Why it's easy to understand Hibs' decision to scrap programmes but hard to accept

Close your eyes and picture going to the football. From the moment you close the door behind you the matchday ritual begins.

Hibs will no longer produce a matchday programme. Picture: SNS
Hibs will no longer produce a matchday programme. Picture: SNS

The same bus, train, drive or walk. The familiar haunts for the post-match pint. The walk to the ground, the programme, the chosen turnstile are part of the rite. The pie and bovril. The same seat. The booing of the referee. The silent conversation with yourself as you try to persuade yourself to stay despite there being no way back for your team.

Staples of the matchday ritual following your team in Scotland.

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One of those, however, is increasingly under threat.

Hearing a seller shout 'PROGRAMMES' is a staple of the matchday experience. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

On Wednesday, Hibs released a statement with the headline ‘Communication and Content Changes’.

There was no tiptoeing around the subject. They cut to the chase and within the space of 67 words they had delivered the news that they would no longer be creating a matchday programme.

"We used the international break to analyse the readership, downloads, and purchases of each edition and have made a decision to no longer continue with these in their current format.”

In its place they will produce a 100-page quarterly magazine.

Rangers have one of the most impressive programmes in Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Incredulity and logisitcs

For some Hibs fans and plenty of other programme collecting anoraks and geeks around the country – this writer included – it was the disappointment of a club moving away from tradition to modernisation.

The Easter Road club are not the first, Kilmarnock have already opted for a monthly magazine rather than a game-by-game programme which has been the norm for so long. Part of that staple of going to the game.

Even if you didn’t pick one up, you were very much aware of their presence, sellers bellowing ‘PROGRAMMES’ with the same gusto, determination and, anguish almost, as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace shouting ‘FREEDOM’ at the end of Braveheart.

After the initial incredulity subsided and the logistics of the decision were considered, it’s actually somewhat of a surprise that so many of our clubs still produce programmes and even did so during the pandemic.

By and large, fanzines have fallen by the wayside, becoming as rare as a quiet week in Scottish football. Somewhat ironically, Kilmarnock still have one of the best fanzines around in the Killie Hippo.

The programme is an anachronism. It's the autograph in a selfie world. The fax machine in the digital world.

There are merits to Hibs’ decision. Demand is most certainly lower which will impact the bottom line. Unfortunately, for swathes of the new generation of fan, the programme is not part of their matchday ritual.

A quarterly magazine will likely be less onerous than a programme delivered every other week. It allows for more time and thought to be put into features and projects for a less frequent product which may appeal to more fans than something which is bi-weekly.

This is, however, not to say it would be wise for other clubs to follow suit.

The Blue Brazilian

In the cinch Premiership and beyond there are excellent programmes which are a must purchase when visiting certain grounds and deserve to be devoured from start to finish.

Two that jump out are Aberdeen and Rangers. Polished efforts packed with information, stats, interviews, opinion pieces and more. Hearts too do a good job with a regular feature on the club’s football kits this season. These clubs will, of course, have more resources than others in the division and down the league.

Over the years, the best programme, pound for pound, may well have been Cowdenbeath’s. There used to be something quite primordial about the Blue Brazilian. The colourful front at odds with the dark but hugely informative and interesting insides. It possessed one of the finest football quizzes and as you turned the pages there was always the feeling you would be left with ink marks.

It may now have a more contemporary look but the League Two club still pride themselves on their offering, showing no matter what level you are at, it can be done well.

Of course, there are those which are more Yellow Pages for the local area than programme and have been going the same way as chocolate bars where you seem to be paying more for less.

Yet, there is a passionate subsection of Scottish football nerds – again, this writer included – keen on purchasing and reading them. And it was encouraging to see the reaction from many supporters in favour of programmes, understanding their place in the game. Albeit there was a sense that there are those in the position of liking the idea of a programme without actually buying one.

The future

Looking into the not-too-distant future for programmes, seeing the emergence of bizarre concepts such as NFT’s – Non-fungible tokens – as people buy and sell ‘digital art’ for ludicrous sums, there are concerns that the tangible is no longer desirable.

Even if gig-going fans are being charged extra for a physical ticket, hope can be found in the music industry with the resurgence in vinyl in recent years despite the presence of iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

For clubs it may well require adapting, experimenting or scaling back.

Just like books and newspapers, there is still a place for the programme. Something to hold, something to read, something to collect. Yes, they may end up scattered around the house or stored away to gather dust. But there is still something so captivating and comforting about going back to them months or years down the line.

Pages may be crumpled, there may well be brown sauce marks and even rips. But holding one can evoke memories. The different designs, the smell, the squad lines, the pictures, the players, the sponsors, the manager’s notes.

Physical mementos, of good times and bad times, good players and bad players, big matches and run-of-the-mill league encounters.

Long live the programme.

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