Pirate programmes featuring Derby County

Pirate programmes featuring Derby County

Several clubs in the Premier League and Championship, including Derby, did not produce a programme for the behind closed doors games of June and July 2020. Consequently, several enterprising eBay sellers have created their own mini-programmes and teamsheets as a record of the games played. These could be considered a type of modern-day ‘pirate’ programme, similar to those produced by some fans for games in the early to mid-twentieth century.

The older pirate programmes, or ‘souvenir’ issues, were unofficial productions sold some distance from stadiums on a matchday. The first issues are thought to have been produced in the early 1900s, particularly for FA Cup Finals and well- supported London-based clubs. Sellers of pirate programmes could often be found close to train and tube stations and aimed to trick fans in a hurry to get to a game into buying what they thought was an official programme.

A message on the back cover of the official programme from Arsenal’s first competitive game at Highbury, a 2-1 win over Leicester Fosse on 6 September 1913, shows that pirate programmes were a concern to clubs at that time: ‘The Public are respectfully warned against purchasing PIRATE programmes,’ the club stated. 17 years later, Arsenal’s stance on pirate sellers appeared to have hardened. A small article in the 1930/31 Arsenal v Blackpool official programme read:

‘The vendors of worthless and un-official programmes have again been doing trade outside our ground at recent matches. All official programme sellers wear a red cap with Arsenal F.C. in white lettering on the front. If patrons would make a point of buying only from such sellers this nuisance would be stopped. Again, should any unofficial seller endeavour to thrust his wares upon a patron it is possible to give him charge for molestation and insulting behaviour. One prosecution has already been made, the delinquent being fined 40/-. If others follow the same line we would soon be rid of these pests’.

Pirate programmes for Derby County matches are mainly restricted to FA and League Cup fixtures, and games against well-supported clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United. Ross and Victor were prolific printers of souvenir issues in the 1940s and 1950s, with Starkey and Nicholls of Battersea publishing in the 1960s. Pirate issues generally consist of four pages and contain limited information other than likely team lineups. However, Pick Publications’ (of Fleet Street, London) souvenir programme for Derby’s FA Cup sixth round game against QPR on Saturday 28 February 1948 appears to be an exception. Priced at 6d the 32-page issue, with content exclusively covering QPR, contains many adverts, photos showing Rangers players preparing for the game, and ‘an abridged history of one of the most brilliant and homely Third Division Football Clubs with pen portraits of players written by Peter Lincoln’. The result was a 1-1 draw, Derby’s goal scored by Billy Steel, so a replay was needed the following Saturday at the Baseball Ground. The Rams progressed into the semi-finals with a 5-0 victory, Steel again one of the scorers along with doubles for Reich Carter and Jack Stamps.

1946 FA Cup Final
pirate programme (Victor)
1946 FA Cup Final
pirate programme
(no printer
1947/48 Arsenal v
Derby pirate 
programme (Mills)
1947-1948 QPR v
Derby FA Cup
pirate programme
(Pick Publications)

Manchester United
v Derby FA Cup
semi-final pirate
programme (Buick)
Tottenham v
Derby FA Cup
pirate programme


This article first appeared in issue 21 of Derby County Memories magazine in June 2018. Individual copies of the magazine can be purchased on eBay for £1.99 post-free. A near complete collection of issues 2-21 can be purchased for £19.99 plus postage. For further details, see the About section.

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