Football programmes turn the page in a digital world

Programme seller Damien Dewar at his usual pitch outside The Falkirk Stadium before Saturday's match against Brechin City. Picture: Alan Murray

Programme seller Damien Dewar at his usual pitch outside The Falkirk Stadium before Saturday's match against Brechin City. Picture: Alan Murray

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In an age of smartphones and social media, you could be forgiven for believing the football programme is a relic of a bygone era when supporters wore bunnets and stood on open terraces.

But the reality is different. The humble programme has always changed with the times; from little more than a folded A4 teamsheet to the glossy mini-magazines of the present day.

You may no longer rely on a club publication to tell you the day’s team news when you’ve already spent 20 minutes browsing twitter, but for many people buying one remains an essential part of their matchday ritual.

Falkirk’s own publication still enjoys healthy sales - around 600 for games against smaller teams and up to 1500 when Rangers or Hearts come calling.

And the internet has helped boost the number of copies sold.

“eBay has been a blessing,” said Gordon McFarlane, editor of the Falkirk programme, ‘The Navy Blue’. “All of our copies are for sale online after each game, as many fans abroad want them. We sell 50-100 more copies that way.”

BILL HENRY,SPORT,10/8/2000, BRIAN DONALD FOR  WORDS,  'DUNCAN  FORBES  FROM  SPORTSCOTLAND  IS  AN  AVID  FOOTBALL PROGRAMME  COLLECTOR  HERE  WE  SEE  HIM  WITH  A  FEW  OF  HIS  SCOTLAND  V  ENGLAND  FROM  DAYS  GONE  BYE.

BILL HENRY,SPORT,10/8/2000, BRIAN DONALD FOR WORDS, 'DUNCAN FORBES FROM SPORTSCOTLAND IS AN AVID FOOTBALL PROGRAMME COLLECTOR HERE WE SEE HIM WITH A FEW OF HIS SCOTLAND V ENGLAND FROM DAYS GONE BYE.

McFarlane, who produces the programme with around six regular volunteers, believes the key to survival in the digital age is producing original content - and knowing your readership.

“It’s got to be football, football, football,” he said. “Current first team stars and fans’ favourites from the past are obvious. But it doesn’t just need to be about Falkirk - there are so many talking points in the game. You need a balanced view.”

Part-time clubs such as East Stirlingshire must keep a cautious eye on all expenditure, but producing a programme is something they remain fully committed to.

“It’s certainly more cost-effective for us to do all the production in-house,” explained secretary Tadek Kopszywa. “I know a lot of smaller clubs do it that way rather than hire a commercial printer.

“The programme’s a labour of love for our editor, Tim Oliver, who not only writes the content but does all the page layout himself. We are lucky, I suppose, to have someone who wants to do the job and who enjoys doing it.

“I know some clubs have stopped, or are thinking about stopping production, but we have had our own supporters approach us and encourage us to keep on producing.

“We have no plans either to go down the monthly magazine route as some have done. We will continue with a programme for each game.

“Some clubs have cited economic pressures for stopping publication but that’s not really an issue for us.

“Our programme has evolved in response to the challenge of new media and is much more of a ‘guide to the game’ than a news magazine, with the news element now more of a function of the official website.

“I suppose it’s a case of adapt and survive - and our programme will survive as long as someone’s willing to put the effort in.”

The continuing popularity of such publications is also driven by a thriving collector’s market.

Paul Matz, editor of trade bible ‘Programme Monthly’, sees a long-term future for matchday magazines for that reason.

“Most programmes continue to sell very well, although the standard expected these days is an issue for some smaller clubs,” he explained.

“Collecting programmes continues to be a popular hobby. There’s an increasing number of specialist auctions and values of most older programmes attract significant amounts. For example, a rare programme for the England v Scotland match on April 5, 1913 sold for £4500 last week.”

A collection of programmes need not just be a nostalgic exercise. They also provide a window to a world of football now vanished, and offer examples of how wider society has changed over time through adverts for otherwise forgotten businesses, hairstyles and fashions.

They can also provide a source of amusement.

Miles McClagan posts regular programme articles, largely from the 1980s and 1990s, on his popular twitter account @TheSkyStrikers.

The St Mirren fan, who now lives in Hobart, Australia, has an eye for spotting weird and wonderful commercial tie-ups from the past - such as the late Sandy Jardine promoting the ‘Offical Scotland Medallion’ of the 1978 World Cup or Elton John signing autographs in the Grimsby Town dressing room.

“We would lose so much if we lost football programmes,” the 36-year-old said. “What if you wanted to know what (1980s Chelsea legend) John Bumstead thought of society?

“How else would you discover what kind of prizes ‘Match of the Day’ used to dish out to players - for example, George Burley winning a Tesco voucher?

“A collection of programmes is a wonderful thing. It’s a social history. If clubs stopped making them, we would lose all of that.”