DARRAGH’S DREAM IS THE PERFECT FOOTBALL MAGAZINEBy CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
DARRAGH MacAnthony loves football, so much that in 2007 he bought Peterborough United. Last year the Dubliner published a book about this called From Hobby To Obsession. Last week saw the first edition of Twentyfour7 Football, a monthly football magazine – chairman: Darragh MacAnthony.
If MacAnthony is not the editor in name, he has the final say on what goes in the magazine and on the evidence of issue number one the USA-based publisher and his staff did an excellent job.
Neil Gilby, the director of operations, oversees the day-to-day running of the magazine’s headquarters in – where else? – Peterborough and is clearly relishing the challenge of making Twentyfour7 the “perfect” football magazine.
The Dream Team, aka the list of contributors, include two long-standing member of the Football Writers’ Association, Oliver Holt (Daily Mirror) and Oliver Kay (The Times). The liner-up is wide and varied with talkSPORT’s Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Sky Sports’ Hayley McQueen, Charlotte Jackson, David Jones, Simon Thomas and Max Rushden plus Alan Curbishley, Matt Le Tissier, Fabrice Muamba, Didi Hamann, Justin Edinburgh, David Gold, Mark Bright, Paul Dalglish, Michael Owen, Kenny Miller and Peter Beagrie. Unsurprisingly so is Barry Fry, Posh’s director of football. To ensure no area of football is forgotten “renowned agent” Barry Silkman has written a column, even less surprisingly about one of his clients, Demba Ba who, he said, almost joined Spurs instead of the European Champions in January.
The idea for Twentyfour7, as it will no doubt be known, was hatched last summer between MacAnthony and Gilby who said: “We wanted it to be our perfect magazine. We looked at what was out there already, spoke about what we thought was good and what wasn’t so good...I think we came up with a good basis for a magazine which would focus heavily on English football.
“Not just the Barclays Premier League, but all aspects of the English game.”
The football publishing market is already saturated, FourFourTwo leading the way with a circulation of around 75,000. World Soccer, now in its 53rd year, has a loyal, specialised readership, there is UEFA’s Champions magazine, Shoot, When Saturday Comes while a number of clubs have their own monthly publications with many fanzines offering quality writing. There is also the blanket coverage by national and regional newspapers, so will supporters want more?
Gilby said: “It’s a competitive market, yes, but we believe there is a market out there for us with the focus on UK football. Darragh loves reading magazines on all the topics he’s into and is very involved in Twentyfour7. I’m on the phone to him every day and everything has Darragh’s final say. If we have an idea it goes through Darragh first.”
A full-time staff of 15 comprising editorial, production and design operates from the Peterborough HQ. “Many magazines have at least twice that number, so we’re not top heavy on staff. We needed a strong list of contributors and they were a team decision. We wanted people who knew about the game, we wanted a mix of journalists, pundits, players and ex-players.
“Some people may say it has a large Sky influence, but it didn’t worry us where people worked and there’s no tie-in with Sky. We just wanted the best and we were thrilled with Hayley McQueen’s Sir Alex Ferguson interview. She has a background in journalism and it’s a great interview.”
The budget of Twentyfour7 must be eye-watering, but MacAnthony has put his money where his idea is. “It’s Darragh’s money that we’re using for this,” said Gilby. “He’s put a hell a lot into it in every respect. We didn’t want it to be watered down, we could have tried to save money but we wanted to create the best football magazine in the market, one that any fan of club would want to read.
“Too many supporters don’t have their clubs written about [in national newspapers]. I know we can’t feature every club every month, but over the year we’ll do our best to include as many as possible.”
The first edition of every magazine is, in many respects, the easiest – the test is whether subsequent issues maintain the standard. Gilby said: “We started from scratch so it was an uphill task. In our eyes every magazine should be better than the previous one, that’s not just Darragh’s wish, it’s everyone’s. “
The dread, which comes with the territory, is a feature with a manager who has been sacked after the presses roll. “The difficulty with a monthly magazine is the time-sensitivity of it,” said Gilby. “With managers being sacked left, right and centre...if things have changed as we go to press it’s just the nature of the beast.”
But how can you beat an interview with Sir Alex Ferguson? “Sir Alex is the most successful manager in the world so you can never top him in terms of name,” said Gilby. “But we’re confident number two will be as good as, if not better than number one.”