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'We were very protective of its history and its place in the pantheon of football magazines'

It’s over 10 years since the iconic publication folded completely.

DURING THE 1996/1997 season, I drew a caricature of Peter Schmeichel. I’m not sure why I chose him as the subject but it was probably because his red nose and perpetually angry face allowed me have some fun with it. 

I wanted to enter Shoot magazine’s weekly art competition. I opened the latest issue, flicked through and pointed out the prize on offer to my Mum: a particularly hideous, luminous-yellow Mizuno training top, as modelled by Jamie Redknapp. 

Sufficiently impressed by both Jamie and (optimistic, probably) my art, Mum did as instructed and dispatched the precious cargo to London.

****

I’d got hooked on Shoot years earlier. It must have been 1992 or 1993 because I always remember the editor at the time – Dave Smith – wearing a kit in his bio picture that I didn’t recognise. For a while, I had no idea which club had that jersey. Blue and black stripes? I thought it may have been a lower-league team until I began watching Football Italia shortly after (on Network 2 because my Dad didn’t want to pay for multi-channel) and I came around to figuring it out. It’s a very visceral memory – sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, glued to a tiny portable screen, watching Dennis Bergkamp and Ruben Sosa float around the pitch in Inter Milan shirts with Fiorucci across the front and finally cracking the mystery.     

Those early days of reading the magazine are rubber-stamped in my mind. There was a poster of Celtic’s John Collins wearing a magnificent away strip (black and green stripes) that I was particularly fond of. Coincidentally, in the very first game I attended (a pre-season friendly between Cork City and Celtic at Bishopstown in July 1994), the Scottish giants wore that shirt, Collins scored and I shook hands with him afterwards as I stopped for a post-match toilet break in Jury’s Hotel on the Western Road. Later, my companion for the evening – my older brother – treated me to a feed in Abrekebabra. It was the best day of my life. I was eight. And, in true High Fidelity style, it would still probably make my all-time top-five list.    

Also, a feature on Norwich midfielder Jeremy Goss, after he scored that stunning volley against Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup in October ’93, always stands out. The piece had the memorable headline ‘Shooter Van Goss’ and though it always stuck in my head, it took me a while (probably until 2016) before I figured out it was a pun on R&B singer Luther Vandross. Or at least I hope it was.  

“We were all young guys and mad about football,” says Adrian Curtis, who served as deputy editor during his stint.  

“The footballers of the day – who were at the top of their game – liked Shoot, remembered Shoot and knew it was a real magazine. Whenever you rang them or contacted them, they were always happy to be part of what we were doing.

“The players would trust you enough – maybe because, ostensibly, we were a teenage magazine – to give you their numbers, no problem. Sometimes things went sour – usually with the managers – and you would occasionally get some irate calls. But you’d often ring players at home – mobiles only became a thing later on – and they’d be quite happy to talk and you made a lot of friendships with football people.” 

Sometimes we paid for interviews but, compared with the national papers, it was never a great deal. I remember Gazza coming on board as a columnist for us and getting about £300 a week. With Jamie Redknapp, who I’d worked with previously at Match quite a bit, I knew him so well that he’d leave it to me to write his column if he was too busy. And that goes back to building those relationships with players and the trust that was there between us.”  

Shoot was a ritualistic experience for me.

It would usually be Wednesday or Thursday before it dropped in Cork and it was always my Mum who religiously picked me up a copy, except when she got very sick and spent time in hospital. The first week when she was away from our house, I remember my Dad coming home and handing me a plastic bag. Inside was a copy of Shoot, its rival Match and one of those sherbet tubes with the long piece of liquorice inside. As substitutions go, he filled in admirably.      

The magazine was a comfort blanket and bedtime reading only if I could wait that long, which was rare. As much as I enjoyed the interviews and colour pieces, my favourite part was the results section: every game from Premier League to Anglo-Italian Cup and, for the most part, lineups too. But at the bottom, there was ‘Stop Press’ – a little fact about Coventry’s extended winless streak, Ken Monkou’s fourth headed goal of the season or Scott Oakes’ second career hat-trick for Luton. 

Shoot introduced me to wonderful new things like Corinthian figurines and also made me jealous of the rich kids who had that pitch-style green carpet in their bedrooms and wore official, team-branded runners.  

And there was the history too.

The League Ladders remained a big pre-season event, even when Merlin stickers arrived on the scene and whipped everyone into a frenzy. But Shoot’s influence also ensured it became a platform for other culturally significant football institutions to get a new lease of life.

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 09.24.16

I had never really heard of Roy Race or Melchester Rovers before. But when Roy of the Rovers released a new monthly edition in the mid-90s, the strip was given a weekly tease in Shoot and I keenly followed the fates of Roy Jr (Rocky), Nigerian striker Paul ‘Delroy’ Ntende, veteran goalkeeper Andy Styles and, of course, Roy Sr as he attempted to deal with the trauma of his leg amputation, forced retirement and a new coaching career at Italian side AC Monza.          

“We were very protective of Shoot and what it was about – its history and nostalgia and the place it had in the pantheon of football magazines,” Curtis says. 

There were others but Shoot was the first that seemed to open the door for teenagers and made football into something a bit more. And its history helped with the players too. Every one you met had a good word to say about Shoot. It was a magazine the players enjoyed because we still held on to a certain readership. And that audience didn’t want cartoons but wanted to read about real footballers talking about real issues.” 

With Shoot, there was always a pop culture undercurrent too.

When Nottingham Forest striker Paul McGregor appeared on the scene at the start of the 95/96 campaign and scored some goals, he seemed to make more headlines for being the lead singer in a Britpop-inspired band called Merc. Inevitably, the magazine covered the story and carried photos of the group performing at a local venue. 

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.07.58 Paul McGregor, then a striker with Nottingham Forest, is photographed performing with his band Merc at local venue Rock City.

Teenage Fanclub – who came to the fore during the Britpop era thanks to being part of Creation Records’ stable – were featured too and then-drummer Paul Quinn was afforded the perfect platform to discuss his lifelong obsession with Celtic.

It all made sense.

Footballers always wanted to be musicians and vice versa.

Oasis – before the Gallagher brothers started posing for photoshoots wearing Manchester City shirts – had framed photographs of George Best and Rodney Marsh on the front cover of Definitely Maybe. In December ’96, another Creation group – Super Furry Animals – put cult footballer Robin Friday (in equally-cult celebratory pose) on the front of their single The Man Don’t Give A Fuck.   

And arguably, everyone was just ripping off Leeds’ indies The Wedding Present who released their debut album George Best – complete with magnificent profile shot of the cross-Pennine icon as the cover – in 1987.

“You have to go back to Best to see where it all began,” Curtis says. 

He was the modern football rock ‘n’roller with a mix of fashion too. He opened the doors but it probably took another 20 years for everything to be taken up a notch and that had a lot to do with various agents who got involved with pop stars and footballers and there was going to be a crossover at some point.”

Some footballers – like Best – had always been celebrities. But by the mid-90s, far more of them carried that weight.

Agents swooped in and saw potential.

Ryan Giggs was marketed as a young heartthrob who was just as sellable to magazines like Just Seventeen or Big. Pull-out posters from the era had Giggs on one side and Dieter Brummer from Home and Away or Beverly Hills 90210′s Jason Priestley on the other. Giggs was so lucrative at the time that he even cropped up in teenage music magazines like Smash Hits alongside Mark Owen and Sean Maguire.

It helped that so many of the publications operated under the same umbrella. At the time, IPC boasted such powerhouses as Loaded, New Musical Express, VOX as well as Shoot and another football magazine, 90 Minutes. Emap, who handled Match, also managed Just Seventeen, Smash Hits and FHM.   

It meant that editorial policy and content – regardless of target demographic – had a neat way of overlapping. 

Famously, in December ’96, The Spice Girls were photographed in London’s Holborn Studios by Derek Ridgers and interviewed by 90 Minutes’ Juliette Wills. The pictures showed them all in football kits they had some association with, so Mel B wore a Leeds United strip, Mel C proudly had her Liverpool jersey on, etc. The piece ran in the Christmas issue and the group were on the front cover.

But the following month, it was republished in Shoot, ensuring a larger audience. Victoria wore a Manchester United shirt though admitted it was only because the group’s manager – Simon Fuller, a huge fan of the club – persuaded her to do it. During the interview, Wills showed her some photos of footballers to see if she fancied any. David Beckham caught her eye and Wills quoted her in the piece.

I’ve seen a picture of that David Beckham and he looks nice. Perhaps I should go up to Manchester United and have dinner with him?”       

In March, she did go to Old Trafford – for a game against Sheffield Wednesday – met Beckham afterwards and the pair married just over two years later.

“When you had the likes of Giggs and David Beckham and ‘The Spice Boys’ at Liverpool –  Redknapp, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman – more and more, things like fashion and music became talking points,” Curtis says. 

“Sometimes the players wanted to talk more about it than football, which was a bit of a breath of fresh air.”

In their mid-nineties heyday, Shoot and Match would shift over 300,000 copies between them each week (Mike Henson’s excellent feature for The Set Pieces delves further into this) but by the time I moved onto secondary school in 1998, the emerging digital landscape was about to change everything.

“Once the internet arrived, there was no particular need for magazines like ours,” Curtis says. 

“It was a shame like Shoot, Match, 90 Minutes and Goal all went down the tubes. But why would a kid with access to the internet and able to get all his knowledge and interviews and fan stuff from websites, still buy the magazine? It was a great era to be working in football and we had the best of times with great people. Looking back, we wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

But could a Vinyl-like comeback be possible? There are those who have long shunned e-readers in favour of a book and mainly because of sensory reasons that are richly aligned with nostalgia: the smell, the touch, the feel.

Is the timing right for a rebirth of Shoot magazine or something like it?

“I’m a staunch supporter of print,” Curtis says. 

“But it would take someone with very deep pockets, a lot of faith and in it for the long haul. It would take an incredibly brave company or person to do it. It’s all about setting an agenda with football and you’ve got to make yourself stand out. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and I still think there’s room for a nostalgic magazine looking back to the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s – the whole spectrum. There’s more appeal now because of the amount of time that’s passed. The kids can get their fix but where can I go to relive my days of turning up two minutes before a game, paying 6 pence at the turnstiles and watching some football? There’s nothing catering for that audience.”

Curtis was involved with the magazine for some standout moments before stepping away in the summer of 1996. But there’s one that he’s particularly fond of.   

“There are some special memories,” he says.

“I was the first to interview Ryan Giggs as a teenager when Sir Alex Ferguson allowed us access to him. He was 17 and didn’t have a lot to say but it was about the kudos of landing him.” 

“But if there was one thing that sticks out…it was getting Ian Rush to dress up in an Everton shirt for an April Fool’s front cover.”

If it had been now, it would’ve exploded across social media. The magazine hit the shelves on a Wednesday and everyone picked it up thinking, ‘Ian Rush has signed for Everton?’ The amount of phone calls and letters we had – it was phenomenal. If it was today, I think Twitter would’ve broken down. It’s akin to Harry Kane putting on an Arsenal shirt and posing for a magazine cover. If you managed to persuade him to do it now – even if you’d give all the proceeds to charity – there would be meltdown. I’m not convinced they’d actually do it because the stigma would just be too much.”

Due to a drop in readership, Shoot moved to monthly issues in 2001 before relaunching as a weekly in February 2008. But, the gamble didn’t pay off and within four months the plug was pulled completely and the magazine folded for good that summer. 

The last half of 2007 showed sales of just under 36,000 per month – a long way from the dizzying weekly figures of a decade earlier. 

****

When I flipped the page over and did a quick scan, it took me a second to take it all in. I rubbed my eyes a bit, convinced I was seeing things. 

It had been a couple of weeks since my Mum posted the drawing.

But, there it was. My caricature of Peter Schmeichel. I was Shoot magazine’s weekly competition winner. My Mum was proud. 

Sometime later, the Mizuno top arrived and I’d wear the garish, oversized monstrosity with pride at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, my Shoot collection – carelessly but lovingly jammed into a storage unit in our garage – was lost forever when we moved house a few years later. There must have been well over 200 copies, which may not sound like a lot in the grand scheme of things. But, in many ways, along with various cassette tapes and a handful of Oasis CDs, it was a large chunk of my childhood.

Still, I was 14 by then. And it was time to move on.    

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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