Mat Kendrick talks to Dave Woodhall about the past, present and future of Heroes & Villains fanzine (Birmingham Mail Feb 2014)
Dave Woodhall will be selling his last copies of fanzine Heroes & Villains outside Villa Park at the end of the season before it moves to an online home
Doug still owes them 11p...
That unpaid debt by the president emiritus is not the reason why Villa’s longest-lasting fanzine Heroes & Villains will no longer be a print regular from this summer after enduring 25 years of unpredictability.
The reason is that, from the start of next season, H&V, the staple-bound matchday staple of the discerning Villa supporter, will be available predominantly in an online, rather than a paper, format.
Not only is it still going strong enough, after almost 200 editions, to write off Sir Doug Ellis’ 11p, it is also going strong enough to go digital.
For founder Dave Woodhall, there will be mixed emotions when the last regular print edition rolls off the presses in late April, although there are plans for biannual compilation issues to be sold in print at Christmas and the end of the season.
Dave will certainly stay a lot drier by vacating his usual rain-or-shine station on Witton Lane before kick-off and after the final whistle, as will half-a-dozen other sellers scattered around the ground.
But the fanzine traditionalist in him will miss the face-to-face interaction with fellow fans outside Villa Park when it comes to gauging the mood of the claret and blue faithful.
Reflecting that mood and giving fans a platform for their opinions has been the purpose of the A5 publication since it was first launched in summer 1989. As Dave recalls, football and Aston Villa were very different back then.
“The first game we sold at was a friendly at Crewe and the week after we sold away at Nottingham Forest, there were hundreds there and from then on it took off,” he remembers.
“When we first started, we put it on sale at an AGM and sold a few copies there. Doug came along and gave me 39 pence so he still owes us 11p!
“It was a time when independent supporters’ associations were being set up and there was a desire for fans to have a voice. Back then fans were campaigning against identity cards, supporters were being treated badly, English clubs were still banned from Europe and it was the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough.
“Supporters’ voices were going unheard so this was the only vehicle they could use to get their voices across. There was no internet, very few phone-ins, so really all you had was us and the letters page of the Sports Argus.”
Despite football’s off-the-field problems, it was an exciting time on the field for Villa, as Graham Taylor revived the club, taking them from a Second Division shambles to First Division title contenders.
“The year we launched was the start of Graham Taylor’s last season, which was fantastic and one of my favourite seasons ever,” says Dave.
“It was approaching Italia 90 and football started to get fashionable again and just kept growing and growing.
“I think we were all amazed at how well it had gone for Villa because we had avoided relegation by the skin of our teeth the season before.
“We’d sold our best players, Alan McInally and Martin Keown had gone, but lo and behold we almost won the league. It set the scene for 20-odd years of unpredictability.”
Unpredictability has been a major selling point of H&V, as it has seen off rival fanzines, including Witton Wisdom and the Holy Trinity.
Featuring more than 200 contributors during the past quarter of a century, H&V has interspersed serious supporters’ issues with comedy gems.
To this day, Ivo Writes Home remains one of Dave’s favourite features. Written in honour of Ivo Stas, the Czech defender who spent his entire Villa career injured, the spoof letters from lonely Ivo back to his family in Ostrava were even enjoyed by former club secretary Steve Stride.
“I’d love to meet the guy who wrote the first one – his letter was brilliant,” smiles Dave.
“I carried on writing it. Even now people ask about him. I’d like to think he’s now a successful comedy writer and Ivo is back home in Ostrava as a multi-millionaire on the basis of what he scammed off the Villa! Steve Stride mentioned it in his autobiography and said it’s a lot closer to the truth than anybody can imagine.
“I think the idea was that this spoof Ivo thought things he heard from the terraces were actually proper names like Tony Cascarinoyoudonkey!”
Several H&V contributors have gone on to forge careers in journalism, while one seller met his wife flogging fanzines outside the ground and they now have two children. Among the highlights have been the nostalgic insight provided by John Russell, sharing tales from the past which may otherwise have gone unrecorded.
“There’s been some brilliant writing,” says Dave. “I think we have made a difference and the club have picked up on quite a few of our ideas.”
Dave is optimistic that the digital editions will take off, having received a good response to selling the magazine online since the start of this season.
“It’s as easy to pull a phone, kindle or tablet out of your pocket at half-time as it always has been a magazine,” he adds.
“It’s just a natural progression. We started off doing digital subscriptions at the start of this season and that’s going well, so we thought we may as well go this way.
“The beauty is the fans get what they want because they are the ones who set the agenda and write the pieces.”
Interested subscribers can visit www.exacteditions.com/heroesandvillains