1. The cover you never saw (Summer 1994)
Before the real FourFourTwo came the pretend FourFourTwo, a rough-and-ready dummy issue that featured a totally made-up interview with Ian Wright, some unexplained photos of six men’s legs, 10 celebs who had trials with clubs (including Mike Gatting, Boris Becker and Des O’Connor) and the first appearance of the soon-to-be-famous The Boy’s A Bit Special, featuring Ryan Giggs, Jamie Redknapp, Darren Anderton, Andy Cole and Chris Sutton.
And then there’s the cover. A dodgy illustration of Kevin Keegan, an obtuse cover line and a try-hard tag line: ‘The periodical for the discerning football enthusiast’. Sometimes you have to try things just to know they don’t work.
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2. Terry Venables kicks it all off (Sep 1994)
Why 'FourFourTwo'? “The choice was much debated internally,” admits launch editor Paul Simpson. “Some preferred the more anodyne Football Monthly, yet it worked.
Magazine titles are, in part, a coded message to the audience you want to reach. In an age when formations were barely discussed in the press, FourFourTwo spoke to the kind of reader we hoped to attract: discerning, passionate, and with enough of a sense of humour not to cancel their subscription if we sent up their team or their idols.
"FourFourTwo launched with Terry Venables on the cover, Jimmy Hill modelling football strips and Barry Fry making a cameo appearance as a self-proclaimed ‘cheeky fat bastard’. It quickly become apparent that we’d created a magazine that actually changed people’s lives. That was, to use a Motsonism, ‘quite remarkable’."
Or as El Tel put it: “I remember doing the cover shoot but I was startled when the magazine came out, actually. People were talking about this new magazine and, boom, there I was on the cover. I thought: ‘Wow, very good!’”
3. Stan Collymore shoots from the lip (Dec 1995)
Perhaps not our greatest cover image, but a blistering interview with the most expensive footballer in Britain, Liverpool new boy Stan Collymore. Just two months after an £8.5 million move, Collymore came out firing, revealing that he’d told his agent: “Between you and me, I don’t think it’s going to work.”
He went on to criticise the club and manager Roy Evans – “I don’t know any industry that would lay out £8.5m on anything without thinking how they’re going to use it” – saying he’d rather quit football tomorrow than go through the motions being average for the next two years. One from the years before footballers had media training.
4. England get our Respect (Aug 1996)
A cover that summed up the sentiment of the entire English nation in one seven-letter word. England were miserable at Euro 92, failed to qualify for USA 94 and went into Euro 96 in disgrace after a big night out in the dentist’s chair.
Despite the traditional penalty heartache against Germany, the country was hit by a tidal wave of euphoria brought on by the way the team had played, not least in the sensational Shearer-and-Sheringham-inspired 4-1 victory over Holland. For once, team and fans were united.
5. Wrighty’s devilishly good interview (Nov 1997)
This photo, by Robert Wilson (son of Arsenal’s Bob), perfectly captured the devilish side of Arsenal and England star Ian Wright and was accompanied by a compelling, insightful interview that revealed the truth behind the tabloid cartoonish bad boy.
“Meeting Wright is a genuinely disarming experience,” explained interviewer Ian Ridley. “The brash and calculating figure you expect turns out to be a spirited character with a childlike naivety. There is even – and this is a surprise given his reputation and obvious self-confidence on a football pitch – a charming humility.”
Wright talked about his fears, his family and even revealed that he was seeing a counsellor over anger management, though he was quick to add a caveat: “I can’t afford for it to be written about me that I’ve changed. Because as soon as people say ‘he’s mellowed’, then I’ve lost something.”
6. On location with… Brazil (Jun 1998)
Ahead of World Cup 98 – FourFourTwo’s first – the entire editorial team took a holiday to Rio, insisting that the only way to truly understand the World Cup favourites was via an extended period of time on the Copacabana beach.
Whether or not that was true (almost certainly not), the resultant issue was an epic, as a who’s who of Brazilian football – and a Great Train Robber – explored the culture, the myths and the legends of the game in Brazil. It didn’t help them win the World Cup that year, but it made a few writers and photographers extremely happy.
7. Keano vs Manchester United (Jun 2001)
Fancy interviewing Roy Keane the night after Manchester United have lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League? “I’d interviewed Keane several times before, and he didn't suffer fools,” recalls Sam Pilger, who took that challenge in 2001. “On that morning, however, he arrived ready to talk.
"He wanted to get a few things off his chest, including his fears that some of his United team-mates were getting complacent in games and training and that their period of dominance was about to end. He was brutally honest, and never ducked a question.
"He was also charming and affable, far removed from the menacing figure in a red shirt. Rather than cut short the interview, he even phoned his wife Theresa to ask her if she could pick up their children from school.”
When the interview was published, it caused a huge stir everywhere: ‘The most explosive interview of the year!’ declared The Mirror, splashing it across their back page.
8. The Galacticos (Mar 2003 & Jun 2013)
In 2003, 11 years before Samsung even dreamt of their Galaxy 11, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez concocted a dastardly plan to conquer world football with a team of intergalactic superstars. Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Ronaldo, Raul… it was football’s biggest story.
Unsurprisingly, getting to the Galacticos wasn’t straightforward so, with the Madrid press office giving us the runaround, we went straight to the top, to Perez himself, who in no uncertain terms ordered that a cover shoot with FourFourTwo must go ahead. Raul refused, the homegrown star irked to have lost top billing to the Galacticos, but the rest turned up.
Ten years on, we decided to get the originals back together. A decade ago, these guys spent half their waking lives together. In 2013, it was football’s equivalent of reuniting the Beatles… were they all still alive. It took editor David Hall eight months to pull it off. He even took to eBay, bidding for retro kits so the Fab Four could be shot in the same outfits as in 2003.
9. Cantona gets naked (Aug 2004)
The first nipples on a FourFourTwo cover. And who else? Photographer William Klein tells the story: “I’d had the idea of drawing a tattoo on Cantona’s body, then I started researching some of his quotes and I found this one that I really liked: ‘We play to fight the idea of losing’.
"His agent told me: ‘The thing with Eric is, he’ll either stay three minutes or three hours, that’s just the way he is.' I explained to my assistants what I wanted to do, but when they went to get the pens, the make-up artists said: ‘You can’t do that with Cantona, he’s like a bear, he’s covered in hair.’
"So I said to Cantona: ‘Apparently we can’t do this because you’ve got too much hair on your chest.’ ‘Not at all,’ he said, and whipped off his shirt. Then he went to the mirror and started drawing on himself. What you see in the photograph, 90% of it he did himself.
"As he was looking in the mirror, he said: ‘I want red.’ So we drew the red cross on his torso and he said: ‘I want some red on my nose.’ So he drew red on his nose and dotted the i’s.Then we took the photo.”
10. The Football League Issue (Apr 2005)
FourFourTwo’s first ever Football League cover, featuring… go on, how many can you name? (Bonus point for the club we’re referring to at the top: ‘Drag queens, pirates, Bill Gates!? Inside the world’s maddest club’.)
The Top 50 Football League Players became an annual event and soon span off into a glitzy event with the launch of the official Football League Awards in partnership with the League.
11. Ronaldinho introduces Messi (Jan 2006)
Who’s that little fella with Ronaldinho? The mascot? “This,” the Brazilian told us, “is the best player in the world.” Leo Messi was 18 years old and thrilled to be on the cover with his hero – at the time, Ronaldinho was the best player in the world, while the interview with Messi was arranged via his dad. But the Argentine was destined for bigger and better things...
12. What Zidane did next (Aug 2007)
On July 9 2006, Zinedine Zidane had ended his football career in unexpectedly spectacular fashion. In front of a global TV audience of 300 million watching the World Cup final, he headbutted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the chest, received his marching orders and exited, last seen heading towards the retirement home.
As usual, the media blaze burned intensely and then out. So much so that one year on, Zidane was, if not forgotten, certainly out of sight and out of mind. We tracked his story over the following 12 months to find out what had happened to the greatest player of his generation in the aftermath of one of football’s most controversial moments.
13. Beckham goes to Hollywood (Oct 2008)
Becks hit the red carpet in style as he headed for the MLS: note he was talking about ‘buying his own club’ as far back as 2008.
But inside the magazine, Goldenballs was upstaged by a gem of a One-on-One interview with Chris Waddle in which he talked about learning to dribble in 40-a-side games, going on Top of the Pops with Glenn Hoddle and getting kicked to death by Paolo Maldini. He even agreed to rank the following haircuts: Rene Higuita, Jason Lee, Kevin Keegan (perm), Taribo West, Chris Waddle (mullet). Find out his answer now (opens in new tab): it's one of hundreds of interviews (opens in new tab) we've been diligently uploading to FourFourTwo.com.
14. Classic Cruyff (Jul 2009)
Only rarely does FourFourTwo go retro with its cover, but in 2009, it struck us like a thunderbolt that we’d never published an in-depth feature on Johan Cruyff. With Barcelona – the club he’d played for and then led to their first European Cup triumph – conquering all-comers, we put that to rights with an epic piece that explored the three stages of Cruyff: Player, Coach, Legend.
For the cover, we wanted – and got – an iconic shot of the Dutch Master at his peak: one of the most stylish, inspirational players ever, shimmering in brilliant orange.
15. Messi: the best in the world? (Aug 2009)
From the past to the present in one month: the very next issue after Cruyff won praise from readers and a nomination for Magazine Cover of the Year.
Leo Messi was on a roll: scorer of the winning goal in the Champions League final against Manchester United, he added that trophy to a domestic double as he finished the season with 38 goals and 18 assists in all competitions.
He told FourFourTwo his sights were now set on global glory: sure enough, by the end of the year, he’d beaten Cristiano Ronaldo by a record margin to win his first World Player of the Year award. Aesthetically, one of our best covers.
16. The Death of Brazil (Jul 2011)
Believe it or not, this cover story didn’t go down too well in the land of joga bonito with huge media coverage and not a little vitriol. Those in the know admitted we had a point, however. After all, who watches Brazil to see solid defending? As for those organising the World Cup… well, they just about made it. Can we claim any credit as a motivating force?
17. Introducing Neymar Jr (Aug 2012)
A year on, Brazil had new hope. Still learning his chops at Santos, young Brazilian hotshot Neymar was already shouldering the responsibility of being Brazil’s poster boy for a home World Cup, two years before the tournament.
When this issue dropped, his stock had risen to the level where big European clubs were taking more than a passing interest and European journalists were saying he’d have to leave Brazil to prove himself a world-class player.
At 20 years old, he was ready to ham it up for the camera and provide the perfect shot to go with our main cover line “Pressure? What pressure?” – a line that has since been trotted out by several commentators as Neymar wheels away from his scoring exploits during the World Cup. This was his first big piece in the global media and one that showed FourFourTwo knows a real star when it sees one.
18. Inside Europe’s Hottest Club (Mar 2013)
Every now and then a club comes along that captures the public imagination. In early 2013, that club was Borussia Dortmund. With their collection of young exciting players, swashbuckling counter-attacking style and lovably eccentric manager Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund tapped into the European football zeitgeist. They were the hipster’s choice and everyone else’s second favourite team.
The club granted us unprecedented access to its players, board and manager, while the story was expertly weaved by our long-time German correspondent and Dortmund season ticket holder, Uli Hesse. As if to prove that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, on seeing this cover, Bayern Munich agreed to an access-all-areas feature and cover treatment. Wunderbar.
19. Reservoir Dogs (Sep 2013)
Who will be the top dog in the Premier League? It was the question on everyone’s lips in the immediate aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shock decision to retire as manager of Manchester United. Seeking an answer to this question became the most compelling way to start the 2013/14 season.
Enter the contenders for the mantle of the Premier League’s new Godfather: Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Manuel Pellegrini, David Moyes, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas. Reprising the classic Reservoir Dogs movie poster, we took the gaffers of the Premier League’s top seven sides and asked: “In the year of the boss, who will become the new don?” The result was a captivating cover image, a timely story and our best-selling issue for years.
20. Ronaldo’s Party (Aug 2014)
What better way to celebrate 20 years of FFT than to ask Ronaldo, one of the best players of the last two decades, to edit FourFourTwo's birthday issue?
The Brazilian legend took time out of his busy pre-World Cup schedule to talk at length about his life and career, from the trauma of France 98 and the injuries that almost forced him to retire to whether he throws a better party than Roberto Carlos.
More than that though, he really got into editing the magazine. He made calls on features, helped determine the best 20 players of the FFT era and secured interviews with showbiz chums Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos. Cheers, gaffer.
What's in FourFourTwo's 20th birthday issue?
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