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Fully Programmed.....

Practically everyone has a hobby. For some its the joy of collecting stamps, for others its using an Uzi on a firing range. Whatever the cause you can be sure those taking part in that are devoted to what they love best.

The humble football programme collector is a rare and dedicated species. The operate at practically every game in the Airtricity League. The match ritual of getting , reading and cataloging that A5 piece of paradise never changes. The dexterity of carefully placing the prog into a clean white sleeve, that warm glow inside knowing that €3 purchase would be worth so much more in years to come, or it could be traded at a fair for something similar.

Football programmes have been in existence, in one form or another, since pretty much the start of the game in the UK, the first ones appearing in the mid 1880s.

The beautiful thing about matchday programmes was that there was no standard size or format. Some were little black and white A5 booklets, others bigger with colour pictures. Lower league clubs were slim affairs. I always loved smaller programmes. They fitted in your duffle coat pocket and suited a young boy’s small hand.

Recent news in the UK that the Football League clubs may no longer have to publish programmes has brought out our nostalgic side. Clinging onto the fact that even if the humble match programme dies, it would still exist in an underworld universe where collectors would still trade with others in darkly lit rooms. Let's face it, there are millions of programmes out there so we ain't going anywhere yet!

And of course that's our friends across the water. No such drama regarding the elimination of a match day must have has popped up here yet.

The modern programme tends to be a glossy, Photoshopped affair, but it is still where the manager can have his say, direct to the fans. And most importantly of all, if you’re lucky, it lists the players who will take to the pitch, with unerring accuracy.

Collecting programmes from games you’ve gone to is an irresistible way of marking your progression through life. They are bookmarks in your timeline of existence. Programmes help connect you directly to the club.

With that in mind I was eagerly looking forward to launching the book at the annual Irish Programme Fair in Dublin this week.

It was the start of a 5 week long tour that will take me all over the country and what better way than to share a room with guys who live and breathe football.

I honestly didn't know what to expect. A rough estimate of sales would mean I'd be happy with, say, €200 (it was €10 per copy of the

book) but from the moment I sat down in my stall and showed the

world my latest offering , I knew this would be a good day.

The attraction of something brand new from the Greatest League in the World meant I done a brisk trade in the four hours me and my sidekick Samantha spent in the St. Andrews Resource Centre on Pearse Street.

I took my time to wonder around all the stalls on offer. It was a glorious mix of the weird and wonderful.

From Torquay United's 1968 1st Round FA Cup tie against Blyth Spartans (20 cent) to Arsenal pulsating 1979 FA Cup Final win over Manchester United. I couldn't see a price but thought it might set me back a few quid.

Oh and subbuteo. There in a stall literally three feet from me was a new revamped issue of possibly the greatest hobby ever to have been sold in the universe.

Ok, I'm biased I know. It wasn't the true subbuteo kit (the plastic players being replaced with a cardboard figure.) Sacrilegious I know but for €5 there was no way I wouldn't make a purchase.

At the back of the hall a superb collection of old football jerseys , some even signed by a full team. Though harder to shift then a single programme it was still and impressive array (especially the old League of Ireland jerseys - I think a 1995 Drogheda United kit oozed of retro.)

Of course I was there killing the proverbial two stones with one board as Waterford FC had won the League of Ireland First Division Award for 2017. I collected it , beaming with pride from Charlie O'Regan, the superb man who made the event happen in the first place.

I would met people like Bartley Ramsay who helped with "One Team. One Dream. Won Friday Night." Brian Quigley whose excellent Bray entry into the book is worth buying it alone for that segment. Graham Keogh a dedicated veteran of these events. Robert Goggins , the superb Shamrock Rovers author and that UCD mastermind Declan Hughes. It was fun catching up with my brothers in arms.

We left around 2pm when it was winding down. Boxes of programmes put away. Collectors exiting the hall , happy with a days work of wheeling, dealing and nabbing that crucial 1977 Home Farm v Pegasus FAI Cup First Round replay.

As the grey haired man who hoovered around my stall for 20 minutes, before he 100% convinced himself my book was worth buying said "It's a way of life. How fun its it to be passionate about something that doesn't change as you grow up. You can be 40 or 14, the conviction remains the same. We all love programmes."

Roll on next year.... I'm excited already.

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