‘We thought we were finished’ – Man City fanzine King of the Kippax keeping football heritage alive
If you have been to a Manchester City home game over the past 34 years, whether at Maine Road or the Etihad Stadium, then there’s a good chance you will have met – or at the very least heard – one man in particular.
“King of the Kippax, City fanzine!” is a cry as synonymous with afternoons spent watching City as the smell of half-time pies and pints, the sight of inflatable bananas and tears of joy and despair. You could say that Steve Parish, long-time contributor to and seller of the King of the Kippax fanzine, is more a part of the furniture than any player or manager.
“I once sold 130 copies in one afternoon at Selhurst Park when we were playing Wimbledon,” says Steve. “I think that’s a record!”
Like many of those involved with English football fanzines, Steve has been in the game for over 25 years. In that time he’s seen the movement boom and then bust, so much so that King of the Kippax (KK) is now the only City fanzine left.
KK – named after Colin Bell, the club legend dubbed ‘the King of the Kippax’ due to his brilliance – was founded in 1988 by lifelong City fan Dave Wallace, who along with his wife Sue has edited the publication ever since. The zine came along at a pivotal moment in football fan culture, when British football fans were being demonised by Margaret Thatcher’s government because of the actions of a vocal – and violent – minority.
After the Bradford City fire and the European ban on English clubs that followed the Heysel disaster, all match-goers were assumed guilty before innocent. Tarred with the same brush, away supporters were trapped in barbed wire-topped cages, herded onto trains like cattle and treated as sub-human by the authorities. Chelsea chairman at the time Ken Bates even proposed the use of electric fences to contain travelling fans.
The average fan had had enough. It was time to put differences aside and find their voice, and that’s where fanzines came in.
“There were a few general fanzines about, like On the Ball and When Saturday Comes, and I think that inspired fans to want to make their own,” says Dave, who produced the first issue of KK – and sold it by himself – for an away game at Barnsley in September 1988.
“At the beginning there was about 40 fanzines, and then it leapt within a couple of years to three or four hundred. City had half-a-dozen at one point. The fans felt they had a say and had a way to get their views out in the open.”
“No-one was speaking up for ordinary match-going fans,” agrees long-time KK contributor John Burfield. “Conditions were ripe for fanzines to emerge and provide those frustrated fans with a voice.”
While KK was not the first City fanzine – that honour belonged to Blueprint, from which KK emerged from due to editorial differences – it sparked a number of titles that soon followed, including Electric Blue (later Bert Trautmann’s Helmet), Main Stand View, Singin’ The Blues, Chips ‘n Gravy, The Fightback and City Til I Cry! “There was a lot of rivalry, who nicked whose articles and things like that. There was some animosity but that’s all behind us now, we’re all friends now,” says Dave.
Fanzines are one of the pillars of football culture in this country, and that is no different at City. Hundreds of supporters have contributed to KK over the years, giving up their free time to jot down their thoughts on the boys in blue. But why?
“I loved the humour. Acerbic, unsanitised, from the heart, plus there was a level of self-deprecation that resonated in all of them, and made me want to join in,” says John.
“Once I’d started contributing regularly, I discovered that stopping was very difficult, simply because there was always so much going on at City to write about. Promotions, relegations, protests against the board, takeovers, financial strife, insane highs and absurd lows on the pitch, and never mind broader issues concerning the game in general and the impact all of the turmoil had on the supporters. We’ve been a soap opera for decades!”
Thirty-two years is a grand old age for any publication to reach, and when a certain global pandemic began in 2020, it looked like KK’s innings was over.
“We thought we’d be finished when Covid came,” says Dave. “We had a fanzine out with a few away games on the trot, so we didn’t have any home games to sell at before football was stopped. We had to bin about 400 copies, and we thought that was the end of it. We had just enough resources to do the next issue so we thought we’d give it a go.”
Thankfully, Dave was wrong. KK still lives, albeit largely on a subscription basis. The likes of Steve and his son do sell a limited number of copies on matchdays, the sound of Steve’s cries on the concourse a welcome sign that, surely but slowly, things do seem to be returning to how they were pre-pandemic.
“The response has been tremendous really,” says Dave. “People will send subscriptions in and then add on a few quid to keep us going. We’re quite healthy, even if we aren’t selling much at games.”
Of course, the future of KK and other fanzines in the UK remains uncertain. Perhaps inevitably, the advent of the internet and social media has seen the demise of fanzines. Blogs, Twitter, YouTube and newspapers can give supporters their football fix in an instant, whereas fanzines are always going to be a week or two behind the news cycle.
Despite that, there are those like KK that are soldiering on, keen to preserve a part of football heritage that once meant so much to so many. “It’s good fun, and it’s nice meeting new people – especially when they buy a copy!” says Steve.
There’s a real tangible connection that fanzines forge between supporters that you don’t quite get with social media. Like football in general, the 22 players kicking a ball around is the least important bit. It’s about identity, community and belonging.
Long live fanzines, and long live King of the Kippax.
To subscribe to King of the Kippax email firstname.lastname@example.org or download a digital version from Amazon. Alternatively, keep an eye (and an ear) open for Steve Parish on matchdays.