Fanzines. There's more than meets the eye you know. Richard Bellis tells the story of The Blue & White.
It’s funny how these things start off. A casual conversation with Neil, my brother, after a Chester game and a few months later there we were, fanzines in hand, selling as hard as we could. It had taken us around four months to launch the first issue of The Blue & White and after all the work we had put into it, we were desperate for it to be a success. It all came down to a few hours of standing outside the Exacta, hoping it stayed dry and that people would be interested enough to buy it.
The day leading up to it was hectic. I phoned the printers in the morning to check what time we could pick the finished fanzines up, hoping that it would be as soon as possible. We didn’t want to rush all day. Naturally then, we had to wait a few hours until lunchtime before we could collect them. When we arrived Dean and Paul from the printers kept saying how well it had come out, but I wanted to get my hands on a copy to see how it looked in real life. I had seen the designs over and over again on my computer, but the real litmus test was having it physically in my hands. After flicking through it, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was better than I had hoped.
As soon as Neil and I decided we wanted to do a fanzine we were determined it should be top quality. Of course, that is always easy to say, but we got a fantastic designer, Michael, on board and set ourselves a deadline of the first few games of the season and got to work. Originally the idea was to resurrect an old Chester fanzine, Hello Albert!, because we liked the name and wanted to tap into a part of our club’s rich history. However, after our emails fell on stony ground we began looking at how to do things by ourselves.
I must admit however, that we would not have started were it not for a Wigan fanzine called The Mudhutter. The editor, Jimmy, asked me a few questions on Chester’s reformation and resurgence for his fanzine which I was delighted to provide. Having had the idea of starting a Chester fanzine in my head, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about producing a fanzine. He gave me some extremely useful advice and encouragement, which really spurred us on to begin setting up.
Neil and I began by deciding what we should do with any money we might make. This might seem a bit of an odd place to begin, but we wanted to give something back to the club we love and the Junior Blues were the obvious choice for us. The junior fan section of the club has done a fantastic job of raising the profile of Chester FC to local children and we wanted to support future fans, who will hopefully become future fanzine readers too!
At this point we didn’t even have a name for the fanzine, but, undeterred, we phoned Oswestry Printers and enquired about printing costs. We could not have picked a better moment. The man who answered (the aforementioned Paul) was not only the Commercial Manager of Oswestry Printers, but also the Commercial Manager of Chester FC. He loved the idea and we arranged a meeting to discuss the details.
To prepare Michael sent us through some example designs to give Paul a better idea of what we were planning to do with the fanzine and we set off. Meetings are the boring part of the story, but probably the most important. After all, you can’t just have everything fall into place without some kind of strategy. Neil and I came out of the meeting with Paul brimming with new ideas and a good idea of where to start. Better still, on the bus home a name for the fanzine popped into my head – The Blue & White – Neil liked it and we got the seal of approval from Michael too. Suddenly things seemed a lot more official, so we got on with forming a rough business plan and setting The Blue & White up.
Meanwhile Michael was building the website and had designed our first front cover. There were still a few tweaks to be made, but it was already looking really good. I bought a domain name for the fanzine – theblueandwhitefanzine.co.uk – and we began using social media to get the word out there. We set up twitter, facebook and Deva Chat (Chester’s forum) accounts and began to post on all of them about who we were and what we were up to. The response was fantastic as we got about a thousand hits on the website in the first two days. Of course, this does not necessarily equate to copies sold, but it was a step in the right direction.
It was around this time that we gradually started pulling the content together. Early on Neil and I decided that we shouldn’t just have articles about Chester in there. After all, there is more than one team in a football game (except when we play Wrexham). We contacted a few people who we knew from the online blogging community regarding articles before we launched and had received some positive responses, but nothing had come through yet. I wrote the first article, a short book review, and then began to harass people for their promised articles.
Once an article came in we looked it over to check if there were any edits that needed doing and then passed it onto Michael. Chester Events, a local photography company who go to all of the club’s games, agreed to let us use their pictures. Michael used these pictures, as well as his seemingly endless supply of mini illustrations, to make the articles look the part. He would then email us the results and we would look over it, before suggesting any changes or giving it the ok. It was a repetitive process, but one which was extremely important in getting the look of the fanzine right.
Whilst the design was coming together we were busy promoting and raising funds for the fanzine. We got some short pieces in the local paper, the Chester Chronicle, and appeared on FC United Radio, the largest volunteer radio station in the country, in a half time interview at the Supporters Direct Trophy. After emailing a few national papers and football magazines, I was asked to do a piece for the When Saturday Comes website, which further helped in raising our profile as we started to get people who weren’t Chester fans being interested in buying a copy. My favourite of all of these appearances was The Seals Podcast, Chester’s official podcast, which is produced by Lache FM. The hour long show was great fun and Dan, the host, let us have five minutes specially to promote The Blue & White.
Of course, it was not all fun and games; we had the rather serious job of getting some money together for printing costs on our hands. After emailing and phoning a load of local and football businesses the only thing we had was a t-shirt from Cult Zeros. We were grateful to receive it and organised a raffle in the Blues Bar to maximise the money we could make off it. Before that, however, we met the Junior Blues committee for the first time. Neil spoke to some of them after one of the club’s monthly meetings and I went along to one of their committee meetings to answer any of their questions and pick up some buckets that we were going to use in the raffle.
The meeting was extremely useful as one of the committee members asked about advertising. His company is Huntington Out of School, which provides after school and holiday care for children, and he asked about a full page advert. I was really pleased, as when it was all sorted we made a great leap towards paying our printing costs with that advert and the raffle money.
Our good luck continued at the Supporters Direct Weekend, which was held in Chester. I was writing a piece for the fanzine on the weekend, but met a local businessman who wanted his company – Martyn Williams Accountants – to have a half page advert. Again we were only too happy to oblige as it meant that our breakeven point was getting lower and lower.
Eventually, everything was ready. Michael had finished designing the first issue and we were in a position to send it over to the printers. It took about a week to get everything sorted there. We were hoping it would be ready a day or two before the FC United of Manchester game, but we were happy to pick it up before the game to be honest. Once we had it we went straight to Blue Coat Books on the city walls in Chester. After carrying the ridiculously heavy boxes through town and back we got in the car and received a phone call. It was the bookshop; they’d sold two within five minutes!
Enthused we dropped a few off at Hawarden Post Office and rushed home. There we began to sort out the copies which had been ordered online. Once posted, it was off to the match for our first session of selling them outside the ground. The forecast for the evening wasn’t looking too good, so we had bought a load of plastic boxes to waterproof to keep the fanzines dry if it did start to rain.
Luckily we didn’t need them, but I was still worrying about breaking even. Neil and I split the fanzines between us and chose different spots outside the ground. I sold my first fanzine within a minute of setting up and Neil was telling me a similar story when we met up again to watch the match. We had a mix of people coming up to us and asking if it was the fanzine they had heard about and people who bought it on a whim. A few FC United fans bought it too which was nice.
We tried selling them outside the stadium after the game (which Chester won 2-1) but most people just wanted to go home. We called it a day and went home. Once we were back we worked out how many we had sold (about 250) and went straight to bed, we were exhausted! The following Saturday we sold 100 more (despite it raining!) at the ground when Chester played Stocksbridge Park Steels (and won 5-1). This time after the game we went into the Blues Bar to prey on drunks as we sold about 30 in the space of 15 minutes!
Now that The Blue & White has been out for a few days we’ve started getting some feedback. Everyone (except for one bloke) has said how good it is and how well it’s been produced, which really means a lot and has made it all worthwhile. This is no time to rest on our laurels however, next week the work for issue two begins and we’ve got some great stuff lined up for release in January. We’re also looking to expand our product range too with some t-shirts and limited edition posters.
I hope what I’ve got across here is how much hard work when in to setting up The Blue & White and (believe it or not) this is a much shortened version of events. There were many more important people besides the ones I’ve mentioned here. The amount of work Michael, for example, did was phenomenal and we owe him a brewery for his efforts. What we’d like in the future is for The Blue & White to be a well known part of Chester FC, for it to be a vital part of the club’s culture for supporters of Chester and other teams. After the first issue, I think we’re on the right track.
To order a copy of The Blue & White, visit the 'zine's website. All proceeds will be donated to Chester FC.