An ode to the humble programme as Hibs cease publication of matchday staple

For decades it was part of the matchday routine; as supporters neared the ground they would start shuffling the change in their pocket for a few coins, keeping an eye and an ear out for the familiar sight and sound.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Friday, 15th October 2021, 12:48 pm
A selection of Hibs programmes from over the years

“Pro-GRAMMES!” came the shout from sellers armed with cardboard boxes who would pocket the change and distribute the booklets to eager fans in one go.

There was a chance to flick through it before the game but mostly it served as something to fill the half-time interval or for the more serious supporter, something to collect; a memory of the match.

With the announcement this week that Hibs are halting production of their matchday programme, the above process has faded into the football mists of time along with rattles, autograph books, and The Pink.

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Former Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan peruses the matchday programme ahead of a game

The Easter Road side has attempted to revamp and rebrand the humble programme several times over the last few years, presumably in a bid to increase interest, but seemingly to no avail, even if as recently as the late 2010s it was turning a small profit.

In the same week that the club joined Tik-Tok, the programme was shown the door. A swap deal indicative of the times we live in.

Coincidentally, I recently sourced the matchday programme from the first football game I ever attended. I’ve referred to myself as a football geek on social media before, a badge I wear proudly but collecting programmes was never part of the process growing up.

I’ve got an old Quality Street tin crammed full of paper tickets (remember them?) and a half-filled autograph book. No programmes, and not just because they wouldn’t fit.

The match programme from Paul Hanlon's testimonial game against Blackburn Rovers in July 2018

Yet having that programme from my first game is hugely important to me. Perhaps part of it is because twenty-odd years later, here I am writing about football for a living, but I suspect most of it is to do with the memories. I reckon I’m not alone in that sense.

Looking at the programme and flicking through its pages brings incidents flooding back: spilling tea on my brand new scarf, the noise from the fans, the stern-faced police officers keeping order. It feels like a very, very long time ago. (That’s because it was – Ed.)

Nowadays kids go to football matches and get selfies with the manager, or even land their favourite player’s shirt.

Even collecting autographs feels like a tradition that’s slipping into the past – why bother with a barely legible scrawl on a piece of paper when you can get a photo with your hero or their jersey?

Hibs have announced plans to replace the programme with a quarterly magazine. The decision has not gone down well with many fans but it’s understandable why the club has done so. That the club is seeking to fill the gap rather than have no official publication altogether is probably a smart move but I do wonder if we may see the revival of fanzines such as Mass Hibsteria as supporters look to fill the void.

Much as we love programmes and the great thrill that accompanies finding one from decades ago on eBay, the writing has been on the wall for some time, hasn’t it?

Advances in technology mean that press conferences can be filmed in their entirety and promoted to fans on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The printed press, online media, and radio and television also carry excerpts, rendering the manager’s programme notes redundant. Sponsors are assured of exposure to nearly 100,000 people on social media platforms rather than putting up with a half-page advert in a programme sold to and read by far fewer.

There are still fans out there who collect programmes religiously, shun social media, and perhaps aren’t as big on technology as others but there is no “one size fits all” approach, unfortunately.

Times change. NFTs, big screens, and 15-second video clips with Scott Allan dressed as a rabbit are, seemingly, the new normal.

If Hibs are to maintain the club’s upward trajectory then decisions like this will be taken more often. Given the strides taken so far under the new regime it doesn’t seem like a decision the club will have taken lightly and if it helps improve other aspects of off-field business then it’s understandable.

I like programmes, but they are beginning to feel more and more like a relic of the past. Very few younger supporters will have an affinity for a printed programme when they can get instant updates on their smartphone.

The magic of old programmes is that they transport us back to bygone eras of the game: old adverts the likes of which you’d never see in a football programme today; rare-at-the-time insight from the manager or chairman, and a diagram in the centre-spread with how the two teams might line up.

Many clubs at all levels of football have already done away with programmes. In Hibs’ case, they hope to temper the end of the traditional programme by bringing out the quarterly magazine instead. While it won’t be enough for the purists it is a clear sign that the club recognises that pulling the programme is a seismic decision and some of the reaction to the move suggests they were right to anticipate a backlash.

Perhaps there is still room for special editions to commemorate memorable and significant events.

Things at Hibs are changing. Doing away with the matchday programme is a bold move but in keeping with the overall shift on and off the park. While not a universally popular decision and certainly a controversial one, it is probably the right call from the club’s point of view.

So hold onto your dog-eared programmes from years gone by and cherish the memories, sights, and sounds that jostle for attention with the words on every page. Treasure them and keep them for the next generation.

Even if football changes beyond recognition, we’ll always need that window to the past.

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