Ever since I was old enough to read and tribal enough to get hooked on my local football team, I’ve had a nagging desire to create a football fanzine. Earlier this year, a friend put it to me that we could use my experience as a writer and his experience as a designer to realise this ambition, so we set ourselves the task of launching Dem Blades Annual Fanzine.

Lodged somewhere within our approach was an ambition to challenge the norm, producing something that your typical fan would recognise as being about the club, whilst also extending the format to its fringes. Left to the national news media, football writing is bound to a consciousness of snap statistics, cheap comment and sanitised tropes. We were bored stiff by the bland analysis of player-pundits. What do they know about Sheffield United that only fans can know?

As a fan, a Blade, I’ve always preferred the heartfelt writing of proper fans with experience of the lifelong self-flagellation that comes with following the team they love. We wanted to work a little differently, so anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute to our publication.

We give no briefs and offer little by way of editorial support. Instead, we offer a platform for writers and illustrators to do what they want, so long as it’s tangentially about Sheffield United, an original piece of work, and aims to make people laugh and cry for the right reasons.

Inside the 2018 annual are Neil Warnock-based sci-fi stories, anecdotes from matches gone by, opinion pieces, satirical essays, heartfelt personal histories, comedy skits and short stories. Adding to the musings of our written contributors, we have witty illustrations and a design style reminiscent of old-school match programmes with a contemporary flourish.

The content is only half the story, the glass half full. Filling it to the brim with a ‘Gallon of Magnet’ is the way that this publication has come into being, through crowdfunding. We began a Kickstarter campaign in June 2018 to raise £500 for printing, packaging and posting. Within three days we’d tripled our target and found ourselves the subject of warm words and enthusiastic encouragement. This wasn’t a family and friends thing. This was a group of Sheffield United fans, keen to get their hands on some fan-lit and support a good cause.

When I think about why we elicited such support, I can only put it down to the solidarity within football fandom, singing from the same sheet, caught up in the same catchy tune. The first article in the annual touches on where this collective sense comes from:

“We buy expensive home kits. Collect scarves, autographs, matchday programmes and ticket stubs, bits of paper such as this fanzine. We get to know our broken fax machines from our ‘room for improvements’. We catch trains and put on coaches. We buy season tickets and sit in those seats for years. We choose our friends and our enemies. Collect sportswear and matching luggage. Travel for long days out to Wembley with only disappointment on the horizon. We tick that stadium off the list. We tell a joke in the face of drab defeat. We get home and we think about the Blades. It’s an affliction. A bug. We’ve all caught it.”

I am glad I caught it. Over the last few months it has enabled us to grow organically from nowt to a crowdfunded, vocally-supported and – we hope – well-loved publication for at least one half of Sheffield’s population.

Work is already starting on the 2019 annual and our door is always open to any Blades fan with a creative streak.

Dem Blades Annual is available from 25 August. Now Then welcomes contributions from Blades and Owls alike.

Image: Sheffield United Assistant Manager by George Morley

Sam Joseph