A lifelong Black Cats fan has landed his dream job editing his own SAFC fanzine. Katy Wheeler found out how the former airman went from dodging bullets to the beautiful game.
ONE minute he was on the phone in Kabul discussing interviews for the fanzine he co-founded, the next he was dealing with an attack on the embassy.
Such was the life of former RAF senior aircraftsman Mal Robinson as he juggled his role as a movements controller with editing Seventy3, a new magazine for Sunderland fans.
But just a year after its launch, Seventy3 has proved so successful that he’s been able to leave the forces to devote his time to editing the magazine which comes out every two months.
In his eight years in the Forces, Mal’s beloved Black Cats have informed much of the 32-year-old’s writing.
In 2007, he released the book From Afghanistan To Temazepam – The Diary Of An SAFC Foot Soldier, a diary of life as a football fan in theatre.
As SAFC fought for promotion to the Premiership, Mal was fighting the Taliban in Kandahar, some 3,500 miles from Wearside.
Serving both club and country proved to be a unique angle through which to look at the beautiful game.
Two years later, he linked up with ardent Newcastle United fan Barry Hindmarch and Middlesbrough fanzine editor Robert Nichols to release Auf Wiedersehen Lads, which looked at a season in the life of being a North East football fan.
But it is his latest venture, Seventy3, which Mal founded with pal Andrew Brewster, which has proved a literary dream come true.
“It’s great. I still can’t believe I get to do this for a living,” said the dad-of-one.
“I can’t get nagged about watching the football on TV any more, as I have to for my job.”
“I’d been freelance writing for about 15 years. Despite joining the RAF, I always kept the writing up and it helped when I was away from home to write about Sunderland.
“I’d been keeping a diary in Afghanistan at the same time Sunderland got promoted and it was published through A Love Supreme. I’m no JK Rowling, but people who’ve published similar style books say they’ve done well.
“I used to have a SAFC flag in my office over there, and the amount of people from all over who were Sunderland fans was unbelievable – it just goes to show it’s a global brand.”
Now Mal, who is dad to Molly, six months, can write his football features from the comfort of his Fulwell home, as opposed to in a war-torn Middle East airfield.
But whether at home or away, his love for the team he’s supported since he was a child never waivers.
Mal’s passion for the Black Cats is palpable and it’s one that translates into the pages of Seventy3, a retro celebration of his home-town team. Since launching in March last year, nearly 100 players have contributed to its stories and each themed edition features a guest editor from the Black Cat fraternity.
Micky Gray, Peter Reid, Kevin Phillips, Alex Rae and Charlie Hurley are just some of those who have occupied the editor’s chair for an edition.
A team of around 20 writers also contribute, helping it to sell around 4,000 copies per issue.
A chance meeting with a Black Cats daft businessman in Dubai and his subsequent investment in the product has fuelled the fanzine further and under the umbrella of Media 73, the group will this year launch Sixty6, a national retro England fanzine and Seventy2, which is aimed at Glasgow Rangers fans.
“The value of email is that I could edit when I was away from home as writers could send me their copy to proof read,” Mal explained.
“But to get to this point where I’ve been able to leave the Forces and be paid for my dream job, for something I used to do in my spare time – I still can’t believe it.
“I do miss the camaraderie you get with the lads when you’re in the RAF, but when the chance came to do this full-time I couldn’t turn it down.
“I also had my first baby in November so it means I can spend time with her, and I’ll be here to see her grow up which you don’t get to do when you’re in the Forces.”
When questioned about SAFC’S other major fanzine, he said: “Obviously there is also A Love Supreme but we’re very different products. We’re a retro magazine.”
He added: “Sometimes people say we’re not critical enough of the club but we’re not going to be critical just for the sake of it.
“We’re there to look back through the club’s history and celebrate it, rather than to have a go.”
l Seventy3 is available outside the Stadium of Light on match days and at newsagents and bars around the city.