Reeling in the years as our fanzine celebrates two decades in stands

WATCHING Welbeck, Gibson and Evans had me humming ‘if the kids are United’ as of old. It was a record we used to enjoy at OT almost a generation before some of them were born.

That wasn’t just my usual gratuitous 70s reference, by the way: at Derby, a fan group organised a themed away day based on the decade which improved the atmosphere a touch. Mind you, it wasn’t anywhere near as brilliant as the original such event which we did at Ewood Park a few years ago — that turned into an all-day party festooned in scarves and flares. It was just the latest in a series of such inspirational stunts set up by the fanzine I contribute to, Red Issue, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

A deluxe issue with a groovy 24-page illustrated pullout in the middle will go on sale at tonight’s game.

Some of you will now be feeling very old after you read that it’s two decades in existence. I’ve been on the fanzine almost 17 years and am thus clearly biased but I still would recommend it to you unreservedly as the best publication for any United fan to read for coverage of MUFC — and I include all the British national newspapers in that judgment.

It strikes me that all five of us on this page are all, either directly or indirectly, a product of the fanzine movement that kicked off two decades ago.

No newspaper editor in his right mind would hand over space to mere fans in those days — nowadays, partly following the Irish Examiner’s pioneering lead, every paper does it. I’m not saying every byproduct of the ‘movement’ has been a good thing — the phone-in virus springs to mind — but that’s what you get with all democratising evolutions, I guess.

Are the more obviously ‘humorous’ zines such as Red Issue still any good? You often hear that they aren’t as funny as they used to be.

Indeed, perhaps they aren’t, though maybe that’s understandable given the finite number of jokes you can make about the same eternal targets, and the fact that we seem to be living in much darker football times, despite all the trophies. Fanzines in general have undeniably improved as a ‘product’ in two other respects though: journalistically, as their stories and editorial opinions have become food for the whole media sharkpool to snaffle; and in the quality of their actual writing.

It’s for others, however, to judge the fanzines’ “importance” or “impact”: outsiders are better placed to do so. Who knows what it all adds up to? Bespectacled worthies in ex-Polys get their Mickey Mouse doctorates for that kind of work, so let’s not take the bread from the mouths of Goofy and friends.

But cherish your fanzines, whatever club you support. We fanzine-types, readers and writers, are still, remarkably, a closed community because the zine’s still ours: non-match-attenders would struggle to discover them outside the grounds’ immediate environs.

They are still relatively unconsumed by the Noughties necrotitis of modernising commercialism. Fanzines’ relationships to the true spirit of the clubs’ support is like the ravens at the Tower of London: if it all ever goes west, you can be sure the rest will follow. But as long as there are enough of the kind of people who contribute to or buy fanzines still going to matches, that’ll mean there’s still hope and fight left in us yet.

Tonight we welcome Fulham, who I must say few of us find objectionable, before the arrival of Blackburn and the loathsome Fat Sam on Saturday — quite the opposite feeling there, naturally.

OT stadium is to be officially ‘Korean-themed’ in deference to some corporate sponsor we have never heard of, so Rovers are certainly on the menu.

Mind you, I’m sure they’ve been making those awful burgers outside the ground with pet food for years, so it’s all the Circle Of Life isn’t it...”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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