It’s always sad to see the passing of an icon and today we mournfully consider the demise of the Wolverhampton Wanderers fanzine ‘A Load of Bull’ which will release it’s 158th and final issue this weekend after championing the views of Wolves fans for 23 years.
Nostalgia can play tricks with your memory! Football in the 80s was often an unpleasant place to be. Fear of fighting had cleared the terraces, seen huge fences erected and a police presence bordering on the para-military. Games may have all been played at 3pm on a Saturday but ageing grounds were a grim place to stand and little consideration was given for your rights as a fan or even a consumer.
In Margaret Thatcher the country was lead by someone who didn’t understand or have any liking for the game and in her Sports Minister lackey, Colin Moynihan (yes the tiresome little elf, associated with the London Olympics), she had a mouthpiece that spouted nonsense about controlling fans by means of compulsory ID cards only for football supporters.
The game was on the front page of the tabloids almost as much as the back, with stadium disasters and deaths at Heysel, Bradford and ultimately Hillsbrough, resulting in scorn being heaped onto average fans and the English being treated as the pariahs of Europe, excluded from club competitions and being associated with riots during Euro 88.
On the pitch, the national side were failures, and my own glorious Wolves had sunk to new depths, plummeting through the leagues to the basement Division 4 in consecutive seasons, losing to non-league Chorley in the first round of the FA Cup and playing in front of very few fans occupying only two stands of the cavernous Molineux – a ground that had held 50,000 would echo as only a few thousand voiced their displeasure at another abject performance.
But as the town motto says ‘Out of Darkness Cometh Light’ and there were signs of the roots of recovery. Wolves were about to sign the legendary Steve Bull who would lead a charge through the divisions and bring some pride (and fans) back to the club. The Football Supporters Association (FSA) was formed by disgruntled Liverpool fans, sick of being the scapegoats, to bring genuine fans together and provide a voice up and down the country. The FSA would lead the way in defeating Thatcher’s draconian proposals. The Taylor report would be commissioned which would lead to huge ground improvements due to safety and result in more women feeling safe at games and attending – unfortunately at the expense of the terraces.
At the clubs, those real fans were adding their own light to the dark times. A craze for inflatables, supposedly starting with bananas at Man City, had brought about a sea of copycats, leading to Harry the Haddock being waved at Grimsby and all sorts of obscure objects confusing Police constables up and down the land.
And then there were fanzines. Stemming from the punk movement, fans had realised they could have their say and publications sprung up at almost every club. ‘When Saturday Comes’ would be the unofficial godfather of the movement and for years carried a contact list at the back, where names like ‘Brian Moore’s Head Looks Uncannily Like London Planetarium’, ‘Abbey Rabbit’ or ‘The Pie’ would represent clubs from Gillingham, Cambridge and Notts County and all stops between – except one it seemed! Every month I would scan WSC hoping for a Wolves title, and keep my ears open for a lonely seller at games but we were so happy that we had nothing to write about!
One game away at Ipswich, a rumour went around that a fanzine had appeared, but this was merely a pamphlet with a few jokey comments. I continued to read others, always hoping we would have our own soon. The real answer would be to start one, and luckily Dave Worton has more get up and go than me and produced the first issue of ‘A Load of Bull’ in 1989.
Strangely that first issue was sold at a game I attended with Keith Downing – a gift from one of his old schoolmates that worked at the company I had just left. As I sat in the stand, drinking from a player’s hip flask I had the new publication stuffed in my pocket. When Keith kindly took me to the players bar – a sparse soulless room in the old Waterloo Road stand but nirvana for me – I eventually plucked up courage to speak to my heroes and that is why my first edition proudly shows the autographs of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch
Downing, a midfield terrier and fans favourite, would long be associated with the fanzine as he was the subject matter of its one and only flexi-disc. Bobby Smith takes up the story “My lasting memory is when my flexi single ‘Keith Downing is a Punk Rocker’ came out with issue 15. We were playing Luton and when we scored hundreds of the disc were thrown in the air in celebration – like a swarm of locusts over the South Bank!”
This was also the time when the fanzine incurred the wrath of the club due to the infamous free badges both in support and against manager Graham Turner. An attempt to satirise the fickle nature of Wolves fans that backfired badly and damaged the relationship with the club for some time. But fanzines weren’t published to toe the company line anyway!
The game would change beyond all recognition in the years to come, and whilst there have been some positive changes and negative ones, ‘ALOB’ has been there with us for over 20 years. I would make an occasional contribution, getting a loanee XI in Issue 3, and having the first colour centre spread with a kit retrospective some issues later. I always looked forward to seeing some articles, particularly the musings of my JA co-conspirator Jim Heath or looking to see how Bobby Smith had crowbarred another unheard, (luckily), German Punk band into his ramblings. Others like the John Ireland Whinge A Lot would deliberately provoke reaction with his cleverly constructed negative views -Pah!
By the last few issues it was feeling dated. There was more than enough in the modern game to complain about but each issue became clogged with armchair managers giving their formations that would see us in the Champions League next season, when the reality was there for all to see. Anyone who had a opinion that needed expression had already spouted their views on any number of forums and ‘ALOB’ would follow it’s many predecessors into nostalgia, amongst all those other things we miss so much.
Charles Ross, editor since 1993 explains why the decision was made to close ALOB "For many years we have been suffering from falling sales. We are not, in printed media, alone in that; sadly, few other fanzines survive. It’s too easy to “blame the internet”. There is now such media overload: from the internet, other magazines, newspapers with pull out sports sections, sports radio stations, sports only TV channels and so on. None of this even existed when we began. In a way, we smashed down the barriers and became a victim of our own success. Once, there were a few people with so much to say; now, there are so many people with so little to say. Our voice has gradually become drowned out”
The generosity and spirit of A Load of Bull has one final glorious parting shot. The unanimous decision from subscribers was that the outstanding balance of their subscription money should go to a good cause. A total of £2,257 has therefore been donated to the Wolves Community Trust. Here it will specifically support the Disability Sports Programme delivered to two special schools in Wolverhampton accommodating children and young people with learning and physical disabilities.