HOPING to persuade Essex County Cricket Club to reconsider its decision not to stock his cricket magazine, Johnny Miller 96 Not Out, in its shop, Dave Cotton sent a copy to the club's secretary, Peter Edwards.
For a while, Mr Edwards was impressed, noticing the improvement in presentation and accuracy. But then came an article by Ann Pilot (a pseudonym for a former Essex player) which poked fun at some of the Essex mighty. It suggested that the county's England bowler, Mark Ilott, was now swinging the ball even further, 'presumably to all parts of the ground'; and that Essex should consider a suitable replacement for Graham Gooch as captain and general unselfish good guy - 'that's knackered John Stephenson, then'.
Such banter is not to everyone's taste. JM96*, as it is called for short, may be forced to close. Until the arrival last week of Third Man, the fanzine was the only one of its type, and the current issue may be the last if it fails to increase sales.
Although Mr Edwards doesn't think much of Mr Cotton's selling technique - he did not 'subscribe to the principle that the best way to persuade people to your ideas is to insult them' - others rate the 28-year-old entrepreneur's acumen highly. They question the cricket administrators - particularly those from the Home Counties who have refused to sell the magazine - or at least their ability to recognise a joke.
The magazine, launched as a home-produced cut-and- paste publication in 1989, is a notable addition to the cricketing press because of its satire, its occasional seriousness, and its recognition by W H Smith as a publication worthy of distribution. Initially, it was sold just in Eastbourne - the name comes from a headline in the Eastbourne Herald about a local player - and through Sussex County Cricket Club. However, it became serious business last year when Mr Cotton gave up his management job at the Halifax building society and committed himself to the magazine.
After some encouraging sales figures, W H Smith agreed to stock the magazine, but results have been disappointing; last April, it sold 9,341 copies out of 28,000 printed, and although the break-even figure is only 7,800 the newsagents have warned Mr Cotton that he must sell a further 3,000 copies to ensure survival.
That may depend on a change of heart by the counties refusing to stock it. As well as Essex these include Surrey, Kent, Middlesex and Hampshire from the South-east, and Yorkshire and Leicester. Mr Edwards said cricket didn't need such 'knocking' copy. 'It is a serious traditional-type business that is well served by some excellent cricket magazines. This is a private members' club, and we can decide what we want to stock and what we don't'
Stuart Anderson, the secretary at Kent, said he disliked the tone of the magazine. And at Surrey, Eric Budd says he refused to stock it because he wanted 'boys and girls to come into the game in the right way'.
What is upsetting these men? Lack of a sense of humour, according to Ken Grime, marketing executive at Lancashire, which sells more than 100 copies of each issue. 'They take it too seriously,' agrees Victoria Snook, marketing assistant at Glamorgan. 'You are bound to get the stuffy ones,' says Doris Howard at Somerset.
The stuffy ones include the former England captain Mike Smith, who called in lawyers after the magazine jokingly advertised him as a guest editor, and Paul Parker, former Sussex captain, who objected when the magazine's first issue carried a photograph of the chauffeur from Thunderbirds beside an interview with himself.
Spectators at the Lord's Test last week saw the funny side, after initially turning up their noses. They may well have liked the following item, which purports to have England captain Michael Atherton, nickname FEC (Future England Captain, or ******* Educated ****), spelling out the alternative meanings for the same name applied to some of his team. For example, Alec Stewart: Father Eased Career (his father was once England manager); Robin Smith: Flipper Ends Career (he doesn't like spin bowling); and Graeme Hick: Fluffed Every Chance.
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