Tickets stubs are more than paper – they are a link to matchday memories

377 Tickets online

Whether you keep them in an old shoe box or put them up on a wall, ticket stub collections are a small part of what defines the match-going fan

13 August ~ It’s 1983. I’m 13, about to attend my first football match outside Scotland, and my dad hands me the most glamorous slip of paper I’ve ever seen. Mythic twin towers in bluey-brown shadow drawings and charcoalish watermarks, monochrome Union Flags billowing around the four-line legend: “WEMBLEY STADIUM Football Association INTERNATIONAL MATCH (British Championship).”

A fiver – “London prices” – but the colour and texture of a tenner and all the possibilities of a blank cheque. Thirty years later, our tickets for Scotland at Wembley were bigger, 50 quid dearer, more technologically advanced – all barcodes and holograms – yet somehow more prosaic. And it’s not a comparison I made from memory.

Some maintain fully indexed, pristine collections; most retain a stash – in a poly bag, tucked inside match programmes or clogging up the wallet; but no one discards all their ticket stubs. I throw mine into an old Cadbury’s Heroes tin, loving the at-a-glance bulk of colours, perforated edges, ever-evolving watermarks and prices ranging from that fiver for my first London ground to £65 for my most recent (West Ham v Aston Villa two years ago, featuring a claret ink reimagining of the John Lyall gates – “Farewell Boleyn, 1904-2016”).

Like bank statements and gas bills, entry to football is reformatting from paper to digital. There was basic effort and interaction in handing over the cash amount chalked on a concrete lintel – today’s automated turnstiles require barely a waft of your wrist.

Away games on TV and home games via a smart card are eradicating physical proofs of purchase and devotion. My decade of domestic home matches is evidenced by ten season ticket renewal confirmation letters. Individual stubs are becoming a souvenir of the exotic away trip, and a relic of analogue fandom.

“Social history” is stretching it for my melange of club crests and competition branding. But global economics explain the Emirates, Toyota and Opel logos decorating, respectively, my stubs from Arsenal (v Wigan in May 2013), Sparta Prague (v Sigma Olomouc, November 2006) and Bayern Munich (v Cologne, March 2003). Five Olympic rings beside “football, Hampden Park, Glasgow” don’t indicate Sweden v France in the women’s tournament quarter-final, but they confirm London 2012 was actually UK-wide.

It’s more about sentimentality than hoarding, and nostalgia certainly powers the cottage industry in trading stubs. The £115 recently quoted on a memorabilia site for a 1947 FA Cup final stub might attract Charlton fans wishing to get closer to their club’s only major honour. But while they can be emotive gifts – a former colleague became a lifelong friend when giving me his Everton end stub from the 1995 FA Cup final as a leaving present – I’ve never actively pursued a souvenir of a match I didn’t attend.

I have, however, framed the stubs from my ten games at Euro 96, my only World Cup finals match – Germany v Costa Rica, 2006 – and all three European club finals. I also keep the ubiquitous non-League receipts, writing the details on the back. After squeezing the date, venue and “SJFA West Region, Central District League Cup Final” onto what’s basically a cloakroom token, you’re thankful it was Arthurlie v Renfrew rather than Kirkintilloch Rob Roy v Rutherglen Glencairn.

If I collect anything it’s games themselves. Between programmes becoming too expensive and phone cameras affordable, the selfie proving you were there was the ticket stub. A friend once advised a cash-at-the-gate game we attended was a deductible expense (we’d been drinking). But I’ll do time for tax evasion before HM Revenue & Customs get the tiny Dundee FC crest and serial number which confirms I’ve seen Sartid of Serbia in the Intertoto Cup.

My club’s derby rival sometimes printed away tickets on pictures of them scoring against us. But all stubs resonate with more than the fixture advertised; chatty ticket office queues, sneering touts, travel reps distributing Nou Camp tickets mid-flight like kit men handing out jerseys. Arsenal was my sister in Walthamstow; Sparta Prague and Bayern were holidays with my wife. Fully intact tickets from Hearts and Kilmarnock recall debilitating hangovers 20 years apart, and a similarly un-ripped brief for Scotland v Denmark (friendly) connotes a sudden, shattering family death.

Scotland under the twin towers or Champions League finals beneath the arch – the passport in doesn’t lose its lustre because the game’s over. My fourth European final was my club’s first in decades. I’ve never framed that ticket. It resides deep in the heart of the pile. Any audit of my life won’t find impeccable ledgers – just a sweetie tin full of battered paper and manhandled card. Alex Anderson

This article first appeared in WSC 377, July/August 2018. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here