29th June 2022
“We might easily scoff at the naivety or crassness of some of the adverting lines and programme notes of half a century ago. That is not my intention… Rather, it is to make the serious point that the match programmes of the 1960s were products of their times. They reflected – and were influenced by – the cultural norms of the era”.
[The Rugby League Journal, Spring
2014, reproduced in Still An Ordinary Spectator, page 70].
It is now exactly one year since I resumed my sports-watching career – at the Ukraine versus Sweden Euro2020 match at Hampden Park in Glasgow – following the various lockdowns and cancellations necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time, I have been to about a dozen different types of event. These have ranged from the relatively small scale (amateur rugby league and women’s football) through to national tournaments (cycling and badminton) and international competition (World Championship Boxing as well as Euro2020).
One noticeable feature of the spectator “experience” over this period has struck me: the reduced availability of printed match programmes.
The paper-based souvenir of the event has not been totally absent: a traditional scorecard at the Yorkshire/Surrey 50-over One Day Cup cricket match; the 1-page typed team sheets at the Hunslet/Keighley and Edinburgh Eagles/York Acorn rugby league games and the 4-page summary sheet of teams, fixtures and Club President’s welcome for the West of Scotland/Howe of Fife rugby union fixture. There was also a Euro2020 tournament brochure available at Hampden.
But that’s all. There were no printed match or tournament programmes available at the much-hyped Northern Superchargers/Welsh Fire cricket encounters (men’s and women’s) in “The Hundred” at Headingley, the Glasgow City/Servette match in the UEFA Women’s Champions League at the Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld, the Scottish Badminton tournament at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, the world title boxing bout between Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall at the OVO Hydro or the Edinburgh Academical/Currie Chieftains rugby union match at Raeburn Place in the Scottish Premiership.
I can understand some of the reasons for this. In the period immediately following the relaxation of Covid-19 rules, there was an understandable reluctance amongst many to be exposed to the handling of materials with which they were not familiar. This was – and, to some extent, still is – the era of hand-sanitising and the reluctance to touch.
Another factor is that the technology has continued to move on apace: a growing proportion of us – though not everyone, it has to be said – satisfy our immediate information requirements by accessing the phone or the tablet or the watch. Interestingly, when I enquired about match programmes at both the Scottish Badminton tournament and the Edinburgh/Currie rugby match, I was referred to the screens on the walls inside the Emirates Arena and the clubhouse at Raeburn Place, respectively.
In addition, the absence of paper match programmes is consistent with the powerful zeitgeist of reducing the consumption of the earth’s resources, albeit that wood-based products are not finite as the raw material can be harvested. And, not least, not having to produce programmes represents a saving in the costs and time required in the preparation for the match or tournament by the hosts.
Of these reasons, the post-Covid rationale is obviously a new factor that was not present before the pandemic. The others represent the continuation of underlying trends that had been evident for some time. Still, I think the reduced availability of the match programme is a shame – again for several reasons.
First of all – notwithstanding the technical alternatives – it is a readily accessible source of information. When attending a sports fixture, I like to know the names of the individual participants in front of me – even the one-page team-sheet will suffice in that respect – and if this is supplemented by some background material (biographical details, a league table, a fixture list…) so much the better.
The provision of information is principally an immediate requirement: something I need on the day. The second benefit of the match programme is of a medium or longer-term nature: it provides (along with the paper match ticket, another disappearing feature) a souvenir for future reference.
It is here that I think the promotors of sports events are missing a trick, particularly for those events at which they are seeking to attract “new” audiences. Two of those listed above stand out: the Hundred cricket fixtures at Headingley (which, as noted, included a women’s match) and the UEFA Women’s Champions League game in Cumbernauld. These events will have been witnessed by a significant number of spectators who were attending such fixtures for the first time – and who, from my casual observation of both these occasions, will have enjoyed the experience – but who had nothing to show for it afterwards (unless they were persuaded to invest in a highly priced replica shirt, of course).
This second reason merges over time into a third, which is more specialised and about which I have written before (“Windows Into the Past” and “The Parksider” in the Spring 2014 and Summer 2019 editions, respectively, of the Rugby League Journal). It is the value of match programmes as social records in their own right: as reference points for future cultural historians.
In the former article, I noted the naïve request in the Bradford Northern Supporters Club Notes in a match programme for a fixture in 1966: “We are appealing once again for young ladies to put forward their names for Miss Bradford Northern. Last season the entries were very disappointing to say the least”. A year earlier, the Warrington programme welcomed the two Hull wingers: “Barry and Clive Sullivan are coloured boys from Cardiff’s Tiger Bay”. [It should actually have been “Brian and
Clive Sullivan…”]. There are other examples on which I could draw, but the key point – emphasised in the quote at the beginning of this essay – is that they reflected the cultural norms of the era and stand as part of the record of that time.
The final reason is a more personal one, indeed more selfish. It reflects the interest of the sports participant himself or herself by recognising that there is a pleasure to be gained by seeing one’s own name in the printed list of the players on show.
In my case, the modesty of my playing career(s) has produced a relatively small sample – a schools’ rugby fixture and a few club cricket games – but the relevant match programmes are dutifully (and proudly) stored with the remainder of my collection. Not that the details were always correct. One of the scorecards for a Saltaire CC match in the Bradford League in 1975 refers to one “Jack Rigg”. No-one had ever called me by that name up to that point – but “Jack” it was for my team-mates for the rest of the season.
I readily acknowledge – not for the first time – that I am heading against the general direction of travel. It’s partly a generational thing, I suspect: a realisation that that which was comfortable and familiar in the days (and years) past is now falling prey to the changes – technological, social, economic – that govern the world around us. Indeed, I have been here relatively recently on a related theme (“Batsmen and Batters”, October 2021).
In the case of match programmes, there is perhaps one consolation. The great writer Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “Buy land. They’re not making it anymore”. As far as I am aware, Twain was not a trained economist, but he was canny enough to recognise that, when the supply of a commodity is fixed or reduced, a rise in demand will lead to an increased price. Who knows what will happen to the demand for old match programmes – as investments or as historical records – as general wear and tear (and casual disposal) reduces the stock and the supply of replacements dries up? I would be wise to hang on to my collection, I think.