Interview: Founder Ally Palmer on the future of Nutmeg Magazine

June 7, 2017


Amidst all the new faces in Scottish football at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, one was perhaps more surprising than all the rest. In an age where print media is struggling to attract new readers – and is losing many of its older ones – a new print publication, solely focused on the Scottish game, appeared.

Nutmeg Magazine has become one of the successes of the campaign. The football periodical was first released in September 2016 and now, as the season draws to a close, has released its fourth issue.

The brainchild of Ally Palmer, with the support of business partner Terry Watson, Nutmeg appeared on the Scottish football scene seemingly fully-formed. As editorial consultants, Palmer Watson had developed an international reputation for re-designing newspapers across the world, but Palmer especially was keen to branch out from the shrinking sector.

“I’ve been pretty lucky in my work, doing what I do,” explains Palmer in a deceptively loud coffee shop near Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, “but you reach a stage when you’ve done it so long, you need something else to give you another little push. I thought about what I like – I love Scottish football, I love design – and I’ve combined those things into something that excites me as well,” he says over the pop music pumping through the speakers, and the whoosing and clanking of the coffee machines.

For the benefit of those who have never seen an issue of Nutmeg, it’s clear that it’s been created by people with an eye for stylish design. The front cover is both simple and striking – it includes only the publication’s name, a tease of the featured content and a large number denoting the issue, set against a plain, white background. There are no football-related drawings (as appear on The Blizzard, another football periodical); no pictures of footballers in their sponsored kit, smiling beatifically. Nothing, in fact, to immediately identify it as a football publication other than the name itself (a reference to, as the website states, ‘a cheeky skill we all appreciate’).

“I’ve deliberately tried to make it look unlike any football publication,” says Palmer. “We kept saying it was all about the writers and the writing, so the design is deliberately straightforward.”

Something of a cross between a book and a magazine, Nutmeg also adheres to Palmer’s beliefs inside the cover – aside from occasional photo essays, pictures are secondary to the written word. It’s a similar approach to that taken by The Blizzard.

Begun by respected football journalist Jonathan Wilson and two business partners in 2011, The Blizzard filled a gap within the UK football media for longer-form articles on world football. From features on ‘The Sad Success of Dinamo Tibilisi’ to polemics on ‘The Point of Football Writing’, it offered articles which readers wouldn’t necessarily find on The Guardian website, or inside Four Four Two. It focused on high-quality, well-researched pieces and wasn’t afraid of niche subjects.

“I still subscribe to The Blizzard,” says Palmer enthusiastically, “and every time I get it, there’s a thrill about opening it. I wanted to do a similar thing for a Scottish audience.” Indeed, Palmer sought out Wilson for advice in the early stages and says both he and his fellow directors were open and honest about what was required to create such a publication.

“The fact The Blizzard are out there is encouraging, but also that they have so little on Scottish football. I’m also an avid reader of The Guardian football pages and their podcast, but are they interested in Scottish football? The number of times I’ll listen to the podcast and I’ll get angry because they patronise us.”

“[What Nutmeg is doing is] exactly what The Terrace is doing, and what Tell Him He’s Pele was doing. We’re saying Scottish football is a serious subject. We know it can be shit at times, but we’re still interested in it week to week, month to month, year to year. It’s still full of great stories.”

Stories like that of Greenock Morton’s incredible collapse in 2004; the sensational Queen’s Park team of 2006/07, or the great monkey gland mystery, Nutmeg embraces the niche aspects of Scottish football. “Off-piste is the stuff I want to read about, admits Palmer, an avid Ayr United fan. It’s about what’s happening slightly off the beaten track, or from a different angle.”

The new issue, the fourth, features a whole host of articles that hit the brief. From a look at Montrose’s 21-year stay in League Two, to Airdrie’s Spanish armada, to Clackmannanshire’s Association Football League, there is plenty not covered within the pages of the national media.

While The Blizzard can tap into limitless tales from around the globe though, some would question whether there are enough stories within Scottish football to sustain a periodical. Will the stories ever run out?

“I don’t think so,” says Palmer with a degree of confidence. “Not when you consider the number of articles that have been submitted to us. Even personally, I’m constantly thinking of stories that might work.

“Scottish football history is huge and rich and we could go on forever filling Nutmeg with stuff about the history of the game, but I’m also really conscious of not doing that. I want us to feel contemporary. Even though there are great stories there, I want Nutmeg to be part of the discussion on the game today and where it should be going.”

Features such as issue 4’s on the utilisation of statistics in football, for instance, fall into that category and, to date, there have been essays on youth development, financial stability and referees.

For a publication focussed on the writing, Palmer has made a conscious decision not to limit features to those from weel-kent figures within the football establishment. For every Stuart Cosgrove, Richard Winton or Michael Grant, there has been a writer the reader won’t know.

“Having ‘names’ obviously helps – every established name that’s contributed has done it to support us – but it was important for me that we discovered new voices,” says Palmer. “The reader probably wants the names to assure them about the quality, but if you fill the issues with people they can read every day, I don’t think they’d be as interested in subscribing.

“Of the articles we’ve published, probably about a dozen have just been sent in speculatively. For instance, I didn’t know at the time that the author of the Bert Slater piece in Issue 2 [J. David Simons] is a published author. I read the piece – it was brilliant – and I put it straight in the next issue, right at the front.”

Nutmeg had been launched as a Kickstarter campaign initially, publicised by journalists within the game – “it felt like being in a political party trying to garner votes,” says Palmer of his attempts to convince journalists to support the project – and once the requisite funds had been reached, a request went out for submissions. Submissions continue to stream in and Palmer talks enthusiastically about keeping that approach going. “I hope it continues,” he says. “It’s one of the main reasons for doing Nutmeg; I’ll keep stressing that it’s about the writers.”

Nutmeg is, in effect, Palmer’s baby. While his colleague, Watson, supported in the early stages, Palmer has had to learn a host of new skills to produce and deliver the periodical. “When I did the first issue of Nutmeg, that was the first time I’d done editing and the first time I’ve ever published anything. I had to keep that quiet when I was launching it,” he admits.

Now supported by a small group who offered their editing services – and who allow Palmer to bounce ideas around with – it has allowed him to think further than the confines of the page.

“We’re planning our first podcast for June and we hope to do one for each issue. It’s a natural extension of what we’re currently doing, but it’ll be nothing like The Terrace’s, or The Guardian’s, or any other. It’ll probably be more magazine-like; more like a radio show with features. It’s a different way to get a different style of content out there without being restricted to print form.”

Podcasting might just be the beginning of Palmer’s expansion plans. He’s considered moving into books – and indeed has helped published a new poetry anthology* – and other, even grander, ideas. “One was to have something similar to the Manchester Football Writing Festival in Scotland. Getting people together under the umbrella of Nutmeg, coming together to talk about football writing. It would be complicated but it’s worth considering.”

The Periodical remains the bedrock of what Nutmeg does – and Palmer is aware there are plenty of potential subscribers still to reach – but this relative newcomer is fast on its way to establishing itself as a Scottish football fixture.

Written by Andy Harrow

*Mind the Time is a poetry anthology published to make money for Football Memories Scotland. It is released on 7th June and is available from the Nutmeg website here:

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