Abbey Rabbit Background
Do-it-yourself magazines produced by fans for fans - fanzines - had been about for years, they were a huge part of the punk music scene from 1976 onwards. They started to appear in football as a reaction to the hooligan problem in the 1980s. Football was in the doldrums as a result of hooliganism, crowds were at their lowest since the war. Nobody admitted to being a football fan back then. Fans were treated like animals. Away fans were caged in or surrounded by police from the moment they stepped off their train. The nadir came in 1985 - Millwall fans had rioted at Luton, the Bradford fire and Hysel happended within weeks of each other. Fanzines were a chance to put some humour and enjoyment back into the game. When we started the Rabbit there were around a dozen other football fanzines around the UK. The Hillsborough disaster happended just after we had written a piece for the Rabbit about the horrible and dangerous fences at the Abbey. Fanzines are creditied with playing a role in rebooting British football, aided by the England success at Italia 90 and the formation of the Premier League. All of a sudden, in the early 90s, football was fashionable again.
Nigel introduced me to the When Saturday Comes fanzine in early 1988 I recall, and we found that there were a few other clubs doing the same. I said to Nigel that we should think about doing the same for Cambridge. We mulled it over, took a trip to Sportspages, a sports based book store in Central London and decided to give it a go. We needed a name. I think the eureka moment came to me in the bath of all places! As a South Londoner, Rabbit meant chatter (after Chas n Dave's Rabbit Rabbit) so Abbey Rabbit was exactly that, chatter about all at the Abbey. The first issues were produced by a combination of typewriters, Amstrad computers, Letraset, and when cut and paste meant real scissors and glue. Once we had the title I think it was Nigel's partner's sister (you'll need to ask him her name, I can't recall), produced the iconic drawings. Between us, we pieced together issue 1 with items such as 'Rabbit Stew, 'Its Killing Our Game' and a parody of 'Soccer Laws Illustrated' We found a printer in Catford in London. A guy called Russ Jones printed fete programmes, cheap and cheerful, but so supportive throughout. Issue 1 went on sale at an afternoon game match against Tranmere game in March 1988. (We issued a flyer at the home match before the first issue (v Orient), it just said The Abbey Rabbit is Coming!) We sold them outside the NRE, Cut Throat Lane and on the public path near the Habbin. We were very careful not to promote it as the programme, pointing fans to a programme seller. But they often bought both. I was approached by John Carter, who worked for the Club (backed up by PC Trevor George no less) who accused us of pretending it was the programme and didn't have permission to sell it outside the ground. Fortunately we had permission from Trevor's bosses, provided we didn't cause a crowd! At half-time Mr Carter had an announcement put over the tannoy suggesting people didn't buy it because it wasn't authorised by the Club. Well, we sold out and another print run was hastily organised. I remember issue 2 went on sale at Hereford away. I was holidaying in mid Wales, and I recall fans querying why the mail order one were postmarked Aberystwyth. Nigel replied "because that's where they were posted". They were.i needed something to do while I was there so stuffing envelopes with AR2 was great! Onwards and upwards, print runs got larger, we sold more and more to stores all over the country, even non Utd fans were buying. We had really positive reviews all over the place. Contributors and editors changed over time with the likes of Mark Johnson and Steve Jillings all taking part. I loved every minute of producing the fanzine. Something I will always be proud of. Strangely, we think we gave the club a bit of a kick up the backside too, for we started just before that roller coaster ride to the edge of the Premiership. I am sure there are many other tales to tell: Randall Blott How we first learned of Godric Smith How we handled beating Boro 5-1 Roy Johnson's legal adviser and the Strawberry Blancmange (Mark J may recall that) Fabulous days.
The splendid artwork in the early Rabbit's was created by Tracy Stevens.