It is an open secret that in recent years programme sales have been declining at every professional club and it has been no exception at Valley Parade. This is despite the fact that the standard of the match-day publication – The Parader – is unrecognisable in relation to what was produced until quite recently. Lewis Redmond who edits the programme cannot be faulted for the effort and hard work that he invests in its production. The content, design and general quality is simply light years ahead of what older supporters would have purchased in times gone by. Whilst considerably more expensive, it is definitely far better value for money. And yet the irony is that despite massive improvements, fewer people nowadays bother to buy a programme.
This season may be the last that Bradford City AFC publish a match day programme unless sales are sufficient to justify otherwise. Relative to the effort involved in their production, the net profit for BCAFC like that at many other Football League clubs, is marginal. Are the days of the match day publication thus coming to an end? For those of us whose match day routine has involved buying a programme – and for those who have collected them – it is an unwelcome prospect, the price of progress and another consequence of the internet age.
In celebration of the history of the Bradford City programme, this season’s match day magazine at Valley Parade will feature designs of old and there will also be historical themed content in what promises to be an innovative venture on the part of BCAFC and producers, Curtis Sport. The covers for 2020/21 have been selected from archive issues, in the main (and where possible) from earlier fixtures against the same opposition. Included in the selection will be the programmes from the 1910/11 FA Cup winning season and that of 1921/22 when City were relegated from Division One as well as issues from each decade since.
I am delighted to have been able to assist the club with making this project possible and I am hopeful that it will be well received by supporters. This feature looks at how the BCAFC programme has changed since the first issue in 1909 and what the future may hold in store.
Even with the emergence of ‘match day magazines’ at football grounds, the basic content still revolves around: (i) statements of club health by club officials; (ii) detail of fixtures and results; (iii) some background to the opposition club; (iv) team line-ups; and (v) adverts to offset the cost of production and generate a profit.
One feature that no longer exists is a section to record half-time scores which was a function of programmes at Valley Parade until 1977/78. Because transistor radios were not readily available the programme was the means by which a supporter could comprehend the code to discover half-time progress elsewhere. The scores were displayed on a scoreboard at the top of the Kop with two showings, ‘red flag’ and ‘white flag’ respectively. In 1968 a tea bar was built into the scoreboard which was expanded for a single showing only. Scores are currently displayed on the electronic scoreboard, the original version of which was installed in October, 1988 on the top of the Bradford End stand. And of course we have mobile phones to get the half-time scores nowadays even if bandwidth gets more challenging at 3:45pm.
Old football programmes provide a unique insight into social and economic trends. For instance, club statements about the need to curb ‘youthful exuberance’ and anti-social behaviour were not exclusive to the 1970s as the following extracts show.
The programme for the game with Doncaster on 3rd October, 1962 included the comment: ‘Whatever one may think of a decision by a referee or action by a player, the answer is not to throw objects one may lay his or her hand on, and so bring the game into disrepute. Having seen someone throw an object, others are apt to follow suit and the damage is done.’ The following month, the programme for the Rochdale game on 17th November sought an end to pitch invasions and the ‘Supporters Notes’ by columnist ‘Ubique’ conveyed his irritation at the throwing of toilet rolls which had occurred at the Oldham away fixture a fortnight previously. By November, 1963 the programme notes were imploring youngsters not to let off fireworks in the ground.
The programme from the Everton fixture on 6th November, 1920 referred to Foul Language: ‘Several complaints have been made with regard to objectionable language at Valley Parade, and the directors of the club desire to warn offenders that they are liable to expulsion from the ground. There are more ladies at football matches nowadays, especially on the grandstands, than ever there has been in the past, and we are all delighted to see them, but it is not pleasant for them to have to listen to foul language. This cannot be tolerated and the directors would be glad to receive reports as to the identity of offenders in order that steps may be taken to impress upon them the need for keeping to Parliamentary language when letting off steam.’
On 26th February, 1977 the programme for the game with Torquay United included a full page notice from The Football Association advising supporters about the risk of ground closure as a consequence of misconduct. Similar warning notices were displayed around Valley Parade for the next month and followed an attack by a spectator on a Colchester player during the game between the promotion rivals in December, 1976. There were further incidents in the 1978/79 season when a spectator and a player were injured by stone throwing with a repeat of the FA notices in August, 1979. (It should be explained to younger readers that stones were readily available on the Spion Kop due to the decayed concrete terracing. Hence if you were so inclined you were not obliged to bring such ammunition into the ground.)
Old programmes also attest to wartime experience. A feature of the programme in the 1914/15 season was the exhortation for supporters to enlist in the army. By contrast, between 1939 and 1945 the content of the programme gave little indication that the country was at war (other than air raid precautions included in 1940).
League football was suspended on account of war in 1915 and resumed in 1919. The Bradford City AFC accounts disclose income generated from programme sales during this period but at a much reduced level which would suggest publication of team cards only. Football League competition was similarly abandoned between 1939-46 and programme issues tended to be flimsy, fold over affairs with little content.
Advertisements in old programmes provide reminders of long-forgotten independent businesses that were based in Bradford: Hammond’s Sauce; HJ Knuttons; National & Provincial Building Society; OS Wain; Hammonds Ales and the Alfresco Garage to name but a few. The adverts also provide an illustration of changing mass consumption patterns, for example bicycles advertised before World War One, transistor radios in the 1930s, rupture supports and surgical aids promoted through to 1922 and motor vehicles more frequently advertised from the 1950s. Raincoats were also regularly advertised through to the 1950s. The 1947/48 programme carried a rear page advert for newly released ‘Subbuteo Table Football’, a game that was a personal favourite during my own childhood in the early 1970s. Whilst so much of the match-day experience at Valley Parade has changed there is one ingredient that hasn’t. The refreshment bars in the ground have altered but they still sell Seabrook crisps, that unique and wonderful taste of Bradford since 1945 (advertised in the programme in 1954).
An increasing proportion of adverts for financial services is discernible in the last twenty years or so although adverts for credit existed a hundred years ago. Beer adverts have been a regular feature since 1910/11. Local tobacconists were also regular advertisers until the 1970s; by contrast adverts for national tobacco companies were less common. Whether it was a reflection of changing tolerance or desperation for advertising revenue, in 1978/79 the programme advertised a strip club with ‘Topless Go-Go Girls’ and then between 1978-80 and again in 1981/82 there were adverts for a sex shop.
In the last twenty years there has been a higher proportion of business-to-business adverts as opposed to those aimed solely at consumers. In the latter category the disappearance of adverts for independent retailers has mirrored changes on the high street. A further observation is that since the 1970s there has been a much greater turnover of advertisers from one season to the next. Historically the same adverts were often repeated in different years.
How a programme is designed, compiled and even printed says much about a club’s competencies and financial well-being. For example, the quality of paper on which programmes were printed is a good indicator of financial health. The adoption of lower grade, unbleached paper between 1919 and 1939 (compared to what had been used immediately before 1915) is worthy of mention. In particular the adoption of war-grade, rag paper in 1963/64 highlighted the perilous state of Bradford City finances at that time. Having finished 91st in the Football League in 1962/63 (and forced to apply for re-election) the club instigated a number of savings of which one was to produce the programme in-house, a venture that lasted only one season with printers re-engaged from August, 1964. Things were so bad that the programme was not even stapled, an economy that continued until March, 1966. (The club’s accounts for 1963/64 confirm a one third saving in print costs compared to 1962/63. Unfortunately the £298 cost reduction had limited impact on total losses of £15,564.)
Subtle economies in the production of the programme in the early 1980s betrayed financial difficulties which explained to some degree why the quality of Bradford City programmes lagged behind that of other clubs. Although an improved version with a full colour cover had been introduced (for the first time) at the start of the 1982/83 season this didn’t last for long and the publication of four page and latterly single sheet issues by March, 1983 were symptomatic of the inability of the club to pay print bills, an early warning of the insolvency crisis the following summer.
Comparison of City programmes
In recent seasons, The Parader has been acclaimed as one of the best in the lower divisions but it has not always been the case that the Bradford City programme has been anything to boast about. For much of the twentieth century the City publication was ordinary at best and in terms of quality it was below average.
Nevertheless there were a few exceptions and in particular the programme published between 1909 and 1922 (when the club competed in Division One) compares very favourably with others of the same vintage. There is a discernible pride in the production and tone of those programmes which were compiled and edited by William Sawyer (a local journalist) who later wrote the 1927 history of the club. Sawyer was a Bradford City board member in 1928-30 and then between 1934 and 1938. As a correspondent for the Bradford Daily Telegraph, and later as a freelance, he reported on the club’s games. The standard of the City programme before World War One can also be measured by the quality of paper on which it was printed. Subsequent economies meant that the same grade of paper was not used again for at least sixty years.
Prior to 1909/10 Bradford City had published a basic team sheet for fixtures although we cannot be certain that they were necessarily produced for every game. It was reported in 1903 that soccer rules were printed on the reverse of team sheets (as well as on posters in the ground) to help educate spectators. The accounts for the year ended 30 April, 1909 are the first in which reference is made to ‘net profits from programme sales’ and given that those profits were only £32 my estimate is that there were average sales of between 750 and 1,000 per game. Few examples of early team sheets survive which has much to do with them being ephemeral items.
A souvenir team sheet with fixtures on the reverse and player portraits in the centre was produced for the club’s opening match with Gainsborough Trinity on 5th September, 1903, albeit published by the Bradford Daily Telegraph / Yorkshire Sports. Another survives from the Division One fixture with Manchester United on 29th April, 1909 which was the final fixture of the club’s first season in the top flight. This particular game was important as victory ensured that Bradford City would not be relegated and it attracted one of the largest crowds of that season with around thirty thousand in attendance. It was no more than a folded sheet that provided four pages with team and statistical details but neither commentary nor adverts.
By then clubs such as Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Chelsea had pioneered match day publications and a team sheet would have compared unfavourably with the programmes or journals being published by competitors in the first division. Clubs of that era regarded such publications as a means of conveying respectability in the football world and it was the practice to present programmes to visiting directors and officials.
A further compelling reason to publish a programme was as a source of profit from sales as well as advertising, the potential for which had already been shown by the publication of yearbooks by the Bradford Daily Argus. Notwithstanding this commercial opportunity, programme revenues remained negligible and growth in advertising income was not apparent in the accounts of either Bradford City or Bradford Park Avenue before World War One. (The explanation is that the bulk of advertising revenue was retained by the printer or agent responsible for production of the programme with only a licence fee payable to the respective clubs.)
The strategic value of a club publication was to deny local newspapers a monopoly of written words and it is more than a coincidence that the match programmes at Valley Parade and Park Avenue emerged at a stage when the press had established for itself a position of authority and power in the reporting of club affairs. In Bradford therefore it could be said that football programmes were a by-product of sports journalism, to challenge negative opinions of journalists. They benefited from the literacy of the public and the same hunger for information that generated interest in newspaper content. Above all, the phenomenon of football programmes was made possible by sports journalists acting on behalf of the clubs.
Securing first division status on the last day of the season and avoiding an immediate return to Division Two in 1909 would have boosted self-belief and confidence at Valley Parade, much the same as in 1997 or 2000 when Bradford City avoided relegation in the last week of the season. There would also have been considerable relief that a financial crisis was averted given the extensive and relatively ambitious ground developments that had just been completed. Accordingly, the club began the 1909/10 season with eager anticipation and something akin to a relaunch. This included a new shirt based on the new bantam identity, incorporation on the shirt of the (new) Bradford coat of arms that was also displayed on the centre gable of the (new) Midland Road stand, and last but not least, a new programme.
Sawyer was the driving force behind the publication who compiled and edited the programme from 1909 until 1928. There is a discernible pride in the production and tone of the early programmes and I believe that Sawyer looked upon it as an end in itself, a documentary record for posterity at a time of great pride and optimism. The standard of the Bradford City programme before World War One can also be measured by the quality of paper on which it was printed. Subsequent economies meant that the same grade of paper was not used again for at least sixty years and the editorial standards set by Sawyer were never repeated.
Issues of the programme from 1909/10 betray the enthusiasm and effort invested in a new project. Quite clearly Sawyer was an opportunist who recognised that these ventures would enhance his professional career and it would appear that he had close links with Mallett & Co who acted as agents to manage programme advertising. Indeed, Sawyer may have identified other rewards.
However Sawyer was not alone in this field. The firm of William Berry printed and published a new match programme, the Park Avenue Journal, on behalf of Bradford Park Avenue in 1909/10 although in my opinion the standard of programmes at Valley Parade before World War One was superior. Like Sawyer, Berry would later become a director of his client.
Not only did Bradford City AFC publish a match-day programme for League games but team cards were also produced for reserve fixtures in the Central League with the same cover price (1d) as the main programme. The new programme was successful and the club’s financial accounts from before World War One also confirm steady growth in revenue from programme advertising. However, whilst programmes made an annual contribution of around £100 it was insufficient to transform the club finances.
Peak programme sales were achieved in 1909/10 with gross income (excluding advertising) of £268. Assuming that this included the sale of reserve game team cards, then average programme sales per game must have been at least 1,600. The corresponding expense of producing the programme was fairly high and I suspect that a decent commission was paid variously to Messrs Mallett & Co and William Sawyer. Nevertheless the arrangement appears to have been more beneficial to Bradford City than that agreed by Huddersfield Town in 1913 who sold the rights to supply programmes at Leeds Road to the Express News Agency for just £20 in 1913.
In my opinion the best Bradford City programme of the pre-World War One era was that of the 1910/11 season. After finishing 7th in Division One in 1909/10 there were expectations for the following campaign and the 1910/11 programme is testament to the upbeat mood. William Sawyer later described it thus: ‘Burnley came and brought a horde of spectators with them; 39,461 people paid for admission, whilst one of the gates was rushed and several hundreds got in without paying, which brought the total attendance to over forty thousand. The cash receipts were £1,641, with a sixpenny gate.’ It established a record at Valley Parade that remains unbeaten.
During the first half of the 1912/13 season the programme included full page player portraits, a feature that did not reappear until the emergence at Valley Parade in the last twenty years of so-called match day magazines. All told it was a professional product with an excellent cover drawing and printed on good quality paper. It compared well with programmes issued at this time by other Division One clubs and at face value signified that Bradford City was becoming established as a leading club in the country. My suspicion is that the pen and ink cover may have been inspired by that of the Park Avenue Journal in the previous season.
William Sawyer and Mallett & Co continued to manage the programme on behalf of Bradford City until 1928 but after World War One it is evident that the club sought economies in production and content. By 1922 the programme was established and most likely considered an obligatory offering rather than something special deserving major input. Besides, the mood at Valley Parade was much different than in the previous decade. It was a time of austerity, not adventure.
Putting all this into the historical picture it is possible to describe a transition at Valley Parade from a team sheet in 1909 to a journal which then later evolved into what we would recognise as a more traditional programme by 1922. Until 1977 there was little real change whereas the following twenty years witnessed the increasing use of graphic design, albeit at a basic level, and the growing influence of desktop publishing. The final transition was to an all-colour ‘match day magazine’ from 1997. In the last twenty years or so match-day publications have been characterised by more sophisticated design and layout, driven by digital technology.
Unfortunately, surviving examples of match publications from 1909-22 are rare and the better quality copies tend to have been in bound volumes. I suspect that the circulation averaged around fifteen hundred per game. Given that many of those programmes featured a good number of today’s bigger clubs (ie Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal etc) the interaction of limited supply with higher demand among collectors means that they tend to command relatively high prices at auction. It is noteworthy that Bradford City did not call the programme the Valley Parade Journal. I wonder if this was considered overly pretentious?
In 1909/10 the cover of the new programme carried a bantam graphic to exploit the identity introduced less than a year before. Surprisingly a bantam did not appear on the cover again until 1963 and in 1910/11 it was replaced by a prominent title banner including a sketch of the Town Hall with the Bradford coat of arms. A feature of the 1910/11 programme was a cartoon strip featuring supporter ‘Niffy’ in a flat cap with bantam at his side. This must have been aimed at broadening the appeal to expand readership. Adverts were included on the cover from 1910/11 and this practice continued until 1966 (with the exception of the period 1940 to 1947). In 1911/12 the banner graphic was changed again and civic references replaced with drawings of the recently won FA Cup alongside a new cover advert promoting ‘trusses for rupture’ by Bush’s of Sunbridge Road. (The same firm also promoted its products in the Park Avenue Journal.)
From 1912 the cover became much more attention grabbing. Between 1912 and 1921 it featured a pen and ink sketch of a player in front of the Kop which appears to have been drawn by the same person responsible for Niffy. This changed in the 1921/22 season and then from 1922 to 1929, and from 1930 to 1932, there was a simple sketch of a goalkeeper kicking the ball (a drawing that would nowadays be described as clipart having first appeared on the cover of Preceptor’s Football Annual in 1913 that featured both Bradford clubs). From 1932 to 1940 the programme was titled The Parader and the sketch disappeared.
The programme for the start of the 1929/30 season had a cover drawing of two striped players attacking the goal and Father Time catching the ball. The epithet ‘Promotion is only a Question of Time’ was somewhat presumptuous – the club would not be promoted again until 1969. By the end of November, 1929 Bradford City were foundering at the wrong end of the table and the cover was discretely changed to an empty goal. In 1930/31 the club reverted to the cover used between 1922 and 1929 which was not prone to embarrassment.
After World War Two the programme covers featured player sketches and there were five different variants through to the 1965/66 season. The phenomenon was revived in 1979/80, 1980/81 and again in 1981/82 (at the time of the revival of the Bantams identity mid-season in December, 1981) as well as 1983/84. The modern standard of drawing however was poor.
Clues about the financial health of the club are provided by the reduced pagination of the programme after World War One alongside a doubling in price from 1d to 2d in 1919. (The minimum price of admission to the ground was also doubled in that year, from 6d to 1/-.) In 1910/11 the programme had been sixteen pages in size and printed on good quality paper. By 1920/21 it was twelve pages in size and printed on lower grade, unbleached paper (NB post-war paper shortages impacted on what was available and paper became more expensive). By 1930/31 it comprised only eight pages although the physical size increased to 19cm by 25cm, presumably to detract attention from the shrinkage in content. Programme sales may have suffered as a consequence of this and in 1931 the cover price was reduced from 2d to 1d. This was accompanied by a new promotion to encourage sales with each programme numbered for a half-time draw which continued until 1940. Nevertheless, in comparison to the minimum price of admission it will be noted that the programme was relatively expensive, much more so than nowadays.
The cover price remained at 1d until 1944. With the reduction in pagination the editorial was much reduced as Bradford City relied upon the programme to generate advertising revenue and this continued going forward. The narrative in the programme during the inter-war period was minimal, something that did not change until 1966 when twelve pages were restored.
During World War Two paper rationing impacted on what could be produced. The club issued a four page programme in 1939/40 and then again from 1944/45 but this was no more than a single folded sheet of cheap paper. Between 1940 and 1944 it was a basic team card. An eight page programme was brought back for the 1947/48 season, albeit utilitarian in design and content with little more than a brief club comment, detail of fixtures and teams and advertisements. Tellingly it was often the case that space reserved for advertising was never filled.
The cover design was changed in October, 1948 and lasted until February, 1957 when the printers were replaced by Messrs Harry Berry of Shipley. This ended the relationship with Messrs Wilkinson & Woodhouse (and successor firm Woodhouse Cornthwaite) of Morley Street, who had printed the programme since 1909. (Whether it was due to them going out of business, a disagreement or an unpaid bill is not known but shortly after a different firm operated from their former premises.) Messrs Harry Berry printed the programme until 1971 (with the exception of the 1963/64 season) and like Woodhouse Cornthwaite before them they were replaced mid-season in March, 1971 for reasons that we can only speculate about. The Berry firm had pedigree in programme publishing having produced the original Bradford Park Avenue programme in 1911, continuing to do so until 1935.
During the 1950s the content of the Bradford City programme was very basic and there was little change from one year to the next. To be fair this was not unusual among clubs and neither was it confined to the lower divisions. Government control of paper supply was not finally lifted until 1956 and paper remained in short supply until the end of the decade. The size of the programme was also smaller than what had been produced before the war with an inch shaved off both the length and the width. The quality of paper used to produce the programme in the early 1950s differed considerably on occasions and my interpretation is that it was a case of using whatever paper the printer could supply. With corresponding high costs of production it made sense to economise and as a consequence minimal effort was invested in the programme. Higher print/paper costs forced a 50% increase in the cover price in December, 1952 and it remained at 3d until 1964 (having been 2d since 1944). It was not until the 1960s, and post 1966 in particular, that football clubs recognised marketing and commercial opportunities through match programmes and the cost of paper was no longer as prohibitive.
Park Avenue programmes
A comparison of the programmes published by Bradford City with those of Bradford Park Avenue is noteworthy, particularly after 1927 when Bradford Park Avenue established itself as the stronger of the two clubs. Indeed, this primacy could be detected from programme design which gave a much different impression of the club than that at Valley Parade. Notwithstanding, appearances were misleading. The death of chairman, Arthur (Harry) Briggs in 1920 removed the club’s bank guarantor and thereafter Bradford Park Avenue was forced to rely on player sales to remain solvent.
I am convinced that the rivalry between the two clubs extended to programme production. Whilst the Bradford City offer appears to have been determined by cost considerations, that of Bradford Park Avenue shows much greater attention to image and profile. Even in 1913 the Park Avenue Journal had had a two colour ink (green and red) cover for the Christmas Day fixture with Arsenal at Park Avenue which probably had much to do with the largesse of Briggs. In the 1930s the Park Avenue programme was a far superior product, printed on better quality paper and well designed – something that could not be said of the Bradford City publication. The Bradford Park Avenue programme of 1929/30 for example featured a cover landscape photo of the main stand at Park Avenue that conveyed the grandeur of the Archibald Leitch architecture (from 1911/12 a pen and ink sketch of the stand and Dolls House changing rooms had been used on the cover). Following a board restructuring in 1935 (and change in printer) a new programme was introduced that included three colour inks on the cover. At Bradford City it remained one colour until 1946 when three colours were finally applied. Surviving items of stationery and fixture cards of the inter-war era further demonstrate that Bradford Park Avenue was conscious about image.
Bradford Park Avenue reduced the pagination of its programme from 12 pages to 8 in 1928, two years before Bradford City. Although the price had likewise been increased to 2d in 1919, the reduction to 1d at Valley Parade in 1931 was not matched at Park Avenue until the following year. What is notable is that this may have proved financially untenable for Bradford Park Avenue given that the price was then restored to 2d in 1933. Why then was the price reduced back to 1d in 1935? My explanation is that Bradford Park Avenue may have suffered negative feedback with reference to the price charged across the city. A 20% drop in attendances during 1934/35 would have made this a sensitive issue at Park Avenue. In the 1935 close season a new board under Ernest Waddilove responded to falling gates with major investment in new players. However, it raises the question whether Bradford Park Avenue was forced to incur lower margins from programme sales as a consequence of pricing decisions at Valley Parade and the policy at Park Avenue to have a better quality, and evidently more costly, product. It would have caused annoyance to the Bradford Park Avenue board if that was the case. It may be another illustration, however minor, that competition between two clubs in a city the size of Bradford was a handicap to both.
The attention to profile (what would today be described as the brand) continued after the war and the Bradford Park Avenue programme between 1951 and 1955 had a very classic, almost formal cover design based around the Bradford coat of arms which contrasted to the rather crude cover of the Bradford City publication. Even so, the Bradford Park Avenue programme of the 1950s was a much lesser product to that of the 1930s.
Programmes since 1960
The ending of regionalised lower division leagues in 1958 brought with it subtle improvements in the standard of club programmes. In the main, former members of FL Division Three (South) were ahead of their northern rivals in terms of financial resource, attendances, as well as playing strength. I would argue that their programmes were generally of better quality, possibly a reflection of more adept commercial functions. Exposure to new competitors as well as the launch of the new national competition prompted changes to existing programme designs. Whereas prior to 1958 club programmes remained generally unchanged from one season to the next, thereafter changes became more regular – in particular new cover designs and in some cases experimentation with different sizes.
Between 1959 and 1966 it was Bradford Park Avenue rather than Bradford City that was the more innovative in programme design, pioneering a pocket size no more than 8cm by 13cm. This could be attributed to the fact that Bradford Park Avenue had been the more successful club in relative terms with better gates (promoted to the third division in 1961 and in so doing, exchanging places with City) but it also confirmed the competencies of those involved with the respective clubs, as well as the printers concerned. Another observation worth making is that Bradford companies advertising in the Bradford Park Avenue programme (often seeking to recruit labour) were generally bigger than those who advertised in the Bradford City programme which must have had an impact on the respective advertising revenues and production budgets. In general, a higher proportion of smaller, owner-managed businesses featured in the Bradford City programme. Notable from a modern perspective was the prominent back page advert in the Bradford Park Avenue programme by Tordoff Motors Ltd (forerunner of JCT 600) during the 1962/63 and 1963/64 seasons.
During the early 1960s there was a struggle to make the Bradford City programme pay and I would assume this was due to falling sales. Unlike at Park Avenue there had been no change to the programme since a new cover was introduced in 1957. When change did come it was less to do with innovation as desperation. I have documented how the club resorted to production in-house during 1963/64. The cover price was increased from 3d to 4d in 1964/65 and then to 6d in 1965/66 with little corresponding improvement in content and no change in size. For the consumer it offered poor value for money. It was the introduction of the City Gent character that heralded a new era with a radical mid-season redesign of the cover commencing with the Halifax Town fourth division fixture on 16th March. (Link here to feature on the origins of the City Gent character)
Whilst the new programme itself remained modest and unsophisticated in comparison to those of other clubs (for example lacking photographic content), the change represented a leap forward at Valley Parade with twelve pages, greater reading content and the re-introduction of staples to hold it together (and the price remained 6d). The City Gent cover was used until 1974 (although during the 1972/73 and 1973/74 seasons the City Gent wore all claret and all amber strips respectively). In April, 1969 the Bradford City programme was even voted the best in Division Four by readers of the Football League Review.
From February, 1966 the Bradford City programme included an insert entitled the Soccer Review. This was a 16 page publication with team features and editorial about football including the amateur game, foreign competitions and the forthcoming World Cup which had increased interest in soccer generally. It also included football related adverts, a number of which promoted the sale of football club merchandise. The benefit for clubs such as Bradford City was that it allowed them to provide more content to encourage programme sales. The publication was taken over by the Football League at the start of 1966/67 and renamed the Football League Review (FLR) until 1972/73 when it became League Football (LF). Bradford City included the FLR and then LF as an insert until the end of February, 1974. The Football League had subsidised its production but increasing print costs combined with fewer clubs supporting the venture (a combination of developing their own match day programmes and the hassle of co-ordinating the insertion of the FLR in programmes) meant that the magazine eventually disappeared altogether from League grounds at the end of December, 1974.
Having grown up with the programme featuring the City Gent on its cover I would consider those for the period 1966 to 1974 among my favourites. However I should also include those between 1974 and 1977 which remained essentially much the same, cover apart. For me this was an era of classic, traditional football programmes even though by the end of that period the content and design was becoming distinctly dated and staid in comparison with changes being introduced elsewhere in the lower divisions. When Bradford City later attempted to emulate other clubs with a more modern programme after 1977 it could not be described as an unqualified success. The subsequent period between 1977 and 1985 is best forgotten given the standard of what was produced.
During the twilight years at Park Avenue between 1966 and 1971 a series of bright new covers in conjunction with a reversion to standard size did not disguise the deterioration in the quality of the Bradford Park Avenue programme. Production was contracted out to a Leeds printing firm which had little interest in detracting from its template design let alone promoting the Avenue ‘Arry character. The style of the Bradford Park Avenue programme was almost identical to those which it produced for Rochdale and York City. The fact that the club allowed its programme to be sold with a predominantly blue cover in 1966/67 said much about what was unfolding at Park Avenue. The Bradford club was the only one of the three to retain the firm through to the 1970/71 season (by which time it competed in the Northern Premier League). The Park Avenue club had previously been adept at conveying a chosen profile of itself through programme design but it was Stafford Heginbotham who had the marketing nous in the second half of 1960s.
The emergence of match day magazines at Valley Parade
Following promotion to Division Three in 1977 a new programme was introduced that represented a major shift in layout based around the inclusion of recent action photographs (which was a first). The cover price was also increased from 12p to 15p whilst the size remained 16 pages having been increased from 12 the previous year. The programme was identified as a source of advertising revenue and in 1978 its size was increased to twenty pages and the cover price raised to 20p. The following year it was reduced back to sixteen pages whilst the price remained 20p. This had the benefit of generating more revenue although by 1981/82 this amounted to only £9,611 (NB the club’s total income was £393,537). Between 1975/76 and 1981/82 annual average match day sales of the programme fluctuated between 1,100 and 1,700.
The programme at the beginning of the 1981/82 season featured a silhouette of Park Avenue, an act of mischief by the designer Pete Bell who had been a follower of Avenue before shifting his allegiance to City after his club went into liquidation in 1974.
Content wise the new publications were a disappointment and the kindest comment that could be made of the club programme through to 1985 is that Bradford City went through the routine of producing it with the least effort. It consistently compared unfavourably to the programmes of other clubs in the same division. (Between 1979-82, a dozen or so lower division clubs, including Halifax, Stockport, Northampton and Bournemouth had programmes printed by a firm in Newton Abbot with the same template design and a standard sixteen page insert. Whilst the format was bland it offered far more reading material than the Bradford City programme could offer.)
From 1977 there was a series of eye-catching cover designs including the radical step of a colour team photograph in 1978/79 and then in 1982/83 a full colour action photo from the previous season’s League Cup tie against Ipswich Town. The covers were illusory and could not hide the fact that the content was pretty much the same as the traditional programme. Although there were (grainy) photographs there were noticeably more adverts. The cover designs subsequently reverted to three colour prints between 1979-82 and then 1983-85 which suggests that cost constraints prevailed.
For the first half of the 1981/82 season the programme cover featured a silhouette of a football stand and floodlight pylon. Few people realised that it was in fact a silhouette of the old Park Avenue stadium with the design having been the responsibility of Peter Bell, a former Bradford Park Avenue fan (albeit a subsequent convert to the Bantams).
The state of the club programme at this time said as much about the club’s resources as the skills of those responsible for producing it. Given that little money and/or losses were made from the sale of the programme it was something of a nuisance to produce unless someone was prepared to make it a labour of love and printers were able to assist with compilation and design.
After the financial crisis of 1983 Bradford City published low cost programmes in both 1983/84 and 1984/85. In 1984 the production was franchised to local printers, Wheeldens and whilst this had the benefit of removing a potential cash outflow as well as an administrative burden at the club, the standard of the programme did not give a positive impression of Bradford City. It was at this time that we launched The City Gent supporters’ magazine (October, 1984), partly as a response to the poor quality of the programme and the lack of match-day reading on offer.
There was a gradual, albeit marginal improvement in the standard of the programme through to February, 1994 when Wheeldens were displaced by the in-coming chairman, Geoffrey Richmond. It was quite evident that Richmond sought to minimise the cost of the programme whilst also increasing its financial contribution. By contemporary standards his programmes between 1994 and 1996 were mediocre.
It was not until 1996/97 that Bradford City made a serious attempt at improving the standard of the club programme. The reading content was boosted by the inclusion of the Nationwide Review insert (similar to the Football League Review thirty years before) during the 1996/97 and 1997/98 seasons.
At this time there was considerable expectation within the club, not least given the rebuilding of Valley Parade, the growth in attendances and strong season ticket sales. A quality publication also supported Richmond’s ambitions: it could attract commercial advertising as well as raise the profile of the club whilst he pursued external investment.
The year 1997 represented a milestone in terms of the evolution of the Bradford City programme and thereafter increased content became the norm. This was accompanied by the use of heavier grade and glossier paper to reinforce the illusion that the buyer was getting more for his/her money. A consistent theme since 1991 has been for cover photographs to change with each issue (1994-96 apart). Fast forward to 2000 and I would suggest that the transition to a so-called match day magazine had been completed. The club has relied upon third parties (for example the Telegraph & Argus) to assist with the compilation and production but has never repeated what happened in 1963/64 when the programme was both produced and printed in-house.
The circulation of the club programme reached a peak during the two seasons in the Premier League, 1999/2000 and 2000/01. In comparison to those published by other Premier League clubs it lacked a degree of sophistication and set itself apart by its unpretentious, almost basic content and design. Geoffrey Richmond no doubt decided that the marginal profit of a glossier programme was not worth the investment of time.
The standard of the Bradford City programme has improved markedly since our time in the Premier League. In that regard the endeavour of former club secretary, Jon Pollard who edited the programme between 1996 and 2009 should not go unrecognised. Whilst the club under-performed on the field, at least the Bradford City programme provided a good read.
With the exception of the programme published for the 2005/06 season (which was 21cm by 23cm – ie roughly 9 inches square) the Bradford City programme has been produced in a ‘standard’ size consistent with that of other clubs. Typically this was 16cm by 25cm in the pre-war period; 14cm by 22cm through to 1978; and thereafter approximately 17cm by 24cm. Whilst a minor point of detail for some, it has implications for collectors both in terms of storage as well as condition given that larger programmes tend to get folded or damaged due to their size. For that reason the 2005/06 programme was badly received. A member of the marketing team at the club explained to me that it was her brainchild, inspired by wanting to produce something different. Thankfully Bradford City never opted to publish a ‘newspaper’ programme that became fashionable among a small minority of clubs in the late 1970s for reasons of economy, again loathed by collectors.
Between 1996-2002 the programme assumed the title Claret & Amber, then Bantams World between 2002-11, The Bantams in 2011/12 before resorting to The Parader from the start of the 2012/13 season. The title of The Parader is not new having originally been used between 1932 and 1940, in 1978/79 and then for part of the 1981/82 season. It had also been applied as the title of supporter yearbooks in 1951 and 1952. The title of The Parader has thus been the most used whereas The Bantams has been the least, for the second half of 1981/82, 1982/83 and in 2011/12 only. To date these are the only titles that have been adopted for the match day publication; as far supporters are concerned however it has always been known simply as ‘the programme’.
Improved design and increased content has inevitably come at a price. The cost of the Bradford City programme increased from 2d in 1944/45 to 5p by 1974/75, thereafter it was subject to exponential inflation with a cover price of £1 by 1991/92. In 1999/2000 it cost £2 and since 2010/11 it has been £3. The increase in the cost had as much to do with increasing production costs as attempts by the club to maximise marginal revenues.
The fact that the programme price remained relatively low for so long suggested a limit of what people were prepared to pay – a reflection not only of disposable income levels but prevailing attitudes about worth. Price points were also determined by coin denominations for the practical purpose of managing cash and change. By the time the cover price reached 50p in 1985/86 there was an argument that it was justified by increased content (the 24 page programme being twice the size of ten years’ prior). In conjunction with price inflation there has been an ongoing increase in the number of pages in the programme, from 8 pages fifty years ago to 68 by 2010/11 which remains the current size. Whether the programme has ever offered value for money reading is debatable. A premium price has been variously justified on the basis of the match-day experience, the appeal to collectors and the inclusion of official or exclusive club information.
Despite a wealth of content, colour and photography that would have been undreamt of even twenty years ago and yet, despite five figure gates at Valley Parade, current programme sales are understood to number less than a thousand. Collectors bemoan the fact that the new breed of programmes (or rather ‘match day magazines’) demand greater storage space but surely the underlying reason for the decline in readership is that a football club programme is no longer the primary source of information about that club. I suspect that supporters are also more demanding in terms of their expectations and reluctant to pay £3 for information that can be gleaned for free and instantly on the internet. It might suggest that programme publishing is a thankless task for a club such as Bradford City and it is therefore fully understandable why out-sourcing is an attractive option.
Co-ordinating the production of programmes for a number of clubs makes it an attractive option for a publisher to work with a few writers or seek library content. In turn an industry has evolved to provide football statistics and bland content for match-day magazines to the extent where many club programmes have common features. Without wishing to dismiss progress I wonder whether we have now reached the stage where football club programmes have lost much of their character and individuality. It is perhaps no coincidence that single sheet, double sided A4 team sheets issued on a match day have risen in popularity among collectors.
Given the standard that has already been achieved it is difficult to say how the programme could evolve or be further improved in the future. I would champion using it to encourage interest in the history of the club as a deliberate marketing strategy. Indeed, the official club magazine is ideal for that purpose. Latterly content has also been designed to appeal to younger supporters (ie centre page photo portraits to pull out).
The publication provides opportunity to generate advertising revenue and it has always be a fine balance between editorial and advertising content. During the 1980s a number of clubs experimented with printing a programme in newspaper format but this never caught on. One option that has never been attempted is to produce a free issue edition like the newspapers handed out at no charge in the centre of large urban areas. It might yet be a means to safeguard the printed programme.
The internet remains the biggest threat and would hardly be surprising if the traditional match day programme or magazine was replaced by a ubiquitous ‘App’ on a smartphone. In fact it could be said that the official Bradford City website already provides such an alternative to the programme. Developments in the USA point to what seems likely in the UK where the latest stadium designs now incorporate wi-fi to allow spectators (or rather, consumers) to be targeted with communications, much of it of a commercial nature.
From the perspective of a football club the strategic value of a match day publication has been considerably diminished. At Valley Parade for example it has continued to generate negligible revenues but crucially football clubs have other options to communicate with supporters. Websites allow the statement of club policy and news and can be updated instantly whereas a programme is published typically no more then three times a month, quite often less. Neither do clubs rely upon a match day publication as a means of deriving self-respect or one-upmanship with peers.
Following the repeal in 2018 of the Football League regulation that clubs are required to publish a programme for each fixture in the competition it would hardly be surprising if we see their disappearance. Already we have skeleton issues being produced for FA Cup ties and that may become extended for league games. For instance Crawley Town has resorted to publishing a basic programme for its games – this has more in common with the style of lower division clubs in the 1960s than the match magazines we have grown accustomed to.
I hope that matchday programmes can be retained in some form and the club is rightly considering different options for the future. Once gone it seems unlikely that it would ever return and hence the need to consider how or whether the publication could be safeguarded. At Valley Parade programmes have been a feature of the match day experience for the past 111 years but nostalgia may be insufficient to sustain the tradition.
Details of how to subscribe to issues of the BCAFC programme in 2020/21 from this link.
By John Dewhirst