WHU v Bradford 1947-48.jpg


This will be updated every Friday

A series of articles by the author of the book

‘A History and Guide to Football Programmes’ describing how programmes have changed over a century-and-a-half of Association Football

1930 cup final.jpg
Hull 1930.jpg
Aston Villa 1920s.jpg


A Brief Flirtation with Newspapers

As modern printing techniques improved, and marketing men got to work on the image of football, so clubs adopted the “matchday magazine” format for the barely recognisable glossy production that used to be called their programme. Having devoted resources to improving the quality and quantity (in terms of pages and content) of their programmes, they began to take a hard, commercial look at sales figures, and questioned traditional selling methods.

One obvious path was non-matchday sales, with newsagents a prime target. The traditional programme did not look good amidst magazines and newspapers on shop shelves, so a few clubs decided to radically change the format and shape of their programme. First to do so were Oldham Athletic, who after decades in the doldrums were attempting a revival under their new chairman, Ken Bates. Boundary Bulletin ran for 2 seasons (1966/67 and 1967/68) and although printed in two colours on glossy paper, it was in (small) tabloid format.

In terms of content it was immeasurably superior to standard programmes, but its short life suggested that it was not a commercial success. Next to try were Derby County, with “The Ram”. This was more enduring, lasting a decade, and started and finished as a substantial tabloid newspaper, latterly with full colour photographs. Cambridge United tried a cut-down version of Oldham’s glossy “paper”, and Plymouth Argyle emulated Derby’s newspaper format, although for a shorter period.

In the early 1980’s, with universal commercial managers, it was the fashion in football to attempt to be different - in playing kit design, commercial activities, and the format of programmes. Added to some unusual page sizes and a choice of syndicated inserts, was an outbreak of newspaper productions. These were published on behalf of a number of clubs from all areas of the country, including Northampton Town, Preston North End, Tranmere Rovers and Walsall, but that particular fad was of even shorter duration than the earlier one, and none continued into their second year. 

Still with an eye to the newsagent’s magazine business, several clubs over the years have thought about a weekly programme, irrespective of whether or not there is a home match that week. The programme-format is retained, but there are no team lines. One of the first to try this were Motherwell, in the early 1970’s, with their small-size, traditional-looking programmes. Like all others since, the lack of matchday sales meant that the “inter-match” issues were a commercial disaster, and the experiment was short-lived. Birmingham City were probably the last to try this in the early 1990’s, but like all other variations on traditional match-day sales, this experiment barely lasted a season.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



The Modernisation of Programmes in the 1970’s

The post-1966 World Cup boom beginning to fade, football entered the 1970’s realising that modern marketing and commercial techniques would have to be applied to the sport to enable it to compete with the growing number of alternative pastimes and leisure pursuits. This brought about a radical transformation in the role and format of matchday programmes, coincidental with the first sponsored football tournaments.

Initially, these took the form of brand-new competitions - as opposed to sponsors attaching their names to established tournaments - and so was born the Watney Cup in England, and shortly afterwards the Dryborough Cup in Scotland. To link the countries, and Northern and southern Ireland, the Texaco Cup was established. Suddenly, more and different programmes were being made available for collectors. European ties had been added to the normal domestic staple diet in the 15 years since 1955, and now came additional tournaments and inter-country fixtures such as Wolves v Derry City, Airdrie v Ballymena United, Motherwell v Spurs and St Johnstone v Ipswich.

The brewers Watney broke new ground with programmes for their pre-season tournaments, which were in stylised form and published on behalf of the sponsors, rather than the home club. Similarly, Texaco provided a common style of outer pages for their tournament programmes, although the host club was left to its own devices in regards to internal pages.

One or two clubs, perhaps slightly pretentiously, began to call their programmes “match day magazines”, and they were certainly increasing in size - and cover price. Gloss paper became widespread; print techniques improved with the move away from letterpress to litho, and so photographs became a better and more prominent feature. Colour began to creep in, spreading from the First Division down through the leagues as the decade progressed.

Coventry City, programme pioneers in the 1960’s, continued to explore new avenues in the 1970’s. They took the “magazine” concept quite literally by producing a very large page-size programme, even bigger than today’s brochure sized cup final issues, which featured “lifestyle” articles, loosely related to football, to complement the standard contents. An example of this was the back page, full colour photograph of a “glamour girl”, posing chastely. It is interesting to note that few, if any, clubs followed this “laddish” route, and certainly not in the last couple of decades.

To modern eyes, 1970’s programmes look brief and inadequate, but contrast them to the issues of the previous decade, and you will see that clubs were beginning to pay more than lip service to modern presentation and marketing techniques.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


After the World Cup

Football enjoyed a renaissance following England’s 1966 World Cup victory. Spectators flocked back to the grounds, and a number of individuals fed off the new air of confidence and began to try out some new ideas. Foremost in this was Jimmy Hill, who transformed Coventry City from a struggling lower-league club, into a First Division outfit which - to date - has retained its place in the top-flight.

The match-day programme was one of a number of areas of the club that Hill transformed and modernised. The Coventry issue was turned from a conventional A5-sized, rather boring, traditional programme into “The Sky Blue”, a glossy, large page size, multi-page extravaganza of photographs and features. It was in tune with the modern era, resembling the new magazines which were appearing on the bookstalls (one of which, of course, was “Jimmy Hill’s Football Weekly”).

It wasn’t all for show - at one-shilling (5p) it was the most expensive in the League, reflecting high production costs, and it was the first to hit the 10p price tag post-decimalisation, so it was as much a commercial enterprise as an image-builder. It was undoubtedly value for money, however, and the pioneering Coventry City “matchday magazine” encouraged other clubs to take a long, hard, critical look at their programmes.

Midlands neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers quickly followed suit. Wolves had traditionally one of the better programmes of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but they had become jaded and predictable, and they followed with Coventry example with relish. “Molinews” was launched as a large-page production, filled with features and photographs.

Ironically, the return to large page productions set the clock back to pre-war days, when many clubs favoured this size. Indeed, Spurs retained that format over and including their double-winning season in 1960-61, albeit only as a 4-page folded sheet issue.

Still in the Midlands, West Bromwich Albion took the matter a stage further. They enlisted the help of graphic designers - an unheard-of notion in football programmes - who produced the first designer-programme. To emphasise the radical step, they turned the programme “on its side”, landscape rather than portrait. Page make up was unrecognisable from traditional programmes, and photographs were manipulated to create a design image. Content, too, was much improved, giving programme buyers a good return for their inevitably higher cover price.

Once the home of the Industrial Revolution, the Midlands thus initiated the programme revolution, the consequences of which we see before us all these years later. The inertia and complacency of decades was swept aside, and programmes have continued their development to this day.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


London Pride in the Early 1960’s

Earlier in this series, we saw how Chelsea and Arsenal were beacons of light in the gloom of general programme awfulness in the 1950’s. As clubs throughout the country failed to improve their programmes when the “swinging sixties” got underway, it was London which once again provided the shining exceptions to the rule of mediocrity.


Chelsea were continued to produce an excellent programme, as they were joined by West Ham United. Both favoured a small page format, shorter than the then-standard A5 size, but larger than the mini-pocket-sized issues of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur also favoured this page size, and while their issues were amongst the best in the country, they were more predictable and short of the extra ingredient which set the Stamford Bridge and Boleyn Ground programmes above the herd.


“The Hammer” was lovingly tended by Jack Heliar, whose family printing firm had presided over the West Ham programme from its birth. Editorial was affectionate and thoughtful, and information on the club and its staff was imparted in a manner which made readers feel involved and informed. The editor’s lifelong involvement with the club lent an historic perspective, both in terms of recollections, and in commentaries on the modern game. The West Ham programme was no one-man band; managers, coaches, players and - in deference to the new pop society - the matchday DJ/announcer - all contributed to a lively, informative, yet exceedingly homely programme. Completely devoid of advertisements - in common with its counterparts at the major London clubs - “The Hammer” was also first to introduce full colour photographs of players.


Across the capital city, the good work of the previous two decades was being continued at Stamford Bridge. The redoubtable Albert Sewell edited a compact 20-page programme which brimmed with club information. There was good pictorial coverage of previous matches, features on past and present players, and a complete statistical and factual account of playing affairs at first team, reserve and youth level.


Part of the attraction of these programmes, looking back some 60 years, is that each one had its own identity. Local printers, editors who were usually long-standing supporters, and content which reflected the pre-commercialised days of 1960’s football, meant that no two club programmes were alike. The small-sized Chelsea, West Ham, Spurs and Arsenal programmes of the early 1960’s may not take as long to read as their 1990’s descendants, but they retain a charm and character that the modern emporia of colour and gloss cannot hope to reproduce.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Some Early Sixties Surprises

Programmes did not emerge from their post-war slump in standards until after the 1966 World Cup, but as in any walk of life, there were rare beacons to illuminate the gloom for early 1960’s programme buyers. The continued excellence of some of the major London clubs’ programmes will be explored in the next article, but this was matched only in isolated instances elsewhere in the country.

In Scotland, a notable exception to the rule of indifference was in the capital city, where both Hearts and Hibs produced excellent programmes from the war until the early 1960’s. Hibs, in particular, enjoyed splendid large-page issues, with thoughtful, informative editorial, an attractive design and plenty of photographs. Indeed, it could be argued that the Easter Road programme was just about the best in Britain in the 1950’s.

An unlikely outpost for programme excellence was Barrow, now in the National League, but then a perennially struggling Third or Fourth Division club. The Holker Street issue was unexceptional in looks - for many years the front cover never changed from its stark dark blue and white advert-dominated basic design which contained no match information. Inside however, there was unsurpassed value for money in an enormous article by “Chatter Box”. This ran for up to 7 or 8 pages, consisting of paragraphs of news and comment presented without headings or illustrations. Aesthetically pleasing it was not - but it made for an excellent read.  

Fulham’s programme in the 1960’s matched the team - unheralded in comparison with its larger London neighbours, but clinging doggedly to top League status. There was always plenty to read in the Craven Cottage programme, which was one of the first to introduce full colour to the front cover. Not far away in West London, Eric White had taken over the Brentford programme, and had begun to impart his love for the Bees through its pages. Times were hard at Griffin Park in the 1960’s, and the programme was necessarily a slim volume, but the reader-friendly Bees programme of some thirty years under White’s influence was beginning to emerge.

Portsmouth made an effort to improve their programme in that period, with a determination to provide more candid articles from manager and players. In common with their counterparts throughout the leagues, Pompey could not justify an increase in size or pages; and modern print and design techniques were expensive and in their infancy. However, they recognised that giving more thought and imagination to the contents could easily make the programme more attractive to potential buyers.

Such thoughts were not shared amongst the major clubs. The programmes of the Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Birmingham clubs could not be considered the worst in the League, but they were predictable, changed little with each passing season, and performed only the rudimentary functions. It took the 1966 World Cup to galvanise clubs into action towards improving their image and catering for their supporters needs.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


The Mini - Car, Skirts and Programmes

The early 1960’s saw the prefix “mini” applied to many of the period’s innovations, not the least being the revolutionary popular car, and the fashionable skirt. The mini vogue founds its way into football programmes, with a number of English clubs, both in the League and at non-league level, favouring a small, pocket-sized match programme, quite unlike anything that had gone before or has appeared since.


Page sizes were square, ranging from 11 and 14 cm, and there were a variety of cover designs. Northampton Town and Swindon featured their club crests; Barnsley, Southend United, Torquay and Reading had either match action photographs, or an aerial shot of their stadium.


Rochdale preferred a sketch of two players, while Orient and Crystal Palace featured plain, but attractive designs which drew attention to the white gloss paper. Gillingham and Bradford Park Avenue used sketches of their main stands. Very few cover designs changed from match to match, and a number of them didn’t even include match details, to the annoyance of future generations of programme collectors.


Non-League clubs to use the pocket-sized format included Bath City, Chelmsford, Corby Town, Worcester City, Margate and Guildford City. The earliest mini programme appeared to pre-date the car or skirt - Crystal Palace pioneered the format in 1957/58, and the last to use this style was Orient, in 1968/69.


Content was little better than contemporary programmes; half of the pages were given over to advertising, mostly local. There was an editorial, visiting team coverage, first team and reserve statistics, supporters club notes, the occasional feature on a home player, and very few photographs. Their passing, by the middle of the decade, could not be mourned in terms of their content or value for money (some were priced at 3d, others rather poor value at 6d) but to modern eyes they are a very attractive and fascinating novelty in the current sea of bulky, glossy, colourful programmes.


One of the major benefits of this style of programme is that they have survived the passage of time remarkably well. They did not need to be folded to go in a pocket, and many of them sported a thicker, light card cover for added protection. An example of this are Rochdale issues of the early 1960’s, including the Spotland leg of the Football League Cup Final against Norwich City in 1961/62. 12 glossy internal pages are finished with a stiff cardboard cover in yellow and black, and the contents are split between normal editorial (with the addition of team photos of both sides) and advertisements. This is an extremely rare programme now, which collectors wishing to complete the “set” of League Cup Finals having to pay over £100, but when a copy does appear on the market, it is invariably in excellent condition, due to its size and cover.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


The Boring Fifties

Football club programmes scarcely changed throughout the 1950’s. The decade started with advert-laden 8 or 12-page programmes, in which photographs were a rarity, and finished on the same note. For the vast majority of clubs, the format was predictable: front cover with sketch of footballer or stadium, usually with front page advertisements. Very occasionally, there would be a photograph of the stadium.


There would be an editorial on page three which was often continued into other pages. This would give a review of recent matches and a preview of that day’s fixture. The text was rarely revelatory and was never controversial and was usually the work of the club secretary who felt he had better things to do with his time than compile a match programme that would be bought by a small percentage of spectators. There would be an introduction to the visitors, usually comprising pen pictures; match reports of recent first team and reserve games, sometimes including narrative, otherwise just team selections. Half time scoreboard, league tables, fixtures and results for first and second team matches, and not a great deal more interrupted the flow of advertisements. The team selections would invariably be in 2-3-5 formation on the centre pages, surrounded by small advertisements.


This format was not only widespread, but it was enduring. Sheffield Wednesday issued only 8-page programmes in 1950 and were still doing so 10 years later. Further down the Leagues, Bournemouth issued an 8-page programme for 3rd in 1955/56 season, and 7 years later, a practically identical 8-page programme was issued, with the same cover design. There was one difference - it now cost 4d.


The contrast between these programmes of between 40 and 50 years ago, and today’s glossy magazines could not be starker. There were no policy statements from managers or chairmen; few features on star players; no coverage of commercial activities (for there were none) and photographs were few and far between.


As a snapshot of the society in which the club was placed, however, 1950’s programmes paint an instructive picture thanks to the mass of advertisements and occasional editorial nuance. The omni-present theatre advertisement, listing the current show, which characterised most pre-war programmes was replaced by billings for the many cinemas in the towns and cities of Britain. Local breweries were prominent advertisers, as were the major industries of the locality. In pre-supermarket, chain-store and DIY superstore days, the multitude of small trader advertisements shows a very different local economy to the one we know today.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Isolated Excellence in the 1950’s

Amid the plethora of 8 or 12-page (and occasionally worse) advertising-dominated thin programmes of the 1950’s, there were a couple of shining beacons of high quality, notably from the London pair Chelsea and Arsenal. The abiding thought is that if these two clubs could devote resources to produce excellent, interesting programmes, then why couldn’t the other major clubs follow suit?


Pre-war, Chelsea had never been ones for expansive programmes, although their large sheet, blue print on white paper, 4 or 8-pagers were always packed with information (and no adverts) and were invariably enlivened with an attractive cartoon. They quickly changed tack after the war, and by 1948/49 had established a substantial, conventional programme amounting to 16 pages. This was filled with features, information and photographs, both action and portrait, which could simply not be found in other programmes. The programme went through a number of changes in design and presentation until it settled into a stylised 16-page issue in the late 1950’s, but still with the same mixture of features and photographs, and plenty to read.


Like their London neighbours West Ham, Spurs and Arsenal, Chelsea eschewed advertisements in their match programmes until the mid-1970’s, but it was only the Gunners who matched the excellence of the Stamford Bridge programme two decades earlier. At first, Arsenal favoured a slightly larger page style, which was appreciated by supporters who enjoyed the substantial and authoritative writing. “Voice of Arsenal” on the first two pages became a feature of a trip to Highbury, and like Chelsea, there was the novelty of a number of action photographs contained within the programme.


Arsenal reverted to a more conventional A5 size mid-decade, but still the content remained of a high quality and quantity. There were always four action photographs spread across two pages, a rarity in 1950’s programmes, a full page of pen pictures of the visitors opposite the team lines, a substantial article on general football matters (“Jottings by Spectator”), a team group photo of the visitors - another rarity in programmes of that era - and a page on an aspect of the club’s history. Added to the authoritative editorial were all the standard features of a programme.


Few clubs could match the standards set by the London twins, although Manchester United’s 1950’s programme could find few critics. Shorter (by 4 pages, at 12 pages) than the Chelsea and Arsenal issues, and containing some advertising presence, the United programme offered more than the majority of 1950’s programmes. There was a page of action photographs to complement the one on the front cover, a thoughtful piece by Manager Matt Busby, two substantial topical articles by journalists, and an entertaining full-page cartoon by Butterworth, entitled “Bricks and Bokays”.


What the Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea programmes had in common was that someone had taken the trouble to devote time and imagination to their compilation, in contrast to the indifference towards their matchday issues shown by the majority of League clubs in the 1950’s.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Post War Penny Dreadfuls

The rationing and restrictions which forced clubs to abandon their 16 to 24-page programmes of the 1930’s for the 4-page or single sheet issues of wartime, served only to provide an excuse for clubs to continue to neglect their programmes throughout the 1950’s.


A club as big and as successful as Tottenham Hotspur, for instance, persisted with a 4-page folded, albeit large sheet programme up to and including their double winning 1960-61 season. In common with other major clubs from the capital, there was an absence of advertisements from the Spurs sheet, which meant that its content was no worse than the advert-laden 8 or 12-page programmes issued by other clubs, but this merely confirms the poor standard generally, and the reluctance for clubs to improve their programmes when paper shortages and rationing were lifted.


Another successful team of the decade, Wolves, went through the 1950’s with no more than 8-page programmes, although they were brightly coloured and with a substantial article by a journalist in the centre pages, but to modern eyes this was a wholly inadequate programme from such a major force in the game.          Sheffield Wednesday issued only 8-page programmes in 1950 and were still doing so ten years later.


The curious aspect to this unsatisfactory state of affairs was that there was little distinction between the well-supported clubs in the First Division, and the perennial strugglers in the two regionalised Third Divisions. Football enjoyed unprecedented popularity - in terms of attendances - in the immediate post-war years, but the massive crowds who watched championship winners such as Liverpool, Portsmouth, Tottenham, Wolves, and challengers like Bolton, Huddersfield, Preston, Newcastle and Blackpool were subjected to no better programmes than those issued by York, Accrington Stanley, New Brighton, Bradford City and Halifax, who in the same period had to apply for re-election to the League.


Programmes were in a vicious circle - few bought them because they were such poor value for money, and because of low sales clubs refused to devote more time and expense to something that seemed to be more of an obligation than a benefit. Indeed, many, including programme buyers, regarded their worth in terms of the team selections and half-time scoreboards. Little wonder that few other features were included by the vast majority of League clubs in the 1940’s and 1950’s.


As always, there were oases in this desert of mediocrity, notably some first-class programmes from a couple of London clubs, which will be explored in the next instalment.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Foreign Issues Set the Post-War Standard

England’s humiliation at the hands of the Hungarians in 1953 and 1954 was the most vivid manifestation of the eclipse of British football by rising standards on the continent in the decade which followed the Second World War. In terms of football programmes, a similar trend had been evident long before Messrs Puskas and Hidgekuti displayed their skills.


The few continental programmes which found their way back to these shores after the war were years ahead of their UK counterparts, the latter struggling to shake of post-war rationing and restrictions, and more pertinently, lethargy and disinterest by their publishers. The contrast was greatest just across the Irish Sea.


Irish Cup Final programmes from 1945 to the late 1950’s not only contained more pages than their Wembley or Hampden counterparts, but included less advertising and were half the price (3 Irish pennies, compared with 6d sterling). In May 1957, when England visited Dalymount Park to play Eire, the Shelbourne Supporters Club issued a 24-page programme packed with interesting features and articles the likes of which would not appear in many English programmes for another decade.


Even the poorest of continental programmes compared well with their British counterparts. Pre-communist Hungary issued 12-page international programmes in black and white, but only two of the pages were advertisements. British programmes in the 1940’s and 1950’s were colourless in more ways than just the use of printers ink, and full colour cover illustrations were not to arrive on these shores until the 1960’s; unlike in Belgium, Holland and France for post-war international matches, and more spectacularly in South America, where some countries issued colourfully designed and substantial issues for the visit of touring European countries.


As the 1960s loomed, and the penny-dreadfuls (which actually cost 3d) remained in place throughout the game, examples from clubs abroad put British programme producers to shame. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the better clubs from England, Scotland and Ireland were invited to play tournaments in Canada and the USA during the close season, and from these games emerged large, brochure-sized match programmes filled with photographs. From the early days of European club competitions came club newspapers and more substantial conventional programmes from the so-called undeveloped continental clubs.


The example from abroad, where programmes were not as much a part of the football fabric as they were in Britain, showed that the inadequate matchday programmes being offered within these shores were not so much a sign of the times, as an illustration of complacency and bad customer relations. Little was to change until the mid-1960’s.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


War Time Finals and Representative Matches

Just as clubs were subject to severe paper-rationing and had to reduce their programmes to single or folded sheets, so were the football authorities, despite being encouraged by the Government to keep football operating for the purposes of the nation’s morale. Most cup finals and representative matches played during the war years were of this style, and it was little short of scandalous that the authorities saw fit to charge 3d or 6d for these flimsy pieces of paper.


Scotland published a series of attractive little programmes which, although single sheets, were folded twice into narrow 8-page issues. One or two colours added a splash of good cheer to these items. For England internationals and War-time finals at Wembley, the chosen colours were invariably patriotic red and blue, on white paper. The 1943 Football League (South) War Cup Final between Arsenal and Charlton Athletic at Wembley was a simple 4-page production with a sketch of one of Wembley’s towers on the front. Printed blue on white, it was somewhat pricey at 6d. Characteristic of these programmes was the “Air Raid Precautions” warning printed on the front cover.


When England played Wales at Anfield in September 1944, the host club issued a 4-page, small sized folded sheet, printed blue on white paper with flags in full colour on the front cover. Price for this was a more reasonable 2d.


The problem of paper supply was illustrated by a notice in the England v Scotland match at Wembley in February 1944, headed: “Waste Paper Salvage”. It read : “If you do not wish to retain this programme, or the part of your ticket you retain after entering the Stadium, please place them in any one of the many receptacles provided for clean waste paper as you leave the ground.”


As with club football, normal international football was suspended, albeit the home international countries continued to play one another in “Red Cross” internationals, with the gate proceeds going to war charities. There was a plethora of other representative games, mostly involving the various sections of the armed forces and small, single sheet programmes were invariably produced for these games. The R.A.F. played Scotland at Hillsborough in November 1944 and a small 4-page (folded sheet) programme was issued with a blue and white striped cover, priced 1d. Pen pictures of both teams were included - the R.A.F. forward line was Matthews, Carter, Drake, Mortensen and Smith (Brentford) while Scotland included the Liverpool pair Matt Busby and Billy Liddell. This illustrates the fascination of team lines in war-time programmes, with famous players popping up in the unlikeliest of fixtures.


The ingenuity of British forces abroad stretched to programme production, and there are many instances of Forces matches in Egypt and India which had brief match programmes produced, featuring little more than the team lines.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


War Time Finals Team Sheets

It took football programmes about 20 years to recover from the Second World War, because it was not until the mid-1960’s that programmes returned to the size and standard they enjoyed before 1939. The main set-back came with war-time paper rationing, and it is to the credit of most clubs that they continued to publish something during these difficult years, albeit it usually amounted to little more than a teamsheet.


The initial confusion of early war-time football saw clubs issued greatly slimmed-down issues, dropping to 8 pages for regional league matches in 1939/40. As the exigencies of war hit home, the programme shrunk again, to single or folded sheet issues. These constituted poor value for money for the buyers - they were invariably priced at 1d, only half the price of standard 1930’s issues which were certainly more than twice the size! A prime example of this was the excellent Queen’s Park Rangers programme of 1939/40, 8 pages with a striking cover, which a year later was a single sheet with teams on one side and results/fixtures on the reverse.


Sheffield Wednesday settled for a single sheet (printed both sides) with barely a paragraph of text - in common with other programmes of the era, priority was given to team lines, results and fixtures, league tables and half-time scoreboard. Doncaster Rovers started off with a large size 4-pager, but after a year dropped down to a single sheet, while Huddersfield Town and Leeds United strove manfully to sustain a 4-page (folded sheet) programme. Manchester United settled for a single sheet which contained only results/fixtures and team lines, and the same format was used, with the inclusion of some text and a little more information, by Millwall and Newcastle United.


One has to admire the dogged determination to carry on despite the enormous disruption of the war, exemplified by these programmes. Team lines were obviously subject to great change as players came and went from the armed forces, or were available from reserved occupations, and guest players abounded. Not the least of the attraction of these programmes is the existence of famous names in some unlikely team lists. Those few advertisers who remained in the greatly slimmed down programmes are fascinating. The 4-page Sunderland programme of 1944/45, for instance, carried four adverts - George Younger’s Prize Medal Ales, “Shop at Binns for everything. Walk around any time - no obligation”, a Consulting Optician, and a local store which sold Radios, Bicycles and Prams, Re-conditioned Pianos and Utility Furniture.


For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



Lower League Club Programmes Through the Depression

Just as the dreadful, debilitating economic Depression of the 1930’s had little impact on the style and standard of the top club’s football programmes, so it appeared to by-pass clubs in the lower divisions of the Football League. They continued to produce fairly substantial 1d or 2d issues, apparently containing as many advertisements as before, suggesting that programme revenue did not suffer the same fate as the rest of the economy. Indeed, throughout the troubled 30’s, club programmes maintained the advances they had made in the 1920’s.


Unlike today, where far larger crowds and considerably greater commercial clout produces a big difference in the standard of programmes issued by England’s top clubs, compared to those struggling at the bottom of the League, there was little in the quantity and quality of club programmes to suggest their respective status in the game. It was just as likely to find a 16-page programme in the Third Division North or South as in the First Division, and vice versa with 8-page issues, or even the folded sheet programmes favoured by such as West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur at the top level, and Mansfield Town further down.


Port Vale, whose pre-war issues are notoriously difficult to obtain today, issued 12-page programmes with cream and red covers; Southport and New Brighton, both no longer in the League, were others to fill 12 pages as did Darlington - another difficult pre-war programme to obtain today. Bristol City in 1938/39 produced as big a programme as had been seen in the country, at 32 large pages, with a team group photograph on the pink cover. There were plenty of advertisements, but City included a grid with every result from the Third Division South that season. Chester City, in the Third Division North in 1934/35, published a 16-large-page programme for 2d, and were one of the few clubs to print precise attendance figures and gate receipts for all their fixtures.


To modern eyes, programmes from former League clubs such as Bradford Park Avenue and Gateshead (8 black and white pages for just 1d in 1937/38) seem from a long-gone era, and none more so than issues from Thames’ brief spell in the Third Division South, for 1930/31 and 1931/32. Their programmes were similar in style to those of West Ham - not surprisingly, given that they shared the Hammers’ long-time printers Helliar & Sons of Barking Road, Plaistow. Their 1d programmes were four large pages (one huge folded sheet) with adverts, half time scoreboard and match details on the front, club notes and league tables on page 2, team lines (in 2-3-5 formation) and adverts on page 3, and fixtures / results and more adverts on the back page.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Top Club Programmes Through the Depression

The dreadful, debilitating economic Depression of the 1930’s had little impact on the style and standard of football programmes. Clubs continued to produce fairly substantial 1d or 2d issues, and they appeared to include as many advertisements as before, suggesting that programme revenue did not suffer the same fate as the rest of the economy. In terms of the quality and quantity of issues, the advances of the previous decade were consolidated and programmes changed little between 1930 and 1939.


Pre-war programmes from the North East of England are notoriously difficult to obtain today, but the Sunderland 1930’s programmes were substantial 12-page productions with a splash of red ink on the front cover of an otherwise black-and-white issue. In common with most clubs at the time, there were no match details on the cover, simply the name of the club and a crest or logo; but the major part of the front page was devoted to an advertisement. These, presumably expensive, adverts were invariably for well-known local industries or enterprises. In Sunderland’s case it was for Vaux Beers.


Newcastle United also issued an excellent pre-war programme, comprising 16 pages, printed dark grey on white paper. A sketch of two footballers shared club details at the top of the cover, which was dominated by an advert for the Sunday Sun newspaper.


The Sheffield clubs issued handsome programmes of contrasting styles. Wednesday abandoned their long-standing small size with team lines on the front, to produce a splendid large page edition with a striking sketch of Hillsborough’s main stand on the front cover. Sheffield United favoured a smaller size, in 16 pages, with red and white stripes on the cover and an aerial sketch of Bramall Lane showing the old cricket pitch and pavilion.


Fairly brief programmes were favoured by some of the top clubs. For example, West Ham and Tottenham shared a similar style, with a very large folded sheet. There were few if any adverts, type-size was very small with plenty of reading crammed in, and the price was an undemanding 1d; but it remains a surprise to see such prominent clubs issue such brief programmes. Chelsea were hardly better - albeit they put their name to 8 pages. In the capital, it was Arsenal who produced by far the most impressive pre-war programme, with a 16 page edition that sported a deep red card cover advertising Highbury’s enviable local transport links.


For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Wembley, and the Advent of Big Match Programmes

We have previously noted that the FA were reluctant to get involved in programme production for FA Cup Finals, but that changed in 1923 when Wembley opened, albeit the publishers of cup final and international issues from that venue were the stadium authorities themselves, with FA approval. The scale and design of these programmes matched that of the venue. For the first time, colour appeared on British programme covers, and the contents were more substantial with more photographs and greater coverage of players.


Wembley opened with the famous 1923 Cup Final, and the programme for that fixture comprised 28 pages, arguably the most pages published to that date. It should be noted, in passing, that this truly is the “Penny Black” of programme collecting - it is the most famous item, but by no means the rarest nor most expensive nor coveted.


Host clubs continued to issue programmes for Cup semi-finals and international and representative matches played at their grounds (until the 1950’s the majority of England international matches were played on club grounds).The host clubs had merely issued similar, if not identical, programmes to their standard League issues, but the example shown by Wembley spurred them into making a special effort for the big games entrusted to their care.


An example of this is Chelsea, who maintained the same 4 or 8- page, blue print on white paper, programme style until after the Second World War. In October 1934, they staged the English League v Scottish League match at Stamford Bridge, and issued a special programme comprising the normal 8 pages, but with photographs on the centre and front pages, and red print as well as the standard blue on the front cover. Price remained at the standard 2d.


Wembley programmes were not only the first to use full colour, but they also saw a rich variety of programme designs. All of the pre-Second World War covers relied on sketches and graphics, with photographs used sparingly, and some of the full colour sketches were very attractive indeed. Almost all of them featured the “twin towers” in some form or another, whether in a photograph (1925), logo (1935) or as background (1933 and 1931). Most years saw an advertisement at the bottom of the front page - either “Drink Bovril. Once it’s in you it’s sinew” or “Expert Criticism of today’s cup tie by Charles Buchan in the Daily News (or News Chronicle)”


The example set by Wembley ensured that from then on big match programmes would invariably fit the occasion they sought to represent, and programme buyers could anticipate something superior to the normal League fare.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



Everybody’s Doing It in the 1920’s

Programme issuing by clubs and associations became the norm in the 1920’s, resulting from the example shown by those clubs whose pre-Great War programmes had proved to be good sellers, and significant profit makers. Another reason for the explosion of issues was the widespread provision of “Half Time Scoreboards” around football grounds.


In the days before radio coverage and teletext, football crowds had to rely on the “half times” from other grounds being displayed on enormous fixed boards (either at the back of the terracing or at the trackside), to ascertain how rivals were faring. The only means of deciphering the mixture of letters and numbers was to refer to the coded list of fixtures printed in the match programme. In this way, the programme had evolved from being a means of identification of players to being a vehicle for even more spectator information.


Part of the sudden upsurge in programme production was the virtual doubling of the size of the Football League in the early 1920’s, by the formation of Division 3 North and the transfer of clubs from the Southern League to form Division 3 South. Thus we have the first regular issue of programmes from Rochdale in 1922/23, Halifax Town in 1921/22 and such long forgotten ex-League clubs as Wigan Borough and Stalybridge Celtic (both 1921/22) and Nelson (1924/25). Of clubs to join the League in subsequent years, York City issued an 8-page programme in 1924/25 in the Midland League, and Torquay United first issued (starting with FA Cup ties) in 1923/24.


Chelsea, host club of the 1920, 1921, and 1922 FA Cup Finals, set a fine example by publishing the first truly official, and substantial, FA Cup Final programmes. Featuring classical sketches by Bernhard Hugh on the cover, these were 24, 20 and 8-page programmes respectively, the last bearing a very close resemblance to the standard Chelsea programme of the inter-war years.


The 1920’s was the decade in which football programme production became the norm throughout the Football League, and for all major non-league clubs, and it was also the era in which programmes adopted the format we associate with them today. Henceforth, match programmes would be multi-page, stapled, liberally filled with advertisements and including as a minimum; team selections, fixtures/results, league tables, half-time scoreboard and editorial.


For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


More Substantial Issues Before the Great War

The fund-raising potential of football programmes became widely appreciated by clubs in the years which followed the turn of the century, and by the outbreak of the Great War, clubs had become polarised into those who published multi-page, advertising-included recognisable match programmes, and those who published nothing at all. Few, if any, remained with the half-way house of a simple team sheet.


Some of these early programmes were substantial affairs, providing a comprehensive coverage of club matters, commentary on football topics and description of visiting clubs. “The Villa News and Record”, for instance, comprised 20 pages and was arguably superior to the club’s programmes some 50 years later. Birmingham City (or just plain Birmingham as they were then known) favoured a very large page size, with a cover of blue paper and white internal pages.


A curiosity amongst programmes from the early decades of this century was the “Everton and Liverpool Official Football Programme” .... “the only programme issued by Authority of the Everton and Liverpool Clubs.” This was a substantial, 16 large page edition, which covered both city clubs, featuring the first team match of one, and the reserve team fixture of the other, both played on opposite sides of Stanley Park on the same afternoon. This, apparently, happy collaborative arrangement persisted for many years on Merseyside, before the clubs reverted to their 19th century habit of issuing separate match programmes.


The Sheffield clubs were early and prolific programme issuers, with Wednesday being one of the last clubs to feature team selections on the front page. Their 16-page productions from the early 1900’s were arguably before their time. It was not only League clubs who were beginning to make their programmes bigger and better. Hartlepool United, who did not join the League until after the Great War, had “Martin’s Key Card and Official Programme” issued on their behalf as early as 1909/10. This consisted of 12 pages, only three of which were given over to advertisements.


By the outbreak of the Great War, those clubs who regularly issued programmes were publishing multi-page issues which we would recognise today - minus the gloss, colour and photography of course. Universal programme production across the country did not happen until the 1920’s.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



Early FA Cup Finals

While the most important day in the football calendar has always been the FA Cup Final, for many decades the quality and frequency of its programmes were far behind those issued by clubs. Indeed, it was not until the late 1900’s that the football authorities took some interest in FA Cup Final programmes, having previously stood back while outside publishers “sponsored” matchday issues.


A number of 19th century Cup Final programmes were published by “The People” newspaper. Printed locally, these Crystal Palace issues comprised a folded sheet with advertisements on one side, the People being prominent amongst sports outfitters; and team lines and more advertisements on the reverse. They were sold as “The only authorised programme” and so few have survived that they now fetch five figure sums at auction.


Some doubts as to the “only authorised” issue status of these programmes have been raised by the existence of another version of a 1901 Cup Final teamsheet. An “Official Programme” for the Tottenham Hotspur v Sheffield United match, in the shape of a 7” x 5” blue card, has survived. This version is devoid of advertisements, and one wonders if it was purely distributed to VIPs, as opposed to being on public sale.


The teamsheet for the 1904 “English Cup Tie” between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers listed the players in two columns, and numbered them (1 to 22), reintroducing the original concept of a match programme - the identification of players by spectators. Curiously, the reverse side displayed the same names, and numbers, in 2-3-5 formation, along with the note: “Any alteration taking place in the Players’ Names, a board will be sent round the Ground corresponding with numbers on card.” It must have been a particularly large board to be seen by everyone in the 61,300 crowd at the old Crystal Palace ground.


When Newcastle United played Bradford City at the Crystal Palace in the 1911 Final, W.H. Smith & Sons issued a “Souvenir Card” priced 1d. Colin Veitch of Newcastle United was photographed on the front cover of this large folded sheet, with the team lines (un-numbered, in 2-3-5 formation) on the inside pages along with advertisements for “The Yorkshire Evening Post Football Edition ; containing full report of the Cup Final, will be on sale to-night at King’s Cross, St Pancras, Marylebone and Euston stations on the departure of special trains for the North.”


The refusal of the Football Association to become involved in programme production has not helped in resolving this unofficial/official debate nearly a century later. Similarly, programmes for representative and International fixtures were left to the host club. It was not until the Cup Final moved to Stamford Bridge in 1920 that a single, definitive football programme began to be published for the FA Cup Final.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



1900’s - The First Recognisable Programmes

Programmes started to adopt something approaching their modern appearance when the clubs and authorities discovered that they could charge buyers a penny, thus introducing the possibility of the programme making a financial profit. To justify such a price they had to provide some value for money, which meant including more information on the club, their opponents and their respective players.


Printers and publishers quickly cottoned on to the example shown by other branches of entertainment, chiefly the theatre, and attracted paid advertising to the issue. That, in turn, required sufficient sales to keep the advertisers happy, which meant that content had to be good enough to attract buyers at the match.


By this process, the match programme evolved from a single sheet, to a folded, and then stapled, publication. Liverpool first issued in September 1892 with the visit of Rotherham Town to Anfield Road, and their 1d programme was a four page affair, with teams listed on the front page, surrounded by adverts; first and reserve team fixtures and results surrounded by adverts, and two pages of features on players, officials and recent matches, and “Notes”.


The programme issued by Chester for the visit of Welsh club Druids on Christmas Day 1907 had the teams (in 2-3-5 formation) on one page, surrounded by adverts, and on the inside of the 4 page folded programme was substantial editorial entitled “Club Gossip”, a photograph and description on one of the home players, reserve team results and scorers, and “Notes by Rambler.”


A number of clubs were more ambitious in their programme production. In 1887 Aston Villa entertained London Casuals and issued a “Programme Card” but by 1906-07 they had launched “The Villa News and Record” in multi-page form. This remained at 1d, but sold far more copies than the brief team sheets of a few years previously, which in turn satisfied the multitudinous advertisers.


Not every League club issued for every fixture, and it often took a special occasion to compel the club to print. One such milestone was Cardiff City’s first ever match at Ninian Park, against Aston Villa in September 1910, and a special souvenir programme was issued, some time before City contemplated a regular programme.


The inexorable tide of commercialism was apparent even in those early days of the Association game, and few clubs could resist the blandishments of advertising agencies and printers who put much needed money into club funds thanks to the penny programmes.

For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.


Nineteenth Century Teamsheets


The first ever football programme is probably lying undetected in an old suitcase in an attic; or lining an antique cutlery drawer; or it may be displayed in one of the football museums which are springing up at clubs around the country. Quite frankly, we do not know with certainty which was the first ever fixture to have a team-sheet printed and distributed to spectators, but we can take a pretty educated guess at how it looked.


The purpose of the earliest programmes was to identify the players and advise spectators of forthcoming fixtures. There were no team numbers on the backs of Victorian football shirts, but players did sometimes have distinguishing features, whether in the colour of their stockings, or the type of cap or cowl they wore. Certainly, there were well defined formations - firstly 2-2-6 and then 2-3-5 - and spectators were able to identify the players from the positions they took up on the field, which corresponded to the formation in which their names were printed on the teamsheet.


Thus for the match between Queen’s Park and The Wanderers on 9th October 1875, the home team’s “Centre Back-up” (centre half) C. Herriot was to wear a “Black and white cap - no stocking” while C.W. Alcock, the Wanderers Captain and Centre would wear a “Cap - blue and white chequers”. The front of this card would be recognisable as a programme / team sheet today - it had the teams, referee and umpires and fixture details. If there was printing on the reverse, it would likely be a fixture list, perhaps incorporating results to date, and details of forthcoming fixtures.


When Heart of Midlothian visited Royal Arsenal at Plumstead on 30th March 1891, the large single sheet had match details and team selections on one side, and on the reverse was printed a poem which served as the welcome to the visitors. At the foot of the page were four small advertisements for local traders.


In April 1893, at the Ardwick Ground, Hyde Road, Manchester (home of the club which evolved as Manchester City) Bolton Wanderers and Newton Heath (now Manchester United) contested a Manchester Senior Cup Final and the team sheet, sold for 1d, listed the teams with spaces to record the result and goalscorers. As the game developed around the turn of the century, so did its programmes, and as football left the Victorian age, match programmes assumed some of the familiar features by which we recognise them today.


For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.



Setting the Scene


Today’s newspapers and magazines may use modern colour print and photographic techniques, but they would still be recognisable to a Victorian transported by time-travel to 1998. Similarly with other periodicals, and certainly with books. It is most unlikely, however, that our time-warped visitor would recognise the printed word as sold to him at a football match.


The matchday programme has undergone dramatic change since it first emerged as a means of identifying players in the 1870’s. Today, it is a glossy, colourful and sophisticated communications and marketing vehicle, sold in prodigious quantities and for sums far removed from the penny or halfpenny of Victorian days.


In the course of this series articles, the development of matchday programmes will be chronicled, and put into the perspective of contemporary life and the game they represent. Avid readers of modern programmes may bemoan the prevalence of advertisements, but these vital fund-raisers become fascinating historical markers as we roll back the years. The local butcher, baker and candle-stick maker were present in just about every club programme, as was the local brewery, theatre (and then cinema), newspapers and menswear shops.


Local industries were prominent amongst the advertisements - razor blades in the Sheffield clubs’ programmes, vehicle and cycle accessory manufacturers in the Birmingham clubs’ issues, ship-builders advertising for workers on Clydeside. We can watch local economies evolve over the life of a club’s matchday programme by reading the adverts.


Trends within the game are, of course, apparent in editorials and features, while great teams, marvellous players, and some unhappy times in the game may be recalled from the playing and managerial personnel listed in the programmes.


If the content of programmes down the years is varied, then so are the formats and styles used by clubs and associations. From the simple teamsheet of Victorian days, listing players and their distinguishing features, to the colourful, glossy booklets of the 1990’s - the history of football programmes is as varied and interesting as the game itself, as we will discover over the course of this season.


For more information and advice on programmes and programme collecting, please visit www.pmfc.co.uk.

man city.jpg