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With two boys in the family heavily involved in football, it was only a matter of time before our house became flooded with football-related reading matter, from school reading books depicting Roy of the Rovers-style heroic achievements, to the slightly less literary publications to be found on the shelves of supermarkets and newsagents. Of the latter, my two budding Beckhams have settled on Match magazine for their weekly fix of football trivia, or 'footy', to use the magazine's favoured jargon.
Match magazine is a glossy, brightly-coloured affair, which is published once a week at a cost of £1.60 an issue, and at a rough guess, I'd say it's aimed at the 8-15 year-old, predominantly male market. Each new edition hits the shelves on Tuesdays, and parents, it's vitally important that you buy it by Saturday morning at the very latest. That's because much of the magazine's content is related to the coming weekend's fixtures, and giving your child his or her copy on the following Monday just won't cut it, I'm afraid. Ignore this friendly tip and you'll be fully deserving of the scorn and derision hurled at you by your little strikers.
There are usually 66 pages in each issue, of which eight or nine are full-page poster-style photographs of players in action, and which for some reason, little boys like to plaster all over their bedroom walls, in much the same way as girls like to put up posters of their favourite pop stars. Thankfully, the posters form the minority of the magazine, with the rest devoted to articles and features which don't have quite the same appeal in the wallpaper stakes.
Regular features include analyses of one or two of the previous week's top games, usually from the Premiership (although there's a reasonable coverage of the lower divisions), together with previews of the coming fixtures, and both these are presented in a kind of cartoon-style format, but with captioned photographs instead of drawings. The photographs have speech bubbles containing light-hearted comments designed to appeal to the school-age readership, but as adults, don't expect to be rushed off to A & E to have your sides sewn back up.
Depending on what's going on in the football world at the time of each issue, there might be a special feature on the F.A. Cup, or the European Champions League for example, and often there will be an interview or a question-and-answer session with a top player or manager. Their comments are often banal and clichéd, and quite how much of what's printed can truly be attributed to the players is anybody's guess; nevertheless this kind of thing seems to go down well with the boys, whose imaginations don't extend to such nitpicking.
At first glance, it's just a magazine packed with colour photographs, but in fact there's a substantial amount of information contained in each issue, which is presented in a way that children find easy to read, that is, in bite-sized chunks. Boys in particular tend not to be keen on wading through huge expanses of text, being more inclined to pick out smaller articles at random, and while I find the caption-style presentation a little disorganised and irritatingly 'all over the place', this type of format suits children down to the ground, who after all, are the people at whom the magazine is aimed.
Every week there are a number of competitions to enter, offering prizes including bicycles, tickets to various matches, and football shirts, and throughout the football season, Match runs its own fantasy football league, with categories for different age groups. The grand prize for the most successful team manager at the end of the season is a chance to take on a Premiership 'superstar' at FIFA Street 2, a video game, and the big confrontation will feature in a future issue of the magazine. As well as prize competitions, there are two full pages of quizzes, including word-searches, spot the difference and so on, which my sons enjoy doing, each keen to be the first to come up with the correct answers. In other words, it passes the time before the next fight breaks out.
For those for whom it's important to know how their favourite team is progressing, there are several pages of Matchfacts, featuring results, scorers and league tables from the major English and Scottish divisions, as well as a selection of the European leagues. Here, you'll find everything you'll ever need to know, and indeed more, about who scored, who was booked or substituted, and how many were in the crowd at each game. Just about the only thing I couldn't find was how many pies the spectators consumed, but no doubt that's buried somewhere in the small print.
Match magazine even has its own equivalent of an advice column, where anybody going through a crisis of form, or simply needing a few tips on how to improve his or her playing performance, can write to Dr. Footy, who will do his best to help out.
There's a certain amount of advertising of course, but being almost exclusively football-related, it's very subtle and unobtrusive, blending in well with the regular magazine articles. As is to be expected, the emphasis at the moment is very much on the World Cup, both in terms of features and advertisements, and indeed, Match has recently issued its own guide to the competition, which judging by the promotional photographs, looks to be filled with charts, information and activities.
So far, so good then, and if I were to end the review here, I'd probably sum up by saying that Match is a vibrant and stimulating magazine for young football fans, packed with articles and features in full colour, and that it's very good value for money. That's all perfectly true, except that there's one particular feature which rather lets this publication down. The running theme of the magazine is a masked cartoon figure called Matchman, who, among other things, hosts a weekly column called "Your Shout", where readers write in with their views or questions about the game. Matchman replies to the published letters in a rather strange dialect, and to give you an idea of what I mean, here are just a few of his comments from recent issues:
"Reading are solid at da back, skilful in midfield and 'ave three goal-tastic strikers! They deserve their Prem place an' I fink they could be da new Wigan, innit!"
"Yer mega England face-off makes loadsa sense, dude!"
"Dat would be well wickedemus for da game! Yeah!"
Okay, I know that children and teenagers use phrases which their parents don't always understand or approve of, and I realise that words like 'cool' and 'wicked' now mean something entirely different from their original dictionary definitions, but 'wickedemus' - where on earth did that come from? I certainly never came across the word during five years of 'O' Level Latin! I don't mind in the least that the magazine's humour is puerile, and I can even live with the odd bit of slang here and there, but in an age when some children find it difficult to string a sentence together without using textspeak, I can't see any justification for feeding them this kind of moronic, badly spelt drivel each week. It's a pity that three pages of nonsense should spoil what would otherwise be an informative and entertaining magazine, and I can only hope that at least some of my moans and criticisms will filter through to my sons, before they start calling me dude, instead of mum.
Climbing down from my soapbox for a moment, I have to admit that in spite of Matchman's syntax shortcomings, the rest of the magazine actually gives reasonably good value for money, and it's the perfect fodder for budding pub trivia contestants and soccer statisticians alike. My two boys devour their copy as soon as they come home from school on Tuesday afternoons, and anything that keeps them quiet for a few hours at a time can't really be all that bad. It's just a question of keeping up the spelling practice - innit?
http://www.matchmag.co.uk/ Published by Emap Price: £1.60 per week Subscriptions: £6.40 per month; £19.20 per quarter; £76.80 per year (includes delivery)