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2 November 2016

What’s very old, with four small pages, and has me in a state of lust?

This week, I'm deep in football memorabilia. Can you guess the year of the oldest programme, the teams and who the future PM was?

By Hunter Davies

What is the world’s oldest football programme? I am lusting after it, carefully studying a photo on page 313 of the catalogue for the Graham Budd auction at Sotheby’s on 7 and 8 November. Look who was in the team that day. Someone who later became prime minister. I don’t just collect programmes; I also collect autographs of PMs. I have them all, going back to Walpole’s, except the Blessed Theresa’s. I wrote to her the moment she got into No 10 – but not a sausage. Oh, well. She has been busy.

Can you guess the year of the oldest programme, the teams and who the future PM was? I bet you can’t. I would have got it wrong, even though I am so awfully knowledgeable.

I have Spurs progs going back to 1910 and Scotland v England ones from 1927 onwards, while my oldest is for Liverpool Reserves v Bootle Athletic at Anfield on 26 November 1892. I wrote in pencil how much I paid for it in code, so my wife wouldn’t discover how daft I’d been. As she’s gone, you might as well know. I paid £550. Nicholas Lezard could have lived for three years on that.

Football as we know it was created in 1863 when the FA drew up the first rules. In 1872 the FA Cup began, and official internationals started with an England v Scotland game in November 1872, which ended 0-0. In those early amateur years, it was quite common for a team sheet to be printed – it was more like a card, really – which was given out free, but only to the toffs in the posh seats. Eventually, advertisements were placed on the reverse and the cards got a bit bigger, with more words and more chat about the club, and these were turned into programmes, sold to all (especially after 1885, when the game became professional).

Most of the early match cards and programmes were not kept, so we don’t know exactly when they began. Until now, it was agreed that the oldest known programme was for the second international, England v Scotland at the Oval in 1873 (4-2 to England). But this was printed after the game, so it doesn’t count – which made the one for a game in Glasgow between Queen’s Park and the Wanderers in October 1875 the oldest match-day programme in the UK.

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The most desirable and most expensive old programmes are much newer, in terms of age, and almost always for Cup finals. If your team got to the Cup final and you went to London to support the lads (probably your only outing to London in your lifetime), you never forgot it. The record price for a Cup final programme is £30,000, paid for Blackburn Rovers v Old Etonians at the Oval in 1882. The reference to Eton is a clue to the present programme, for it features an Eton team – but not against a British team. The programme that Graham Budd believes is the oldest in existence is for a match that took place in the US at Yale University on 6 December 1873.

It’s four pages, just five by four inches, and was found in the US stuck in an old scrap album, presumably by someone from Yale who played. On the back, it lists a referee and also judges, for in those days you had both. A judge or umpire from each side was on the touchline, while a referee settled the arguments.

The cover describes the game between Eton and Yale as a “foot ball match”. The centre pages lists the line-up. In the Eton team was the “Earl of Rosebury”, then aged 26. They spelled his name slightly wrong. These Yanks, huh. The 5th Earl of Rosebery became prime minister in 1894 and was a noted sportsman, honorary president of the Scottish FA and winner of the Derby three times.

College football in the US dates back to November 1869 with a game between Rutgers and Princeton, but the teams that day were 25-a-side. The Yale-Eton game in 1873 was 11-a-side and Graham Budd believes that they played to FA rules in honour of the visitors, which, he maintains, makes it the oldest known programme for an 11-a-side football game.

So, how much will it go for? The estimate is £20,000 to £30,000. Hmm, I don’t think I will bid . . . 

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This article appears in the 25 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage