Hibs are the only club in the world whose match programme has appeared in an art gallery - they can't cease publication

I hope you were all watching Guilt, the fantastic Scottish telly drama which ended its second season last week. It was dark and twisty and occasionally difficult to follow but every so often there would be something cheeringly familiar – a smatter of patter, a street often walked and, best of all in the finale, a montage of Hibs programmes.
Actor Mark Bonnar in Guilt, a drama which featured Hibs programmes in its big reveal. The bigger mystery is why the club have stopped issuing them.Actor Mark Bonnar in Guilt, a drama which featured Hibs programmes in its big reveal. The bigger mystery is why the club have stopped issuing them.
Actor Mark Bonnar in Guilt, a drama which featured Hibs programmes in its big reveal. The bigger mystery is why the club have stopped issuing them.

The show’s creator, Neil Forsyth, is a Dundee United supporter but fair play to him when deciding to set his tale in Edinburgh that he chose the right team for the central characters – brothers Max and Jake – to follow. Stories of sibling rivalry are of course as old as the hills, as old indeed as the Easter Road slope, but these two were not the only Hibbies in the saga, with the programmes turning up on the noticeboard of the local minister, “Leith’s Billy Graham” as he was dubbed, and really, the timing of this was perfect.

A few weeks ago Hibs announced they were stopping their programme, a match-day pamphlet dating back almost a century. That the team have lost every game since seems, to this anorak collector, some kind of hell-mend-them, ah-telt-ye karma.

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Programmes, what do they matter anymore? We don’t need the ABC key for half-time progress around the land because the big old scoreboards like the one at Hibs have long gone and we’re all on our phones now, checking the other games minute by minute for Open All Mics updates from Chick, Biscuits and the rest.

Well, keep your technology, keep your modernity, keep your evolution. A little bit of my club has just gone and snuffed it.

I still have the programme from my first game, bought with the sixpence handed me by my father, who gently pushed me towards the elderly vendor, fag drooping, for possibly the first monetary transaction of my young life. My 14-year-old son still has the programme from his first game but his little brother, three, once the lad is deemed old enough to endure the slings and sideways passes, will be denied this little ritual.

And Hector would be entitled to ask: “Daddy, why don’t I have a programme when your daddy always had one in his pocket?” This is what my boy thinks when he looks at the portrait of my late father, the grandfather he never knew, on the living-room wall.

The painting is by Sandy Moffat, a key player in the 1960s Scottish countercultural ferment who went on to teach at Glasgow School of Art for 25 years. He and Dad, a BBC Scotland producer, were great friends and we would often bump into Sandy on Easter Road’s high terrace. Dad put Sandy’s work on TV and in return Sandy painted Dad, getting stuck during the sitting for how to enliven Dad’s purple safari suit jacket until hitting upon the whizzo idea of a programme, the sixpenny version, with “Hibernian” running vertically down the left-hand side.

For a long time the painting hung in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street alongside Sandy’s depictions of Hugh MacDiarmid and Muriel Spark, the latter looking especially miffed she didn’t have a programme about her person. So there you have it: the programme as art. This must be the only time, anywhere in the world, that one has been glimpsed in such rarefied surroundings. Hibs cannot cease production of theirs; it’s sacrilegious.

When my eldest started to get excited by football I decided to try and fill in the blanks in my collection. I wanted him to be able to inherit complete Hibs seasons from the 1960s and 1970s, those years when the game was all about joy, before I got cynical.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in Almondvale Programmes, the emporium a goal-kick from Easter Road. I don’t know how much money I spent there because of a trick I learned from Hunter Davies – the Renfrewshire-born Beatles chronicler who used spidery secret code in a notebook to log what his Scotland-England programmes cost to fool his wife – only I can no longer remember how I devised mine.

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Eventually I got to know the other Almondvale regulars. Some of these stern-faced fellows, requiring just one elusive programme and often the same programme, seemed to want the shop to themselves. Collecting, you see, is a deadly serious business. But to them I was no threat, not with what they called my “nice wee collection”. It was a while before I realised this was like being told you had a “nice wee car” or a “nice wee penis”.

The montage in Guilt did not feature any Hibs programmes from the last few seasons. Right across football these are unlovely things compared to a more innocent age but then I’m biased. The programme is still a record of a game, and every game will always be notable to someone. Fewer and fewer fans may buy programmes but could that be to do with them being expensive magazines full of fluff? Make them smaller and cheaper, improve the content and inject personality. Just don’t break the tradition.

When I told Sandy Moffat the tradition had just been broken at Hibs he was flabbergasted. “I had to have a dip into my programme box: first out, Juventus in 1974, Paddy Stanton on the cover,” he emailed back. I’ve got that one, too, and currently need only a handful to complete the “nice wee collection”. Dundee away from 1961-62, the season that club won the title, is going to be tricky and already looking like my Rosebud but I won’t give up.

Come on all you Dens Parkers, be reasonable – we gave you Gordon Smith!

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