Many modern match day programmes are little more than gleaming brochures dedicated to furthering the corporate causes of the clubs dishing them out. More about politics than the fans. But it wasn’t always like that.
If you’re on this website, you probably already know about 1_Shilling, a project by designer Matthew Caldwell, showing off his archive of programmes from yesteryear. But while there are a few fanzines like West Stand Bogs, The Square Ball, and others doing things on a smaller scale, where does the medium of official club magazines go from here?
We got on the phone with Matthew to talk the Midlands design scene heydays, where the stadium publishing doldrums began, and what it will take for a return to the glory days…
MUNDIAL: How did the 1_Shilling project first start?
Matthew: I guess where it started was with my dad. He’s been going to Villa for 50 years this year, has a season ticket and goes every home game and a lot of away games. Pretty much every game he’s ever been to in his life—home and away—he’s got the programme. There’s literally this wall, in his room, where he’s stacked and ordered all of them and they’re absolutely pristine. They’re beautiful things.
What first attracted him to programmes?
I think he’s a bit of a hoarder like me. I also think that for as long as football’s been around, the programme’s been a part of the match experience. Going to a match isn’t just having a pie and watching the game—although it’s obviously that too—it’s the programme as well. Football is about all the other stuff that’s built around the game, and programmes are part of that process, part of that culture. When I saw them, I just thought they were absolutely beautiful things. He finally let me have a look at them after being told I wasn’t allowed to for years because he didn’t want me to damage them. At last, I was trusted and when I was looking through them, I was like ‘Why has no one done anything on these before? Why are they so fucking horrific now? Why are they so ugly? Why is there not that love and care?’
Why do you think that is?
I have a theory. With many football magazines now, the people who are designing them aren’t really trained. They don’t have to be artists, but back then the people who did these things were artists, they were illustrators, they understood. They were really good. Like, they were the cream of the crop. And now I think there’s so much emphasis on churning stuff out, getting things done so quickly, meeting the needs of sponsors and endorsements and all that, that they’ve just become these clunky horrible things, and anybody is allowed to get their hands on designing them to make sure it’s done quickly.
That sounds about right. What do you think editors and designers can learn from old school programmes?
There’s so much to be said for reflecting on design in the past, finding what’s gone unnoticed. That’s what a lot of modern design is, really. People were designing these incredible programmes for clubs like Stoke, Villa, Coventry, West Brom, Wolves… There was this weird Midlands design scene, that will never be credited, ever, but there was just this amazing passion and love for creating programmes back in the 70s. There was one guy of note who was called John Elvin, the granddaddy of all programme designs. He took over designing the Coventry City ones—he lived opposite Coventry Stadium—and he worked with an illustrator making these incredible programmes and completely changed the game, setting off a wave of people trying to copy and emulate what Cov had done, which is just really cool, but people like him will never get noticed. They captured football in that time where the most humble and passionate people were involved, and the people who followed it were genuinely from the area and it was like make or break if their week was going to be shit if their team lost or not…
How do you feel about the state of modern programmes and fanzines?
I think there was the freedom to be a bit more experimental because you weren’t having to meet the needs of ‘This has to sell this many or you’re not allowed to do this again’. There was a lot more freedom back then. I’ve got a Benfica-Juventus one from the semifinal of the European Cup back in 1968 and it’s unreal: it’s like, gold-foiled on the front, absolutely stunning hand rendered stuff. Then you’ve got this polar opposite stuff like one from Rochdale: it has the weirdest typography I’ve ever seen, just super punchy and bold, really in your face, and it’s amazing that it’s for a club like Rochdale in Division 4. And another amazing one from Port Vale. It feels like programmes were more from the heart, back then: less glossy and advert heavy as they are now. Many feel very corporate. Rather than about the football, they feel like they have an underlying agenda that you don’t really want to be a part of… Back then, it a lot of it was really funny and honest and they were just beautiful things, very relatable. That’s such an important thing to be able to do now, in football: make something that people can relate to.
Who do you think are doing it well?
Norwich are actually making a conscious effort. Villa this season have actually upped it, it’s a lot better. The worst programmes that you get now are when you got Cup Finals. If you’re at Wembley, you get a programme and it’s like A4. The 1998 World Cup final brochure was A4 and I just hate it. I hate it so much. I just think that’s the beginning of the demise. There’s less care and less attention paid to them. I think that’s what’s caused the medium to go completely rock bottom and programmes almost being ousted altogether.
I love magazines and even I don’t buy them at games. They’re just not what they should be. You should feel like you’re in the pub when reading them.
Definitely. That’s what you want.
Yeah, with all the energy and colour that comes with that. I think it just comes down to programmes not having a personality. It feels like it’s such an obvious way to ingratiate yourself. I mean now, teams will fall over themselves trying to find a social media manager that can put their personality across on Twitter and that manifests itself as just popping a few emojis into Tweets. They just completely ignore the fact that they’ve got a captive audience of 35 or 40,000 people who will buy a magazine for a fiver. Man City did the whole ‘We’ve got lots of money but also we’re just normal blokes’ with their documentary, but you can do that on a smaller, more intimate scale through something like a programme. It feels like people have gone: ‘Ah, fuck them: people will read any old shit’.
Yeah exactly, I’m completely with you on that.
I’m quite optimistic about them making a bit of a comeback, though. Everyone loves looking at the archives on your site and remembering old football things. But it’s not even so much like ‘Ah, remember when things were better then?’ It’s just like why was it better then?
Exactly. Why does it have to be better just ‘cause it’s old and nobody could use computers? Why does that, therefore, make it better? You know what, if programmes were more of a volunteered thing, so you sold them but you designed them for free, you’d probably get better design. Then they’d come from people who are more passionate about it. A majority of people who make programmes for the football club won’t support the club.
Manchester United’s head office for design is in Soho, it’s true.
Well, this is it: football’s not managed the right way, and that’s from the very core of every football club there is.
Do you think that filters down to the kind people that people do that sort of stuff, that they sort of become jaded with it as well?
Yeah, definitely. Look at Villa: everything was going tits up with Randy Lerner, loads of people lost their jobs and there were huge money cuts made to people like cleaners, but footballers were still on the same wage. So don’t you think that has a knock-on effect on the design scene? It’s gonna be shit after something like that.
A lot of smaller teams have announced their programmes are ceasing publication this season. What are your predictions for the future, over the next couple of years?
I think it’s gonna get worse before it gets good again. I think there almost needs to be a bit of a shock like, ‘Oh shit, Man United have cut their programme.’ Then fans would be like, ‘Fuck, we’re gonna have to do one’ and then suddenly the quality of fanzines go up.
It needs to be a reactionary thing to sort of shock people out of it.
But I also think that the best fanzines need a lot more attention, but I think that comes from reflecting on the past and that’s what I’m trying to do.
I feel like it’s something where you’ve got that captive audience and, with nostalgia being such big currency in everything, especially in design and especially in writing.
Yeah, exactly, and it’s even things like vintage football shirts: think how popular they are, and this isn’t just for people who like design, this is with everyone. And why is that? It’s because they look awesome.
The popularity of vintage football shirts has filtered back into new shirts brands are producing. There’s no reason why that can’t be a part of programmes and fanzine culture as well. I suppose at a time when more and more people are feeling jaded with modern football in general at the highest level—even going down to the lower levels where many teams can’t exist without massive influxes of money—I feel like it’s a great way to get teams involved with the community aspect of it as well.
Big time. I think it’s really interested in what you said about shirts, and how that impacts on fans. So with the Villa shirt this year, they’ve literally copied the kit from back in ‘85 and our away kit is based on the year that we won the European Cup, and they’ve been the best selling shirts we’ve ever had. They’ve done this collaboration with this company called Luke 1977—who are this Birmingham-based fashion company with this guy who’s a massive Villa fan—and they’re the official sponsor and that’s doing it the right way. That’s an amazing thing.
I feel like that definitely makes sense. Everything’s so shiny and identikit now that if you show people, side by side, something like a programme from 1979 and one from 2018, they’re gonna grab the old one every single time.
100%. Design is about looking back, as well as forward. That’s how you make it special again.
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