Leery, laddish and loud - won't the fans just love 'em?

Launching a soccer magazine is a whole new ball game, as Jim White discovers

At the bookstall at London's Euston railway station, there are, on a bookcase dedicated to the genre, 67 different football magazines.

With the new season upon us, the expectation among British publishers is that, in addition to the meat pie and bottle of banana milk, football fans will be slipping into their carrier bags enough reading material to start their own paper mills. Yet five years ago, the bored fan seeking to anaesthetise the journey to Birmingham, Stoke, Manchester or Liverpool would have been lucky to find half a dozen magazines, none of which appeared to require a reading age above eight.

Thanks to Sky Television and the promotional acreage of newspaper back pages, football now looms so large over the national consciousness it is considered deviant behaviour not to be a fan. Five years ago, after a generation of hooliganism and disaster, it would have been easier to seek finance to start a magazine dedicated to paedophilia than to football.

The speed with which the market has changed was indicated in May, when the Periodical Publishers Association awarded its prize to the independent publishers it considered had achieved the most in the previous year. Zone, a small company from north London, was recognised for producing Manchester United magazine, an organ satisfying a hunger for information about the country's most popular club to the tune of more than 120,000 copies a month. Two years ago, Zone did not exist.

For the magazine publisher, the joy of football is that the recent explosion of interest has proven there is no such thing as a homogenous fan. A previously preconceived view has been overturned - fans come in all ages, sexes, and social classes, wanting all sorts of different things.

Having discovered this truth, no football fan is considered immune. Every taste is catered for, from the cool, distanced and adult When Saturday Comes (sample copy: "Over 250,000 people have bought Fever Pitch and not all of these people are members of the Groucho Club or distant relatives of Melvyn Bragg") to the celebratory and frankly teen Liverpool Reds (sample copy: "Star File: Jamie Redknapp. Favourite colour: Red!!!!!").

But of all groups, the market that publishers really fancy is that of the 18- to 30-year-old male, a species notoriously difficult to reach - and previously assumed not to be able to read - yet presumed to be awash with disposable income.

The key has recently been discovered. It is called Loaded, a laddish "general interest" magazine for men that flies off bookstalls with a speed Linford Christie must envy. Since magazine publishers are keen to repeat proven concepts rather than risk anything new, a football magazine like Loaded seems to fulfil all preconditions.

This month, two large publishers launch new, expensive, glossy and, most important, laddish football magazines. From Pearson comes Total Football. The editor, Gary Witta, is unashamed about his influences: "Too much football press is po-faced and dull. We will have a lot of the energy and irreverence of a magazine like Loaded."

From IPC comes Goal, not to be confused with the old title from the Seventies.Adrian Thrills, one of Goal's editors, is slightly more wary: "Loaded is a fantastic magazine, but this isn't Loaded by another means. This is a magazine about football which people like us wanted to read."

If Goal's dummy issue (launch date is 14 September) is indicative, Mr Thrills is right. The pages are alive with the kind of intelligent, forthright, silly and trivia-obsessed attitude that might mark a pub conversation.

Although the game has never been better reported in the press - thanks to reporters such as Patrick Barclay, David Lacey, Joe Lovejoy, Phil Shaw - this is not the view of the game represented (as yet) in newsprint. New football magazines prefer those who cut their teeth on the music and style press, on publications like, well, Loaded. Another new magazine whose second edition is on the shelf this month - England, published by Zone - is edited by Gavin Hills, long-time contributor to The Face.

"I think the football fan has plenty of opportunity to enjoy people like Lacey in a newspaper," says Adrian Thrills. "What we offer is a different voice - a magazine for fans, written by fans." Thus, the magazines will make no attempt at the objectivity practised (despite what followers of certain clubs might believe) by newspapermen and will talk the language of the fan.

Not long ago, it was assumed such language would land any magazine using it in court on an obscenity charge. Now the supporters presumed to harbour the unpleasant tendencies - England fans - have a magazine talking their argot. And it is revealed as human. On the back cover of England magazine is a picture gallery of black internationals with the headline "Made In England". The fact that it includes John Barnes, who wasn't (he was born in Jamaica), does not lessen the impact. Football magazines are not as they used to be.

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