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The purchase of a football programme has long been part of the 'ritual' of attending a football match in Great Britain, along with a pint and/or a pie. Due to their initial expendible nature (like the ticket) it took many decades for the format to gain respectability as a collectable. It has come into its own in recent decades though no doubt with the advent of television and the sport turning professional. It is now quite common for a 1920's FA Cup Final programme to fetch in excess of £1000 at respectable auction houses such as Sotheby's or Bonhams with said sale receiving national press coverage.
The programme started life around the late 1880s as a scorecard which would have been a single card or sheet with dateline, team names and player positions. Aston Villa were one of the first clubs to publish a programme with their The Villa News and Record which from the outset almost encouraged collecting as it was in the form of a journal with a different number and volume for each season and week respectively; by 1946 for instance it was up to number 33. Of real interest for the collector however has always been the FA Cup Final programme; over the years there have been many attractive covers and the design often reflecting the age with the late 1920s and 30s examples bearing art deco style for example.
It is understood[by whom?] that pre-war and early 1950s programmes are rarer due to recycling for paper shortages as part of the war effort and times of post-war austerity. The size of the programme has increased over the decades from the convenient pocket size to A4 but many clubs in the early 21st century have reverted to a more convenient size. The FA Cup Final however has retained its inconvenient[according to whom?] size (even acknowledging this by coming with a customary carrier bag in recent years.)
Modern programmes have far more pages than their earlier 4 or 8-page predecessors and are generally full colour and glossy. With the logistics and requirements of modern production (programmes are often printed beyond a club's locality for example), the product has long been of little help in accuracy of the 'field of play' although the advent of squad numbers has at least ensured the likelihood of all names being present. The programme for Duncan Edwards debut for Manchester United in the early 1950s for example does not bear his name at all.
Certain clubs have a programme shop but these are few and far in between usually independent traders must be relied on. ebay has proved a good source now for the collector as due to the sheer saturation of armchair sellers the prices have been forced down. Dealers and collectors alike can still pick up bargains however even in rarities due to shortfalls in description for example.
One of the most sought-after of all programmes is the 1966 World Cup Final but as it was mass-produced it is not as rare or expensive as one would imagine; however its purchase is littered with potential minefields. There have been at least two reprints, the original is heavier than the reprints and the inside advert for Player's No. 6 is notably different. The blue of the Union Jack on the cover is darker too.
The programme for the first ever Wembley FA Cup Final in 1923 is much rarer and would typically cost over £1000; similarly the 1927 one is much sought after as it was the first and so far only time that the Cup 'left England', being won by Cardiff City.
Some of the more recent Cup Final programmes are considered rare, notably the 1993 replay, and 1996 legend has it that the surplus copies were burned. They have been known to sell for anything between £60 and £100.
Perhaps the most famous club programme is the Manchester United v Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup game in February 1958. This was United's first game after the tragic Munich Air Disaster and out of respect the United team layout was left blank.
A football programme from the 1882 FA Cup final between Blackburn Rovers and Old Etonians has sold at auction for a new world record of £35,250. The programme sold by Sotherbys May 2013 and was bought by the Old Etonians Football Club. The previous record for a football programme was for the 1909 FA Cup Final contested between Manchester United and Bristol City. It was sold on May 15th 2012 for £23,500 at Sotheby's by Graham Budd Auctions..
- British Football Programmes (Published in Baseline 53, 2007)