It was all very exciting. I came to love the smell of newsprint, there was a cardboard folder behind the counter with my actual name on it, and I think the cost of the magazine was around 35 cents local currency, which was about half my usual weekly “pocket money” (or allowance). Although the ship freighted magazines arrived some three months after publication in the UK, I’d pore over each new issue as though it contained all the hidden secrets of the universe.
It might as well have. Football was more or less my whole world at that age. My Lanarkshire-born immigrant father played it at a high local level, representing Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, and the NZ Combined Services team (he was in the police) at various times throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I trained most evenings myself, and my weekends were consumed by round ball activity – Saturday mornings for the school or (later) club teams, Saturday afternoons watching Dad's games, which often involved travelling to different North Island towns, and by 1976, my Sundays were taken over by my own representative/Manawatu age group team commitments.
If I was really lucky I'd manage to catch the LWT-produced Big Match on television once a week. The main drawback being that this hour-long highlights package of games from the English top flight of a week earlier, had an often inconvenient Sunday lunch broadcast slot. This was, of course, in the days prior to the VCR, or the scarcely imaginable option of saving a TV programme to something called a hard drive.
As for local newspapers covering British football ... forget it. The Wellington-based broadsheet, the Evening Post, offered weekly league tables, printed on a Monday, but any coverage in Palmy's Evening Standard was a rarity, and very much a bonus if it happened at all. So in this tiny isolated rugby-obsessed corner of the globe, Shoot! magazine was a godsend, my weekly bible, and my only way of keeping up with all the news on the global game. It was an escape into another, hugely exciting, world.
Once a year, in late July or early August, at the start of every new football season, Shoot! had a removable cardboard league ladder feature, where each division in England and Scotland had its own set of slots, and each team had its own tab which could then be inserted, removed, and reinserted on a weekly basis as the teams jockeyed for position, up and down the various tables as the season progressed. Not having regular access to the Evening Post, I’d try to keep my own tables up to date by listening to the early Sunday morning reading of the British football results on national radio (from games played overnight), calculating the weekend tables accordingly. But it was usually a forlorn task, as those pesky midweek games often went unreported, and in truth, I probably wasn’t as good at maths as I thought I was.
Shoot! also had a "star-studded" line-up of feature writers (or at least, ghost writers representing them) – the likes of Alan Ball, Gerry Francis, and Kevin Keegan being the most memorable from that mid-1970s period in terms of the English game. But as a fan of Glasgow Celtic, I had a special relationship with the game north of the border, and I was always drawn to what the “tartan talk” columnists had to say – the likes of Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish were, as Celtic players of the era, particular favourites at the time.
Other features in Shoot! included ‘Football Funnies’, which included a short comic strip called Nobby, ‘Ask The Expert’, which offered £1 for every letter published, and ‘You Are The Ref’, where the reader is presented with a rule book conundrum to resolve, and a chance to play the role of the “bastard in the black”.
I especially enjoyed the ‘Club Spotlight’ sections, usually two per issue, which included a team photo of the featured club(s) and short player bios. And the ‘Focus On’ section was always good read, where one top player was asked a series of questions from the professional to the personal, but in a very digestible/snapshot format.
I was supposed to be saving up for a “racing bike” (to get me to the shops faster, right?), but usually, if I had any spare money leftover, I’d more than likely spend it on a comic called Tiger. Tiger was also a football-centric UK-based comic, the original home for the famous Roy of the Rovers strip, prior to Roy Race and his Melchester Rovers club becoming popular enough to demand an entire comic of their very own.
Alongside Roy of the Rovers, Tiger had strips like Billy’s Boots and Hot Shot Hamish, along with a Motor Racing/Formula One strip called Skid Solo, and a wrestling one featuring a giant American Indian dude called Johnny Cougar. Tiger merged with a rival comic called Scorcher, before disappearing completely in the wake of Roy Race’s rebranding.
I occasionally flirted with a more highbrow monthly, the illustrious World Soccer (magazine), which I sourced from second-hand bookshops. Or I found myself the lucky recipient of used copies that Dad had somehow found for me. It’s funny, because although Dad often frowned upon me spending so much time reading about football when I “should be outside practicing”, he did tend to support and feed my obsession.
World Soccer was a much more challenging read however, with a lot more emphasis placed on the international game, and Shoot! was my main poison of choice throughout the mid-to-late Seventies.
It was all rather fascinating stuff for a pre-teen come pre-pubescent teenager living on the other side of the world to where all the action was (clearly!) taking place, but things were about to change, and by 1978 or 1979, I started to develop a healthy (or unhealthy) interest in music and pop culture, one that stays with me to this very day.
The origins of this newly discovered horizon, or soon-to-be obsession, can perhaps be traced back to an older sister, who also had a couple of magazine subscriptions of the same era – I’m fairly certain her sub was for a girl’s mag called Diana, or it may have been Jackie magazine. Each of those publications had pull-out posters, of (then) teen idols like David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, through to more serious artists like David Bowie and um, Gary Glitter … but I’ll cover some of this off in the next post as we journey into a far less innocent time and place …