By Kara McGinley
Six degrees of separation theory is, indeed, just a theory, but when it comes to the London punk and DIY scenes in the 1980’s, things were so close-knit you’d be safe calling it three degrees of separation. And that’s just how legendary photographer Janette Beckman met Dave Witchard, you know, through friends of friends of friends. It’s how the scene was back then, so when Dave’s inspiration and career eventually sailed east of the pond in the late ‘80’s, he made sure to bring that DIY ethos and lifestyle with him, which led to the evolution and creation of America’s first (and still, only) weekly print football ‘zine, First Touch.
“I started First Touch in 1994. I had just moved here to New York in the late ‘80’s. And at that point, soccer was really at the low end. Things started to pick up when the U.S. won the rights to the 1994 World Cup. That’s when the interest started to develop again. In 1990, you started to see a few English games via satellite at one or two pubs, and that’s when I started to meet a lot of expats. So, that’s when I decided to launch First Touch. It was a fanzine based on the idea of the punk fanzines back home. There were football fanzines back home as well. So, I thought, why not do a New York City soccer fanzine for the 20 or 30 expats that congregate every Saturday to watch this one broadcasted game,” said Dave.
The name First Touch comes, predictably, from football lingo, “First touch is an expression. You’ll hear it mentioned ten times in the first broadcast of a game. When the ball comes to you, it’s how you control the ball with your first touch of the ball. Not using your hands, obviously. But your feet, your chest, whatever. And yeah, if you watch a game with commentary you’ll hear it mentioned. So that’s where the name came from,” he explained.
But starting anything off from scratch can be tough, especially when the audience you’re appealing to mostly lives across the Atlantic Ocean. So, why do it? Why shout into the wind? “The big inspiration for me was a magazine called When Saturday Comes, which was an English soccer fanzine. And I guess because I grew up in that culture of punk zines, the sort of DIY thing, that it was just a hobby I already had. So, it started as a photo copy. I think I ran off 10 copies and took it to one pub called McCormacks and threw them around. I hadn’t even thought about it as a business. Then a friend of mine was like ‘you know, you could get the pubs to advertise’ so that’s how it started really. Grew organically. We distribute them to all the boroughs and New Jersey. Probably about 3-4 thousand copies every week. They go to pubs and soccer clubs, those sorts of places. So yeah, we’ve printed every Thursday since ’94. The only week we missed was 9/11.”
Currently, New York is the only city with its own weekly print soccer ‘zine, which is no small feat. And Dave wasn’t kidding, it really is distributed to every soccer pub you could think of. Hangin’ in the East Village or downtown? You can find a First Touch at 11th Street Bar, The Barleycorn, The Irish American, and Lilly O’Brien’s. More of a Midtown person? Hit up The Long Hall, Jack Demsey’s, Slane, or Legends. Out in Queens for the weekend? Look no further than Irish Whiskey Bar, Shillelagh Tavern, or The Brewery Bar. Watching the beautiful game in Brooklyn and want an entertaining and insightful footy read? Head to Banter, Iona, The Monro Pub, or Blackhorse Pub. We could keep going, but you get the point. (You can see the full list here!)
And of course, you can find copies of First Touch at Carragher’s and The Boot Room where our Liverpool loving, Kopites congregate. But why do they call themselves that anyway? “The name comes from Spion Kop, a section of Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. It’s the fan area behind the goal, with the people singing and making all the noise. So, a Kopite is basically someone who stands in the Kop. Which is the supporters home end. It’s the people in all the scarfs singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and making all the noise,” Dave said.
Dave explained that Liverpool has become so popular in the U.S. over the years that there are actually multiple supporter’s clubs beyond the Kopites. “Liverpool FC first came to New York in 1946 in the summer break. They were invited over to play some games. They took a ship, it took them six days to get here. They played a bunch of games here and Philly and wherever, Boston. There weren’t really any good teams here, so I think they played ten games and won them all by double digits.”
Besides singing in the pubs, soccer fans, especially those from Liverpool, are also music fanatics. And a lot of well-known musicians play the beautiful game, too. Which is something Dave tapped into and would be the reason why each First Touch also has a music section.
“It was a friend of mine who actually pitched me the idea for a music page. I keep it going in his honor. When I used to play soccer in Los Angeles, every Sunday we’d have a pick-up game, the guys from the Cult would join, Ian Astbury and Billy, and they were more Manchester City fans. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, he’d show up in a different shirt every week so I never really knew who he supported. Mike Meyers, he’s a big Liverpool fan. He was down at the Boot Room not long ago.”
This is a common theme we picked up on during our time at the Scouser bars—a huge appreciation for music and their beloved, traditional songs that are passed down from generation to generation. “When Liverpool came over in 1964, it was the height of Beatlemania. But Gerry and the Pacemakers were also here and on the Ed Sullivan Show performing You’ll Never Walk Alone. And it coincidentally coincided with when the Liverpool team were here. So, Gerry said to Ed Sullivan, ‘you know the Liverpool football team are here in town, why don’t we get them into the studio for the recording.’
Next thing you know, they were recording You’ll Never Walk Alone with the team in the studio and Bill Shankly, the legendary manager, was on stage at Ed Sullivan singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. It’s a good story. And then, at the end of the show, Bill Shankly went up to Gerry and said, “You know, we gave you a football team and you’ve given us a song.” And ever since then, You’ll Never Walk Alone is sung before every game at Liverpool. So, obviously, there is a strong New York connection there ever since.”
And although the New York connection is a huge part of the First Touch ethos, the company has progressed with the times. “It’s great that we’ve been able to keep it going all these years. You know, we have great writers and interesting articles every week. But it’s also a resource for where and when to watch the games. On the mobile app, we update it daily with TV schedules. When and where the games are on and what channels. We also have the bars. A soccer bar finder app, so no matter where you are you can find the nearest good soccer bar in New York and all over America. So, it’s useful as well as entertaining.” Allez! Allez! Allez!