A Football365 love letter to…football programmes

Date published: Friday 2nd February 2018 1:02

A Love Letter to…those papery things we’ve always bought outside of football grounds, which contain a load of guff from the manager and adverts for the local butchers. That’ll be football programmes, then.


Why the love?
Football programmes have been in existence, in one form or another, since pretty much the start of the game in UK, the first ones appearing in the mid 1880s, beginning as single sheets designed to be used as a scorecard such as this from 1898.

That’s how they were for many years. There was no manager’s message, or indeed anything else.

Even the first Wembley FA Cup Final was a single sheet, albeit a rather elegantly designed one. These now sell for up to £1100 but cost three old pennies in 1923.

Historically, the price of the Wembley programme was about one shilling for nearly 20 years until the advent of decimal coinage in 1971 when it doubled to 10p. As recently as 1981 it was less than £1 and in 1987 it was only £2 but by 2007 it was 150 pages long and cost you a cool 10 sheets.

Over the years they evolved to have interviews with players and a message from the manager, quizzes and all manner of other stuff, including advertising. The clubs have always included ads from local businesses to bring in a bit of extra cash. Also, a great feature when I was a lad was the list of other games being played, all assigned a letter, which was then mirrored in the ground on matchday. At half and full time, someone would put the scores next to the letter and if you didn’t have the programme, you didn’t know who was beating whom 4- 0 alongside ‘B’.

The beautiful thing about matchday programmes was that there was no standard size or format. Some were little black and white A5 booklets, others bigger with colour pictures. Lower league clubs were slim affairs. I always loved smaller programmes. They fitted in your duffle coat pocket and suited a young boy’s small hand.

Some had hand-drawn illustrations on the front, some were a plain colour with just text, others had a black and white photo. In recent years they do tend to look more similar because of the advent of desktop publishing and Photoshop.

The constant content through the years has been the team sheet. And that’s why we still all buy them, really.

It’s interesting that even now, in the digital age, the programme seller remains one of cornerstone cultures of football, at all levels: an important part of the architecture of the game. Even at local amateur games, you often get a team sheet, just as you did in the 19th century.

It occurs to me that I’ve never known a programme seller and I’ve never seen the job of programme seller advertised. Is it a job passed down the generations? How do you become one?

As I say, the modern programme tends to be a glossy, Photoshopped affair, but it is still where the manager can have his say, direct to the fans. And most importantly of all, if you’re lucky, it lists the players who will take to the pitch, with unerring accuracy.

Even though all this information is available on your phone, somehow an object you can hold in your hand and then take home and store is still a must-buy for many. Also, you don’t have to use up any of your data searching for the name of the Albion Rovers left-back, especially as wifi in some grounds can be poor. There are times when a simple glance at the programme is still the most efficient technology to deploy.


Superhero skills
Last week talkSPORT’s Tony Incenzo talked to Danny Kelly about his passion for collecting football programmes and memorabilia. It was a fascinating chat and one which, if you’re a collector of any sort, you’d enjoy, if you can find it to hear again.

Basically, you’re either a collector or you’re not. If it’s where your head is at, like me, you could probably find joy in collecting almost anything. In the early 80s I had a really good collection of packaging and labels off cans! Today, I limit myself to collecting records, but when I was a youth, I collected programmes from Boro games I went to, but also I would buy others by mail order. I had some early 60s & 70s copies from clubs I liked at the time, mostly Hull City, Leeds United, Carlisle United. York City and even some Chelsea (I loved their early 70s side).

I preferred getting ones that were at least 10 years old because they told you so much about an era that to me, as an 11-year-old, seemed long gone. It was one of the ways I learned about the history of the game, of players and managers. Also the adverts gave you a window into a bygone era. Programmes are sport, history, art and culture, all rolled into one thing. This one from 1909 when Everton and Liverpool had, amazingly, a joint programme, the cover of which is an ad for 25 and 30 shilling overcoats from Beaty Bros. Ltd, who are now long gone. It’s a fantastic window back in time.

Collecting programmes from games you’ve gone to is an irresistible way of marking your progression through life. They are bookmarks in your timeline of existence. Programmes help connect you directly to the club. They are an artifact that documents your own personal history. Because you kept the programme, you know where you were on that very day in your life, even 50 years later, and in that respect they are a sort of diary: personal and intimate.

There’s something very human, very warm and analogue about collecting programmes. They allow you to look back and re-experience different times and different ages of the club and of society too.

They have emotional value and, in some cases, monetary value too. Especially if you’ve got a mint copy of one of the 3,500 limited edition 1966 World Cup Final programmes which came in a black card sleeve. They’re selling for up to £10,000!


Style guru?
As they were all so varied, and presented in no especially common style, it meant when you saw one during an away match, it seemed so exotic if it was really different from the one your own club produced. A bit like discovering that one of your mates had his Sunday dinner at 3pm when you had yours at noon, and it had never occured to you that it was even possible to have your Sunday dinner at 3pm.

Today, because it is so much easier to produce a professional-looking product, they perhaps lack the soul and individual creativity that they once had. This from the early 60s is a good example. Someone had to draw that. It was a one-off made for this match.

In comparison, a pin sharp colour photo of your striker perhaps just isn’t as romantic. And yet, if you’re a Liverpool fan, this from 1997/98 would still have stirred the blood and got you excited for the game.

The ‘Carling Premiership’. The old Liverpool badge. A young Michael Owen. Sheffield Wednesday in the top flight. Absolutely beautiful.

Oh, and Liverpool won that match 2-1 with Paul Ince and Michael Thomas scoring. Knowledge is power.

A common approach especially in the 50s and early 60s was to make it look like a frame from a football story in a comic.

This was was for the famous 1960 European Cup final between Eintracht Frankfurt and Real Madrid. Alfredo di Stefano scored three goals and Ferenc Puskas netted four. There were question marks over the awarding of a second-half penalty, but there was no VAR in sight. What a shame.

By contrast this was last year’s Champions League Final programme – a far more self-important thing which critics might say is utterly devoid of humility and humanity more akin to a luxury car branding than football.




What The People Say
Not a high volume of responses this week, possibly because it is the older generation who loves programmes and who have archived them in their own personal life museum, and they’re not part of the Twitterati quite so much. Also, I know people who are reluctant to be public about their collecting habit, be it of programmes or anything else, for fear of public opprobrium. People can be disparaging of us as nerdy weirdos, but I’m here to tell you that it is 100% always nerdy weirdos who are the most interesting people. Why some find it necessary to mock people who just have a deep passion for something, I’ve never understood. It’s nasty, cruel and ignorant. Not having a passion is surely the least cool of all lifestyles, even though those people have no idea of this absolute truth. Even so, I did get some lovely comments.

‘The finest era ever for buying programmes was when you got not just a programme but a free copy of Football League Review which opened up whole new insights into the game – halycon days.’

‘As a kid I used to insist that I was bought one and now being a fully grown adult with life commitments I feel that the whole experience is not the same if I don’t get one.’

‘Also the last bastion of dead tree media in football. The manager’s notes are never put online by any club.’

‘The quality of programme remains a decent barometer of the respect a club holds for its fans. Do they deserve well written content and professional – or even quality contemporary – design. Or shall we phone it in like we always have?’

‘At Non-League games it’s often the only way to read a proper match report and it’s helpful to have a team list to refer to.’

‘What I love about programmes is their basic format hasn’t changed in generations – eg, the manager’s notes have to start by saying’ Today we welcome etc etc’ and end with ‘Enjoy the game and have a safe journey home.’

‘On a tangential note the role of a programme seller, especially at lower levels, is a curious one – willing to pitch in and help the club they support but in a role that means they often miss a fair part of the game.’

‘One of my favourite stories is Stuart Pearce still advertising his leccy business in the match-day programme despite having just joined Forest.   Was intriguing at lower level football especially to see players sponsored by local greengrocers or builders.’

‘Personal and professional memories, first premiership game at Old Trafford and first time to see my ad work in print in a United Review.’

‘Are they a largely British thing? I recall going to Bundesliga games 15 years ago (largely Bayern) and they didn’t do them. Though for some games you got fans who’d made up their own home made ones to sell for a couple of marks.’

‘I love looking at old ones of matches I went to as a kid in the 80’s. I can remember the game normally from the programme and I love the old adverts and kit… seemed more innocent and wholesome. Remember them being about 80p too!!’

‘Even though I’m not fussed about actually reading them. I get one for every game I go to in order to continue the family collection my Dad started in the ’60s.’

‘I remember in Match magazine you could send off for a bundle of old programmes. You’d get about 5 or so completely random ones but as a child I found them fascinating, a little window into the world of other teams apart from your own.’

(This is from a chap called Steve Bennett. I felt his words and his happy expression in the photo sum up everything this piece is about)

‘Went to a programme fair for first time ever last year – got a programme from my first ever game, Gas versus Shrewsbury, September 1966. Curiously seeing same fixture this weekend. Can’t express how happy getting that programme made me. So, for me, programmes are memory modules, worth digging out to take you back, they are like album covers are to music. If that makes me sound a nerd so be it.’



Future days
While the metaphysical digital world is all-consuming, as a species we still need to feel connected to something physical and programmes are perfect for that. In an era where everything is disposable – from electrical appliances to information to morality – the football programme will survive because it helps keep us rooted and, if looked after well, will do so for the rest of our lives. That is priceless. The fact that no club of any size at all has stopped printing a programme reflects their ongoing popularity and the degree to which they’re affectionately embedded in our culture.

There are a few books about the history of programmes, this is a recent one and will delight if you’re fan of programmes.

John Nicholson


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