It all comes down to whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s or ‘other’. Charlie Buchan’s was either the brightest, loveliest, most fascinating read of your football-deprived childhood – or the only bits worth reading are the accidentally hilarious small-ads…
It was the world’s first monthly football magazine, unleashed on Britain’s thrill-starved youth in September 1951 – and, despite missing the start of his debut season, Charlie Buchan’s proved an instant hit.
Here, at last, was some colour to brighten the grey post-war landscape covered by the monochrome grown-up media. At least, bright pastel colours were daubed over black-and-white photos to vivid effect. And, in an era when kids were only expected to speak when spoken to, Charlie undid the top button of his sports jacket and did his best to address the herberts.
Even from the standpoint of sixty years on, the magazine’s format is strikingly familiar, suggesting Charlie’s editorial team got it pretty much right first time. There’s analysis and tips from ex-pros and other enthusiastic scribblers; there’s page-size posters for the bedroom wall, and interviews with players who aren’t allowed to say anything.
Thumbing now through Charlie’s back pages, he provides a unique window into an unrecognisable world of side partings and V-neck shirts, of rugby boots and weirdly recoloured violet irises.
From the magazine’s perspective, football was steering into choppy waters when Buchan himself died in 1960, leaving the Monthly rudderless in the face of tidal changes such as footballers demanding a minimum wage, and suddenly not all agreeing to sport leather hair.
Personally, I never even knew who Charles Buchan was as I flicked through the pictures in the Charles Buchan’s Soccer Gift Book annuals handed down by my elder cousins – and even now it’s a bit of a shock to discover he played for Sunderland before the First World War, as well as for Arsenal in the 1920s. By the time I got to consume these reprinted magazine pages third-hand, the mag itself had long dropped its originator’s name from the title, struggling for an audience even in the aftermath of a World Cup victory that was sparking the rise of whole new peripheral football industries.
Still, I’m sure it’s very different if you actually remember players like Liverpool’s Ron Yeast, from a time when the Reds wore funny white shorts and Bill Shankly looked… exactly the same as he always did.
Although it limped on until 1974, Football Monthly never stood a chance against the new generation of marginally more readable comics and magazines put together by people who had heard of the Rolling Stones. Mud, even, eventually.
If it proves anything, it’s probably that in retrospect every age seems like a Golden Age, provided you were ten.
This is an extract from ‘Got, Not Got’, which is short-listed for the British Sports Book Awards Football Book of the Year. There’s 249 more lost treasures and pleasures where this came from – online here and here and in branches of Waterstones and WH Smiths.