Scotland and Wales - complete with attendances from the early 60s onwards, was backed up by a nationwide network of contributors which covered every area of Britain and Eire.

Where Soccer Star scored heavily over its earlier rivals was in its 'Exchanges' column, in which readers could place free adverts to swop programmes, books, badges and pennants etc. There was also a pre-paid advertisement section entitled 'Bart & Mart', in which the country's first programme dealers began trading for as little as 1d (one old penny) a word.
There can be little doubt the Soccer Star did more to cultivate the programme industry towards its lucrative status of today than any other single body.
The editor of Soccer Star throughout the 60s was football memory man Jack Rollin, who came more into the public eye when he turned freelance in the 1970s and edited such household names as Rothmans Yearbook, The Guinness Book of Soccer Facts & Feats and also the massive Marshall Cavendish part-works, Book of Football and The Game.
I joined the magazine as an office boy in 1963 and later graduated to the editorial department, where I took over the 'Soccer Star Club Column' for younger readers and instigated what I believe was the first ever 'Programme of the Year Awards' in 1965.
I, of course, voted in favour of Hammers in that pioneering poll, but Chelsea were the first winners.

The editorial headquarters in Carter Lane housed the journalists of all the group's publications, which in addition to the 'Bible,' as we used to reverently refer to Soccer Star, was home to World Soccer, Speedway Star, edited by Paul Parish, the monthly Anglers World and its weekly sister publication, the Anglers Mail newspaper.
To diversify for a moment, I was general dogsbody (or should it be Hogg's body?) and gofa to the staff of all these publications, and I can well remember the morning I was summoned by the editor of Anglers World, Len Cacutt, to perform an important mission.
Len looked a bit apprehensive as he explained my task (probably because he knew I had a reputation for being accident-prone and also, in current-day football parlance, for being as 'daft as a brush').
I was to take the prototype of a 'revolutionary' new aluminium fishing rod over to the TV Times building in Grays Inn Road for evaluation by a team of experts in such matters, and deliver it in person to Dave Lanning (later of speedway and darts television commentary fame) and 'look after it like a baby'.
'But hurry, they're waiting for it,' Len shouted after me, in a voice that conveyed a mixture of hope and anxiety.
Everything went well as I spotted a bus to take me up Farringdon Street towards my destination. Expertly I boarded the moving vehicle and made my way to the top deck with gleaming staff safe in hand. I sat myself down in an outside aisle seat next to rather large lady who was gazing out on the metropolis, blissfully unaware of the drama which was about to unfold.
Enter an even larger old men, distinctly unsteady on his feet, who, as the bus sped round a corner, lunged for the fishing rod mistaking it for a supporting stanchion which it was identical to.
Chaos ensued, and it was a bent and buckled 'revolutionary' fishing rod' that I delivered to the receptionist at TV Times.
Bad news travels fast, and had preceded (via telephone) my somewhat sheepish return to Carter Lane. Needless to say, I had to keep out of reach of the angling department for some time.
But apologies for the departure from the general them and back to the matter in hand.
By the late 60s, Soccer Star, with a new four colour cover and colour sections inside, found itself under threat from two new rivals, Goal and Shoot! and eventually lost its circulation war with the sister magazine to Charles Buchan's Football Monthly and the latter.

Having been taken over by Websters Publications in 1970, along with faithful companion World Soccer, Soccer Star changed its name to Football Weekly News (a fatal mistake) under the editorship of the fine journalist Paul Parish, but sadly ceased publication in the early 80s.
But the fortunes of football magazine production are as fickle as the game on which it reports, a fact all too well emphasised by the demise soon after of the prime mover in the fall of Soccer Star…. Goal.
Other names which went by the board to share the same fate included Jimmy Hill's Football Weekly, Northern Football, Soccer Monthly, Football, the satirical magazine Foul, the newspaper, Inside Football, World Sports and the unfortunately name FA Today.
Now relatively new names lead the field, notably Shoot! and Match Weekly, who appear to have the weekly market sewn up. But there can be no room for complacency in this highly competitive business. For they too have a rival in the new football weekly, Free Kick, which seems to improve with every issue.
It's nice to see World Soccer still doing well, as an unlikely sister publication to Shoot! in the IPC stable who have pledged to retain the same format that has served it so well in the past, with the exception of adding more colour which should help it further.
And yet an established journal like World Soccer can ill-afford to rest on its laurels, with a new generation of specialist monthlies like Football Historian, The Footballer, Scottish Football Historian, the quarterly Mail on Sunday-sponsored Non-League Football and the excellent Programme Monthly and the refreshingly different Football Today.
Even the current craze in fanzines and club newspapers like our own HAMMERS NEWS must make a dent in the market, which must ultimately expand …. Or lose a product.

FOOTNOTE (1): While dwelling on the subject of football magazines it seems churlish not to mention the most specialist of all periodicals, Hammers Monthly. Published by Media Flair and edited by Jim Gains, Hammers Monthly was indeed a pioneering publication, being, I believe, the first colour magazine devoted to one club. It was a brave but over-ambitions venture, however, ever increasing productions costs causing it to fold after just nine issues in the early 1980s.
FOOTNOTE (2): The date referred to for a match between the old amateur side Upton Park FC and Preston North End in my article in last month's HAMMERS NEWS should have read 1884, not 1984. But then what's 100 years between friends!