Commentary Box: Programmed for change?

THERE WAS a time when buying a programme at a match was absolutely essential. In those days, we were not bombarded with information, didn’t have the internet to fall back on and there was limited coverage of football in many newspapers. You couldn’t even contemplate the prospect of not having a programme, you felt you were missing out on something, if only for the “steak and chips” interview with the centre forward.

Today, programmes are no longer essential items and you don’t feel the need for one in order to be completely immersed in the matchday experience. By the time you get to a match, you could have absorbed as much information as you need via websites, social media and conventional print media.

Some non-league clubs in the UK have started to dispense with printed programmes and have opted for online versions. This is eminently logical given programme sales at many clubs have fallen and the cost of producing one no longer makes sense. Equally importantly, finding someone to write and compile a programme is a task in itself and totally soul destroying if the audience isn’t buying them anyway.

Programmes are almost peculiarly British and they don’t seem to have been an important part of football culture in some countries. Mostly, I have come across small, functional and free pamphlets or strange fold-up products that give the bare necessities of football life to the spectator. I was a little surprised when I visited AC Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax and got handed very limited publications, admittedly free of charge. In continental Europe, there seems to be a distinct lack of programme eccentrics putting together 96-page publications for a crowd of 48 people!

Programmes are not the only part of football life that appears to be disappearing. We all remember the Rothman’s Football Yearbook, which burst on the scene in 1970. What a revelation this was when it first appeared, providing everything you needed to know about the game, even little diagrams of club grounds. Rothman’s became SKY and the broadcaster has now fallen by the wayside, two years before the 50thanniversary of the former football fanatic’s “bible”. There was talk of it finishing, but The Sun has taken over for, apparently, two years, which may well spell the end for the book.

“We don’t need it anymore, it’s all on the web,” we are told. This may be true and you get the feeling that when the generation that still holds printed material dear passes on, the practicality and appeal of any doorstop-sized book may be consigned to history.

The sheer size of the book makes it a little unwieldy if you’re on the road and I have to admit, I bought a much smaller yearbook this year for easy reference when I am travelling and working and I have used it far more than my usual reference tool. But I have been buying this book since 1970-71 season (or rather, my Mum and Dad used to buy it for me for birthday), so do I suddenly throw the towel in?

Both programmes and yearbooks can be filed under “habits” that we might find very difficult to break. Have you ever watched a team year-in, year-out, fearful of missing a single home game because it would end the run? Did you ever feel that if you missed a game, it was an act of disloyalty, betrayal and life would never be the same? But then, when you did end some form of record-breaking sequence, did you then realise that it wasn’t the end of the world, the skies didn’t turn apocalyptic and, by the way, there was another game coming up next week?

I have already started to purge the past by deciding to dispose of my collection of Chelsea programmes (1946-86 complete), deciding to give them to an old friend for whom they are still important. I offered them to my youngest son (24) who I thought might want them as a legacy item. He wasn’t interested, even though he is a Chelsea fan, but he comes from a generation that has no need for piles of musty old printed products!

My next dilemma is what to do about Rothmans? Do I buy the latest edition, which is sponsored by a newspaper I have no respect for, or do I bite the bullet? Do I need to bite that bullet, or has the time come to realise I, too, do not need something that has probably become a victim of the changing times?

I’ve been told that disposing of all the hoarded, dust-collecting items of your life is a cathartic exercise, a cleansing of the soul, perhaps. On the other hand, I might just need to know who was in the Rothman’s All Star XI in 1971…

One thought on “Commentary Box: Programmed for change?

  1. Great Piece Neil, but there is nothing like the match programs in your hand, I know when I left home when I got married I gave all my football and cricket program’s to brother Peter, not sure what he did with them. Hope you and your family are all OK. Just had a total right knee replacement, so hobbling around on crutches at present. regards Rowland .

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