Aidan Smith: Spiders’ web programme a step too far

Picture: ContributedPicture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
IT’S RIDICULOUS that I didn’t notice, given how often I’m there, but Brian Johnston has installed new lights in his football programme shop, all the better to show off his wall displays.

While he was a bit miffed about this – “Call yourself a journalist? Call yourself a trained observer?” – the truth is I don’t need extra illumination to appreciate the wonderfulness of programmes. But, in another corner of the collectors’ world inhabited by Brian, myself and a few other nutters, darkness has descended. Over at Hampden, the ’fishul Queen’s Park programme is ’fishully no more. The final edition was sold on Mount Florida’s street corners before last Saturday’s game against Elgin City. The club say the programme was running at a loss, with production costs outstripping sales. It will continue online but this won’t be the same.

“I’m sad but I’m also annoyed,” said Brian. “Did Queen’s Park not try to find a printer who’d produce the programme cheaper? They’re a historic club, world-renowned in that respect. They’re football’s great traditionalists. They play at the national stadium. They’re part of the folklore of our game. And now there’s no proper record of their matches.

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“Poor Preston Athletic. They play Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup next Saturday and for most of the team this is the chance of a lifetime to get to Hampden but now they won’t come away with a souvenir of the tie. There are lots of small, non-league clubs – Preston Athletic among them – who manage to produce a programme sufficient for fans and collectors and yet Queen’s Park, with more resources, can’t seem to do this.”

Brian must be concerned that others will follow the Spiders’ example. This would be drastic for those of us who inhabit Programmeworld (not the name of the shop, that’s Almondvale Programmes) but not necessarily the end of the world. All the programmes that have ever been produced by all the clubs thus far would only increase in desirability and mystique. If that’s even possible.

I have programme dreams, also programme nightmares. The recurring nightmare is of a flood turning my street into a raging river, sweeping up my worldly goods. The house also contains an expensive bicycle, an extensive amount of prog-rock and a wife and three kids but I only seem concerned about the programmes floating past – there goes the one for the 1973 Drybrough Cup final, those staples will be really rusty now – aagh!

The recurring dream is that I complete my collection but this is also a nightmare because what would I do then? That’s why there are currently three collections on the go, with the scope for more. The main one is Hibs in the 1960s/70s. I’m also fascinated by shock Rangers defeats, especially when there’s a hint of complacency, even triumphalism, in the matchday notes. My newest obsession is Christmas Day football and I love it when the programmes barely acknowledge the day, don’t even stick a sprig of holly or dollop of snow on the club crest.

Queen’s Park loom large. I recently acquired the programme for an old League Cup section tie Hibs played at Hampden en route to winning the trophy. It’s only taken me 41 years to get that one. And, while I have the programme for QP’s Christmas Day game in 1971 against Berwick Rangers, a memento from the equally sacrilegious 25 December encounter with Albion Rovers six years previously continues to elude me.

Programmes aren’t just football history, they’re social history. Next to any old hippy’s account of 1967 – the happenings, the freak-outs, all that free love – I’d want to stick an Airdrie programme from that year with its front-page ad for the Tip Top Restaurant’s unbeatable high teas. And Queen’s Park’s programmes are – were – among the loveliest.

From just the half-dozen I own you get a real sense of this eccentric, special club in the congrats offered to players who’ve completed their accountancy degrees or taken up teaching posts at Hutchesons’ Grammar School. Far from parochial, there are quirky tales about refs in Peru producing knives to settle pitch rammies. And a 1968 programme contains an account of the Hampden fire of that year that’s completely gripping.

The old ground survived but now these vital parchments haven’t. I know that lots of things in life exist online now, but football programmes shouldn’t.