Growing up in Wales, many of my cold, wet winter nights were spent cowering under a lightbulb studying every word and every page of football programmes. I had my Swansea City programmes that I brought home from matches, but I was deeply indebted to Steve Earl Football Programmes for helping to grow my collection. Goodness knows how much money I spent with them in the late 70s and early 80s.
When I moved to Florida in 1984, I was immediately thrown into a world where soccer was virtually extinct. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers had just folded. There was nothing on TV. As a high school freshman, all I had was the varsity team I played on as well as a local travel team where I achieved one of the few highlights of my pretty short soccer career. My coach’s name was Steve Ralbovsky, recipient of the 1975 Hermann Trophy (soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman trophy) and had 15 U.S. caps to his name. My claim to fame was being the only kid on the team to tackle our coach and keep the ball away.
To help cure my homesickness, I began collecting football programmes again. This time, I spent what little pocket money I received by converting them into international money orders and sending them to the Swansea City Club Shop. There Myra would send me a batch of programmes every few weeks to my home, where I would again scour through every page as I read about Swansea slipping further and further down the Football League until their near extinction.
So when I went to Switzerland a couple of weeks ago to watch Italy against Holland at Euro 2008, I was excited at the prospect of buying a football programme. To be bewilderment, there were none available for sale at the game. No one was walking around outside or inside the ground selling them. When I arrived in Zurich the day before the game, I remember seeing the official programme for the entire tournament for sale at a newsagent, but I passed up the opportunity thinking it’d be easier to get one at the match. I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t buy it at the time.
But with the popularity of websites, blogs, message forums and the advances in being able to surf online on mobile phones, is there a place for football programmes in today’s society and are they slowly becoming extinct? Maybe it’s me, but I don’t hear or read discussions about football programmes anymore. Even when attending Premier League matches, I don’t see many supporters purchasing them. And in the United States, they seem to be even less popular than in Europe.
I fear for the future of football programmes. The cost of printing and paper is exorbitant. Plus there’s the issue of being timely. With the Internet, articles can be written in minutes after news breaks. Football programmes have to be written days or weeks in advance, so the content is usually more dry such as programme notes from a manager or a player profile or an article about the history of the club.
But there is a certain appeal about football programmes, something a lot more tangible than visiting a website. Years from now, football programmes are a wonderful souvenir that bring back so many memories. Sometimes it’s just the smell of a programme that triggers vivid images of being at a game. That’s something that websites can’t do.
Let’s hope that football programmes stick around for Steve Earl’s sake.