Football magazines ask the questions we all want answered. Like: `Why aren't there more Giggsy photographs this week?'
Saturday 15 April 1995
In this week's Match magazine, the Sheffield Wednesday winger is pictured standing in the germ-free, clutter-free, oddly food-free kitchen of his large new executive home. Below the picture are his reported words: "Burgers and bangers on the barbecue I might be able to manage, but you won't catch me in here too often."
Meanwhile, over the page, Stig Inge Bjrnebye of Liverpool - or as he is known in the stands at Old Trafford, Stig of the Dump - is pictured in his similarly spotless large new executive home. Clearly something has been lost in the translation of some of the questions the Norwegian full-back has been asked: "Do you find the Liverpool sense of humour really funny?" is one. "Definitely," is the answer. "All we do in training is joke about with each other, and someone's always getting picked on."
Recently football, graceless and grumbling, has moved from the back pages of the newspapers to the front. Since the scandal seams of the Royal Family, Hollywood and pop stars have been mined close to exhaustion, football has taken their place.
Any scandal will do: dull, suburban philandering; recreational drugs; brown envelopes; kung-fu fighting; taxi interior re-design. And it doesn't matter how uninspiring the scandal or how insignificant the perpetrator. As long as it is a footballer, should he trangress then he will find himself spread across the front page of the News of the World. David Seaman, the Arsenal goalkeeper, has been so exposed. That's how little charisma matters.
To the corporate mind, if football is assumed to sell newspapers, so it follows that it must sell magazines. Over the last few years, a whole plethora of new publications dedicated to the subject have bloomed on newsagents shelves. Most of them (except, for obvious reasons, Liverpool Reds) seem to sell by including the words Manchester and United on their cover every edition. Which may be why Manchester United Magazine sells over 100,000 copies a month.
These magazines, however, have a different sales pitch to the newspapers. It is an upbeat agenda they promote, as antiseptically clear of sleaze and crud as Mrs Sinton's work surfaces. In this orbit, everyone wins trophies and no one loses their rag. Welcome to the Hello world of football.
Match is the UK's highest-selling football magazine. According to Barry Venison - pictured this week reading a back issue while sporting knitwear even Noel Edmonds would consider ill-advised - it sells 185,000 copies (although there may be a significant drop as this week's Gratuitous Ryan Giggs Picture Count stands at a meagre four).
Match clearly prides itself on its light-hearted approach to the game. Like those shots of celebs in Sunday supplements, each week it includes a spread of pictures of its readers' heroes, with allegedly humorous captions. One snap this week is of a player being massaged on the physio's table, complete with the rupture-inducing gag-line: "A Wimbledon youngster having his artificial leg attached prior to the FA Youth Cup semi-final."
And if you think that's about as funny as Little and Large, check out the latest Football Monthly (Gratuitous Ryan Giggs Picture Count: one). Here the reader is confronted by a picture of Vinnie Jones holding a shotgun, captioned: "Well, Vinnie Jones always did want to be a big shot."
More telling, perhaps, is the snap in Four Four Two magazine (GRGPC: two). This features several Manchester United players flourishing their personalised car number-plates. There's Giggsy with G1GSY, Andy Cole with 9 AC, and Peter Schmeichel with 45 PS (not pictured: P45, belonging to David May). The caption, hinting at a more newspapery view of the game, suggests that some Premiership squads do not have such a pressing need for personalised plates, since so many of their number are disqualified from driving.
As if to underline the clean and tidy footie world of the mags, however, no fewer than three of the most recent editions carry interviews with Gary Lineker, generally referred to as Mr Nice Guy. In Match, Sheffield Wednesday's Mark Bright (or to give him his full Match byline, Brighty) asks the great Radio Five Live anchorman several questions he must have thought hard about before answering.
For example: "What would you say you most miss about playing football?" Answer: "The one thing that's irreplaceable is the buzz of scoring, the moment of elation." And: "Why didn't you ever contemplate going into management?" Answer: "Even the most successful managers tend to be a bit miserable."
By an odd coincidence, Lineker is asked whether he would like to be a manager in Four Four Two. Answer: "Alex Ferguson's probably the most successful manager in the country and does he look happy?" Also, he is asked what he misses most about playing the game. Answer: "I miss the buzz of scoring. That's irreplaceable."
It is left to Total Sport (GRGPC: two) to put to Graham Taylor's No 1 fan the really testing inquiry: "Do you do the Lottery?" To which the reply is: "No. Good question though. One I've never been asked before. Congratulations." Gary Lineker in sarcastic quip shock. The News of the World could make hay with that one.
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