Football Matchday Programme

With every man, women or child, each and every one of us have different memories throughout our lives. Some of us have better memories than the next person, some can be quite forgetful, others have quite good detailed memories of certain events and even in the most mundane of everyday occurrences.

However, when it comes to the ‘First’ event in our lives, it would be fairly apparent that even the most forgetful of us would be able to recall incidents or the faintest memory of the first time they drove a car, first time having that sumptuous well-earned legal alcoholic beverage, first day at school, first time having sex, first day at work, or whatever first is significant to the relevant person at whatever stage in their lives.

But for a football supporter, the first time they were taken to their first live football match will be cast like stone and chiselled into the memory banks.

For a football supporter, most would be able to recall the smells, the journey to the ground, the conversations being had or that wonderful moment of walking into the ground, up the stairs and looking out on to that pitch. That magnificent lawn of dreams where anything and almost everything can happen over the next ensuing 90 minutes.

Now, whether you are a season ticket holder or a fleeting visitor to the theatre of your dreams, those first memories never leave you. The journey to the ground may differ from week to week, year on year, and the conversations may differ from game to game and year on year. But those smells, the anticipation of what may unfold and that feeling of looking out on the field of play never leave you, football from the first moment that it catches you in its tentacles, almost makes us feel like the seven-year-old within, no matter how old you are.

The memories brought home are of the entire day of course. However, the memories that submerge themselves in the sub-conscious are off the football match that took place before us, but the only memory that we can touch, that we can feel and we can emerge ourselves in, is possibly the greatest gift that can come of visiting a football ground(besides the football of course), is that of the beautifully simple but so wonderfully thought out Matchday Programme.

Here at Tales Of Two Halves, for this month’s look into the simple things in football life, we take a look at the wonderfully simple Matchday Programme.

On June 8 2018, English Football League teams cast a vote and decided that EFL teams are no longer obliged to print matchday programmes for every match played after the league’s annual general meeting.

Football Programmes had been mandatory as a result of a partnership and sponsorship agreements held by the EFL. However, Championship, League One, and League Two clubs can now make a decision on a match-by-match basis.

There’s so much news that people are accessing instantly through their phones now. I can see how it’s a struggle at lower levels to keep the programmes fresh, it makes the economics of it tough’, spoke Dr. Alexander Jackson, collections officer at the National Football Museum.

‘Future programmes will probably be accessed digitally so, in a sense, they won’t go away, they’ll mutate with technology.

‘The EFL will continue to produce programmes for all of its major matches including the Carabao Cup Final and all three play-off finals.’

Now it is that last sentence, turn of phrase call it what you will, that football programmes ‘they won’t go away, they’ll mutate with technology’. It is a perfectly understandable viewpoint that, especially at the lower levels of our wonderful and much envied football pyramid that money is tight and budgets are stretched beyond belief past the playing staff, but is it also a credible argument that a certain amount of football programmes could be printed.

While it is logical to suggest that not every football supporter in a football ground hasn’t purchased a programme, it would also be logical to suggest that most football supporters have indeed purchased one.

The humble football programme started life way back in the 1880’s as a simple scorecard, which in essence would be a sheet dated with team names and the players and the positions they played.

The first club to begin publishing a football programme – or scorecard – was Aston Villa. The Villa News and Record, even from its title can be construed that from its very first publication, was certainly going to be more than just a scorecard. It was, from its inception, was almost encouraging the supporter to form a collection, as it was in the form of a journal with a different number, different volume for each week and each season.

For the collectors among us, it is widely understood that pre-war and early 1950’s matchday programmes are far rarer, this was due to the recycling for paper shortages as part of the rationing and times of post-war austerity.

The football programme has naturally evolved over the years, with the modern programme consisting of far more colour, information, and glossy pages than its post-1950’s predecessors. Although, the size hasn’t increased that significantly. For instance, United Review, the official matchday programme of Manchester United has remained, in the main, the same size throughout the course of time, with slight adjustments added.

The size being that every supporter could conveniently fit them into his or her pocket, The FA Cup Final programme, however, has retained its rather inconvenient A4 size. Fans can testify that a Cup Final programme is possibly one of the most inconvenient items to carry during a football match. It is one less hand for a pint, you see!

Of the most notable, or rather most sought-after football programmes, most of us would quantify that the ‘1966 World Cup Final’ programme would be among the most costly of Christmas presents to purchase for the programme collector in the family. It is certainly one of the most sought-after, but not among the rarest and certainly not the most expensive. This partly due to the number of re-prints(two), with the original being heavier than the newer version and an inside advert for Players No.6(Cigarettes for the younger readers among us) is abundantly different to the original.

The most sought-after and rare football programmes among avid collectors are those from FA Cup Finals. For instance, the first ever FA Cup Final held at Wembley in 1923 is much rarer than of the 1966 World Cup Final, and at auction would see collectors part with up £1000. Others of that era, such as the 1927 FA Cup Final, is one much sought after, as it was the first and only time that the FA Cup has left England when Cardiff City beat Arsenal. But the most expensive FA Cup Final programme to date is the 1924 edition, as legend has it that due to the torrential rain that was bestowed on Wembley that afternoon, a large portion of the crowd used the programme to shield themselves from the conditions, hence why only a few remain.

The most expensive Football programme to date sold at auction was that of the 1882 FA Cup Final between Blackburn Rovers and Old Etonians (no Jacob Rees Mogg was not up front despite reports). It sold for an astounding £35,250 at Sotheby’s and was presented to Old Etonians Football Club in May 2013.

Other FA Cup Final programmes, more recently as the 1993 replay and 1996 are well known to fetch in excess of three-figure sums, that of the domestic club scene. Perhaps the most famous club programme to date is that of the Manchester United v Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup game in February 1958. This was Manchester United’s first game after the Munich Air Disaster and as a mark of respect, the Manchester United team layout was blank.

So, football supporters have been collecting matchday programmes since the inception of association football back in the 1880’s, even before the formation of league football in 1888. It isn’t just the content or the design of a particular club’s programme, it is the memories that they conjure up, the incidents of a specific game, and even the smell of the programme can take you back. It is a very powerful and emotional thing.

It is with great hope that the football programme continues to part of our football ritual and our football culture. While everything in life is seemingly moving towards the digital age, it is hoped that the simple, humble but the magnificent football programme can remain one of those time old traditions that isn’t confined to a digital link.

That seven-year-old still inside us holds this simple tradition dear to our hearts.

What will become of the football programme remains to be seen, but we can all say, that in the years ahead, we can still reach into our pocket, and pull out our programme before kick-off.