For more than a century, football has been the best-supported spectator sport in the world, inspiring great passion among its devotees and huge quantities of printed memorabilia for collectors and enthusiasts.
The game of football is as much about opinions as it is about goals, and about supporters as it is players. Football clubs can inspire lifetime devotion, and for many fans the next best thing to watching their team play is to pore over all the printed material about the club they can find.
Successful big city teams attract the greatest attention, but most clubs with any history at all, no matter how humble, will have their own zealous amateur archivists ready and willing to buy and read programmes for matches played before they were born.
Match programmes are the traditional basis of football collections. Early programmes were single, folded-over sheets of paper containing the team line-ups, the bare minimum of club news and small ads for local traders. More sophisticated ones had two or more folded sheets stapled together.
This was the standard format until the 1960s. Since then, the top clubs' match programmes have gradually evolved into fat, full-colour booklets packed with features, photographs and trivia - much of it gleaned from older programmes.
Most league clubs have traditionally also published annual handbooks containing reviews of the previous season's matches and pen pictures of the players. These, too, are much sought after by the teams' fans.
GHOSTS AND STATISTICS
Commercial publishers also feed the football market. Ghosted autobiographies of star players
have been and remain the mainstay of football book publishers, while annual compilations of statistics have always been popular. The pocket-sized News of the World, News Chronicle and Playfair annuals dominated this field until the weighty Rothmans Football was introduced in 1970.
Several monthly and weekly magazines have been dedicated to the game; Charles Buchan's Football Monthly was a notable, long running success. These featured match reports - a valuable service in the days
before saturation TV coverage - photographs, statistics and articles 'by' famous players. Since they had a nationwide audience, they were generally non-controversial in tone. Many magazines also published hardback annuals aimed at their younger readers.
Younger fans were also the primary target of another category of football memorabilia, the cards given away as promotions with cigarettes, tea, comics and bubble-gum. Other pictorial material, including photographs many with written or printed signatures - and posters, is also widely collected.
A recent phenomenon, virtually unheard of before the early 1980s, is the publication of periodicals produced by the supporters themselves. There are now literally hundreds of these fanzines, ranging in quality from crudely photocopied irregular pamphlets to professionally produced monthly magazines, all destined to be collectables of the future.
Collecting football memorabilia comes third to watching and playing the game in popularity, but there is still a thriving collectors' market. Football is popular worldwide, and even a modest collection of programmes will
transcend national boundaries. All football magazines contain personal ads from fans all over the globe who want to swap programmes on a regular basis.
In football collecting, as in football itself, there are very few neutrals. Everyone has a favourite team or individual they care about above all others. Would-be collectors could choose an area that at least interests them; there is little investment potential in
While there are more people looking for material about big clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool or Spurs than non-league clubs or
perennial strugglers such as Torquay United, Gillingham or Darlington, there is more of it to be had, and prices of programmes are broadly the same.
BUYING AND SELLING
Football programmes and handbooks are mostly sold and traded privately or through mail-order dealers, who often advertise in football magazines. These dealers may also carry stocks of trade and cigarette cards, books and magazines; ones with a football theme be found in more general memorabilia shops. Jumble sales, charity shops and car boot sales can yield useful finds.
If your interest is in one particular team, it may be worth your while writing to the official supporters' club, if there is one, or to the club itself, to find like-minded individuals who will be willing to sell or trade.
Condition is not as important in football memorabilia as in some other fields. It's rare to find old programmes in mint condition, unless they have been preserved from the first by collectors who bought two copies, one to use and the other to file away.
Such copies do fetch a premium, but a degree of use will not necessarily devalue a programme. Scorers, team changes, the final result and so on are often scribbled in, there are folds and creases where they have been pushed into pockets and rust stains around the staples because the game has been played in the rain. Coupons and tokens - used to guarantee regular supporters first choice of tickets for big games may have been cut out. Of course, programmes with several pages missing, or that have clearly been used to mop up the half-time Bovril, should be avoided.
Past collectors may have bound their programmes, punching holes for ring binders. This will not make a programme worthless, if it's well done, but serious collectors will keep their prize possessions individually packaged away from damp and strong sunlight.
Important old programmes are occasionally reproduced as reading copies, distinguished from originals by their clean, sharply printed condition.