Virtually Useless

The football programme has been an integral part of the match experience for well over a century, whether you watch football at international level, full-time professional or non-league. They've come a long way from their origins as a scorecard or team-sheet, and have spawned a whole world of collecting - but the basics haven't altered: you buy your programme at the turnstile, you read it at the match, you may write team changes on it, and you may keep it as a memento of the match.

Now, though, those rituals can't be taken for granted. Echoing other aspects of modern life, the printed match programme faces a digital challenge. At various levels, the online or virtual programme, often in PDF format, is being tried. In some cases it's a complement to its printed equivalent, while in others it's regarded as a straight replacement.

The F.A. of Wales was among early adopters, going digital for its under 21 fixtures. Fans were generally taken by surprise, and not in a good way. We have no way of knowing what the young players thought, with no tangible memorabilia to preserve from their international call-up.

Some top-flight English clubs now issue digital versions of their programmes, but fans at the game can still get the print version. And there can't be anything wrong with offering an alternative format, which may suit some people - just as e-books do. Now some semi-pro and amateur clubs are going a step further, creating an e-programme simply to save print costs. And this is where a line needs to be drawn.

Going digital instead of printing the programme is surely wrong, and to make the mistake of assuming everything tangible is 'old-world' and in need of digital replacement. Just as the vinyl record and CD refuse to die, and books stubbornly co-exist alongside e-books, so the physical football programme is likely to survive simply because it better meets the need of the fan who actually attends the game. Even if he's willing to incur the data charges of downloading a digital programme, he can't write on it, and he can't lovingly keep it as a physical memento - unless he's willing to run his ink cartridges dry printing it out!

A recent Guardian leader, noting the renaissance of the vinyl LP, commented "there is nothing shallow about delighting in the tangible and tactile, and whatever tech firms try to tell us, progress is not synonymous with disposal or obsolescence".

To assert that the e-programme cannot and must not be seen as a replacement for the traditional printed programme is not Luddism or technophobia. It's to recognise that there are somethings technology can improve upon, and others that it can't.

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