by Jack Howes
This article will be nothing more than an unapologetic nostalgia-fest, with nothing but talk and photos of old Tottenham Hotspur match day programmes. Thanks to my Dad who a few years ago bought about fifty old Spurs programmes, I occasionally when bored flick through these little marvels and bundles of joy. Now of course programmes currently are and always have been a simple way for clubs to make money. They are not made with philanthropy or altruism in mind. They don’t even have the eleven picked for the day on the back any more, they might as well print a list with the squad’s players and a load of products the club would like to flog to you. Nonetheless people buy them and will always buy them. You know why? Because for nostalgists, and no group of people are more nostalgic and sentimental than the English people and football supporters, programmes are manna from heaven. They are currency in arguments with fellow nostalgists, as well as great reminders of days of yore. They are brilliant things, providing you with photographs, teamsheets and little nuggets of information that set you apart from the rank and file fan. They bring joy to you in a way only committed supporters or football lovers could really understand.
My oldest (and best) programme is one of Tottenham playing Stoke in 1964. The programme is made of very thin, plain white paper that has turned to a murky brown through 48 years of laying untouched on shelves and windowsills. It has a wonderful aerial photo of White Hart Lane and the surrounding areas, and a superbly formal, serious tone to its writing (Bill Nicholson is W.E Nicholson for example, not old Bill Nick). Its price on this particular 1964 day was threepence, and inside contains a league table showing Chelsea top leading from Blackpool and Blackburn. Its condition is not great, as it is dirty and partially ripped on the front, but all in all it’s stood up pretty well to several decades of neglect, which I would guess every programme is subjected to by its owner.
The bulk of my programmes come from the late 70’s/early 80’s, the days of Villa, Ardiles, Hoddle and others. The tone of the writing has moved from stern seriousness to jolly cheesy whimpering. Gone are the official titles, with the use of first names, nicknames and exclamation marks now in use alongside endearing yet awful quality photographs of players in various off-pitch activities looking more out of place than Alan Shearer at a MENSA gathering. One of these photos has Peter Cook with curly hair reminiscent of Tom Baker in Doctor Who presenting a Man of the Match award. Journeyman Chris Jones looks less than pleased at winning two bottles of champagne for being the “London Evening Standard Player of the Month”. Terry Gibson and Kerry Dixon aren’t looking at the camera in a Spurs youth team photo. Full back Jim Holmes has a moustache that rivals Tom Selleck’s. Another has Jimmy Greaves with an impeccable moustache and frizzy curly hair selling some old tat or other around the time he was recovering from alcoholism. This is alongside a ‘large Spurs clock’ being priced at £18. In 1979. Evidence that it’s not a modern trend for clubs to flog cheap tat for extortionate prices.
Away from the photos, there’s lots more interest to be gleaned. It’s 15p to buy a programme in 1977-78, when Spurs were in the second division, 25p in 1979-80, 30p in 1980-81 and 50p in 1984-85. With those price hikes, it’s hardly surprising a Spurs programme is £3.50 today. The programme for Spurs v Villa in 1981 has ticket information for the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, where seats are £5 or £6 and a ticket for the terraces £2.50 (this fixture was infamous for a mini-crush of Spurs fans on the Leppings Lane End that was an unheeded warning for the awful events that would occur eight years later). I also have two programmes for games away from White Hart Lane, a FA Cup replay against Wrexham at the Racecourse Ground, which boasts on the front cover of winning such things as the “Border Counties Floodlit Knockout Cup” and the “Reveille Giant Killers Cup”. This is alongside a programme from Arsenal FC, because the FA Cup semi-final replay against Wolves was at Highbury, which shows that the FA in scheduling a replay three miles from Tottenham and well over a hundred from Wolverhampton have never been anything less than a pile of steaming crap.
About thirty of the fifty programs are between 1977 and 1981, I have about twenty modern ones, mostly from games I’ve attended myself. Now these programs are thicker and have three or four times more pages, though the content is still all reassuring dry pap. Did you know our (Tottenham’s) last win against Burnley at White Hart Lane was a 3-0 win in 1977? That Emile Heskey is the “One 2 watch” for Wigan? That our last outing against Southend was only five weeks ago? You know now, though whether you give the slightest damn is up for debate. The tone of the newer programmes is even more light hearted and amateurish, replete with references to “JJ”, “Ledders”, “Daws” and so on. I may be old-fashioned but I prefer “W.E Nicholson” to “JJ”. The standard of things is a bit higher, though there’s still some medium quality photos of Michael Dawson at a hospital with some kids, a picture of Aaron Lennon with braids, bad photos of fans who have won some competition to get tickets in the Gary Mabbutt Suite for the day. I don’t really like this increase in quality, as I find that the worse a photo, sentence or unnecessary use of an exclamation mark, the more oddly endearing it is. Every footballing cliché, every nickname for a club (even the ones that haven’t been used since about 1957) is used in an attempt to gush out ever drier, predictable, dull filter.
And as suckers, we buy it. In the intro I say how programmes are loved. They are but a lot of the time you have programmes just so you have programmes, if that makes sense. You get joy from adding to your collection and having a relic, not so much for the actual content. People spend lots of money on programmes, exhibit OCD tendencies to assemble collections whose value is only recognised by the owner, buy old programmes off the internet, all so they can leave these things in the loft or the cupboard under the stairs for twenty years. But would you part with them? Hell no. I may never read them, but I would go ballistic if I ever parted with them. I’d feel lost without them. The bad feelings created by not having them completely overwhelm the mild satisfaction I have in having them, if that makes sense. I have programmes to avoid the feeling of not having them basically. I imagine that fellow programme hunters, many with far more programmes and devotion to the programme cause than me, feel the same.