When programmes really meant something

SITTING ON a coach going to an away game can often be tedious for those who struggle to sit still for a few hours. Having done precisely that for the best part of 30 years, the ordeal of travelling on motorways, and visiting the purveyors of poor quality food that are service stations no longer appeals to me.

However, the trip to Barwell in Leicestershire was different, thanks to a vanity case full of yellowing match programmes that brought back such glorious memories of my early years following football. Ironically, Barwell didn’t produce a printed programme for their game against Hitchin, they opted for the online route, but we had dozens of pre-Premier League editions to glance at.

We’re strange creatures, us football folk. Our addiction invariably lasts a lifetime, from those infantile days when we pretend that we’re Bobby Tambling, George Best or Jimmy Greaves in the playground, to our late middle age when we no longer care to sit in the frozen stand for a midweek game. We live in hope of seeing something relevant, a game that goes beyond the mediocre and uninteresting.

Given that most games do not give us much in the way of thrills and spills, regardless of what the TV pundits and commentators might try to tell us at times, it is understandable that we use our youth as a reference point, because when we’re eight or nine, everything has a “wow factor”. Once we start getting distracted by the opposite sex, rock music, alcohol, mortgages and careers, football has to try harder to impress us. And by the time you have adopted an air of world weariness or cynicism, the game has to really work at it to make us stand up and take notice.

The programmes reminded us of a gentler, more innocent time when you made sure you sat up and watched Match of the Dayand you read everything you could in the papers about the matches. We were not saturated with information and televised football was not on tap like it is today. You savoured anything you could get.

It’s no surprise that the 1960s and 1970s were not just the golden age of football magazines, but also a time when the match programme was at its most appreciated. Today’s programmes are, without doubt, slicker, better produced and quite intensive in their content (not to mention adopting the role of PR publication), but in the past, it was really a case of less is best. You don’t need a programme to find out everything you needed to know.

Clubs would sell their programme to a huge percentage of the crowd, unlike today. Some were very spartan affairs, advertising the local pub, builder, restaurant and, of course, cigarettes by the truck load. If there’s one element of life that reflects changing times and tastes, it is advertising. A football programme wasn’t complete without an ad or two for cigarettes or beer – they really knew their demographic in those days.

Interestingly, on the very same coach journey, I read in The Timesa column by Caitlin Moran, who recalled her younger years where people had very little “stuff” in their houses and cigarettes and ash trays contributed a large amount of their personal effects! Think about it, how often did TV or Sunday supplements have pictures of ideal homes with onyx ashtrays and lighters? No wonder it has been hard to ween people off the demon weed.

The case full of programmes had a big northern emphasis and in particular, Manchester City. How we (or should I say, I) enjoyed trying to name the teams from the period 1968 – 1971. West Bromwich Albion: Osborne…Astle…Brown…Suggett. Leeds: Sprake…Reaney…Cooper. Arsenal: Wilson…Rice…McNab and so on a so forth. Forget Panini (which actually didn’t exist in the UK as early as people like to suggest), programmes were the way we used to become accustomed to teams and players. And of course, we collected them. Programme collecting was something we did in our younger years and, like many rites of passage, should fall by the wayside as we get older. Invariably blokes refuse to let go of their personal obsessions from childhood.

I purloined half a dozen City programmes from this collection as reference material. In this season’s UEFA Champions League, the reigning Premier champions are playing Schalke 04. In 1969-70, on the way to winning the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, City beat the West Germans 5-2 on aggregate. City’s home game was won 5-1, with goals from Mike Doyle, Neil Young (2), Francis Lee and Colin Bell. Schalke’s goal was scored by Reinhard Libuda, who played for his country in the 1970 World Cup.

The editorial for that April 15 1970 game, City’s last home fixture of the season, was penned by journalist Gerry Harrison. City were 1-0 down from the first leg, so they had a job on their hands. “Noise could put City into the final…support tonight to help break down the German defence barriers is an essential.”

Schalke v City, 1970 Photo: PA

Tony Book, the City skipper, added: “If we go like the clappers at the kick-off and don’t make a breakthrough, the tendency is for the crowd to lose a bit of heart. You can feel the tenseness and worry that it is building up in them.”

With the World Cup looming, the programme also revealed that after Mexico, “Francis Lee is off on a cruise calling at Lisbon, Naples, Dubrovnik and one or two other spots”. Lee, of course, made a fortune from his business activities, one of which was involved in toilet tissue. A cruise in 1970 was a luxury item, accessible only to those with the financial clout to afford them.

City clinched a place in the final against Gornik Zabrze in Vienna – the crowd obviously did their bit. And City won the cup on a dreadful night in the Prater Stadion (now Ernst Happel Stadion).

That City programme cost 1 old shilling (5 pence for the post-1971 generation). It comprised 16 pages and inside, there was an advertisement for a TV comedy series, The Dustbinmen. Today, they would be called Operatives!


One thought on “When programmes really meant something

  1. Lovely article Neil, I still take great joy from looking back over my Chelsea programme collection. The club has of course been a pioneer when it comes to programmes, having been the first one to issue the magazine style programme in 1948. I must confess to being less keen to read them now and it’s commonplace for me to leave them unopened when they arrive through the post.
    Sad really, but another symptom of the modern game.

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