I’m pretty sure that few people buy football programmes these days out of anything other than habit, a desire to have a momento of an afternoon watching 22 clowns pursuing a ball round a field. Certainly at a professional level, they are nothing more than homogenous glossy mags with no substance of any real interest, either because the news is available via other media or it’s blander than over-boiled over-bludgeoned cabbage. It’s been the case for as long as I can remember, though the lack of ingenuity in the design means they have become duller than ever. It’s partly why fanzines were such a breath of fresh air 20 years ago, though they have mostly had their day as well, inevitably replaced by more immediate and interactive media (hence why you’re reading this hunched over a computer).
Gills’ programme has improved significantly over recent years, but it lacks any kind of character and the only things I find of interest are the Ten Years Ago column (simply to provide those “Oh..I remember…” moments) plus the two elements where people are prepared say what they think no matter how stupid it might make them look : Graham Dorkins’ Whistle Stop (he goes as far as he dares, and he’s unusual in that he’s one of the referee’s union who doesn’t feel the need to constantly defend them to the blind bitter end); and of course, Mr Scally. Without Scally’s notes the programme would be a far duller read, regardless of how insane he’s feeling as he pens them. I usually feel my blood boil as he uses it as a mouthpiece to insult, patronise and tastelessly attack those who dare disagree with him – he was in fine form for the Bristol City game, picking a pathetic, puerile, personal fight with a letter writer in the Medway News who had criticised the sponsored renaming of Priestfield. I found his dig – he devoted over half his column to it – far more interesting than the renaming issue (most people I’ve spoke to couldn’t give a toss about it – take the money and run, it’s not as though 110 years of history are being written off…). Scally’s rants over the years have made compelling reading, a true insight into the paranoia of the man. I don’t disagree with everything he says, but I find the manner of how he says it fascinating. One day I’d like to find the time to read back over them – apart from the endless tirades against ITV Digital and twisted pretenders I’m sure they are littered with u-turns and contradictions, unfulfilled promises and lunatic marketing pledges.
So we should be thankful that he at least brings a little controversy into our programme-reading lives, if nothing else (though that’s not much of a legacy if he left tomorrow). As for the programmes of every other club – except those perhaps run by Ken Bates – there is no escape from turgid best ever teams, tiresome captain’s columns and feeble match reports of games we saw on the tele a fortnight previously.
The only answer can possibly be the Football League Review. For those who aren’t familiar with it, this was an official league production that was inserted into all programmes in the late 60s and early 70s. There’s absolutely no need to concoct a modern version, as that would simply be as mind-aching as all the other mountains of copy written about football in the 21st Century. Nope – simply reproduce the old ones. Preferably on the musty old paper that carries that lingering and comforting odour so associated with old football programmes.
In the early days of Brian Moore’s Head we used to quote endlessly from the Football League Review (saved us having to write things ourselves) and to prove that the old ideas are the best – here is our first (and probably last) online sample. Taken from the programme for a Newcastle v Southampton UEFA Cup programme (weird concept in itself) during the 1969/70 season, these are all genuine suggestions, letters, articles and editorial ideas :
- The League backed a campaign by a Mr Chappie D’Amato to “soothe the football hooligans with gramaphone records”. He was offering the tuneful recordings of “The Quiet World of Lea and John” for free to clubs, but only Fulham had taken him up on his offer. Had it worked? “Impossible to say” he admitted, but the League concluded that it was well worth trying
- Meanwhile, the League were also championing the “Kop Choir” competition, to find the best singers in the league through a series of secret recordings. But their plaintive wish for everything to remain clean was falling on deaf ears – Leeds fans were castigated for singing “Go home, you bums, go home”, the League considering this to be a new behavioural low. Lucky you don’t get that sort of frightful language in the Rainham End these days
- Reading were praised for their initiative of introducing “eye-catching girls” wearing specially shrunken kits, plastic mini-skirts and white hats, to boost merchandise sales around Elm Park
- There was a public outcry against a referee who booked a goal-keeper who had marked his goal area with his boot to indicate the centre of his goal. The League frothed indignantly over this one, stopping just short of suggesting the birch for the errant keeper, and pondering where it might lead if every player was allowed to do mark the pitch in the same way. And the stupid supporters who thought the referee was being a petty-minded jerk should learn the laws of the game, naturally (they had a patronising tone even Scally could learn from….)
- A correspondent on the letters page suggested that every home team and every away team should wear the same colours in each fixture to make life easier for trainers, who had the arduous task of packing kits for away games. He suggested blue for home teams and red for away teams to make the best use of the new colour television coverage
- A wheelchair-bound fan complained that he had been refused admission after a 137 mile trip to a First Division ground. The clubs were offered a right to reply, and incredibly many claimed that if they were not warned in advance then there was nothing they could do. Guess you needed one of those little blue invalid cars that always used to cause gridlock round the perimeter of the Stamford Bridge pitch
- And a reader wrote to complain about a recent suggestion that all games should be played to a result to eliminate draws, with indefinite extra time or even “the new fangled penalty kicks” used to determine a winner.
Thank god some things have moved on. Who on earth would be such a complete and utter fucktard to suggest that penalty shoot-outs should be used to settle drawn league matches…..?
The Morty Vicker