Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WORLD SOCCER: A LASTING AFFAIR

Being football literate in the 70s meant you were much better looked after than today. If memory serves, Football Pictorial, Football Monthly, Goal, Shoot, Match, Football Weekly News, Football Monthly Digest, Big Match Poster Magazine and a host of other quality publications could be spotted vying for my measly pocket money. Shoot was sorted, by my Nan, and would arrive on the stairs in pristine condition every Friday morning. That was a thing of beauty with its Crosstalks, its Focus Ons (another steak and chips!) and its Clubcalls with their immaculate 10 year records, a mesmerising blur of colour photography, muddy legs and herbaceous sideburns. The monthlies were heavier, higher up and high brow; costing more, they peered down at me with imperious self-satisfaction. Can you reach me? Can you afford me? Can you understand me?


I was willing to try, a football junky even then. Football Monthly with its brilliant England coverage (eight out of ten for Kevin Beattie and Dave Watson!), Soccer Monthly with its wordy writers and great photos, but it was World Soccer that got its hooks into me. It specialised in glossy front covers (the rest was normal paper) with team groups, the only magazine I know that has ever done this, featuring what were then exotic things of beauty like Dynamo Kiev and Colo Colo. This would transport me to a place of such luscious otherworldyness that I didnt know whether to laugh or cry. Where was Caracas for heaven's sake and who the hell was Bela Gutman? Ujpest Dosa sounded like a team that meant business but what should I make of Ferencvaros? Did I have to have an opinion on Lev Yashin and what exactly was Giorgio Chinaglia doing playing in New York with Dennis Tueart and Franz Beckenbauer? And Pele.

I would spend lazy hours pouring over the league tables, time which allowed me to become an absolute dab-hand at geography at school. The teacher would no doubt muse, "If he knows where Strasbourg and Trabzon are, why the hell can't he explain what truncated spurs are?" I knew what truncated Spurs were sure enough, cut short by Wolves or Anderlecht or some such European legends and every snippet gleaned from the pages of my latest copy of World Soccer.

Whilst the transitory love affairs with Football Kick (semi naked girls with club scarves twisted around their interesting bits), Roy of the Rovers (too embarrassing to buy after a while despite the brilliant Peter Barnes centrefold) and Football Monthly Digest (could I find that damn thing in any decent newsagents?) flickered to life and faded again, World Soccer was staunchly permanent. The thing just never went away, despite it seeming to be somewhat leftside. All well and good, my education continued apace with the sharp quill pen of Brian Glanville, a doyen even then, the tactics board of Eric Batty and those far-off pieces by Eric Weil, stationed in front of his steaming typewriter somewhere in a sweltering, noisy downtown street in Buenos Aires. I could almost smell the Bonbonera in his writing, sense the little street urchins struggling to be el pibe for River Plate.

Occasionally the editor of this august publication would trick me completely with a front cover from Watford v Forest or some such luke warm domestic rumble. I could never understand the idea behind this. Such a cosmopolitan, urbane, multi-faceted read with Steve Sims on the front whacking the ball past a prone Tony Woodcock. The link still unsettles me slightly, 30 years on. Like picking up next month's edition to find a turf busting crunch between Titus Bramble and Karl Henry on the cover. Once inside the exotica quickly returned you to a state of rapt fascination, as Dynamo Berlin's history was laid bare and Cesena's early season tactics were dismembered. This sort of quality navel gazing can be found on various wonderful blogs these days, but in 1978 World Soccer was out on a limb, out on its own, a true innovator and king of its patch on the glorious serious middle shelf. From these pages I became aware of the existence of Phil Woosnam, Cesar Menotti, Josef Venglos, Stromgodset, a young tyro at St Etienne called Michel Platini, Alex Czerniatinsky, the town of Mechelen, the little triers of Young Boys Differdange and a host of others, a cast of thousands whose mention in the school playground gave you kudos beyond just recounting that you had recently managed to see Sandra Dougherty's nipples up the football field without even having to share your curly wurly.

My relationship with the magazine held strong until the 90s when it seemed to go a little tabloid in its appearance and confused in its content. Suddenly we were treated to too much colour and too many big star specials. The modern era of product placement and lowest common denominator were raising their heads. Gone were my obscure team groups, replaced by garish portraits of Baggio and his stupid hair. It could have been me of course, living in Amsterdam and living the life of ...an Amsterdammer, that confused my Dinos with my Robertos and my Espanyols with my espadrils. Like any relationship worth its salt, we came round and sorted out our differences. I renewed my subscription, unwilling and unable to live without knowing what was happening to The Strongest and how Dynamo Dresden were going to control their supporters, and the magazine got serious again in return. In this its 50 th year it has never been so beautiful, its layout simple, clean and pleasing on the eye, the balance between text and photography perfect, between the big leagues and the obscure ones just about right. I have known it for more than 30 of its 50 years and, despite the wealth and welter of information on the internet, I still consider it required reading. Keep on keeping on.

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