BACK in the 1980s, football was in a miserable place. Plagued by hooliganism, supporters taken for granted, falling crowds, a poor product on the pitch and dreadful spectating conditions. From catering to care, the industry was a second-rate pastime followed by people who were almost embarrassed to admit they watched football on a regular basis. What’s more the government didn’t like football and with each and every well publicised setback, including Bradford, Brussels and, ultimately Hillsborough, the establishment’s response to the game was one of gross indifference. Those that occupied football grounds were, quite simply, scum.
In the 1980s, the fanzine phenomenum gathered momentum and while most were club specific and a little myopic, When Saturday Comes became the modern successor to the fabled, and rarely seen, Foul. Heath Robinson in design in its early years, WSC became the soapbox for fans who were unhappy about their club or football in general. It raised issues that people were often aware of but had no forum to express their dissatisfaction. There was plenty to be unhappy about at that time as football in Britain looked and behaved like a dying swan.
Amid an attitude of world-weariness, writers pleaded for a better time, greater communication between fans and clubs and an end to badly-run, cash-clumsy clubs. To some extent, the WSC writers of that time got what they wanted. In other ways, they just got a different set of irritations and problems.
Six years after the magazine’s launch, the Premier League was formed and football in Britain changed, possibly forever. The corporatisation of football has been an enormous success in many ways, but it has also attempted to jettison the game’s traditional audience. In the 1980s, we had hooligans, but the “tasty boys” of that era are now entering retirement and their terraces have long gone. While football has lost some of its inclusiveness – despite its attachment to causes – the game has become a “supply and demand” industry and pricing policies have responded accordingly. When WSC kicked-off, people’s discontent with football manifested itself in falling crowds – the 1985-86 top flight average was just 19,797 – in 2019, the average is 95% higher – today, the new audience that football’s marketing folk longed for cannot get enough high-priced tickets and merchandise.
There’s still lots of issues to question clubs and the governing bodies about, but today’s fans have social media to voice their opinion, and what’s more, they can be REALLY nasty and accusatory and hide behind anonymity. Meanwhile, the WSC warriors of old are more concerned that there’s easy access lavatories for that half-time leak. It may be that WSC’s place has been taken by social media and the fashion towards instant content that doesn’t require too much concentration. Like most print products, it’s tough for the publication to find its place in the modern football library.
That library will be that much poorer without WSC. Some great writers have cut their teeth with the magazine and when you compare it alongside some of the anodyne content found in club publications or the obsession with fan culture and ladishness that defines others, there’s an argument that WSC should be more prominent and certainly a more expansive product. As the magazine itself said, “We’d like to think we’d be missed it we weren’t here.” No doubt about it.