RIP The Match Day Programme – Or Is It?

I was seven when I got taken to my first Lincoln game. I remember it relatively well, the morning before the game, I was caught swearing by my Dad, and instead of going to my Aunty June’s house, where I’d undoubtedly be bought a Matchbox car, I had to go with Dad to the football. 

I’d shown some interest in the Mexico World Cup a couple of months before, collected the stickers, and been bought a football, but Lincoln City was still alien to me. The day before our game against Hartlepool in October 1986, we’d been on our way to Nottingham Forest and Manchester United as a family when my brother threw a paddy because he wanted to go to Newark Air Museum, which had a plane out front, if I recall correctly. Dad had clearly decided, given Lincoln’s relegation the season before, that I should support a big club. I put paid to that by swearing.

The actual first programme I was bought

Anyway, the story of my first game is one I’ve told a few times. On the way in, Dad bought me a programme from a seller on the Sincil Drain side of the ground, and I refused to fold it to put it in my pocket. I grasped it for the whole game, and back in the car after our 4-1 mauling, I read it from cover to cover. I did it again in the days afterwards – it was my only connection to the game. Dad and Grandad found a small pile of programmes in their houses for me, and eventually, a small collection began, added to later in the year as we beat Swansea (4-0) and lost to Cardiff (1-0).

My first crossword attempt – no cheating

Fast forward to my time as Poacher, and I was asked to write a piece for the programme as the mascot. That was such a thrill to me to be asked to contribute to something that was an institution. I did just that, excited even though I wasn’t writing about anything personal. A few years later, JV asked me to write a regular column, which I did for a couple of seasons. At the start of the 2017/18 season, I was asked to contribute again, firstly doing a column and, latterly, player interviews, and I did right up until the beginning of this season. Every time I did, I felt like I was writing something that generations of supporters would enjoy. Sadly, that came to an end this year, and it is a huge regret I didn’t get to be a part of the programme’s final season.

It was confirmed yesterday that the programme is no more. We’ve all known it was dying for a few seasons now, it’s been no secret. The club tried to breathe new life into it last campaign without success. Print media is dying, I’m told, and the programme is a victim of progress. I hate that. When I heard the news yesterday, I got pretty hacked off, even though, in my heart of hearts, I know it’s the right decision.

Why? Well, I haven’t bought a programme at a game for five or six years now. They’re cumbersome, far too thick and too big to fit in a pocket. There’s not an awful lot in there, despite the club’s best efforts. Player interviews are never revealing, not really, and there was a conscious effort to take out a lot of the history stuff a few years ago. JV used to go to the library and research articles using microfilm, but the media team don’t have the resources to do that now, not with so many social media channels to manage and an expectation for content every day. Last season, I ordered them online, but they remained unread, adding only to my collection rather than adding value to me as a supporter.

When putting together articles, I never delve into a programme newer than 15 years. It evolved into something it didn’t need to be, a match day magazine rather than a simple guide to the afternoon’s game. I look at the programme I got as a seven-year-old, and it’s basic, but it fed my imagination. However, everything about that programme I cherished would be found online today. That pains me, but then I’m also a hypocrite because I put much of it online. Transfers, club news, history articles, opinions – it’s all right here on my site. This is my interpretation of the programme I cherished as a kid, and yet I also want the club to come up with an imaginative programme because it’s tradition? I’m a Luddite and a hypocrite, and yet I still want something to bring away from each match.

I think the alternative – a pimped team sheet with manager’s notes and a front cover, is a good alternative. it’s not a programme, but it is actually closer to the programmes I loved so much as a kid than the bulky magazine we’ve seen over the last 15 years or so. It’s still something for the likes of me, Adam Barlow, Kyle Kennealey, Ian Dovey and everyone else to collect. It’s still something physical I can buy at a game, and given the size, something I might buy every game as well.

In fact, I’d almost argue that the new product is still a programme. It’s no different to that which was produced in the three-day week of 1973. In my mind, we’re still getting a programme, something unique to each game, and despite being sad at the way it’s been stripped back and a little at the late hour it’s been announced, I take some comfort from knowing that collectors like myself won’t have to make do with an online product which you won’t find going through a box in 20 years time.

I shall endeavour to work through my programme section on here, bringing you every different programme since the war, and it might take time, but now there’s a finite finish, a target to work to. That’s a shame, but I suppose it is also just another reflection of progress. What I will say is I think the club have tried to keep the likes of me, Gary Parle and other programme enthusiasts happy.

I’ve also been asked a bit over the last 24 hours about a fanzine being resurrected. It’s a possibility; I shall speak to Chris Wray – he and I discussed the possibility in the event of the programme’s demise, and if there’s demand, you never know. However, for now, the programme as we know it is dead. Long live the new programme (or teamsheet, if that’s what you want to call it).