Charlie Buchan and the monthly football glossy


Words create atmosphere, memories and history. As linguistic standards dropped the standards in football rose. Histories and stories had been created so there would be a new generation of former players who could report on the beautiful game. The appetite for information and opinion had increased and fans wanted insider experts to talk about football. Post-war Britain was looking for glamour so Charlie Buchan launched his magazine.

Whose Idea Was It?

Who was the eponymous hero of the football glossy? Born in Plumstead in 1891 in rather unglamorous surroundings.  He started out playing for Woolwich Arsenal as an amateur where he had a disagreement with the manager over expenses despite playing well. Eventually, he made a name for himself with Sunderland before returning to his roots in the Arsenal.

He was part of a generation who had their careers stalled by national service. His service to King and Country was every bit as impressive as his service to Sunderland and Arsenal. His start to his impressive time at Sunderland was more than shaky. The fans didn’t appreciate him and defenders tried to intimidate him. In fact so much so that he told manager Bob Kyle he wanted to be dropped from the team. That one more game yielded two goals and that little bit of confidence in himself and from the Roker faithful was a turning point.

Sunderland won the First Division in 1913. They almost did that famous double as they lost the FA Cup final to Aston Villa. He was the club’s highest scorer for many of those seasons having tallied 209 goals for the Black Cats.

His record for the army is as impressive as his record for Sunderland. He saw action at the Somme and at Passchendaele. His leadership skills saw him promoted rapidly to sergeant. These skills meant he was still considered a top competitor. He maintained his pre-war form and was still a prolific goal scorer once the Football League resumed. Sunderland did not maintain their pre-war dominance. Bob Kyle rebuilt his team keeping Buchan in the squad. Aged 33 it seemed unlikely that he would move.

Herbert’s Second In Command

His skills were noticed by Herbert Chapman. A rather bizarre deal was struck. Buchan returned to the renamed Arsenal for £2000. They had to pay £100 per goal as well. Well, how many goals does a 33-year-old score? Unfortunately for the man holding the purse strings at Arsenal, it was 21 goals. Buchan was bought so Herbert Chapman could perfect his tactical formation commonly known as “WM”. As a player, he was described as elegant and a master.

He loved the game and on his retirement from playing he joined the Daily News as a sports journalist. He certainly knew the game from a tactical point of view. He understood its constant evolution and saw areas for improvement. He wrote a coaching manual for the Daily News which lead to the development of the FA’s coaching scheme. This was not the first time he wielded his experience in a positive way. He had been involved in the Association of Football Players Union. He had advocated striking over pay. This may not have had the desired effect but it was part of the ever-evolving game.

The Words Of The Game

Now he was a journalist he would be able to add his vision to both football and journalism. whilst returning to Blighty after covering a post-war friendly against Belgium he decided to form The Professional Writers Association. Charlie and three other writers would invite “working journalists who are accredited football correspondents for newspapers and agencies” to join for an initial fee of a guinea. Each member would get a tie.

It was Buchan who came up with the idea of an award. The first winner of the Professional Writers Association player of the year award went to Stanley Matthews in 1948. The annual dinner and high fees elevated the status of journalists. The player of the year award is still one of the most prestigious awards in the game.

The reporting of games was still limited by technology. Buchan was part of the delegation that went to report England’s first World Cup in 1950. After the initial victory over Chile England lost to the USA. Buchan said “There was no excuse for England’s 1-0 humiliation. I rated the Americans on a par with a third division team like Rochdale, yet by sheer guts and enthusiasm they humbled mighty England”. What is highly preposterous is the image of six journalists queuing to use the two telephone lines so their papers could report the scoop and then hoping that the Rio cable office will wire the information back to Fleet Street. It’s almost inconceivable today as we are bombarded by information as events happen.

Post-War Glamour

Writing was an increasingly glamorous job. In the post-war antithesis to austerity Britain was looking for glamour. Charlie Buchan published his Football Monthly in September 1951. Its mission statement was  “to provide a publication that will be worthy of our National game and the grand sportsmen who play and watch it”. Well, you have to live up to your own hype.

At one shilling and sixpence, it was every bit the luxury item. Some people bought it for the quality of writing and others for the quality of pictures. The writing has been described as “plodding” but the concept was cutting edge. It filled a need as fans wanted to hear and see the figures they was running up and down the pitch. It was bringing their heroes closer to them. Writers had their clichés and Buchan’s was grand. Everything was grand, players, grounds, matches.

Now fans had a way of communicating with other fans. A young John Motson wrote a letter to the paper in 1957. Birdsong author Sebastian Faulks had his letter published as the Star Letter. At its peak, a quarter of a million people bought this magazine. Countless more must have read it as its glossy pictures were kept by fans for posterity.

Communication evolves. Who would have thought that a monthly that hasn’t been published since June 1974 would have its own Facebook page? Looking at online copies this magazine had its place. It has a place in the hearts of the many people who bought it and a place in the many waiting rooms where it sat alongside other glossies like Vogue, Time and Harpers Bazaar. It was one glossy a man could read in public.