How much is your football programme collection worth?

words Al Woods

A football programme is not only a great souvenir of a match; it can also be a worthwhile investment as a collector’s item.

If you’re a football fan, the chances are that you’ve picked up a few football programmes over the years. Do you know which ones are rarities now? We’re here with printed roller banners supplier, Where The Trade Buys, to tell you what the rarest programmes are worth, as well as looking at how to start your own football programmer collection.

Behind the programme

The start of football programme printing began approximately alongside the beginning of the Football League’s 1888 unveiling. 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.

One of the very first programmes printed for purchase was the ‘Villa News and Record’ for Aston Villa. 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.

Programmes eventually changed to create a bigger, A4 print, though some clubs preferred the smaller version and stuck to that. 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.

Football programmes today, in terms of content, haven’t changed so much from the original publications, offering football fans information about the teams’ players. 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.

How much are your programmes worth?

Collectors will pay out for the right football programme. 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.

A programme for FA Cup final, Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers, fetched £30,000 at a Sotheby’s New Bond Street auction a few years ago. Meanwhile a single-sheet programme from the 1909 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Bristol City went for £23,500 in 2012.

Which editions have a collector’s value, both to seek out and to potentially sell?

The rarest programmes

Valued at around £1,000, the first Wembley final programme between Bolton and West Ham United in 1923 is worth seeking out. 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-desirable programme for any collector is the 1966 England vs West Germany match 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.

If you’re looking for a very rare piece for your collection, the programme for the cancelled match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers (which was called off in the wake of the 1958 Munich air disaster). That can go at auction for around £10,000, or the programme for the first match following the tragedy — the 19th of February 1958’s game between Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday. In this programme, the club showed respect to those involved in the disaster by leaving the team page blank.

For more wallet-friendly collectable piece:

  • A wartime England vs Wales international programme — which once sold for £750
  • A 1932 Arsenal vs Manchester City — which reportedly made £520
  • A 1931 Exeter vs Leeds copy — which reached a decent £500

What to look out for

In terms of factors to look out for when collecting:

  • 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.

Programmes for FA Cup finals are always a safe bet in term of holding their value. So are any booklet that was perhaps the first or final edition of a player’s/manager’s career (i.e. the last game David Beckham played for Manchester United).

Where some major teams will have more monetary value in their historic programmes, your own team’s will likely have more personal value. 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 a fun pastime than can easily be worth a pretty penny later on.  So, why not keep yourself football-focused until the new season kicks off by learning more about the hobby?


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