Matchday programmes – soon to become a thing of the past?

Whilst football has continued during this pandemic, most clubs have produced an electronic matchday programme. As an avid programme collector, this has got me worried that clubs might continue to do this when we finally get back to ‘normality’.

A lot of stadiums have now got electronic turnstiles thus doing away with the amiable turnstile operator and the chance of small talk going through into the ground. More noticeably, the new season brought VAR to all Premier League games after being used in the World Cup. Whether it is a good thing or not is an entirely different subject but needless to say it is yet another way that the game is moving into the digital age.

In my opinion there is one part of the game that must always stay the same and never change and that is the matchday programme. Many clubs now have gone digital but most still produce paper programmes, however as of April 2018, Football League clubs are not obliged to print one for every match played. Barnet who play in the same league as my local club Aldershot do not print matchday programmes and as a result I do not bother going there. It is a shame as it is quite a local away day but there is nothing quite like going to a game and having a physical programme to show for your attendance.

One possible alternative that I found in the States when I went to a baseball match was to have a large brochure-style for the entire season but with a small insert for the day’s game. This would reduce the amount of wastage if any were left over. The thought of having a USB stick with the programmes from matches attended as opposed to a printed one is a hideous for me. Sadly, in about 50 years or so that will be how fan’s programmes will be stored. This is ideal for storage space in the house (my long-suffering wife will definitely appreciate having the cupboard in the front room back if clubs go completely digital) but I much prefer being able to go to my collection, flicking through the copious programmes and taking one out to read.

Music has long gone digital with iTunes and Spotify conveniently there to download your band’s latest album. However it is great to see so many people still going and using record shops to buy vinyl or CD despite music being available online.

From very humble beginnings of a single sheet with the team’s players listed and maybe a couple of adverts for local businesses in the late 1800’s to the present day glossy magazine style, the programme has been a part of the match. A programme being seen in poking out of a pocket or being read on a train or a pub is a real conversation starter. One quick “Oh so you went to the game?” and away you go talking about what the owner of the programme saw and what they thought of the game.

At my very first match, my Dad sought out a programme seller outside the East Stand at Arsenal’s former home Highbury and purchased two copies. He handed one to me and took the other one. He then told me that I should get one for every game I go to. 26 years later and I have kept to my word, filling a cupboard full of programmes from each of the 465 matches that I’ve been in part of the attendance!

For midweek games that I didn’t go to but Dad could, I was left with the knowledge that Dad would bring back a programme as a consolation. I knew that the programme from the match would be at my place on the breakfast table waiting for me to read. I don’t think Dad saying “If you’re good and go to bed when Mum tells you, then I will download tonight’s programme for you” would have had the same effect on me! Every programme from Dad was personalised by him with team changes that he had been written on the back. Dad always wrote the attendance down of the game on the back of the programme too.

No two football club’s programmes are exactly the same either. Part of the fun of turning up at an away ground is searching for a programme seller and seeing what the host team have to offer. I can see clubs might want to get rid of the printed programme though but it would be heartbreaking for them to become extinct.

Lower league clubs must hate having lots of programmes left over and having to throw them out and would consider it an expensive waste. Fans who are unable to get to the game could still get a programme by downloading one online. A way around it would be to have a reduced number of printed programmes on sale at the ground and a digital version available at the same price to download on the clubs official website?

Rosettes and rattles have become a thing of the past, fanzines are slowly disappearing from the streets around the grounds and going online but programmes have gone the distance.

Some things need to remain the same on matchdays despite the game rapidly evolving and for me, the humble programme is, as they have been for previous generations, an integral part of the match day.

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