Last Red Issue. United fanzine.
On a beery, crowded train home from an away match in February 1989 most of the carriage were reading a slim red booklet that I didn’t recognise. It turned out to be the first issue of the Manchester United fanzine Red Issue and I bought my first copy at the match the following week. It was 50p. There was a picture of Norman Whiteside on the cover holding the FA Cup aloft. Deep into Fergie’s “three years of excuses and it’s still crap” the editorial pondered on when we might win one of them silver things again. I loved it. Nutty Norman, Crapman and Ralphie and the Leighton condom (“guaranteed to catch nothing”) brightened up many a Saturday afternoon during United’s dismal 1989.
Rifling through a box of old United stuff recently I found some early copies of Red Issue and another of the United fanzines, United We Stand. In contrast to today’s slick publications they possess a wonderfully homemade feel; photocopied in black and white, full of spelling mistakes and with many of the picture captions written by hand. Although reading some of the articles it’s clear that in many respects things haven’t changed that much. A generation ago there were also fans unhappy with the club’s owner, moans about the atmosphere at Old Trafford, gripes about admission prices and considerable scepticism about the impact of BSkyB and the introduction of the Premier League.
Fanzines were, and still are, a breath of fresh air for the game. In their early days, as well as Red Issue and United We Stand, I regularly devoured copies of other club’s fanzines; the likes of When Skies Are Grey (Everton), The Memoirs of Seth Bottomley (Port Vale), The Square Ball (Leeds United) and The Crooked Spireite (Chesterfield) to name but a few. I loved reading the words of ordinary football supporters talking, often humorously but always with passion, about going to the match. Of course, football isn’t just about football; music, politics, clothes, beer and soup featured prominently as well. This was a time when football supporters were beginning to find a collective and campaigning voice and fanzines were in the vanguard of this movement.
For someone whose only writing about football at this time consisted of a letter to Shoot in 1986 (or was it Match? I always get the two mixed up) urging United not to sack manager Ron Atkinson, reading fanzines opened my eyes to new ways of observing and writing about football. Fanzines addressed us in a language that we could relate to unlike the often patronising guff spouted by official club programmes and magazines. Letters, articles and cartoons made me laugh and, perhaps for the first time, think about the game that we love and I tentatively started to put pen to paper myself, contributing the occasional article for United We Stand usually moaning on about something or other. After one piece criticising a tiny minority of United fans for singing about the Hillsborough disaster a letter appeared in the next issue urging me to “fuck off and watch netball”. It made me chuckle. You need a thick skin for this writing malarkey.
A couple of weeks ago Red Issue announced that it was calling it a day after more than a quarter of a century of publication. It was perhaps apt that the news broke amidst the sanctimonious clamour for freedom of speech following the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Back in 2012 Greater Manchester Police famously seized more than a thousand copies of Red Issue outside Old Trafford before United’s match against Liverpool, the first meeting of the two sides following Luis Suarez’s eight match ban for racially abusing United’s Patrice Evra. This particular edition of Red Issue featured a spoof Ku Klux Klan mask with the words “Suarez is innocent” on it. GMP reckoned that it was “certainly capable of causing offence” and waded in to confiscate it, blatantly ignoring the fact that Red Issue was always vehemently anti-racist and wonderfully satirical. Freedom of expression eh?
Apparently the Red Issue writers have simply grown weary of continually kicking against modern football; face painted day trippers (“is this the programme?”), half and half scarves, selfie sticks, over zealous stewards etc. It’s sad but to be honest, after twenty six years, who can blame them? Red Issue, down the years, has been consistently superb and in recent years we’ve been lucky enough to be able to buy it at FC United matches (unlike any of the other United fanzines). For those of us who refuse to give Sky a penny the sale of Red Ish at FC United matches has played an important role in maintaining the red thread back to the club that we grew up supporting. Without Red Issue, of course, there would be no FC United of Manchester. The fanzines were at the heart of the successful fight against Murdoch’s proposed takeover of United in 1998-99 when a blueprint for a phoenix football club labelled “FC United” was first drawn up.
Later in 2005 as the Glazer vultures circled Old Trafford fanzines once again joined with the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) to defend the club. The fanzines have always fiercely protected the cultural legacy of United, never afraid to criticise the club and provide a voice for the disaffected and those priced out of the modern game. It’s something they should be proud of. In February 2005, as United fans marched on Old Trafford, Red Issue resurrected the idea of a phoenix football club and published an article asking all United fans “what would you do if he (Malcolm Glazer) actually did take over?” The article crackled with contempt for the notion of supporting a Glazer franchise and instead looked to the formation of “a new Manchester United, one which spurned all the commercialism and tackiness of the modern game and which was controlled and run by the supporters”.
A decade on from that article, it will seem strange going to a match and, for the first time in twenty six years, not having a regular fanzine to purchase. FC United’s Under The Boardwalk is no more and the superb, politically charged A Fine Lung is published less frequently. A couple of months ago I wrote a piece for the opinion column of FC United’s brilliant matchday programme criticising the modern day fashion for football clubs to adorn shirts, websites and merchandise with the red poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday each year, part of the creeping militarisation of the game. As with any opinion piece the article attracted its fair share of criticism with some supporters claiming that a “fanzine-style” article such as this should have no place in an official club programme. A petition, with seventy four signatures, was handed in to the club in complaint.
Even at a supporter owned football club with perhaps the most opinionated fan base in the country some fans prefer their matchday reading material to be bland and inoffensive. Each to their own I suppose, but it poses the question that at a time when fanzines in paper form are disappearing and radio and telly football phone-ins and the press repeatedly insult our intelligence, must we retreat to the internet and social media to express a left leaning opinion on the game we love? Hmmmm.
Farewell Red Issue. I’ll miss the matchday cries of “latest Red Issue, United fanzine” and fumbling around for the right change. Thanks for entertaining and encouraging us.