One of the essential components of a match day when I was growing up was the programme. Before the days of the Internet (Oi! Grandad – shut up!) it was the only way you could get information on what was going on at the club. In the 1970’s and 80’s the typical programme was text heavy with few adverts, and those it did carry tended to be for local companies. The concept of syndication had not reached football yet and so each club carried its own exclusive content.
Today, on the main part programmes offer little value. Everyone knows everything about the players at the top level and Premier League match day programmes are rarely of interest or even up to date. The content toes the club line, filling its pages with glossy adverts from premium brands, and bland interviews with players all confessing their love for the game. This was one of the reasons why Fanzines grew in popularity during the early to mid noughties. Today the internet, and mobile communication replaces the need for programmes. Unfortunately, printing deadlines still mean match day programmes are often days out of date – a classic example being Blackpool’s recent edition for the game versus Liverpool where the visitors were profiled with Roy Hodgson in charge under the caption “You will never walk alone”. Hodgson had of course departed the club some four days previously. You can read more on our thoughts of the future of the match day programme here.
The further down the football pyramid you go, the more “localisation” you will find. In the non leagues there are some excellent “home made” programmes, focusing on what the fans actually want. One such edition is the match day programme from Lewes FC. The man behind the programme is James Boyes, who is also the club’s official photographer and website editor. We caught up with James at a recent game to understand his thinking on the important still of the match day programme.
Evening James. How much time does the Award Winning* Lewes Matchday Programme take to pull together?
This is my third season as editor but I’ve still not found the magic formula. It depends on various factors really. The external ones, like family and work, are significant ones I need to be aware of, but I do try and make a tentative plan for each programme, especially when there’s a few in quick succession. I guess they take a week or so but some elements like the manager’s notes have to be submitted almost at deadline to be topical.
The first season I edited the programme was when we were in the Conference Premier and I had 24 pages of editorial to fill each week. I was doing something on the programme more or less every night of the week for about 3-4 hours and filled it with my own articles and photography. I didn’t think I was doing too badly until we visited teams like Wrexham and Cambridge United whose programmes were fantastic, but then I looked in the credits and saw they had a programme team so I didn’t feel too bad. Since last season, local student Tom Harper has written match reports when he can get to games and I’ve recently been aided on the photography front by Lewes-based pro Steve George, who has raised the proverbial bar at the same time. I have also been fortunate enough to regularly include written articles from award-winning members of the blogging community (European Football Weekend, Two Hundred Percent and of course ourselves) which has helped me considerably, not to mention the vast efforts of David Sheppard at Proworx who continually makes the whole thing look presentable. With everyone’s help contributing to the programme, on some evenings now I even get the chance to speak to the missus.
With the rise of “quality” blogging, social media applications such as Twitter and a general thirst for the “news now”, how long will it be before the programme as we know it will die?
It’s an interesting question. “The programme as we know it” already differs dramatically depending on the club and the league they are in and so will the response to social media. Clubs might need to examine what the role of the programme is; what supporters expect from it; can it be adapted to fit in with new technology? “Want to read the matchday programme on the train? There’s an app for that” as the advert might say. However part-time clubs will probably find it a huge challenge to keep up with all the possible channels that news now travels in and some clubs will cope better than others.
Most people have got the technology to be constantly informed but does the average non-league club have the capacity to pump out daily news on Twitter, on Facebook, in an email, a podcast or via the website? Changes might be made if new technology provides a cheaper option than a printed programme but I’m sure clubs will continue to provide something for a supporter to read at half time – besides, league regulations demand it. A subscription-based pdf of the programme is one possibility we’ve looked into at Lewes (click here for an example) but as a companion to the matchday programme, not as a replacement. Besides, is the programme as much a part of the matchday experience as a pie or a pint? Are we in danger of dismissing the “art” or heritage of the programme too easily? Only time will tell I guess.
You’ve interviewed a few well known people recently for the programme, who is the most famous?
I was really pleased to interview The Observer’s Chief Sport’s Writer Paul Hayward for the Boxing Day programme in 2009 and he was very insightful about football and sport in general. He made me realise that Fleet St journos can actually be decent, genuine people. Using my contacts (ahem) I was able to interview Nick Hornby for the Boxing Day programe last year although that game was postponed so it won’t be until February that people will get to read that when the game has been re-arranged. He spoke lovingly about Arsenal and how some of the predictions he made when he wrote ‘Fever Pitch’ about the influence of money and corporate business on football had materialised. Someone who is not famous but nonetheless a very interesting interviewee was Paul Emerson, the sports psychologist at Lewes. I wanted a quick chat with him so I could give an insight into his work in one of my programmes but ended up talking to him for nearly an hour. He was fascinating to listen to and is obviously someone who is highly regarded in his field.
The photo shoot and programme for the 125th anniversary of the club back in September with the team dressed up as 19th Victorian gentlemen was a stroke of genius. Who came up with the idea, and how easy was it to convince Ibbo to go along with it? Sadly this was an idea dreamt up by Alex Leith (one of the directors of Lewes FC and Viva Lewes) and the Sussex Express. I wish I could claim it as my own.
Sum up James Boyes in a 140 character tweet?
Programme editor, website editor, wannabee sports writer and amateur photographer. Enjoying the ride until someone tells me to get off.
You can follow James on Twitter at @gingeraction.
*The programme was voted best match day programme by both European Football Weekends and our good selves in 2010. We may be biased as we write for it but we didn’t hear many other people complaining.