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FEATURE: Living and Learning

Chris Williams gets with the programme

27 May 2020

Chris Williams writes:

I’ve mentioned this before but I like football programmes without being a true collector. I have hundreds in the loft, somewhere, but unlike the true collector they aren’t individually slipped into plastic bags and lovingly filed by season. They are in a heap in old cardboard boxes, interspersed with dogeared copies of 200O AD and discarded maps of Cotswold Wildlife Park. I’d say I’m more likely to revisit the printed adventures of Strontium Dog and RoJaws and Hammerstein than I am the exploits of Simon Clist and Harry Worley, but it’s nice to have them there, hovering above my head, all the same.
The day lockdown broke out was the day the programmes were delivered for our home game against MK Dons. We had held off and held off but finally had to commit to print on the Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the game was called off along with all EFL matches. I was gutted, not least because I had poured my soul (unusually) on to my regular page as a tribute to my mum who sadly passed away two hours before we had to print. It’s truly a labour of love and I’m going to be really sad when I finally get to see that programme aren’t I? 
But that’s the point. I’ve never seen it. Three months after delivery the programme is still sitting in boxes ready for the hardy gang of programme sellers to get them into their selling positions for a matchday. IF we resume games then we’ll have a decision to make on how we use those programmes, if not then we are going to have to find a way of clawing back some of that expenditure, somehow. (Collectors, please stop asking. We don’t know yet!)
Both of my regular readers know that I play some sort of a role in the production of nine programmes around the country each week as well as advising on lots of other media related dark arts. I won’t name names but I often work with someone who produces 17 match programmes. And another company that has a hand in a different dozen. These are hard times to be in a niche market...
Programme sales have fallen, year on year, for the last 20 years. There are exceptions. In the Premier League you are attending a much bigger event and may buy the programme as a permanent reminder of your day out. Think about it- those Wildlife Park brochures may originally have been a useful map but over the years I haven’t thrown them away because when I do happen across them I remember the trip and who I was with when we didn't see the red pandas. Programmes often do that same job. They spark memories.
We produce an online version of the programme each time and some people prefer that format. But not many. They lack that tactile quality: you can’t fold a 'back-pocket crease' in the middle of your ipad can you?*
That may well be about to change.
What happens if we go back to playing, but there isn’t a crowd? Do we need a programme? My heart says yes, for completion’s sake. My head asks how many we’d need if nobody can buy them! Will people download it? Will they want the rather lovely-interactive-all-singing all-dancing version that we know we can do? I KNOW what percentage of a crowd buy a programme and I KNOW how many are needed for executive areas and boxes. But I don’t know how much interest there would be online if there is no printed version, and my head hurts at the very thought of playing games on a neutral ground.
Readers, I’m not writing this pleading for sympathy for the programme, but amplify the problem across the whole game.
Think of my friend Bailey Farr and his matchday catering - there are only so many Pukka pies one man can eat. Think of Rosie and Adam and the match sponsorships, executive and corporate areas on a matchday. Think of our magnificent Ticket Office staff, the small army of helpers in Olly’s Den or the Sensory Room. Think of the PA Announcer who has never missed a game at the Kassam Stadium; who’s he gong to announce the teams to?
We will talk, we will adapt and we will find solution but each and every department faces unique challenges right now. Like real life, we WILL get through this.
I’m the new boy, I’ve only been there 20 years. Off the top of my baldy head I can think of eight people who have been there longer. There is a world of experience, but the football world is never going to be the same again....
Chris Williams is the club's Communications Manager but the views expressed are his own rather than those of the club
*do not try this at home

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