Dial M for MERTHYR - The birth, death and rebirth
The sight of two portly gentlemen wandering around Briton Ferry's pitch on a warm afternoon in August 1989 carrying a box must have seemed a bit strange to those Merthyr supporters who were there to witness a pre-Conference season friendly match, especially so when those two Merthyr lads proceeded to sell a new magazine "written by the fans, for the fans!".
The cover above is from the first edition after we dumped local rivals Newport out of the FA Cup. The header reflected the scoreline of the match.
This was the birth of the Dial M For Merthyr fanzine. It was the era of Thatcher and her ridiculous ID cards for football, Colin Moynihan and Hillsborough. The football authorities seemed powerless to stop the rot. The renaissance of the national game began not from the comfy surrounds of the boardrooms but from the terraces, the rise of the Football Supporters Association under Rogan Taylor coupled with the explosion of the football fanzine movement ensured that for the first time the voice of the ordinary fan was being heard. Fanzines such as Orientear (Orient), The Pie (Notts County) and When Saturday Comes were an inspiration to supporters all over the country who had something to say about their clubs and how they were run. Merthyr was to be no exception, our rise from the Midland Division to the Conference via Welsh Cup Final and Atalanta had been covered in general by a media only interested in patronising cliché with no real insight into this resurrection of this once proud club. Merthyr joined the football revolution with the establishment of Dial M For Merthyr, the first issue was photocopied one evening in Merthyr Law Courts whilst Rob Parker kept an eye out for the security guard. It was a rough side-stapled affair but its initial print run of 300 soon sold out as this new addition to Penydarren Park caught the imagination of the Merthyr supporters pouring into the ground for those early exciting matches in the Conference. 14 years later and 46 editions of the fanzine have been produced, even though sales were banned from Penydarren Park on two separate occasions, along the way Dial M For Merthyr has attempted to champion the cause of supporting the biggest club in the Valleys, its been reviewed in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Mail on Sunday, its attracted BBC cameras to cover Merthyr fans at a rain-soaked Vetch Field and radio crews to seek our opinions at Penydarren Park.
But it's been a long time since that naïve first issue and thankfully the coverage of football and of its lifeblood; the fans, has improved dramatically. The enthusiasm and flair displayed by those early fanzines has now been absorbed by mainstream publishing resulting in the current glut of magazines devoted to the game of football, the choice being endless from World Soccer to United We Stand.
The emergence of web-site message boards, chat rooms and mailing lists coupled with radio phone-in shows has provided an instant release for the disgruntled football fan of today so where does this leave one of the catalysts of this new era, the fanzine? To be honest, it has made producing Dial M For Merthyr increasingly difficult so much so that it's Christmas and only now the first issue of the current season will have been on sale. As a result the issue on sale today will be the last issue of the fanzine for the foreseeable future, it's been proved that Merthyr supporters can produce quality creative writing if the need arises, perhaps next season's promotion to the Conference will provide a fresh impetus for a new breed of fanzine writers.
Since this article ran in the matchday programme in December 2003 there have been more issues of Dial M and we've even found our own area in Cyberspace - it's in the blood and it aint going away.