As a football fan, you might have collected your fair share of memorabilia in your time. But did you know that those programmes that are piling up on the shelf could be worth some serious spending money?
Take a look through our guide below and find out if you’re sitting on a hidden gem in your football programme collection:
Why do we have football programmes?
The Football League started in 1888 and was quickly followed by the first printing of football programmes. Unlike today, the aim of a programme was to keep score and it was made up of a single sheet detailing the teams and match date. The ‘Villa News and Record’ for Aston Villa was one of the first programmes to be published. Soon after, the football programme took on a weightier format of between four and eight pages, while the covers became more attention-grabbing and attractive. During and after World War II, a paper shortage cut the number of programmes that clubs could produce — making any that were released very collectible today.
Over time, programmes began to be printed on A4 instead of being pocket-sized, though clubs could still opt for the smaller variant. From a single sheet of basic info, the availability of saddle-stitch book printing and a growth in popularity turned football programmes into thick, glossy books crammed with trivia, statistics and high-resolution photos that fans loved to buy before every match. Today, the modern football programme stays true to its roots by giving spectators key details of players on each team. Although today, the programme can also act as a mouthpiece for the club in question, allowing managers and players to speak to fans via interviews and club statements.
Selling football programmes
For the right programme, collectors have been known to splash the cash. In 2012, a family from Ipswich managed to make around £46,000 by auctioning off a set of football programmes they stumbled across in their house, which goes to show how easy it is to not realise the treasure you have sitting around your home. Then, a few years ago, Sotheby’s New Bond Street auctioned off the oldest-known programme from a FA Cup final — Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers in 1882 — for £30,000, while a single-sheet programme from the 1909 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Bristol City went for £23,500 in 2012.
Let’s look at the rarest prints people are scouting for. Perhaps you have one in your collection!
Rare football programmes
Consider that programmes are a record of the day itself. The more important the match, the more important the programme. If you’re looking for a significant, collectible item; try finding the first Wembley final programme from 1923, which details the match between Bolton and West Ham United and is worth around £1,000. Alternatively, there’s the programme from the one and only time a non-English club lifted the FA Cup — Cardiff City vs Arsenal in 1927 — which ended with a score of 1-0 and has a value of about £2,500!
The 1966 England vs West Germany programme always a hit with collectors. But be warned; there were three reprints of the original, so tracking down a bona fide version is tough. If you want to be sure you’re buying an original, check the weight and colouring — the reprints are more lightweight, while the front cover of the original is a deep, royal blue. Different paper types are also used for the team pages in the original, but not in the reprinted versions.
Games that were cancelled may sometimes have programmes printed that are considered a rarity. The game that was cancelled following the 1958 Munich air disaster (Manchester United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers) can go at auction for around £10,000, or the programme for the first match following the tragedy — the 19th of February 1958’s game between Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday. In this programme, the club showed respect to those involved in the disaster by leaving the team page blank.
Though they don’t go for thousands, there are other more cost-effective collectible programmes out there too. Examples include a wartime England vs Wales international programme — which once sold for £750 — a 1932 Arsenal vs Manchester City — which reportedly made £520 — and a 1931 Exeter vs Leeds copy — which reached a decent £500.
Things to look out for
Here are some key features to consider for potentially valuable programmes:
- Age — anything over 50 years old is most collectible.
- Rarity — if there are many available, this will bring the value down.
- Popularity — programmes with an iconic footballer on the cover or detailing a famous match are the most prized and valuable.
- Condition — creases, missing staples and water damage all harm the programme’s price, so ask for a photo before you pay.
Programmes for FA Cup finals tend to hold value, as do any booklets that were perhaps the first or final edition of a player’s/manager’s career (i.e. the last game David Beckham played for Manchester United).
Particular teams can also have a tendency to have higher-value programmes. Sides such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, West Ham, and Arsenal are all highly sought after and are worth keeping an eye out for if you want a particularly valuable item. The Football Programme Centre is also a good source of advice if you’re keen on becoming a serious collector.
Most football fans tend to pick up a programme, so you may very well have picked up a rarity along the way. So, why not keep yourself football-focused by learning more about the hobby?
This article was researched and created by Where The Trade Buys, a leading UK supplier of marketing tools such as bollard signs.