How local football team Fanzines United FC was created from a conversation in Selectadisc record shop

Words: Andy Lowe
Illustrations: Natalie Owen
Friday 24 May 2024
reading time: min, words

In 1990 a conversation in Selectadisc record shop led to a group of Notts County and Nottingham Forest fanzine creators putting their rivalries aside to form a football team together. Fanzines United FC was formed and is still going strong to this day. Andy Lowe, founder of the Tricky Tree fanzine explains how it happened…

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Like many good things which emerged from Nottingham’s counterculture in the 1980s and 1990s, the genesis of Fanzines United FC was a conversation in Selectadisc record shop. This particular conversation was not about music but football, and was between two individuals with allegiances from opposite sides of the Trent.

Myself and Jim Cooke, were both editors of Nottingham-based fanzines The Tricky Tree (Forest) and The Pie (Notts County). We sensed we were onto something good, something to transverse inner-city footballing rivalry and allow a bunch of like-minded individuals to get together, have a laugh and not completely tarnish the beautiful game while doing so.

We had both recently put together football teams composed of our fanzine contributors, sellers and associated hangers-on. Somewhat to our surprise, we recognised that between us we had a combined nucleus of decent footballers (by Sunday morning standards at any rate). So, the focus of conversation at the shop counter that day in 1990 was what happens next? By the time I left, we’d agreed on the formation of Fanzines United Football Club, a club that, 35 years on, is still very much alive and kicking as the longest running of its kind in Nottinghamshire.

Back to that Saturday morning - I knew I was onside when Jim offered me a cup of tea, a sure sign that I had become that rarest of individuals, a Forest fan he was happy to engage with on a more than superficial basis. We talked about a name. Well, said a voice, you’re two fanzines uniting as one, so why not Fanzines United? With that one sentence, Jon Poole’s place in the club’s history was assured along with, importantly, his place in the team. Important as it meant I was now not the only bespectacled individual who would be serenaded with a chorus of Letter From America by some of our wittier opponents over the next few seasons.

A team, of course, needs a kit, and so we hit our first hurdle. The obvious was red and black, but Jim was having none of it. Playing alongside your enemy was one thing, but wearing his colours? Now that was akin to singing his song.

So it was that we began our first season in the Nottinghamshire Friendly Football League wearing orange shirts with a white diagonal sash, as it just happened Jim had a team’s worth of such vintage in his loft. However, while we may have been stylish, we were also extremely uncomfortable. These were shirts made from the worst kind of ‘scouring pad’ nylon mix, memorable to anyone brought up in the era of Kes and the three-day week for their propensity to exact excruciating pain on any nipple which came within rubbing distance.

We talked about a name. Well, said a voice, you’re two fanzines uniting as one, so why not Fanzines United?

Ironically, it was the team’s goalkeeper who became its sartorial saviour. Tony ‘the cat’ Mack was a well-known local entrepreneur who had been an associate when Brian Selby set up Selectadisc, before heading off to establish Revolver Records at the entrance to Broadmarsh Centre. Now he also had his own clothing company called Baldwin’s Casuals (Tony was a huge Coronation Street fan) and in exchange for us being agreeable guinea pigs in his latest venture to replicate and manufacture old football shirt designs, he offered to provide us with a new kit.

Tony, however, was another from the Pie stable and he wasn’t about to dirty his hands with Garibaldi cloth, so a compromise was reached on black and blue, the latter being a nod to Forest’s away kit of the 1960s. In fact, it took Jim and Tony’s retirement from the Sunday morning slog and the onboarding of Wild Clothing proprietor Robin Pounder before the club’s now long-established colours of black and red finally came to be. Robin, you see, was a Forest fan, and if the much-loved Nottingham vintage clothes emporium was going to sponsor Fanzines United, it was going to do so with red as a base colour in the shirts.

Matches in those early years were played at the recreational ground in West Bridgford Park, a ground sadly lost to local football after one complaint too many about the changing room’s lack of heating resulting in ice forming on the inside of the windows and the showers being frozen solid. Eventually, the council condemned the venue and left us to find an alternative field of dreams. Nowadays it’s known locally as the ‘dog walker’s field’, a far cry from the days when we lovingly, and not without some sarcasm, referred to it as the ‘Bridgford Bernabeu’.

While the club ground-hopped, success on the pitch became a constant. A first piece of silverware was secured in 1992 and the decision was made to move to play in the much-respected EMPAL set-up at Elms Park in Ruddington. This has since been home to Fanzines United for two decades. The club has grown to oversee three adult Sunday morning teams and one Sunday afternoon veterans team, with a registered playing database of nearly a hundred members.

The veterans team was initiated in 2014 to meet the demand from an ever-increasing cohort of ‘olding and balding’ players who wished to retain an active association with the club, while the production line of young and keen now continues with the club actively recruiting from both universities, as well as providing a nurturing environment for young players making the step up and out of local junior football.

It’s certainly a different approach to the early days, when an encyclopaedic knowledge of Husker Du b-sides and the life and times of Nick Drake wasn’t always enough for those job hunting at Selectadisc. If Fanzines United needed a player or two, then you’d better hope your footballing ability was up to scratch, as well as your music knowledge.

The list of alumni is long, with players both notorious and notable. ‘Whiffer’ Smith was a centre-half from the Kenny Burns stable of ‘they shall not pass’ and was prone to removing his front teeth before a game and having a crafty fag during it. There was the green-socked brigade of Nottingham University students who formed the fulcrum of the title-winning side of 1997 and included amongst their ranks Garry ‘Goals’ Smith, the club’s all-time top scorer. Also my old schoolmate Darren Powell was persuaded to help us out once when we were short despite being on trial at Notts County at the time. Darren went on to enjoy a successful career in American soccer, where until recently he was first team coach at Inter Miami FC and working with Lionel Messi.

There are hundreds of others, each with their own story to tell having left their mark on what is a unique football club. The current custodians remain conscious of the club’s past and its ethos, with manager Rich Shaw first dirtying his boots as a player back in the late 90’s, while assistant Dave Deighton is - yes, you’ve guessed it - another ex-Selectadisc employee.

The fanzines movement delivered a counter-offensive against much of what was wrong with football at the time with a mantra to ‘reclaim the game’. But did any of us think that 35 years later a by-product of our coming together would remain as a thriving grass-roots legacy? No, absolutely not. But then, as someone once said, it’s a funny old game - and long may it continue to be so.

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