When Saturday Comes in peril should bother everyone who cares about football | Barney Ronay | Football


Who are the good guys anyway? It can be hard to tell. Compromise, commercial interests, good intentions cut with contradictions. Professional sport exists within this nexus. And nobody gets out of it clean. Or almost nobody.

Often villainy is the whole point. Take, for example, Edmundo, bad-boy Brazilian goal ace of the 1990s. In June 1996 the São Paulo Federation called Edmundo to a disciplinary tribunal after another violent sending-off. Fearing a ban, his club, Corinthians, took along a video of the incident, promising to prove Edmundo had only unintentionally punched the Santos defender Sandro in the mouth.

The tribunal settled down for its screening. At which point they found themselves watching an episode of Scooby-Doo, brought “in error” by Corinthians officials.

Proceedings were adjourned, which by coincidence allowed Edmundo to play in the derby against Palmeiras that weekend, the same fixture that had seen him start a riot on the pitch the previous year. It’s not known if the panel ever reconvened. Or, indeed, which series of Scooby-Doo – the Where Are You? years, the post-Scrappy void? – they got to watch.

This is the kind of detail you come across ambling through the back catalogue of When Saturday Comes, an aside in a 23-year-old piece that also touches on the louche administration of one Sepp Blatter and his mentor, João Havelange, who were in those days distant figures in the wider British sports media.

As was so much else. WSC was a late-breaking offshoot of the punk fanzine movement of the 1970s. Issue one was a free giveaway with the music sheet Snipe, published from a home press in a semi-derelict shed behind a row of shops in Clapton Road, east London.

It is hard to imagine now as football stands crowingly triumphant, the banterous idiot-grin crowbarred into every aspect of mainstream culture. But at the time football was an outsider pursuit, staged against a decaying industrial infrastructure, a place of crumbling stands and piss-stinking rail carriages, menaced by far-right politics, stigmatised by the Thatcher government.

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WSC was born out of an urge to resist this process. It still has the same running man emblem on its cover with its motto “The People”, a reflection of the whole point of the exercise, which was to offer a voice and a campaigning presence to football supporters, but also to reflect the fun, the cultural oddities, the collectivism.

Don’t adapt: still survive. Thirty-three years on, WSC remains essentially the same. It is the only independent national football magazine to have made it through the sport’s great gushing boom times.

Norwich manager Daniel Farke, a man WSC described as looking “like Paul McCartney in a Guy Fawkes mask that somebody’s sat on”.

Norwich manager Daniel Farke, a man WSC described as looking “like Paul McCartney in a Guy Fawkes mask that somebody’s sat on”. Photograph: Chris Radburn/Reuters

So far, anyway. The margins are always fine. How to survive in the current landscape, a place where having the loudest voice wins, when angry primary colours are so easily monetised? How to make sure nuanced, persuasive things can work too?

WSC launched a new survival initiative last issue, a membership scheme through the Patreon website. This is a crowdfunding platform where you – yes, you – can become a sponsor and get access to a podcast and other membership benefits. They don’t need that many people to keep it all afloat. This could yet become “the lifeboat”.

Why write about it here, you might ask. Why should we care? Partly because this is an interesting new media model in itself, one that tries to cut out intrusive owners, sponsor influence and all the rest, allowing people to pay for a good thing directly. Partly because I am myself biased. My first job in journalism was at WSC. I want liberal, independent media voices to survive. Sorry!

But mainly because WSC in a state of peril is something that should bother everyone who cares about football. These actually are – apologies, but there you go – the good guys. Without trumpeting its own influence, more often with a raised eyebrow, WSC has tended to be first with so many things.

Not just with that familiar editorial voice, the voice that every publication uses to talk about sport and culture now, to make sport fun and funny. But on the issues too. Pick one and WSC is likely to have been there for some time. Racism in football, for example. WSC was covering this, accepting that racism was also about structure and subtext and what happens in the boardroom, when most were telling themselves it had disappeared.

Sport politics? Shortly after Edmundo and Scooby-Doo there was an article from the Caribbean Cup pointing out that a chap called Jack Warner was basically stealing Fifa’s money – a full 12 years before Warner was allowed to have breakfast with Prince William and collapsing under the weight of his own corruption.

There’s another thing now too. One reason for a squeeze on current cash flows is WSC has stopped taking gambling adverts. They just couldn’t keep doing it in good faith while writing about the issues. Gambling companies are the main print advertisers. It is a considerable hit. Still, past evidence suggests we’ll all be doing it before long.

Mainly, though, it is still just a really good magazine. This month’s issue is as varied as ever, garlanded by a report on Bournemouth v Norwich in which Taylor Parkes describes Daniel Farke giving a series of groovy thumbs-ups to his players as looking “like Paul McCartney in a Guy Fawkes mask that somebody’s sat on”.

Support if you can. Take an interest if you can, if only as an act of resistance. The good is gone: the bad is all to come. This is a common theme in recent years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.


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