Offside’s Premier League A-Z: P is for programmes

P is for programmes…

The football programme is many things to many people.

They are souvenirs for the match day tourists and collectors; a pre-game read-up for the anoraks; a ritual purchase; a tradition carried on became of a duty to help fill the club’s coffers rather than out of interest for what’s inside: whatever the reason people pick them up, programmes are as essential to the build-up to a  football  match as pies,  touts, pints and the walk to the ground.

Matt Roberts: Middlesbrough fans await  kick-off against Fulham.
Matt Roberts: Middlesbrough fans await kick-off against Fulham.

Fanzines offer a more opinionated, punky alternative to the  sober words of the official pre-match magazines offered to passing fans from kiosks and re-sellers outside stadiums prior to kick-off.

Often adorned with eye-catching art and satirical cartoons, they’ve ensnared more than a few camera lens over the years, especially after a momentum or calamitous happening at the relevant club. The best ‘zines make Private Eye look like a student rag due to their acerbic wit and cutting visual gags, usually at the expense of a golden cow or two.

Simon Stacpoole: The official Stoke City programme next to fanzine, The Oatcake.
Simon Stacpoole: The official Stoke City programme next to fanzine, The Oatcake.

Such risky commentary and satire has no place in the modern programme, especially in the PR-ridden world of the Premier League. Down the pyramid however, especially in the non-league scene, where messages aren’t so managed and party lines are unnecessary,  the lines between the fanzines and the programme can be blurred.

Fans can still find both these sanitised and unauthorised print outs sold together up in the top-flight however, often from the same stands or shelving. Peaceful co-existence is possible, even  if some publishers would rather distance is kept between the official output and  the unsafe words of the self-published supporters.

For youngsters, programmes can be another gateway into the deeper culture of the game and the match day experience. They are the pamphlets by which many first found out about the existence, never mind the recent activities, of the reserve and youth teams. Featured interviews with past greats and retrospectives on moments of the past educated interested kids in the full extent of what they were getting themselves in for.

These days, blogs, apps and digitisation have altered the landscape as they  have in every other filed and genre, but thanks to the loyal, localised interest in ‘zines many survive, while the resources of the football clubs ensure  that programmes remain on  sale.

Gerry Cranham: A gentleman sells Spurs programmes in 1964.
Gerry Cranham: A gentleman sells Spurs programmes in 1964.


How long that will continue  for, who knows. Given the head-spinning proliferation of iPads in the stands in recent reasons, the sight of numerous  match-goers treading towards the ground with their eyes fixated on pre-game texts is unlikely to disappear even  if the paper versions do.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic First Division and Premier League pictures as well as other images from across the world of sport. Explore Offside’s unique library at

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.


Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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