"I will not let World Soccer magazine die"

Glossy, shiny wonderful thing, sat on the newsagents shelf, ready to be plucked and digested.  More sales than ever you say? but are you ok? really?  IBWM editor Jeff Livingstone worries for a favourite publication.

I was a little concerned to read recently that publishers IPC are looking to offload/sell World Soccer magazine.

You’re here, I’m guessing, because you have an interest in world football - call it a gift, I’m just perceptive like that.  That being the case, you’ll be familiar with WS, maybe you’re a subscriber.  If not, and I’ll not assume anything here, you’ve been missing out.  But I fear you may need to act soon.

As one of the UK’s largest publishing houses, IPC have felt a revenue squeeze, just like so many other businesses of late.  Consumer magazines are hugely reliant on advertising.  While subscriptions and sales make up a large part of their income, advertising is a big deal.  If the sponsors dry up, it’s difficult to keep costs down and cover prices go up.  All of a sudden, your audience is dwindling, put off by the price tag, so it’s no wonder magazines and newspapers are so keen for subscriptions.  Getting the money in first is a big help.

I first got into WS mag in the mid 1980’s.  I was in my teens and had an insatiable appetite for football outside of the confines of the UK.  I craved to hear about exotic teams like Ajax, St Etienne and Steaua Bucharest and longed to read anything about Zico, Platini or Boniek.  Just like everyone else, I was reliant on the press, but there wasn’t much there outside of the top two divisions and - as many fans from the era will recall – football fans weren’t really that well catered for, due to the leprosy etc.  I can recall the erstwhile Kier Radnedge having a small column in Shoot! but it wasn’t enough for me.

When the knee jerk that was a European ban for English teams occurred in 1985, that appeared to be that.  The odd showing of Red Star Belgrade on Midweek Sports Special was never going to satisfy this pilgrim.  Then I discovered World Soccer magazine.

In the way that boys shy away from asking a girl out, I pretty much flirted with WS on the shelves of the newsagents for quite a while.  It wasn’t a thick magazine, yet it cost so much more than Shoot! and Match combined.  I didn’t have a lot of spare cash, but one day made the jump and never looked back.

I found myself scouring the results pages of back issues just to see which games certain players scored in.  Now, you can just get onto Wikipedia and get the lowdown on a player; height, weight, inside leg, preferred brothel etc , but when your team was about to close a deal on Falkirk’s exciting young right winger, you wanted to see his name somewhere.  I once tried to persuade a friend to buy a copy of WS at a railway station.  He looked at my copy, lifted it like a butcher checking how heavy a joint of beef is, before comparing the weight of four four two.  No contest, he concluded.  If ever there was a case of ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’, that was it.

As a football publication, World Soccer is completely without equal.  Where else can you get such high quality writing and a veritable array of footballing delicacies?  Best five teenagers in France, who is pulling the strings in Nepalese soccer and how are things in Venezuela’s top flight?  Love it.  Always have.  Tremendous writers like Sid Lowe and Tim Vickery adorn the pages and it’s informed, insightful, and just magnificent, if that isn’t a pun.  High on literary quality, low on ads.  A winning combination.

World Soccer has a reputation amongst football’s ‘in the know’ too.  It’s read by coaches, managers and the best journalists; Brian Glanville is not regarded as the writer’s writer without reason, but its here that I can begin to see cracks.

I love Glanville, he’s intelligent and unsurpassed as a football writer, but he’s almost become an embarrassing uncle in my eyes.  Just before the World Cup in South Africa kicked off, I listened to the popular Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio Five.  He was in Jo’burg, ready for the party to get started.  First up, an African choir, how will your team do? great, that’s excellent, next; Brian Glanville, isn’t it all great Brian? Erm, well, no.

Uncle Brian, as he does, began a dismissal of the modern game and modern players; there is no comparison with 1958 and Pelé, FIFA have destroyed the game etc.  Campbell, clearly brought down to earth, was not impressed and got the interview out of the way quickly.  I felt a touch embarrassed.  He’s not like that all the time, honestly.

Thing is, I agree to an extent with what Glanville was saying.  Yes, the World Cup does have too many teams now, but this is where we are, so let’s enjoy it.  Stay positive.  Regardless of how my own team is performing, football is life affirming, self healing, perpetual, effervescent.  One career has ended, another is beginning, but this lad will be better.  Lose that positivity and you are in trouble....and I’ve felt negativity creeping into World Soccer for a while now.

I also really want WS to embrace the web fully, to move with the times.  The magazine editor Gavin Hamilton has really taken to twitter, like many of us, and has built up a following.  I’ve never met him, but Hamilton comes across as someone who loves the game, knows his stuff and cares passionately about football.  That’s what I want to see.  Sadly I feel the WS web presence really lets it down.  What a great opportunity to capture a new generation of readers that might see the rrp of the magazine as a little prohibitive.  You might love or hate the layout of IBWM, but as a small ‘indie’ website I think we do a better job.  Game of opinions, I guess.

So this is where my concern lies.  Hamilton confirmed recently that the World Cup issue was the best selling WS edition to date - its fifty years old remember - but when IPC decide to bracket WS with magazines about trains and caravans that are not  ‘core to its portfolio’, you have to wonder about the future of the publication.

No doubt another publisher will come in, but if it’s going to be down to the bottom line, as it invariably will be, then the quality is at risk.  More ads no doubt.

I raise these concerns not as a criticism, but because I’m a fan and have been for so long.  I’m part of the problem too I suppose; I’ve always resisted subscribing, because I worried that the mag would drop though the letterbox and I’d just forget about it.  Whereas if I’m flying to London, or getting a train to Liverpool, then it’s a time that me and WS can spend together.  You’ve got my undivided attention.  Tell me about the fifty stars of 2011.  I’ll just pay at the newsagents.

So if you know World Soccer and enjoy it, subscribe if you haven’t already.  If you’re new to it, I’m passing on a cherished baton in the shape of a thin rolled up magazine here.  Look after it.  Don’t let it die.

IBWM would love to know what you think about World Soccer magazine, so please feel free to leave comments.