The price of a piece of history: the rarest football programmes

Going to the football isn’t a complete experience without buying a programme. If you’ve been attending your club’s games to support them over the years, the chances are you’ll have a respectable pile of programmes somewhere in the house.

Like any collector’s item, some are worth a lot of money! Take a look through this guide, made by the leading UK roller banners provider, Where The Trade Buys, and see if any of yours are worth a potential jackpot!

Developing football programmes

1888 saw the birth of the Football League and with it, the first football programmes were printed. 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.

Aston Villa had one of the first printed football programmes with ‘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 collectible today.

Later on, a few football clubs changed the size of their football programmes, printing them on A4 rather than pocket-sized. 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 intended purpose of football programmes today is to display team information.  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.

Could I have a rare football programme?

Rare football programmes certainly has an active market. 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.

Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers 1882 Fa Cup final’s programme sold for £30,000 in 2012 as it is the oldest-known of its kind. And in 2012, a programme from Manchester United vs Bristol City’s 1909 FA Cup final sold for £23,500.

Time to dig through the collection, because we’re looking now for the rarest of the rare!

Football programme treasures

Which rarities should you snap up if you see them? If you’re looking for an important, collectible 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!

Unsurprisingly, the programme for 1966 England vs West Germany are a collector’s item. 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.

In the aftermath of the 1958 Munich air disaster, the match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers was cancelled, with the printed programmes ordered for destruction. A few copies were saved, and now the programme is a highly prized rarity. 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 collectables to keep a look out for are a 1932 Arsenal vs Manchester that sold for £520, a 1931 Exeter vs Leeds programme that went for £500, and a wartime football game programme for England vs Wales for £750.

Special finds

There are a few points to consider when you purchase programmes for your collection:

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

A good purchase that holds value well over time is an FA Cup Final programme. Also, any programme that marks a player or manager’s debut or last match. 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. The Football Programme Centre is also a good source of advice if you’re keen on becoming a serious collector.

Collecting programmes is loads of fun, especially if you can find a rare edition bargain! So, why not keep yourself football-focused until the new season kicks off by learning more about the hobby?