PROGRAMMES: Protecting the things you love

Protect the things you Love

Last year the Southern League, one of the oldest football leagues in the world, made a minor wording change to one of their rules. It didn’t make the BBC news.

The change? “Clubs do not have to produce printed programmes, online will suffice”

The ripple through the footballing world was just that. Fast-forward a year and it’s become the subject of the week. The ripple became a wave, twitter and the footballing world awash with debate. Why? The EFL have announced an upcoming vote to implement a similar change.

It’s a nuanced debate

Firstly, please let’s agree it’s a nuanced debate. Those who love the printed programme should accept the authorities are not ‘banning’ or ‘doing away’ with programmes. Secondly, the overall stats for programme sales do seem to be down. Add to this the reality that many fans now find their match day information elsewhere (and often it’s far more up to date) i.e. twitter provides team line ups one hour before kick-off, the programme is out of date as it was printed 24/48 hours earlier. You know, like newspapers sometimes… Then there’s the cost, many programmes are produced at a loss. Finally, although there are other arguments too, many programmes aren’t actually that good; I will just leave that there.

Gary Cahill

This article however is to demonstrate that the argument for printed match day programmes is similarly nuanced. “Every club must produce a full colour match day programme for every game, even if it’s at a large financial loss, just in case I turn up”, like Gary Cahill, isn’t our best line of defence.

Let’s start at the end.

Or at least the future. Because us programme lovers are not all over 75 years old longing for the days when programmes cost 3d. The innovation, originality, resourcefulness and freshness that I have seen, particularly in the non-league world this season has been simply extraordinary. I am not lying to say a number of us have been talking about a ‘renaissance’ in the football programme world before the EFL news broke.

Dennis the Menace

Take Frickley Athletic with their use of Augmented Reality in their home match day programmes. Consider the spell-binding programme covers from retro to ‘The Beano’ which have blown many of us away recently. There has been an increase in the number of football programme fairs, we are talking vinyl is back in fashion! Perhaps tellingly though I’ve witnessed numerous young people engaging with their local match day programme. These youngsters are the future. Out of, or indeed still in college, gaining vital skills in Journalism, photography, graphic design and more. It’s been a joy to see.

Eastbourne Town programme

Need proof? What about Ollie, from Gosport Borough Football Club (@OliieCookMedia) who, one day, wants to work in Football Media. He is studying Graphic Design at Fareham College and produced a great programme at Gosport Borough during the 2017/18 season. He said putting a programme together “gave me great experience that has given me a pathway into Football Media”. The fact it was a printed programme rather than online was important to him because it is “always nice to see and be able to feel your work in your hands, and also as the roles in non-league are voluntary, it’s nice to have your work to physically look back on.”

Gosport Borough programme

The next Henry Winter could currently be working on their local match day programme!

We could also look back of course. Programmes are a part of the fabric of the game and some things don’t have to change for the sake of it. Looking back is something football programmes were kind of made for in many ways. Yes you get the salient information for the match you attend, but when I pick up my first Barnstaple Town programme, the Grays Athletic cup final I went to, the games I went to with dad, memories flood back. I am pretty sure people will not leaf back through online tabs to get their memories in the future.

The inter-web

Which brings us to online programmes. Love them! Of course you should put your programme online, it took long enough to put together. Fans from around the world can find out about your club and advertisers will love it. The nuance here is we are just asking for online and some printed programmes. You can even print a few less, I try to arrive at least 72 hours before every game I attend for that very reason!

Then there is the cost perspective. In non-league there isn’t much cash floating around. No volunteers want to do it and no-one buys one any way. I get all this I really do. The suggestion is to relax the rule so clubs do not have to produce a printed programme. Well the southern league ruling, now the EFL debate, shows us that the result of loosening the rulings will be that less and less clubs will issue printed programmes.

It’s an obvious cost saver isn’t it? Well not necessarily. Clubs around the county have managed to at least break-even on their programmes, possibly even a small profit. Let’s look at their best practice and learn from it. I saw a three-fold programme this week, literally one sheet of a4 landscape. It was creatively put together, 6 panels, all the information you need and you get entered into a prize draw too, all for £1 – that’s do-able isn’t it?


The Tower of London and the Barn Owl

The point is that if a country or a person values something, it protects it, like the Barn Owl or listed buildings. Take away the necessity to protect our heritage? well there’s going to be a short term few quid to be made so let’s demolish the Tower of London and sell the land! No, we have to protect the things we love. if you want something to survive, sometimes you have to make it a ‘ruling’. That’s why we still have numerous species of birds and animals and why we can still visit Stonehenge and the Houses of Parliament.

How dull is that!?

One year ago, I set up a football programme twitter site to show pictures of my collection. How dull is that? Well, it’s our first birthday and we are raising money for charity, have nearly 4000 followers, a vibrant community, hundreds of interactions, content / best practice being shared and volunteers being encouraged and appreciated for what they do. Then look at Ollie, look at the opportunity, look at the innovation and the creativity. We love football programmes and sometimes you have to actively protect the things you love, or they will be lost forever.


Chris Tuck, founder of @NonLgeProgs

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