One of the few magical shops that were often an enjoyment for me when I was growing up in the United Kingdom was the local newsagents. The store, which would sell an assortment of things such as newspapers, magazines, confectionary, lottery tickets, drinks, greetings cards and much more was one of the most exciting places I would visit when I was a child. Going there meant I could browse through the newspapers, pick up a copy of the latest soccer magazines and, if I was behaving well that day, get a chocolate bar.
Even after I moved to the States when I was a teenager and, years later as a young adult, returned to England or Wales to visit relatives, one of the things I’d look forward to the most was going into a newsagents. As a child, there were always treasures to be found such as Panini stickers, a new plastic football, different sweets, a bottle of Lucozade and more. But my main vice was the reading material. As a child and young adult, I loved reading newspapers and magazines. I definitely had an insatiable thirst for knowledge at a pretty young age and it was one of the reasons I studied journalism in college and became a freelance reporter after graduating.
In the town where I lived in Wales, we were fortunate to have two newsagents just down the road from each other. Both shops were always a busy place in the morning as people ran in to grab a newspaper, cigarettes and a pint of milk, among other things. From a very young age, I had a subscription to a few different magazines including Shoot, Match Weekly, Roy Of The Rovers and Beano. The newsagents had a cubby hole behind the counter where they kept the subscriptions. Each week, as soon as the magazine delivery would arrive, they’d sort the magazines and write the person’s name in pencil on the magazine and then would place it in the cubby hole until I came in that week to pay for the issues. If I remember correctly, the magazines were delivered on a Thursday, so I had a chance to read them before the weekend’s football matches. Many hours were spent memorizing a lot of the statistics in Match Weekly. And, at the time in the early 80s, their inclusion of player ratings for each team was a trendsetter and often a point of disagreement between my cousin and I regarding how accurate the numbers were.
When I returned to the United Kingdom on vacation, walking into a newsagent felt like being a kid in a candy store. The quantity of soccer books, magazines and articles in newspapers seemed enormous especially compared to what I found in US bookstores. I would end up walking out of a UK newsagents after spending what seemed like a king’s ransom on all of the glossy soccer magazines I bought as well as broadsheet newspapers, books and more. And, if you were lucky to find a newsagents that was slow in sending back returns, you would sometimes find some dusty old soccer book or Rothman’s Book which the newsagent didn’t realize they had. Plus, as I got older, I ended up buying copies of New Musical Express and Melody Maker which added more weight (and expense) to my reading habits.
Whenever I stayed at one of my relatives homes during the summer, I often volunteered to go down to the shop to grab a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. Not only to do a favor for the family, but it also gave me a chance to spend a little time in the newsagents as I perused the headlines that screamed off the front pages of the national newspapers. Plus, the local newsagents – which often were found on a street corner – were the center of activity in town.
What always astounds me when looking through a newsagents in the UK is how many magazines there are. For such a small country, there seems like a disproportionately larger number of magazines available than in the States. Even the number of children’s magazines is mind boggling.
While newsagents still can be found across Great Britain, the popularity of these shops is declining with an estimated 10 newsagents closing each week due to competition from supermarkets and coffee shops. With more reading done in digital form and the popularity of coffee shops in the UK, it’s quite possible that newsagents will eventually become as rare as finding a fish’n chip shop. Newsagents will still serve an important place in society, especially in small towns, and I don’t see print newspapers going away completely especially in a country like the United Kingdom where so many people read. But slowly and surely, newsagents will become part of a dying breed and thus will end the joy for children to uncover all of the soccer-fueled delights that I experienced when I was a child, too.