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When Shoot! Magazine was football’s messenger

50 Years of Shoot! Photo: Shoot! Magazine - Credit: Shoot! Magazine

Launched 50 years ago, the magazine credited both its subjects and readers with a refreshing degree of intelligence, says WILL SIMPSON.

For football fans of a certain age its name brings back memories of tiny shorts, shirts with outrageously large collars and most of all: Colour. For a generation Shoot! wasn’t just an entry point into what would invariably turn out to be a lifelong obsession, it was the magazine that dragged football publishing kicking and screaming into the 1970s.

By coincidence, its first autumn also saw colour TV arrive on the two main channels, BBC1 and ITV (though many people still had black and white sets). The following year’s Mexico World Cup probably stirs as many positive memories, if not more than 1966 because we remember goggling at not just the sparkling football of the victorious Brazil team but the then-novelty of their bright yellow shirts.

Shoot! (never forget the exclamation mark) reflected this move from a monochrome world. It seemed – at least in the memory – to offer more colour pages than previous football mags.

Other than the cover, there were a number of colour posters, plus the regular Focus On feature and the occasional colour double spread when the circumstances demanded it. As time went on and printing technology developed the amount of colour only increased.

And while it was far from the first kids’ football magazine, it seemed to catch the spirit of the changing times. It entered the market at a time when the leading football periodical was Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, a title that not only lacked immediacy, but – still carrying the name of its founder (a player from the 1920s who had died a decade previously) – seemed to belong to the pre-war era.

To celebrate its 50th year Shoot! is the subject of a retrospective compendium, which draws together some of its most memorable features as well as a few choice cuts from the magazine’s glory years.Flicking through it is like taking a high-speed journey through two decades of British cultural life, from England’s 1970 World Cup defeat, to the arrival of exotic imports such as Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, through to the era of Gazza and Cantona.

Significantly, it finishes with a two-page spread celebrating the first weekend of the Premier League, the ‘whole new ball game’ that transformed the sport financially.

There’s plenty to indulge yourself in nostalgic reverie (if you’re that way inclined), but also much to wince at. A feature from 1978 about the emergence of a number of BAME players is headlined “The Black Explosion”, and uses phrases like “coloured crusaders” to describe players like Albert Johanneson of Leeds and West Ham’s Clyde Best.

On a completely different tack, 10 years later Vinnie Jones is the subject of a Hello!-style (wonder where they got the idea for the exclamation mark) spread at his Hemel Hempstead home.

It’s hard to think of a kids’ magazine today greenlighting a pic of the feared Wimbledon hard man brandishing a shotgun, gleefully describing his girlfriend as being “caked in money”. Charming.

It’s important to remember though that for much of its first decade Shoot! was the only football magazine and thus had a wide demographic to cater to. The fanzine explosion, led by the likes of When Saturday Comes didn’t arrive until the mid 1980s; ‘serious’ magazines like Four Four Two wouldn’t emerge until the post-Premier League boom of the 1990s. After it merged with its erstwhile rival Goal in 1974, Shoot! had the field to itself and an audience that stretched from primary school kids to adults.

It was taken seriously by those in the profession too.

“It’s hard to imagine now, but back then – along with the Sunday papers – the magazines were our only source of football news,” recalls ex-Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur winger Chris Waddle in the compendium’s foreword. “When I started playing top level football in the 1980s, it was a favourite amongst the players. It got passed around the coach on the way to games, with teammates having a great laugh when they found out you were featured.”

He’s almost certainly thinking of the Focus On features, the questionnaire page where we were given an insight into a player’s likes, dislikes and the intimate details of their CD collection.

We discovered that the favourite actors of Arsenal’s John Radford were Tom and Jerry and Mick Channon’s best friend was his bank manager. Arf Arf. Meanwhile, apparently Diego Maradona’s biggest dislike in football was “injustice”. Who’d have thought?

Shoot! also managed to engage the game’s biggest names – Bobby Moore, Kevin Keegan, Billy Bremner, John Barnes and Gary Lineker all at various points contributed ghost-written columns. “Virtually no player was out of bounds,” remembers former editor Colin Mitchell. “Unlike today – when it can be difficult to get past some club officials or agents to talk to megastars – the stars of yesteryear were usually only too willing to meet up and talk openly.”

Indeed, looking back it’s incredible how candid some players were. A 1972 interview with Franz Beckenbauer sees him openly discussing the then-recent bribery scandal in the Bundesliga. Come 1988, Ruud Gullit is probed about his socialist politics, revealing that he once told Phillips, the sponsors of his team PSV Eindhoven, that they “should sell me and use the money to create more jobs”. Lineker excepted, football and politics is a no-go area these days, but Shoot! credited their readership with the intelligence to navigate their own way through these issues.

Interestingly, the magazine wasn’t afraid to sometimes take a different line to the rest of the sporting press. An editorial piece on Maradona’s infamous handball at the 1986 World Cup steers clear of jingoistic condemnation, instead suggesting that the England team should have been more adventurous: “England went out on an error – but it was bigger than Maradona’s hand. It was their own negative approach.”

Lest we forget, the magazine was also a great deal of fun. Readers of the 1970s and 1980s will no doubt remember the ‘league ladders’ given away free at the start of every season. These were a set of cardboard league tables – featuring all the main English and Scottish divisions – that you could update, moving the teams up and down as and when required. In my own household many a happy Monday morning was spent scanning my dad’s paper, adjusting the ladders accordingly.

As fondly recalled was You Are The Ref, a cartoon feature created by artist Paul Trevillion, where the reader was presented with a number of hypothetical scenarios and asked to make the correct refereeing decision. Often they verged on the ridiculous… If a dog ran onto the pitch and deflected the ball into the net would you give a goal?

Shoot! had the field to themselves until 1979 when a rival, Match, was launched. The new magazine was initially very similar, though had an advantage of including a comprehensive results section – Match Facts – in which every player in all four divisions was rated out of 10. The two magazines tussled for supremacy throughout the 1980s.

However, come the 1990s the interloper stole a march, taking a more kid-friendly approach, with a greater emphasis on pictures and smaller features. When Shoot! went monthly in 2001 it signalled the beginning of the end. The magazine limped on until it was wound up for good at the end of the 2007/08 season.

Today the children’s football magazine market is a very different place, a brightly coloured forest of Photoshopped heads that has little room for anything outside the Premier (or the ‘Prem’ as they often abbreviate it) and the Champions Leagues.

Yet during its peak decades Shoot! made sure that all four divisions and Scottish football got a fair crack of the whip.

One advert from 1985 boasts the inclusion of a Dumbarton team group in a future issue. In 2019 it’s unlikely many Match of the Day readers have even heard of Dumbarton FC, let alone yearn to see them emblazoned on their wall.

And it’s not just nostalgia for a time when our national sport was more equitable that the compendium evokes.

What’s remarkable is how long its features are. When Bobby Moore explains about his “nightmare in Bogota” in the run-up to the 1970 World Cup, he relates how he was arrested and charged for stealing jewellery over more than 1,000 words. Back then it was assumed children wouldn’t be frightened of a complicated text-heavy story.

Compare to today when the small boxes into which text are herded are unlikely to contain more than 40 words. Perfect for the Instagram generation, but hardly nourishing.

Of course, the publishing industry didn’t invent short attention spans and it’s easy to wring one’s hands at so-called declining standards. But at its best Shoot! fostered not only an obsession with football but encouraged a generation to read. It’s a shame to think that kids’ magazines in 2019 are – for whatever reason – no longer allowed to fulfil that same role.

50 Years of Shoot! is published by Carlton Books

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