Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 21 June 2008

Shoot! magazine: The End

The terrible thing about getting older is that you gradually become more and more separated from the happy days of your youth. The greater our age, the more we yearn for that time in our lives when we had barely a care in the world.

This week, I heard about another piece of my younger life that's about to disappear, probably forever - Shoot! magazine.

For those of you that don't know, Shoot! magazine (don't forget the exclamation mark - it's very important) was a weekly football publication for kids which has been produced in the UK since 1969. Back then it was available on a monthly basis but it soon became so popular that kids wanted new editions more and more often.

And yet now, nearly forty years on, its makers have decided that demand is so low for Shoot! that it's no longer worth making. At the end of the month, IPC Magazines will publish Shoot! for the last time and as they do, the hearts of millions of thirty-somethings like myself will sink.

Luckily we still have our memories, and if they're getting a little hazy by now, there's always eBay to pick up some old issues of the magazine for a pleasingly affordable price. This is something I did last year in an attempt to regress to my carefree days as a thirteen-year-old. Back then I used to buy the magazine every week, read it through, then without fail detach the colour team picture from the staples in the middle and pin it up on my bedroom wall.

Having bought my twenty-odd vintage issues of Shoot! from eBay, my fascination with the magazine became much less cerebral. Those magazines from the late 1970's and early 1980's now give me a chance to stare through the looking glass at a time I once knew when most of the football kits were made by Admiral, the average weekly wage of a British footballer was £100 a week and the information superhighway was limited only by the number of books your local library had.

Shoot! was good back then. It seems puerile by today's standards, but for a kid in his early teens living an innocent existence in a far less self-conscious world, it was all you could ever wish for.

For a start, there was usually a news section featuring snippets of info from every level of professional football. Not interested in who Johan Cruyff might be signing for next season? Never mind - there's always a paragraph on Crewe Alexandra's chairman who's standing down after 45 years.

A section featuring readers' letters followed and here we'd see a curious range of correspondences you just don't see the like of anymore. There'd be a letter from someone proclaiming Liverpool, Celtic or England to be the best in the world (giving lots of reasons why), a letter from a child asking for the answer to a straight-forward trivia question (i.e. "Can you tell me which team brought Nottingham Forest's 42-game unbeaten run to an end?") - a question which had all the hallmarks of sheer fabrication on the part of the Editor, and a letter from a teenager in the USA asking if anyone wanted to be his pen pal. The mind can only boggle at the sort of response he would have got.

A few pages into your average copy of Shoot! and you were plunged into numerous articles about specific teams or players which actually give an interesting insight into 'the beautiful game' back then. These were typically interspersed with full-page colour pictures of the stars (and also-rans) of the day, plus small ads for Adidas football boots, second-rate football board games and various souvenirs of all shapes and sizes.

The centre pages were always dedicated to showing a randomly chosen club squad in all their glory, and it was here as much as anywhere that you got the chance to identify all those names you read about in the Sunday Mirror's sports pages. Prime bedroom wall fodder, as mentioned above.

Any space that was left amongst Shoot's forty or so pages were almost always filled with lightweight amusement such as cartoons, crosswords and puzzles, one of which was the renowned 'You Are The Ref'. Here, a series of hand-drawn pictures depicting situations from football matches were accompanied by quiz questions such as "A player leaves the field to tie his shoelaces during which time a goal is scored by another member of his team. Does the goal stand?" The answer, of course, is "Why the hell should I care - I don't get paid to adjudicate on such matters - I'm 13 years old" or "Referee's know nothing anyway - why are you asking me this question?" It seemed like harmless fun at the time though...

And that was pretty much your average issue - plenty to read, plenty to look at and plenty to do.

But that's not quite all. Being a kid's magazine (some would say 'comic' - incorrectly), you'd be treated to an occasional free gift either taped to the front cover or secreted within its pages. Sometimes it would be a booklet on 'Great Players of the World' or a
badge saying "I buy Shoot! every week!" but the most famous of them all was the perennial 'League Ladders'.

One issue would give you a thin piece of card on which was printed the empty positions of all four English league tables (as well as those for Scotland) and the following few weeks would offer the required 'team tabs' on which were printed the names of all the teams that could be slotted into the relevant places in the tables. Every time a match was played north or south of the border, you were invited to move the team tabs to their new positions on your League Ladders - a task which at first seemed like great fun but soon took on a tiresome quality due to the fiddly nature of relocating the tabs.

Still, as free gifts go, it was about as imaginative as you could hope to get from a magazine of its ilk and you'd undoubtedly look forward to receiving it every year. It was an annual tradition that retained its place in the calendar right up until this year, but in 2009 there'll be no League Ladders. In 2009, there'll be no Shoot! magazine either.

We therefore give thanks for having Shoot! in our lives for so long. Once upon a time we thought it was important enough to decorate our bedroom walls with, and in later years we valued it as a way to escape from the serious realities of our modern grown-up lives. Either way, it will be greatly missed by a great many people, and it will remain a retro football icon for generations to come.

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