Confessions of a Programme Seller

From the archives – Way back in summer 2015, Simon Wright was fearful he’d lost his street selling skills but his football club needed him hence..some confessions of a programme seller

I confess that somewhere up North, there is a FC United of Manchester supporter cussing me because I gave him directions to a cashpoint which doesn’t exist.

Similarly, I will confess that my much – cough – “admired” line of “Programmes – Free Staples with every copy” was stolen with pride from a programme vendor from the same club. There were variants of: “Aye, I know where you got that line from” or: “our programme seller says that” from knowing Mancunians.

And I will confess that some of the takings were handed in 24 hours late because a small quantity of dosh mysteriously secreted itself into the wrong pocket. Pah! I never find forgotten stashes of my own money.

Yep, “the Boss” and I responded to the increasingly strident cries for more volunteers by putting our names forward for selling programmes … and Talking Bull. We both have a decent Street Selling CV from years gone by. Blowing our own trumpets fit to rival the one in the Book of Revelations, we used to be rather good at it. We were seriously loud and took perverse pride from complaints that we’d woken babies up, disturbed people on the night shift, and irritated somnambulant fanzine sellers from other clubs. Football is supposed to be noisy.

But that was a decade ago. We’re older and creakier these days (my other half in particular). I no longer boing out of bed. Our manual dexterity isn’t what it was, so quietly I had doubts. I’d retired once. Could I still cut it? I bet Tony James had the same concerns – albeit on a far greater scale. Cocking up programme sales doesn’t normally attract headlines but dropping clangers in the back four certainly does.

Thankfully, I had nowt to worry about. I can report that flogging on draughty street corners is in the ride-a-bike ball park – if you’ve done it before, you can do it again. The metaphorical velocipede’s a bit wobbly, mind, with some physiological effects on the old system; not so much muscular maladies, as per the cycling old fart returnee, more like sunburn, in our case. And some minor tweaks to actual sales technique; the distaff side now does business from the blissful comfort of a padded folding chair, complete with drinks-holder – and, yep, a bottle of Coke fits mighty nicely, thanks. Several hours seated in that chair, lots of copies shifted – and not one creak of complaint from the wifely lumbar region. Result. Much room for improvement as (only partly) confessed above, but overall, the experience felt both enjoyable and familiar.

Those old one-liners dusted off and recycled. “Don’t all rush at once…” “To you, just £2.50” – which always draws a response, and a few others too, which I’m keeping up my sleeve for now. I’ll not shout too much about my fumbling for change which was Lonsdale-esque but shouting about my shouting? Oh yes, we could be heard on the other side of the street. Don’t think we got any money out of Waitrose shoppers but they knew I was there, all right. Did we get offered their gash Prosecco and Serrano ham? Did we hell…….

Other than the cashpoint customer, everyone was properly directed to the ticket office, Addisons, the Beer in Hand, the beer festival, and even the Barrels. Programme vendors need a lot of knowledge. Respect due to the handful of Edgar Street veteran sellers who already know everything there is to know. With a timeline added.

Sellers also need to be skilled at form-filling, don’t they, Mr Kinnersley? One could get quite alarmed at needing to share next of kin details, before flogging programmes. What next, guys – blood group details? (We’re both O+, in the unlikely event you need to know.) Was there something we ought to know in advance, such as being on compulsory loan to Molineux? I know, all necessary and functional requirements in modern times, but so dull. Rather like a Tony Pulis team, methinks.

Lots of interesting background detail as we flogged our wares. The aforementioned solar heat, for example, lightly toasting the pair of us as we toiled away. The variety of passers-by making their way to and from Waitrose.  Invalid buggies, large, small – and supercharged. Why not put sharp knives on the wheels, a la Boudicca, chaps, and be done with it? And then there were the teenage skateboarders….. My God, those kids. Rumbling along the pavement at some disgusting pace, whole shoals of them, then shooting across the lights on the corner of Edgar Street and Blackfriars Street with nary a thought for the colour of said lights as they passed. Or their future existence. Not a few motorists must have aged several decades in an instant, thanks to those spotty adolescent speedsters with seemingly suicidal tendencies – and that, dear reader, begs one vital question… Yes, one does tend to appreciate the great mental strain placed upon young people by the win-at-all-costs mentality of the modern-day examination curriculum, and all that, but why the hell pick Edgar Street and its immediate surroundings to end it all?

You customers were great. Lots of interesting folk and so many stories. There was the curious Halesowen Town supporter. The emotional Herefordian making his first visit since 1973. The Mancunians extolling the delights of the Barrels. The Werder Bremen season ticket holder. The Halesowen Town supporter again. The elderly couple with tales of David Rudge to share. The Halesowen Town supporter round again…..really outstaying his welcome by now. So many visitors keen to understand how I felt about having my club back.

Everyone was civil, most were really affable and so pleased to be there. Big thanks to everyone and just a plea to look out for us, selling something, somewhere. You’ll hear us before you see us. Just don’t ask about the nearest cashpoint.

Simon (and the Boss)

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