The righteous, wonderful world of Football Picture Story Monthly

There’s an entire generation of supporters now who have never heard of Football Picture Story Monthly.  That’s sad.  Football-related entertainment may have grown exponentially over the last two decades but, between 1986 and 2003, FPSM was an important building block in a fan’s education.

I was never into comic books.  Some of my friends were and I briefly tried hard to pretend that I was too, but I could just never properly engage with the storylines or the characters.

FPSM was different, though.  It was fun, it was light-hearted, and it didn’t require the imagination that I so obviously lacked as a child.

Even today, almost twenty-five years later, I remember the first issue I ever read.

Somewhere between 1990 and 1991, I was in a Happy Eater with my mother and uncle.  In the same way as your parents might bribe you to eat that last piece of broccoli with the promise of an extra fifteen minutes of television, Happy Eater would reward you with free gifts for ordering certain items on their menu.

My penance for that first copy of Football Picture Story Monthly was an enormous ice-cream sundae which, when you think about it, was a rather strange direction in which to incentivise a child.

I don’t remember seeing it in newsagents that often and it wasn’t really ever something you went out with the intention to buy.

You would stumble across FPSM in doctor’s surgeries or dentist’s waiting-rooms or, in my case, it would come free with over-sized novelty desserts.

Their rarity wasn’t really an integral part of their value, though, because the stories told were rich, deep and lovingly illustrated.

Over 400 issues were published across seventeen years and, looking back, they were almost all relentlessly positive.  Contemporary football is a cynical world in which the richest teams win and everybody else loses, but Football Picture Story Monthly was the opposite.  The later issues started to engage with modern topics like squad-rotation and apathetic millionaire players, but in the main the series continually preached the importance of healthy values.

‘Road to the top’, for example, is the story of two equally-talented county players.  One, under the guidance of a ponytailed, bearded agent, is accelerated through the game too quickly for his own good.  He chases money at every opportunity, endorses any product that will take his name, and slowly slides down the pyramid.

The other, who continually rejects the same agent’s advances, plots a more cautious route through his career.  He joins a local professional team, signs multiple contracts to protect his value and fend off interest from the predatory “King’s Road United”, and becomes a local hero.

Needless to say, the last page of that story involves the former, now working as a barman - and clearly overweight - watching the latter making his debut for a glamorous Italian team who, in buying the player, have preserved the future of his previous side.

Towards the end of FPSM’s run, the writers had clearly become disillusioned with the football’s evolution and the ‘against modern football’ themes raged, but even before that point was reached the stories were always very wholesome.

Spoilt players would move to smaller clubs and be healed by the embrace of a local community, struggling teams could be transformed if they learnt to turn up to training on-time and, regardless of how obscure his amateur environment was, a young player always, always had the opportunity to be spotted by a scout.

Agents, supermodels, alcohol and drugs were unambiguously negative, and loyalty, hard-work and dedication would always lead to a glittering future. Good was always rewarded, bad was always punished.  It was a righteous world.

The older you get, the less susceptible you are to that ‘drink your milk, eat your vitamins’ narrative, but FPSM was never positive purely for the sake of it - the happy-endings weren’t aimed at gratifying the audience, they were a reinforcement of values that the authors clearly believed in.

Maybe that gave the series a child-like, unrealistic quality, but that’s also what allows FPSM to still resonate with its readers, years after its demise.

For Squawka: Why Michael Carrick is the most polarising player in English football.

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