August 2012: Green Street is abuzz as, after a one-year absence, West Ham are back in the top flight and preparing to resume Premier League duties at Upton Park.
Inside, a team including debutants Jussi Jääskeläinen, Mohamed Diamé and Modibo Maïga and, making his second debut, James Collins records a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, to get the ball rolling. And outside, something else new is starting. Blowing Bubbles.
That game was the first time the magazine went on sale, and 100 issues later, the team of writers put together by editor David Blackmore has covered the highs and lows, triumphs and thrashings and managerial comings and goings at Upton Park, and more recently the London Stadium, as well as speaking to many of the biggest names associated with the club, past and present, to earn its status as the number one West Ham fan publication.
Blackmore’s motivation was simple; there wasn’t a magazine around that he wanted to read, so he decided to make one himself. “I’d read OLAS regularly for a few seasons but was getting frustrated at too many voices saying the same thing, and how quickly it was dated as soon as a game was over,” he said. “I was working in local newspapers at the time so knew a bit about how to put a publication together, thought ‘I could do better than this’, and decided to give it a go.”
Initially designed as a digital-only offering for each game, two of the key decisions he made early on were to make it a print publication as well, and monthly rather than match-specific, to give articles shelflife and to make content creation slightly more manageable.
“I wanted us to be different and for people to be able to look ahead to each game by reading our fanzine ahead of the game,” he said. “Once I decided to do it, I had to find writers, which is where Twitter was a lifeline – some of them, like Lucy Woolford, Brian Williams and Geoff Hillyer, were there at the start and are still with us now, and it’s the passion and talent of them and others who have joined us along the way that has helped us reach 100 issues.”
One thing Blowing Bubbles has always strived to do is stand out from the crowd, from its high production values and quality photography, through to the words on the page – some of which come straight from the mouths of monthly columnists, Irons legends George Parris and Phil Parkes.
“We like to think outside the box,” he said. “Being a monthly publication means we can look back and forward at the same time, as our pieces rarely date. I think that’s what people like about it. With so much content available out there, it’s nice to have something more thought through, and as well as topical items.
“We’ve also been lucky enough to speak to a lot of former players, often just by trying our luck approaching them on social media, and in most cases they’re very happy to talk, which means we’ve managed to create a great mood of nostalgia – and in seasons like this one, looking back at happier days has been a particularly welcome distraction. Also, crucially, our digital edition doesn’t have any pop-up adverts, which has got to be a bonus!”
It is not just among fans that Blowing Bubbles has been noticed. It has permeated the walls of the club boardroom too, with the often criticised co-owner David Gold having given it several exclusive one-on-one interviews, something for which Blackmore says he has a lot of respect.
“I understand the feelings of the supporters towards our co-chairmen but I will always be grateful for the time Mr Gold gives to me each season and for answering the questions that I know the fans want me to ask,” he said. “Do I always get the answers I think supporters would like? No but he is always brutally honest with me – much to the dismay of the press team at West Ham!”
Blowing Bubbles has also been shortlisted for fanzine of the year by the Football Supporters’ Federation, and in addition to the regular monthly issues, the last few years have also seen summer specials, combining the pick of the previous season’s articles with some specially written material. And as he looks back at a century of publications, Blackmore says he is already thinking of ways to make Blowing Bubbles even bigger and better.
“The columnists we have are great but I’d love to get someone like Jack Collison or Joe Cole on board too,” he said, “and I’d really like more access to the current team – not to talk to them about what’s going on in the team or the club, but to find out about their personal stories and journeys to where they are today as footballers, Blowing Bubbles is the perfect platform for that kind of content.
“I’d also welcome more advertisers, so we can increase our print run – we’ve got thousands of readers every month who would see your company’s name, so please, get in touch – and we’re always keen find new writing talent too.”
And if anyone feels like giving Blowing Bubbles a 100th birthday present, Blackmore knows exactly what he wants. Or rather, who. “Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to speak to loads of ex-players and managers, and hear some fantastic tales from them, but the one who has somehow slipped through the net so far is Billy Bonds,” he said. “There are many club greats, but surely he is the greatest, so the chance to talk to him would be the icing on the cake.” And few celebrations deserve a nicely iced cake more than a 100th edition.