Looking back in Amber

Looking back in Amber

An appreciation of Hull City AFC’s most influential fanzine (written by Mark Gretton)

The end of the football season has always a fin de siècle feel. This one perhaps more than most, as we wonder if we will see again our manager, our best players and some of our most loyal and long-suffering fans driven away by restrictive and discriminatory pricing by hugely unpopular owners (who we know we will continue to see). This feeling was heightened at the launch of Rich Gardham’s book The Decade where we enjoyed players and fans ancient and modern. Amber Nectar’s Grand Panjandra, Les Motherby and Andy Dalton were, of course, present; it would be unthinkable to have any sort of gathering of Hull City AFC fans without a Nectarine flavouring, the fanzine that has been there through the best of times, the worst of times and the utterly hellish longuers of the last 21 years. The following week, to general surprise and widespread consternation, they announced that they were pulling down the blinds for good. 

I call it a fanzine as that is the easiest shorthand descriptor. In point of fact it has been a place in a variety of spaces for like-minded, often youthful, City types to coalesce, argue, laugh and drink. But it began as a traditional papery fanzine early in 1998. In Rich’s excellent book – as much about the fans as the team – Les recounted standing on the South Stand terrace, bemoaning both the state of the club under David Lloyd’s comic but destructive regime and the fact that the redoubtable ‘Tiger Rag’ fanzine, the latest in a long line of fine Hull City AFC fan productions was seemingly in permanent retirement. Declaimed Les, ‘There needs to be a new City fanzine’, not meaning at all that he was thinking of writing one. But a voice behind him said ‘I’ll help you’ and that was that. Les recognised a figure he was used to seeing waiting outside YEB for Simon Gray buses and learned he was called Andy. So, like many good ideas, it happened almost by accident. It would be unfair to both to say that this glimpse of the Amber Nectar advent was typical – Les a man of grand phraseology, perhaps at times not quite seeing what would result from his words, Andy, the relentless doer who would uncomplainingly ensure things decided then happened –  so I won’t.

A few weeks later the ‘new City fanzine’ hit the terraces and they were off. This had been widely flagged where fans met, whether in The Three Tuns or on the new-fangled internet thingy to which we were becoming accustomed. And, with a richer fanzine history than most clubs, some were not above reminding the newcomers they were standing on the shoulders of giants. Not above it, in the words of the great Douglas Adams, in the same way that the sea was not above the clouds. Andy was summoned to meet with a former editor of the legendary ‘80s fanzine ‘On Cloud Seven’ to remind the teenage putative co-editor of his responsibilities. When the first edition came out, I was privileged to hear a conversation between two former OC7 editors:

Former Editor: (with studied casualness) So, have you seen this new fanzine yet?

Another Former Editor: (equally casual) No, no. (pause) Have you?

FE: Yes, it’s not bad actually. Patchy of course, some good stuff, some ropey, very up and down.

AFE: (after another pause) So about 10 times better than the first edition of On Cloud Seven, then?

FE: Yep.

So, with the benediction of the legends, they were away. Les has called it ‘an amateurish first effort’ but I think that unfair. It was perhaps a little overwhelmed with content – match reports were recycled alongside all kinds of original opinion pieces and satirical mockery of football in general and Hull City travails in particular – but they were off.

As befits men then either side of 20, Les and Andy realised that, though they would pay their dues to classic fanzinery, the future was electrical. They were also bright enough to recognise that, enthusiastic as they were, to realise that future they needed expert help. So step forward an unsung hero, Steve Broadbent, who not only knew what computer code was, he could also write it to build an interactive website. Soon, alongside the hardcopy, tiger-folk could read it later online. Fairly soon, of course, the website became the fulcrum of the operations. Steve was not only critical in making this happen and keeping it running, he also served as important payment in kind; as a regular contributor to the fanzine in its early days I received neither a penny nor a pint, but by God my computer was kept in good nick by Mr Broadbent, who would patiently fix it at his place and then cart it back to mine and set it back up again.

The website not only became a repository of content, it was interactive at a time when this was regarded with awe. We could vote on players week by week and see who was improving and who was ‘Bad as Bamber’. It started to affect our language; we we were asked to consider ‘who deserves a kick in the cock’ and to consider ourselves to be enjoying a PALC (apparently invented, Les told me recently, at a pre-match pub in York when he was reduced to giggles at my describing some dissolute activity as a ‘perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice’ which Les acronyised and used to launch a million badges). The critically important stage II after the paper fanzine was the AN forum message board, where fans would virtually flock to discuss Hull City, football, Hull City and football politics and just politics. Message boards were where anyone went to discuss anything in the early 2000s and more Tigerfolk went to discuss Hull City on the Amber Nectar message board than went anywhere else.

Amber Nectar never feared reinvention. The paper version vanished in the Noughties as the website and message board flourished and in the Tenties as Twitter spread its terrifying tentacles across the world, the Nectarines began to direct their operations from there, prodding, provoking and pointing potential punters to articles on the website. This was AN III and it soon spawned AN IV, the podcast, again seamlessly putting themselves at the heart of the zeitgeist as football fans yearned to hear recordings of a few blokes in a bedroom swearing at each other. That doesn’t make itself, of course and another key AN figure was Matt Rudd who contributed a journalist’s eye for what makes a story and a broadcaster’s ear for what you can and can’t get away with over the airwaves. Also, like Steve Broadbent before him, he knew what to plug in where for technology to work.

The medium isn’t the message, though. You have to have something to say. Whilst others have waxed and waned, Amber Nectar has been on the right side of history on every key Hull City issue. They were right about Lloyd and Buchliffe (Boo!), Pearson (Hurrah!) and Bartlett and Duffen (this sounds OK but let’s be careful). They instituted the tennis-ball protest against the Lloyd regime at the Reebok stadium. Watching from the upper stand that night as hundreds of tennis balls, fluorescent green under the floodlights flew softly beautiful against the black bombazine backdrop of the Bolton night I thought at the time I had never seen a more exquisitely realised protest. 20 years later, I think that still. Amber Nectar, through the work of Andy Dalton, were at the the forefront of the protests against the West Yorkshire Police Force around the Huddersfield ‘bubblegate’ match and was a key factor in that Force eventually offering a humiliating apology to Hull City fans. Andy and Les were the first email from the people who felt Something Should Be Done about the proposed name change and Amber Nectar’s reach was critical in raising both awareness and funding throughout the CTWD campaign. 

Many years ago I was watching with my dad a late night news show about a great political issue of the day. I turned to him and asked him what he thought. He shook his head and told me he was off to bed as ‘The Guardian’ll explain it to me in the morning’. I realised that for ageing lefties The Guardian had the same role as The Daily Telegraph for retired colonels. For me, the Hull City font of wisdom became ‘Things we think we think.’ Monday morning the Twitter account would direct me to it and I would read it with a furrowed brow that became smooth with recognition and understanding. Immaculately written, bespokely constructed, forensically and authoritatively argued, it explained the week gone and illuminated the week ahead. I will miss it dreadfully.

I do think Amber Nectar the most influential Hull City fans voice we have ever had. Twice, as a Hull City fan, I have I got into serious bother. The first time was when Les and Andy asked me to write a piece for the fanzine on racist chanting by Hull City fans. This led to a TV interview which brought dark forces who disagreed swirling around my head for the next year. Some years later, enticed on the podcast to ‘give us your thoughts on the ownership of Hull City – we’ve removed the swearing limit’ I did just that. Following that, a representative of those owners visited my employer and explained what they would do were I not sacked. Now many things could be learned from this, such as if in doubt, shut your mouth. But let’s be honest, that isn’t going to happen So let’s take the real lesson, which is that for the last 21 years, friend or foe, if you wanted to know what Hull City AFC fans thought about anything, you looked at or listened to Amber Nectar. Nobody did it better.

Mark Gretton

2 thoughts on “Looking back in Amber”

  1. Surely the Godfather of Hull City fanzines is and was Andy Medcalf ?’ Hull, Hell @ Happiness’ smashed though the barriers and became the trailblazer for all that followed. All the rest were imitators, although very good it must be said.

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