Who buys the match programme? By Mao
One of the many reasons we started this fanzine way back in 1989 was the indisputable fact that buying a Merthyr match programme had over the years been a pointless exercise, a purchase more based on tradition than actual value for money. The production of a match programme seemed to be a chore that the football club endured to meet league rules rather than an avenue for engagement with it’s customer base; it’s fans.
The programmes produced in the seventies were notorious for their minimalist content – the match info wasn’t even listed on the cover and with a maximum of eight pages of script available to read it didn’t take long to read the “16 font” words welcoming the away team, confirming the next home Welsh League game and listing a squad of players from Don Payne down but we still bought it which is apparent by the boxes of “Sideburn Bob” covered programmes stored in attics across the borough.
By the eighties the programme was slightly better but still contained no opinion pieces by the club management, no clue as to the club’s direction, perhaps it was a simpler time but unless the Board was criticizing some young fans for being over exuberant the week before then it was still the usual bland fayre that we bought only as part of what we perceived to be our match experience.
We’ve covered the fanzine explosion of the late 80s before in these pages and it is still true to say that this movement provided a platform for thousands of ordinary football fans to find their voice and translate their knowledge of the beautiful game onto paper with no apologies for their forthright opinions as to how their clubs were being run. A lot of those enthusiastic amateurs buoyed by the confidence of their talent finally being appreciated moved into journalism but some were also recognized by their clubs as assets and began to influence what we, as fans, wanted on a match-day from within and one of those avenues was the humble match-day programme.
In the post-Italia’90 era the match programme became the match-day magazine and it has evolved into the bloated 64-page behemoth of today’s professional game which never fits neatly into your pocket and remains mostly unread due to the generic content of each issue no matter which club it represents.
Many clubs have taken their programme on-line to reduce costs with the supporter able to access a digital copy whether they attend the game or not. There are many advantages of this approach not just the cost of printing an issue every other week or so, for example sponsors will appreciate the wider audience provided by a publication accessible by all.
A digital programme though appears distant and will never work at non-league level where the fans’ experience is much more immediate and personal.
The good news for those of us who still have the faith to experience live football despite the omnipresent presence of football on TV is that the current programme available to buy at Penydarren Park on matchday has the best contact for many years with a varied menu of match reports, squad news, clubhouse info, guest articles and of course team news. Many of us, me included, have dropped the match-day programme as a habit but I would urge you to reconsider and buy it at your next opportunity. It’s worth a read to start with and of course it helps fund our club but most of important of all it supports the brilliant work being done quietly by our programme team.