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Matchday programmes are sacred — losing them is larceny

As more clubs cut back on editions, or even shut down their matchday programmes altogether, football is in danger of robbing its own future.

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This article first appeared in Issue 22 which was published in December 2021.

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Buying a programme is a pleasure delayed. It is a small investment in a simple gladness that will take years to mature; a patient kind of happiness.

Coventry City away, five to three, and the programme seller rattles her empty stall over players’ car park tarmac. It makes the sound of faraway thunder and startles a pensioner who looks as though he’s been shuffling to the ground since last week. She’ll not have to cry “Programmes! Programmes!” on repeat for another fortnight. Her stock rests now curled up in the back pockets of jeans, wedged uneasily into inner compartments of jackets, or as the roommate of a thermos flask in a Roy Cropper shopping bag only ever used on matchdays.

The programme is a ritual.

By the turnstiles, a boy passes a copy to his father. They both know that the expression on the son’s face says: “Look after that, won’t you?” By tomorrow, it’ll be neatly stacked on top of all his others, the final act of the ceremony for now; in a few months, a few years, a few decades he will look at it again and remember that day, that game, that way his dad used to hoist him when their team scored.

Buying a programme is a pleasure delayed. It is a small investment in a simple gladness that will take years to mature; a patient kind of happiness. No wonder then, that our times and some of our clubs are nudging them out of fashion.

On some Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, I am with my daughter outside Easter Road. There is no seller opposite St Clair Street and no seller by the ticket office. I fret that there will be a gap in the pile in her bedroom, the pile of green and red spines among Stick Man and a hungry tiger and the BFG. There is relief when I remember the programme shop on Albion Road; there is disbelief when we get to our seats and I read on my phone that Hibs programmes are no more.

It is a larceny and a mistake. It robs the future. It prevents some contended hour in a quarter of a century, lost in the beauty of the double-spread, with its home games in bold and its aways faint, its attendance figures and its current league position column.

Matchday programmes connect us to the past

Nothing on the internet looks that good. Neither can an app be held and nor will a tweet ever smell of matchday. The paper ticket may soon enough cease to exist, too, and we might ask what physical remnants of the game there will eventually come to be – a lanyard from that fixture spent in hospitality? A debit card receipt from that £4 hot dog?

Football shall leave very little trace. One day we will be sad that we lost these droplets of recall, these pin badge prompts and autograph book soothers.

Nothing, though, is inevitable. All is not yet lost. The future is untyped. And in the meantime, there’s that cardboard box in the loft, sitting there and ready to take you back to Pittodrie in ’73, Love Street in ’92…

This article first appeared in Issue 22 which was published in December 2021.

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