We Speak to Jim Cooke, Co-founder of 1980s-2000s Notts County Football Fanzine The Pie

Interview: Jared Wilson
Tuesday 14 May 2024
reading time: min, words

Merging football, music and real ale, Notts County fanzine The Pie took football back to the community when it ran over 87 issues from the late 80s to the late 00s. We speak to one of the original founders Jim Cooke about the history of the publication...

Jim Cooke The Pie 1000RGB

Why did you become a Notts County fan?

It was mainly due to my grandma. She was a keen sports fan and first took me down to see the Nottingham Panthers. Then she took me and my cousin to a Notts match. A neighbour had taken me to watch Forest first, but I didn't particularly enjoy that.

My grandma would have been in her 60s and we went with seven or eight other ladies who were the same age. I remember their husbands, Jeff Astle up front and the bags of sweets being passed around. There was something about Meadow Lane that seemed a bit more earthy and I think it was that grittiness that attracted me. I just thought, yeah, this is, this is the place for me. I was eight at the time and my first two games were 0-0 draws so nothing too exciting.

At away matches, the players would come over and sign autographs for me. You'd be looking up, thinking crikey, these are my heroes. My Grandma just seemed like she was mates with them all. I remember when Alex Gibson, the captain, had just had a little kid. When he came over the Grandma’s had bags of knitted baby clothes for him.

Tell us about who you were in the mid to late 80s when The Pie began…

I was working at and managing Selectadisc record shop. I loved music and I loved football. Saturday was our biggest day in the shop, so I usually couldn’t go to many games home or away on the weekends. But I went to all the midweek games home and away, including reserve games.

How do you think football fans were perceived back then?

Margaret Thatcher was in power and after battling the miners she set her sights on other social groups, including football fans. There had been a backdrop of hooliganism back then and English teams had been banned from Europe after the Heysel Stadium disaster. She decided we were all the same and wanted all football fans to have to carry ID cards. Most of the media toed that line as well, and football fans were getting bad press all over the place. However, most of them we knew were decent people who just wanted to go and watch their local team.

So how did The Pie first begin? Who was involved in creating the first issue?

In September 1986 I met a guy called Colin Higgins at a game. A couple of days later, he came into the shop and we got talking. I'd read a couple of football fanzines before that and he showed me copies of Off The Ball and When Saturday Comes. He was a great artist and knew a lot of people. We thought, why don't we do something like that for Notts County? After that Andy Martin and Chris Curtis both came on board and it began. There was also a friend of mine called Martin Clarke who I went to the games with who contributed some ideas. Nick Smith of the Nottinghamshire Archives also helped out and others quickly came on board like Tony Mack, Cliff Smith, Chris Brooks and Ken Swift - who is sadly no longer with us. 

Tell us a bit about the process of putting an issue together…

Usually we’d all meet in a pub and agree on content and tasks between us - the Loggerheads was a regular early haunt. Chris, who wrote mostly as Ivor Thirst, had lots of beer knowledge and so we covered real ale a lot too. I'd got a bit of political knowledge and a deep appreciation of the history of Notts County. I believe we used some of the money we made to buy ourselves an early word processor at one point. There was always a lot of typing up, which was done by various people including Alison Perkins and Cliff’s wife Kath. I think Sue Starbuck, who worked for me at Selectadisc did most of mine.

Colin had access to photocopiers so he would get it printed for us. He was a lecturer in Burton on Trent on a film course and ended up being a mentor to Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine there. He even played the part of a Notts County fan in their film TwentyFourSeven. We later used a print shop in Lady Bay.

From the beginning you decided that any money you made from the fanzine would be put back into the club. Why was that important?

We wanted to show that we loved the club and we knew they could do with any extra financial support. It wasn’t a lot of money, but we were soon sponsoring players and particularly youth team players. At first the club thought it was bizarre that we wanted to do that, but no-one else was sponsoring them and we thought of them as the future of our club. We ended up sponsoring players like Tommy Johnson and Mark Draper, both of whom went on to play for England Under-21s so we were obviously doing something right.

Margaret Thatcher was in power and after battling the miners she set her sights on other social groups, including football fans.

Some football fanzines were often at odds with their clubs, but it’s fair to say that the relationship The Pie had with Notts was pretty good, right? 

Yes. We had a few moments early on where we had to retract an issue or explain the idea of satire to them. But all in all, the relationship was good. We used to run a few things by the club captain Phil Turner before we printed, but he never asked us to change anything. Club Chairman Derek Pavis also eventually warmed to us and when he was drawing up the plans for the new stadium, he invited us down to come and have a look at them and invited us onto the supporters club committee.

Selectadisc also played quite a vital role in the local and national football fanzine movement back then too, didn’t it?

As soon as I saw those early copies of When Saturday Comes and Off The Ball I knew we should stock them. There was nowhere else doing it except for Sportspages in London, so I started gathering football fanzines from across the country and wrote to them all asking if we could be a stockist. We definitely became a bit of a home for it and we’d have people traveling all the way from other cities to come and peruse our fanzine collection.

It also meant we met like minded people. Not long after The Pie started we got quite pally with Adrian Goldberg, who founded Off The Ball. He had connections with The Observer too and they did a three page article on football fanzines in their Easter 1987 edition. Also in that edition was an article about The Garage, a Nottingham nightclub owned by Brian Selby of Selectadisc, that was one of the best in the country. So it was a double whammy for Nottingham that weekend. 

In February 1989 Notts County appointed Neil Warnock as manager. He went on to quite a lot of success with Notts and agreed to do an interview with The Pie straightaway.

We wanted to show we were behind him from the very beginning and thankfully he agreed. I think it was Andy Martin who did it and Neil had only been at the club for ten days when it happened. He seemed positive about the idea of football fanzines in the interview. As always an interview in a fanzine like ours could be a bit more interesting than the content the club were putting in their own programme.

Over the years there were quite a few spin-offs from the fanzine too; pub quizzes, t-shirts, a pub guide, coaches to away games and a Sunday league team. Tell us about those...

The coach trips were always good fun. There was always a carefully chosen pub stop on the way there and back and that helped make it a great day out. Most coach drivers in those days had a copy of The Sun stuffed in the front window, but ours had the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, which always made me smile.

Most of us enjoyed a kick-around so we liked playing Sunday football. We once had the actor and writer Billy Ivory along, who was a decent player. At the time he played for us he was acting in Coronation Street and he once wore a Pie pin badge in a scene of the show. We started by playing other fanzines at football prior to the main match on Boots’ sports ground. Wayne Fairclough kicked off one for us.

We started having quizzes down at the Meadow Club. They’d be packed, with twenty or more different teams and were making a lot of money that was being put back into the club. Steve Westby hosted some of those and he was great at it. Tommy Johnson’s mum and dad gave out the prizes at our first one.

I got to know Andy Lowe who founded Forest’s Tricky Tree fanzine from coming into the shop. I think we had a game against them on Easter Monday and we decided to try and bridge the animosity between Forest and Notts. So we each chose our best five or six players and put them into a team together to go into a league. They’re called Fanzines United FC and are still going today and for a few seasons played with a Selectadisc logo on their shirts.


Under Warnock Notts won two successive Play-Off Finals at Wembley. What were those days out like?

They were amazing times. We’d heard from Julie at The Brian about her experiences selling fanzines at Wembley, so we just didn’t even bother trying. At the first game we just totally outplayed Tranmere and wiped the floor with them. The second against Brighton was never in doubt too. The way Warnock motivated the players you always just felt we were going to win and most of the time we did. With those games and the Anglo-Italian cups we played at Wembley quite a lot in the ‘90s and we probably took it for granted a little. It made it even more special for Notts to win in the play-offs again last year against Chesterfield as it had been such a long gap.

After that second play-off win Notts were in the top division in the season before the Premier League came about. What are your memories of that season?

Firstly I was glad to see Neil Warnock stay with Notts, despite bigger clubs like Chelsea coming in for him. I was quietly confident we could avoid relegation. We had some good players, but also some bad luck. Don O’Riordan got injured on the first day of the season against Manchester United and didn’t really play for us after that. Paul Rideout was a great signing, but I don't think we ever used him properly. We spent a lot of money on Tony Agana, but that didn’t really work out. We were never cast adrift and I still thought we’d get out of it. But our results just petered out towards the end of the season and we went down. Dean Yates getting injured and selling Tommy Johnson didn’t help either.

Did you have any idea of how much the Premier League would change football?

No I didn’t. I remember speaking to Derek Pavis about this in his office and it was clear that he hadn't himself realised what a gravy train the Premiership was going to be either. Looking back if he had just invested one or two million pounds more and done it wisely, God knows what could have happened. Although I say that with the benefit of hindsight as Derek Pavis put so much money in over the years,

Looking back you can see that with the advent of the fanzine movement, England's success at Italia 90, Gazza’s tears and all-seater-stadia; football was gearing up to become more of a middle class sport. Football became gentrified and much of it was good. More women and families started coming and that has thankfully continued since. If you look at the crowds at home that we get now in the 4th division they’re comparable to what we used to get in that 1st division season.

There’s plenty of bad points about gentrification too though. However, a lot of the bad effects of monetisation of football happen in the leagues above Notts where there’s more money. Despite always wanting to see Notts win, I’m not entirely sure I want to see us as a Premier League club. There’s a lot of fun to be had down here. Hopefully we can become a mainstay in the Championship. 

Judging by the credits, your involvement with The Pie dropped off around Issue 43. Why was that? 

My day job at Selectadisc was really busy. It was 1994-1995 and you’ve got Oasis and Blur battling at the top of the charts and Britpop was massive. Business was booming for us and we not only had a Nottingham shop but we had one in London then too. So I was having to drive down to London and back a lot. I also moved house around this time and we had a lot of work to do on the place, which took up a lot of my evenings and weekends. My dad passed away too, so I needed to keep an eye on my mum.

It wasn’t because my interest in Notts was waning, I was still regularly going to first-team and reserve games. Although perhaps fanzines weren’t as important to me as they had been eight years earlier when we started it. I probably also felt like we’d already achieved much of what we set out to do.

I knew we were leaving it in the right hands with Steve Westby taking a bigger role. He’d been involved for quite a few years and is an extremely competent guy, as he’s also proven with all the work he’s done with Nottingham CAMRA and the Robin Hood Beer Festival. Others had joined too and it felt like they were the right people to take it forward. 

There’s plenty of bad points about gentrification... However, a lot of the bad effects of monetisation of football happen in the leagues above Notts where there’s more money. Despite always wanting to see Notts win, I’m not entirely sure I want to see us as a Premier League club.

Tell us about that rainy night at Shrewsbury when a club anthem was born…

It was Tuesday 17 April 1990. I remember that lots of Notts fans had hassle from the local police that night, getting kicked out of local pubs before the game, because someone somewhere had kicked off. So we were a bit annoyed because we hadn’t been able to have much beer and to cap it all off we weren’t playing well and went 2-0 down.

The home fans began to sing a chant to the tune of ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ and these three lads who I knew as the Arnold Magpies started singing “I had a wheelbarrow… the wheel fell off” back at them. We all stood together on the open terrace, and, all of a sudden Tommy Johnson and Kevin Bartlett both scored quickly and we’re level. So everybody starts singing “I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off.“ It just stuck from there and has stayed with the club ever since.

Any other moments from The Pie days that stand out?

I interviewed Don Masson once, who was my all-time hero. So to be able to sit down with him and talk about his career was just fantastic. I did that interview on my own. The lads just left me to it because it knew how much it meant to me. I still play football to this day, and every time I step out onto the pitch, I still think I'm Don Masson. I know I'm not quite as good as him, but it’s in my head that is how I want to play football. I always think of the Don and more recently Matty Palmer and Dan Crowley. I realise I am not in their class, but I like to see the game played in this way. The way Luke Williams got Notts playing and how we now continue under Stuart Maynard makes me so proud to be a Notts fan. 

The Pie fanzine continued in print until 2009. You can now read the entire archives from issues 1-87, plus a few specials online thanks to a LeftLion project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Visit The Pie Fanzine Archives

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