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Investing in football memorabilia

If you’re a big fan of football, you’ve probably got a small pile of programmes from the days you’ve been able to head to your club’s stadium to watch the game. They’re an essential part of the visit for some collectors, and there’s money to be had in those pages.

Throughout this article, you’ll discover which football programmes are worth the most, and which to invest in if you see them at a bargain price.

Footie programmes: the evolution

1888 was the first-year football programmes were printed when the Football League first launched. 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.

An early example of a printed football programme is Aston Villa’s ‘Villa News and Record’. 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 collectable today.

As time went on, football programmes were printed in A4 as well as pocket-sized, and clubs opted to used either of them depending on preference. 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.

The main purpose of football programmes today is for the team information it publishes. 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.

What is the value of a rare programme?

There are some great examples of rare programme prints being sold for a substantial amount. 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.

Sotheby’s New Bond Street saw an 1882 FA Cup final football programme auction for £30,000. The programme for Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers is the oldest-known of its kind. In 2012, a programme from Manchester United vs Bristol City’s 1909 FA Cup final sold for £23,500.

Programmes that fetch the most

If you’re looking for an important, collectable 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!

A highly sought-after item is the 1966 England vs West Germany programme. 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.

Another highly prized programme belongs to the match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers was cancelled after the Munich air disaster of 1958, and as the programmes were ordered to be destroyed, there are very few surviving copies. Also, the programme for the first match following the tragedy — the 19th of February 1958’s game between Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, is rare too. In this programme, the club showed respect to those involved in the disaster by leaving the team page blank.

Some other valuable programmes to look out for are 1932 Arsenal vs Manchester for £520, a 1931 Exeter vs Leeds for £500, and a wartime England vs Wales programme that went for £750.

What makes the programme valuable?

Here are some things to look out for when building your collection:

  • Age — anything over 50 years old is most collectable.
  • 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.

Look out for any programmes from a manager or player’s first or final matches are a good spot, as well as FA Cup Final programmes. Also, certain teams typically hold greater monetary value than others when it comes to programme collecting — although, programmes from your team’s past will be more personally valuable to you. 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. 

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