Book Review: Shoot! Magazine’s 50th Anniversary Edition

Earlier this month, when Romelu Lukaku tweeted out a message condemning racism – after he had been subject to discriminatory and offensive chants during Inter Milan’s game with Cagliari – the tweet received more than a thousand replies and 130,000 retweets/likes. In the weeks before and since, many other footballers have used Twitter to broadcast their thoughts on what is an unmistakably poignant discussion. A group of ultras – affiliated to Inter Milan – from San Siro’s Curva Nord chose Facebook to offer a counter-perspective on the chanting culture in Italy. Within the next hour, the criticism on their comment section turned the tables enough for them to start contemplating their eventual apology. The post has since been deleted from Facebook.

Backed up by digital media’s limitless power, the gospel of football is traveling faster than it ever has. European football is all over today’s popular culture – from music, films, and documentaries right up to billboards in New York. As a footballer or a fan, it has never been easier to make yourself heard. There are tough, long battles against the ills of society to endure, and in between all that, football must find a way to keep its purity intact and spread the love for the game further across the world than it already is.

Before Twitter, print media – newspapers, magazines, and posters – was responsible for making the sport accessible to the masses. There used to be a time in football when journalists, writers, and their work was part of match-day experiences too. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of one such symbol. The Shoot! magazine is a platform that has been as integral to English football history as standing terraces, boisterous crowds, and the now cash-rich Premier League. Through the pages of Shoot!, you can exhaustively trace English football’s metamorphosis over the last half century. 

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In celebration of the magazine completing fifty years of existence, Carlton Books have released a special commemorative edition, filled with interviews and excerpts from the yesteryears that will appeal to those with an eye for football from the pre-technicolour era. The publishers are calling it a trip in time to when football was simple, shorts were short, sideburns and haircuts were long, and England’s World Cup victory was recent.

Colin Mitchell, a former editor of the magazine, talks about his first impressions – “Just imagine: the year is 1969, you are a teenager, and man has just landed on the moon. Shoot! hit the shelves just three weeks after that rocket touched down on the moon and both events carved out their own spots in the history books.”

The book starts off with a glowing foreword by Chris Waddle, where he talks about his habit of reading the magazine cover to cover as a kid, and an article by Bobby Moore previewing the 1969-70 First Division season, while also talking about his excitement at the prospect of defending England’s FIFA World Cup title at Mexico 1970. Moore eventually became a frequent writer for the magazine, and the commemorative edition features many of his articles, ranging from a sticky night in Bogota to what he thought England could do in the aftermath of losing their title.

If one studies English football history, one must study the men who built, molded, and laid the platform for it to become the most closely followed league in Europe. Along with Bobby Moore, scattered across the book are long interviews with Don Revie, Billy Bremmer, Brian Clough, Alex McLeish, Bobby Robson, Kevin Keegan, John Barnes, and many others.

Bill Shankly, in an exchange with the magazine, talks about Liverpool and Anfield with endearing warmth. “To me, being the manager of Liverpool is a way of life. It gives me tremendous pleasure to know that I have put myself as one of the fans. I’d like to think that I am an ordinary supporter. I’m just one of those people who each match go on to the terraces to cheer for Liverpool.” 

Franz Beckenbauer, then the toast of European Football, drops in for a quick discussion about his growing fame and what the year 1974 meant for Bayern Munich and German football. When asked about the spotlight, he said: “I’m telling you, I’m going to become a national identity, like the German sausage or something.” Picture spreads and team profiles, too, have always been a standout feature of Shoot!. Profiles of Stefan Kovac’s Ajax and England’s dethroning at Mexico 1970 pass by as milestones en route to the 80s of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Without giving away much more of its contents, I must admit that the book gives a remarkable window into a time in English football when the sport, as indeed the world, was remarkably different. Anniversary editions come with a lot of anticipation, especially if we’re talking about something with the illustrious history of Shoot!, and this edition exceeds every expectation possible.

For those from a younger generation, this is almost a first-hand, illustrated history lesson. For the others, it must feel like a sip of an old, favourite wine.

Available from Carlton Books.

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Sarthak Dev

Computer engineer, pianist and writer; not necessarily in that order. Can kill for a good football story.