Steve Welsh is a Middlesbrough fan and football illustrator.
His work has been featured by the BBC, Middlesbrough FC, and a host of other places – but he started out at Middlesbrough’s fanzine Fly me to the moon.
You can now buy Steve’s work online at his fancy new website, miniboro.com.
Steve took time out from drawing pictures of Mark Viduka to talk to Thin White Line.
You were involved with Fly me to the moon during a tumultuous time for football supporters in the UK. What role did the fanzine play in terrace life?
Essentially it gave fans a platform at a time when they were marginalised, vilified and generally treated like second class citizens. The ‘official’ programme was little more than a team sheet festooned with adverts from local businesses. There was absolutely nothing to engage fans on any level, or give them credit for their own intelligence, ideas or passion.
I think the DIY aspect of it was an obvious pull for many contributors, also being part of something new and relevant was quite exciting. Unlike most fanzines, FMTTM went out every home game, which is something they’ve continued to achieve for well over 500 issues. Its only now, some 26 years later they have finally relented and opted to go monthly, a needs must exercise i’m afraid.
The humor and cartoons may have been what initially attracted me contributing, but there were serious political discussions too. FMTTM had only reached its 15th issue when the Hillsborough Disaster happened, groups like the FSA were also in their infancy (at least at club levels) but the role of fanzines can not be underestimated in terms of mobilizing fans and getting questions asked of clubs, the police and Government.
There was a lot of genuinely important issues and historical events happening, Hillsborough, ID Cards, all-seater stadiums etc, it was a really important time not only for the fanzine movement but football in general.
How does being a football supporter today compare with being a football supporter in the late 1980s/early 1990s?
To put it bluntly… it doesn’t. Without wanting to get too misty eye’d about things, it’s bizarre to think my own son will never experience what it feels like to stand on a crowded terrace. To be physically lifted off your feet when a goal went in, finding yourself some 60 / 70 yards away from your original position by the time the other team had kicked off again.
Getting through an entire season with only 15 or so players (as Boro did in the 80s)… things like that forged a massive connection between fans and players, you felt it mattered not only to you but to them and to the town etc.
I think the main shift has been in people’s expectations. Back in the 80s and 90s you went to the game in the hope of 3 points. Now people go expecting the performance and the result to be relative to the amount of money they’ve spent. This is what happens when you turn something into a commodity or a business; people want ‘value for money’. But value for money is impossible with football because it’s a game, a sport, it isn’t fair and you don’t always get what you deserve.
Whilst the money in the game has improved the standards of stadiums, facilities and safety, the atmosphere has actually diminished. In my opinion it’s the reason ‘away days’ are so popular at the moment. Boro can’t fill the Riverside Stadium but will happily take over 4000 away to Huddersfield and I think that speaks volumes in terms of what fans want.
Football needs to be an event again instead of a commodity.
Have you met any of the players in your A-Z series?
Sadly not, although I have met a number of the players that feature in the A-Z series I’m currently doing for Middlesbrough FC. Gary Pallister, Gaizka Mendieta, Bernie Slaven, George Boateng to name a few. Obviously working for my home town club has been a massive thrill for me, to have my work on permanent display at the stadium is a dream come true really.
How did you select the players for the A-Z series? Picking Hagi over Heskey, for example – a contentious choice.
Its been more of a headache than I thought it’d be really. I started the project with 3 simple rules:
- a player for each letter of the alphabet;
- only one player per club side; and
- only one player per international side.
This I thought would be be pretty easy to stick to, but here’s a typical example of how quickly it unraveled: if I have Baggio for B (Juve) it means I cant have Davids for D (Juve), I could swap Davids to his Holland kit but that rules out Gullit for G, I could swap Gullit to his AC Milan kit, but that rules out Kaka for K, I could put Kaka in his Brazil kit but that rules out Socrates for S, and so on and so on. So basically I just try to make a judgement call on each letter and also get a feel for what people think via Twitter. I’m not looking to draw the greatest ever player for each letter (as some people have assumed) its just which players appeal to me most on a personal level.
The last 20 or so years have been an interesting time to be a Boro supporter. You’ve seen players such as Juninho (in three spells) and Ravanelli (whose name means “radishes” in Italian) at the club, as well as Massimo Maccarone. Can Middlesbrough become a permanent fixture in the Premier League?
I think one of the mistakes we made previously was believing we had become permanent fixture. With over a decade in the top flight a lot of our fan base had known nothing else, whereas people from my generation were more used to the yo-yo years etc.
Relegation was hard for the club and the fans to take. It has taken far longer to recover from it than anyone could have predicted, but my hope is that we do come back stronger. There won’t be marquee signings, samba bands and Champions League winners joining our club this time round, but maybe we can build on stability and sustainability rather than a chequebook.
The Robbo years were amazing and Steve Gibson really did give us fans the time of our lives but we were living beyond our means and the fall out from that was tough. However, when you look at our youth system and what its produced over the last 10-15 years I think the future can only be bright for Middlesbrough Football Club. We’re going well this year so who knows – this could be the one.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @miniboro_dotcom
Visit his website and buy stuff: miniboro.com