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Football is one of those things that a remarkable amount of people have an opinion on. Some people are casual followers, who may not follow a team but get behind their country. Others -like myself - are obsessed with it, and want to know everything about the sport, wherever it’s going on in the world. Countless people fall somewhere in between. Four Four Two, perhaps strangely for such a mainstream publication, is undoubtedly aimed at those of us that like to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of football, and in doing so it undoubtedly makes itself far less appealing and approachable to the average football fan. Indeed, the name itself is taken from the most common team formation known in the game, and not everyone who sees it on the shelf will know that.
Deciding whether Four Four Two is worse off for this is difficult – what it does, it does very, very well. But should mainstream publications be expected to reach out and entertain a wider audience? Or are shelves in newsagents crammed with watered down content, leaving those who want a more niche approach without an entertaining read?
I’d like to think the latter is more true, and this is the best way in which to justify the approach to the world of football that Four Four Two takes. Conventional newspaper talk is almost omitted altogether – there is little mention of transfer rumours or celebrity gossip. The articles are detailed and varied, and whilst they are always topical, they are never ‘news’ in the conventional sense. The copy I have in front of me that prompted this review is a fine example. There is a 14 page feature on the changing shape of the Brazilian national team in the build up to the World Cup in 2014. There’s an interview with a 25 year old woman who is the Senior Performance Analyst at Reading. In a previous issue, there was a feature on a club in the Scottish Second Division, who couldn’t build a stand down one side of their pitch as there was a hedge in the way that they couldn’t gain permission to uproot. As you go through the magazine, you feel like there can’t be a corner of the globe that’s been missed.
There is always a huge array of ‘grassroots’ articles, and there is a ‘Performance’ section (a personal favourite) which includes interviews with fitness coaches, players, dieticians and anyone else notable in the footballing world about how readers can improve their own footballing performance.
Not only is the whole magazine very informative and entertaining, but it is written with no shortage of flair and humour. Perhaps most significantly, no assumptions are made as to the reader’s existing football knowledge. Many of the stories are only indirectly related to football, or tell a story where football has an underlying impact but is not the main focus of the article. This means that stories are explained and set up well and there is very little use of jargon.
The way I’ve described the magazine thus far almost makes it sound like it’s just page after page of text, but Four Four Two is actually very well laid out. There is a big focus on relevant photography throughout the magazine, and there are always full double-page spread photos from around the world in the front pages. Articles are more often than not accompanied by various fact boxes, interesting figures or supplementary interviews, so you can still grasp what the article is trying to tell you, without committing yourself to the full piece.
At £4.50, Four Four Two is quite an expensive magazine, but at approximately 150 pages, you can get quite a lot for your money, especially given the depth of the articles. There are subscription options available for those who want to commit to the magazine, and this reduces the price of each individual edition. There is also an accompanying website at www.fourfourtwo.com, which indirectly gives people the opportunity to sample the writing style of the magazine without any outlay.
Overall, it is difficult to knock Four Four Two, especially as a football lover. It’s approach is interesting, detailed, mature and accessible, and it does an excellent job of making the reader aware of the many ways in which football can affect other phenomena in the world. I would highly recommend anyone with an interest in football try it, though I have to admit it is not written with the casual follower in mind. However, the style of the writing makes Four Four Two much more accessible than perhaps it ought to be when it’s content is so specialised. For football fanatics, every edition is a must-read.