Programme Watch: 2020/21

Regular readers will know I am an avid fan of the matchday programme. I find it frightening to think one day, there will be no physical product for the fans to collect, to trade in and to reminisce with.

Luckily, The Imps have decided to keep the programme going this year, even though supporters cannot get to matches. Look, it isn’t a big seller anymore, it isn’t something that makes the club a lot of money (I think it is a ‘break-even’ product), but it is part of the tradition for me. Some of you see The Anchor and a beer part of tradition, others a pie and a wandered up to the ground as early as possible. I’ve always bought a programme, I got one at my very first game and I have one from every home game going back to the early sixties, as well as plenty going back to the end of World War II.

A programme is a snapshot of a moment in time. It can’t go digital and be lost within a few months, in my opinion, it has to be physical, something you can slip into a box and find years later, bringing memories flooding back. It’s why I was delighted to see us put a new one out there this season. I’m not just saying this because I write for it either. If I didn’t, I would still buy it and read it.

This year, there is a subscription available for the season, or you can buy them on a match by match basis. I’ve opted for the latter at the moment, but I suspect I will begin to buy them this way permanently. I know that takes a bit of the tradition away, collecting one at the ground, but it also means I won’t get the odd one with torn covers courtesy of an over-enthusiastic celebration, or fold marks as I’ve tried to keep it out of the rain in the middle of winter.

How does this seasons look and feel? Well, for a start it is smaller than last seasons, by 12 pages. The cost has remained the same too, which is reflective of the times I guess. I knew this was going to be the case; I asked the question a few weeks back on the Supporter’s Board and was told it might even be 16 pages down from last season, so I guess the club have done what they can to ensure there is still a purchasable product in the eyes of fans. Personally, and this may just be me, I much prefer a smaller programme. Storing the newer ones was becoming a pain, needing two or three binders every season. I feel a programme should be smaller, easier to carry on matchday and easier to store consistently.

Last season’s programme, or at least the Gillingham one I sampled, has 22 full pages dedicated to adverts (23 if you include the one for the club shop), which meant 35% of the product was adverts. This season has 13, 14 if you include the club shop, which is just 26% of the product. whilst the programme is smaller, the content to advert ratio is much better, which is pleasing.

All the regular features make a return; match action photos, one big interview (last year had two, but that makes it easier for me to get different players!), as well as a bit from Michael at the front. I’m heartened to see more space for Gary Parle too, I love his history articles and they’re something I felt that recent seasons have perhaps lacked. There’s a return for Kyle Kennealey too, a writer who I’ve enjoyed watching develop over the last couple of years.

The design is cool, I love the mosaic on the front and there is a quite stylish feel to the paper too. Rather than have staples and a fold, the new issue is perfect bound too, which means it is glued. From a collectors point of view, that means no rusty staples which is a nice touch many might not notice.

My only gripes are minor I suppose: I’m a fan of teams on the external cover but in recent seasons there’s been a trend across the country to have an advert on the cover. That’s not necessarily the club’s fault, but it is pretty much all I can pick up. I know it is smaller and therefore you’re getting a little less bang for your buck, but I think Terry and the team have done a very good job under the circumstances. I like the fact it is smaller and has fewer adverts as well as a bit less content. A programme isn’t a ‘matchday magazine’ in my eyes, it is simply a programme for a game. Hell, I’d be happy if it was just six sheets of A4 with some notes from the manager, a bit about the opposition and the suggested teams. Whilst I’m sure that wouldn’t please many, the lean towards what i feel is a more traditional programme this season is really pleasing, if not just for my sanity when it comes to bringing (and I quote Fe here) ‘more bloody programmes into this house’.

I just hope interest is sufficient to keep it in production because it is a hugely important part of football culture that many fans value greatly.