Manchester United fanzines: Q&A with Barmy Article editor Andy Slater

Barmy Article is a physical fanzine focusing on Manchester United Women. Like all proper fanzines, it’s made by fans, for fans.

I have been following editor Andy Slater since 2021 when he started the first-ever women’s football fanzine. Having followed the men’s team for years and having a keen interest in fan culture, he set about to provide supporters of the women’s team with quarterly content tailored for match-going fans.

Fanzines are a crucial part of fan culture. The editors, writers and sellers live and breathe the football clubs they follow and there’s a wonderful community aspect to it. I’d argue that we are lucky to have multiple fanzines worth buying at United – from United We Stand to Red News. And I miss Red Issue dearly.

Without further ado, we’ve done a Q&A with Andy from Barmy Article to find out more.

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Firstly, congratulations on establishing the first-ever women’s football fanzine and making it a success. Take us back to the start. What were the biggest challenges you initially faced as a football fan wanting to launch a physical fanzine? 

Andy: “My biggest fear was printing a whole bunch of copies and not selling any so I had to be sure I had the right people involved not only to put the thing together, but to get the word out. The twitter algorithm was more reliable at the time so a build up of promotion was the key to that. Once I had somebody who could do the graphic design it was just a case of content and we’ve always had a strong core group of fans who came together right near the beginning and eventually became the supporters club. That gave me easy access to plenty of potential contributors. It may have been a little crazy to start the fanzine when football was still behind closed doors as I was entirely dependent on online orders. The whole process though just gives me even more admiration for those who started fanzines before the internet.”

What inspired you? 

Andy: “I always loved the fanzines when I still followed the men’s team in person, the shouts of the sellers were a staple of the matchday experience. I wrote a few times for Red News back in the day too and despite not having a creative background I’ve always had an interest in creative endeavours. I started by thinking the women’s team SHOULD have a fanzine and quickly realised that wasn’t something that could just be wished for, it needed somebody to take action and actually do it. The motivation to do so grew until I finally took the step to make it a reality.”

Did you receive any advice from other fanzine editors?

Andy: “I emailed Barney from Red News and he was very keen to give advice, from simple encouragement to sharing snippets of legislation to show the jobsworths who try to move you along and tell you you’re not allowed to sell it on the streets. Layth, who does Arsenal’s Gooner fanzine also stopped by to buy a copy and show his support when he was covering an Arsenal Women match at LSV. That was a nice surprise.”

Tell us about your typical day selling the mag.

Andy: “I used to leave at the last minute getting to games because I live 10 minutes from LSV but the impact of increased crowds on parking means I have to leave much earlier anyway to get a space, but that helps now with selling the mag, I try to get in place across from the main stand at LSV about 2 hours before kick off. The gates open 1 hour before kick off and lots of women’s football fans like to get in straight away so I need to be around to try to catch them. Sophie, my 8 year old daughter, also accompanies me to most games so she’s a big help whether it’s keeping me company when there aren’t many people around or helping to hand out the mag, The best thing about selling is the people who don’t have any of the social media but just come along every time to check if it’s a new issue and have a chat. It brings a real human element to the whole thing. It isn’t just putting out printed views, it’s the interactions that come with it. I’m in the terrace now but before it was open regularly I had to ask somebody to save me a seat (not that we sat) as I’d usually be the last in the ground through trying to hold out for that 1 more sale before heading inside.”

Do other clubs have fanzines for the women’s team?

Andy: “Only Chelsea. I crossed paths with Dean who runs a Chelsea Women podcast and encouraged (nagged) him to start up a printed fanzine. He considered trialling it as a digital thing but I pushed him to go straight to print and Kingsmeadow Chronicle is now a regular feature at the gates of Kingsmeadow, we also did a joint digital fanzine for the FA Cup final last season. The Gooner fanzine mentioned earlier covers the women’s team so I’m not sure there’d be room for a specific women’s fanzine at Arsenal, though I’ve no idea how much of their audience is made up of dedicated women’s team fans. City’s supporters club have hinted that they have something in the pipeline but I think it’s just bluster.”

Marc Skinner’s new contract sparked a mixed reaction. Isn’t the manager popular?

Andy: “Skinner’s second year in charge was by far the best we’ve had since reforming in 2018. He isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and there were complaints last season despite our performances but the majority were thrilled at how the season went. We relied a little too much on character but it set the tone for what should have been a step forward this season. That hasn’t come though and we’re well off the pace, sure to have our worst finish in WSL with only the FA Cup left to play for. It’s been a frustrating season and the small concerns of last season have grown with poor player management, predictable in-match decisions and a lack of any kind of plan, not even a plan A, never mind B or C.”

Do you believe Ineos will invest in the women’s team?

Andy: “There have already been changes to personnel in the structure around the women’s team so it feels like there will be some big moves. We spent big last summer and the whispers are that our budget is considerable again this season. Much like the men’s team though it feels like money isn’t the issue but having the right people in place to make sensible decisions around a long term plan. Skinner’s contract only being 12 months (if it gets agreed) suggests it’s a wait and see rather than a vote of confidence so that’s at least a little promising despite the possible short term damage of keeping him on. I’ve sent a few speculative emails hoping to get an interview with Sir Jim but I don’t fancy my chances.”

What was your favourite fanzine growing up?

Andy: “Red News is the one I’ve interacted with most over the years but I fondly remember feeling grown up when I got to read Red Issue once my dad had finished with it. The tone always enhanced the feeling of independence from the club. I’m sure lots of it was just written as mindless humour but it gave a stronger feeling of doing their own thing.”

What can readers expect to find inside Barmy Article?

Andy: “You won’t find the same kind of dark humour as Red Issue as the audience is very different but what we always aim for is a representation of the broad views within the fanbase, I’ve regularly consciously engaged people I disagree with to ask them to write for the fanzine. I’ve also been able to interview Casey Stoney, our former manager as well as Aoife Mannion, a current player, through the One Love episode that was on MUTV recently. We’ve also showcased protests against the club, handing the front cover of issue 8 over to the 1958 and issue 11’s cover was simply the statement from ‘Female fans against Greenwood’s return’. My proudest features though have been the 3 interviews I’ve done with ex players who were here before the 2005 close down. The club need to do better at telling the real history of the women’s team instead of pretending the 2018 squad were the first ever. Things have improved on that front and the latest ex player I interviewed is going to be featured in an upcoming matchday programme too. Promoting those women who played through the real stigma is a highlight of what I’ve been able to achieve so far and I’ll continue to tell that story. We also have a wide range of artists, be it budding or established, who contribute. Stanley Chow did a portrait of Aoife Mannion for the cover of the issue which contained her interview but you’re just as likely to find amateur stuff on either cover or within the pages.”

As editor, how important is humour? Do you push the boat out to shine a humourous light on the football club?

Andy: “I always try to keep it light and am not afraid to poke fun at the club, whether it’s the style of play (or lack of) or the PR around new player announcements. While fan opinions are great to read, a short, sharp joke can hit just as hard. This was published while last summer’s signing, Hinata Miyazawa was yet to be announced, despite the whole world knowing she’d signed. The announcement came a full week after I’d been lucky enough to be at her photo shoot.”

Tell us about your favourite interview since launching the fanzine?

Andy: “Interviewing Aoife Mannion was a highlight as it took place at Old Trafford and felt like a bit of an event and when Casey Stoney agreed to an interview it felt like a big step but my favourite is way back in issue 2 when I interviewed Michelle WIlcock. I’d known her for many years anyway and expected her to talk about how proud she was to wear the shirt and how much she enjoyed her links with Utd through playing and coaching but she really opened my eyes to the ignorance of the club towards those former players and helped set the tone for my own narrative for the fanzine. “

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