A Catch Up With: Alan Merson on Capital Gulls Fanzine

Highway to Hele Editor Rob Dand interviewed the people behind previous TUFC fanzines for H2H last year, but these were only partly included in the zine; so he has kindly shared the full versions with us at Torquay Talk.

Below is the first of those interviews with BTPIR’s Alan Merson about the ‘CAPITAL GULLS’ Fanzine:

When did Capital Gulls start and how long did it run for?

You’re better asking Chas or Paul on that one. Anyone who knows me will testify as to my inability to recall names, stats and dates with much reliability; but I do know (or think) it was 49 issues.

How did distribution work – were all Capital Gulls members sent a copy?

Yes all members were sent a copy, but we also had an excellent seller called Kevin Bridgman (Romford Gull) who was a very driven character who was never satisfied until he had exhausted his stocks around Plainmoor and the grounds of England. Kev doesn’t like me much these days ~ along with quite a few other people who feel the same ~ but that doesn’t come into it……….Kevin has my utmost respect and gratitude as a magazine seller par excellence!

How many issues would you estimate were published?

Well I’ve answered that in my own ‘geriatric’ manner

How did the submission, editing and printing processes work?

We had our core of regular contributors but in the time-honoured tradition of such enterprises they often had to be cajoled, bullied and begged to get their copy in on time. Thus Tom Paternoster who took on the role of ‘chief whip’ for a good period, myself and Howard Warne (Palace Gull)  spawned a sort of love-hate relationship with them all but I can assure you we loved them all even if they all hated us!

How did the submission, editing and printing processes work?

I’ve had to ‘forget’ a lot of that because it was often done in a ‘non kosha’ way on the quiet and in out of hours printing works……….an almost anarchic existence which appealed to my personality such as which has led me to appearing in the dock this year for a dodgy dealing or two at the age of 63 and getting a suspended stretch of porridge. In the circumstances I thought we turned out a pretty glossy and professional product come the end but as in all good things that gloss and professionalism brought about ‘the end’.

How many people were regularly involved in the creation of Capital Gulls magazine?

Oh Gawd, now you’re asking………in the beginning it was me, Peter Hicks and Simon Blogg (Bloggy on torquayfans.com) Pete provided the good offices of BBC Television Children’s Unite where he was ‘management’ at a seriously high level and we used to sneak into Television Centre at night and get what was then a newsletter set up and printed off ~ thank you tax payers! ~ and Bloggy was an artistic designer of the minimalist school which he meant he did the minimum he thought he could get away with and he had a power dressing wife who was a top executive somewhere or other who used to chase us out of his posh home in Clapham when we were littering up the living room floor with paper and arguing…..I believe that many years ago now she grabbed him by the ear and re-located the family to Corsham or some sort of similar God forsaken village that is decidedly not London!

Anyway they were ‘posh’ being next door neighbours to Lesley Ash and Lee Chapman and all that. Later on Howard Warne stepped in as Pete and Simon stepped out and brought a semblance of discipline to the whole shebang and we took our first generous corporate supporter on board in Mike Owen who provided the resources for us to go out in a newspaper format. ~ Mike ended up in the divorce courts and relocated from the Chilterns to Sarfend with some gorgeous bit of stuff and ‘H’ carried on until we recruited Tom Paternoster who was a completely bonkers ‘Doctor Who’ sort of character who lived in some chaos in Crouch Hill and then Ally Pally (Alexander Palace to you plebs) a lovely guy but one who would drive you mad at two o’clock in the morning wanting this and wanting that ~ loved him to bits; me!

On average, how many copies did you circulate?

Haven’t a clue guv; best ask the other two on that one

What were the inspirations behind setting up the magazine?

Oh a desire to round off what we were doing up her in those days……getting together for travel to matches, forming the Capital Gulls; we had a Sunday football team, a quiz team, went on European mini tours together and on one memorable occasion made an unsuccessful attempt to take Christianity to the coast of the Solway Firth (Scottish side) ha ha!!!! We took moralism to the Reeperbahn and street fighting to Rotterdam ~ well only me and Chis Hayes having a verbal punch up in a car park but we were getting on a bit by then.

We sponsored a game or two at Plainmoor a player or three as well and also put on a players reunion for the ‘Boys of 66’ who won promotion for the club back in the day. That was a great weekend all banged up in a hotel in Cary Park I can tell you until it all went tits up and I lost the dementia suffering Tommy Northcott! Then of course there was no other TU fanzine at the time as ‘Bambers’ had ceased and there was a void to be filled. Bambers had been brilliant and Hayden had inspired us all.

Can you describe the style of the content and did this change over time?

Well as I said we went from newsletter, to glossy magazine and the content changed and morphed along the way. The usual shit….humour, sorrow, anger and elation. All the stuff that football creates really. Warrick Butler came on board with financial backing after Mike had to step back and that was done through a window replacement company he co-owned at the time so I hope the other owners knew about it eh Warrick!

Have you been involved in anything else to do with Torquay United?

Oh yes; as a teenager I played for the youth team, and their ‘nursery’ club at Newton Spurs; training on Tuesday and Thursday nights at Plainmoor. I’ve actually appeared as a ‘ringer’ for the Torquay United Ex Professionals at cricket and then I was the business Manager after joining the Commercial Dept under Alex Jackson in 1974 until moving on and out of pro’ football in 1983 as Dave Webb and Co were coming over the horizon! Been a fan all mi’ life from the age of 5 in 1957 until now.

What was your relationship like with the club?

What with the CG mag?  Brilliant; Mike Bateson was awesome but cranky and very forthright. I can take all that but some can’t. Mike was alright and so was Sue his wife and made us welcome in the boardroom whenever we were down which was nice. A club like Torquay United needs a strong character like that at the helm in my opinion. Say it as it is and get on with it; none of this fannying around like we get now employing a ‘nicey-nicey’ manager and failing all the time……..pro’ football’s not nice at all by any stretch of the imagination.

I work voluntarily on the periphery of it now helping aspiring young players and believe me they will eat people alive in the objectivity of self-preservation and my son has met and fallen to a few of those. He’s a young player going through a tough time at the moment and your trust in anyone is stretched to the limit.

What were the primary challenges of putting together the magazine?

Time and money; personal relationships too. I’m the sort of person who offends people easily and often through embarking on working projects such as that magazine; but hey? I know no other way and then one day you ‘burn out’ like a fleeting comet ~ everything has its moment in time. And the secret is never to look back and regret.

Enjoy what you did for the reasons you did it and then move on…….now for me it’s BTPIR ~ a kind of ‘e’ Capital Gulls Mag project that is offensive to some and they have moved on but a strangely ‘moth to a light’ attraction to others. I enjoy being different because it is so different to the other Torquay United forums isn’t it!

What would you say was your defining moment?

Why did it stop?

When ‘H’ pressed the nuclear button and destroyed the runs for the fiftieth edition. He had his reasons and I won’t go into them in public but let’s say we’ve got over it now and recently had a lovely social kissing and make up day on the beer in Clerkenwell together after he came down from his Worcester home for the day.

We’ve all grown old and move on in a much slower fashion these days so if you saw two old geezers strolling around Smithfield admiring contemporary urban architecture wearing panama hats and baggy trousers last summer that was me and ‘H’ and Torquay United was definitely off limits as a conversation topic in favour of a certain obese Polish barmaid covered in tattoos who had become the object (not a chance) of our desire that balmy sunny evening!

That’s why we’re both divorced and live on our ‘tods’ I guess but we were part of the chemistry of that magazine and that’s why it was how it was.

H2H 2014-2017


Rob Dand – TT Contributor

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I simply live and breathe Football and have supported Torquay United since 1989. I am a season ticket holder on Bristows and a Trust member. I set up TorquayTalk in 2017 to give true supporters a voice and honest opinions on their club.

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