An Explorer’s Guide to the Football Programme

Contributed by David Garreth Toms

Recently, I have begun to collect old football programmes. This is perhaps one of the more unusual hobbies in which one can engage, no doubt the kind likely to attract derision in some quarters. Of course, when I say that I have begun to collect football programmes, I mean I have been willing to pay money for programmes dating from long before I was born. I have been “collecting” – i.e. hoarding – programmes since I was quite young.

As I trawled through research on soccer over the past few months, it occurred to me that there might be programmes from around, or just after, the period in which I was interested. Sure enough, eBay has answered that question affirmatively. Thus far I have acquired six programmes. This is one of the two (the other is pictured above) for which I began this entire quest:

There is an entire world of programme collecting out there, and it doesn’t occur just online. There are fairs, exhibitions, collectors’ magazines and even a history of the football programme. According to an article published a decade ago in The Guardian, the trend for collecting match-day programmes was on the up.

As David Winner writes regarding soccer clubs and their history in Those Feet: An Intimate History of English Football: “The game floats on an ocean of nostalgia, sentimentality, tradition and myth in which its historicity is constantly invoked and celebrated. Fans speak without irony of their club’s ‘heritage’, ‘heroes’ and ‘legends’, and of their own part in the glory… it is a living symbol of stability and heritage.”

This is reflected not just in the vogue for the various paraphernalia of matches such as programmes but also in the recent vogue for replica retro jerseys, with two companies in the UK in particular leading the charge: Score Draw and TOFFS. I first came across TOFFS in the David Winner book quoted above and am now the proud owner of a Manchester United jersey circa 1920.
This vogue for retro jerseys is not confined to soccer and certainly not to the UK. For instance, TOFFS carries retro jerseys of Shelbourne, Bohemians and Waterford United. Not to be outdone, the GAA have also followed suit in recent years – Retro GAA offers a full range of jerseys from counties gloried pasts.

So, what value do these programmes have for the historian? Certain programmes have more value attached to them depending on the collector and what kind of a collection they are working towards. In my own mind, I see them as being valuable because they can provide the kind of detailed information about a club’s record during a given season that one is unlikely to find elsewhere – things like top scorer inside the club, the competitions in which those goals were scored, and many more seemingly banal things besides. The advertisements to be found inside them are also pretty interesting – notably cigarette advertisements and alcohol advertisements.

In Ireland programme collecting is still a passion but relatively less so compared to that of the UK: so few people follow League of Ireland with the same kind of fanaticism that can be found in the UK. One of the real pleasures that comes with collecting programmes in Ireland is in rooting out programmes belonging to clubs that have long since folded – St. James’ Gate, Jacobs, Transport, Evergreen United, Cork Athletic and so on. This sense of collecting documentary evidence of an otherwise non-existent part of a sport’s history is enchanting in the extreme.

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7 Responses to “An Explorer’s Guide to the Football Programme”

  1. Budapestkick Says:

    I don’t think it’s particularly odd to collect programmes, especially when you could be forking out as much as a fiver for one. I’d be curious to know if any clubs (soccer, GAA, rugby etc.) hang onto programmes themselves or if it’s entirely down to collectors to preserve them. It would be a tragedy for documents like these to vanish.

  2. David Toms Says:

    Well I clearly don’t either – some clubs do hang on to them definitely. I know my local club Waterford United do so that if you miss any from last season you can buy them in the club shop to be sure you’re collection hasn’t any holes in it! In general though it seems that it’s very much up to the individual.

  3. Shirley Says:

    For the love of God, keep writing these atilrces.

  4. David Toms Says:

    Thanks Shirley! 🙂

  5. From The Archives: Waterford FC v Manchester United FC « The True Ball Says:

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