Gary Spain: The Ireland Match Programme Collector
Maybe hobby doesn’t quite do it justice, perhaps it’s more accurate to say: Gary Spain has an obsession, one he has dedicated almost his whole life to. Spain has every single Republic of Ireland home international programme except for the game versus Belgium in 1929; it’s the one the got away.
“I don’t know if there was one for Belgium ‘29,” explains Spain. “I’m assuming there was one but there may not have been. That’s the one I’d love to get, I’d even love to know if it exists. An old neighbour Tony Maguire - who used to be involved in Shamrock Rovers - his father played in the match; he has his cap but no programme.”
Match programmes weren’t produced in abundance back then. For example there are only two known copies of Ireland versus Italy from 1927, Spain has one. Another collector from Dublin has the other. Spain got lucky when it came to getting his hands on that Italy one.
After many fruitless searches, putting adverts in newspapers and communicating with other collectors he eventually got his hands on it. He placed a general ad in Ireland’s Own magazine and a woman replied, offering a bundle of programmes that had previously belonged to her uncle. Spain was in shock when he found the Italy one in the pile. His face still lights up when he talks about it.
He hasn’t given up hope of finding Belgium ‘29. He regularly goes on eBay searching for programmes, and keeps in touch with other collectors. The internet has made it easier to source the rare ones. Before online advancements it took a real dedication and commitment to grow a collection. For Spain it began when he was a young child, he collected stamps, coins and football memorabilia.
As he got older and his love of football and Limerick FC grew so did his programme collection. He kept the programmes from the games he attended and his dad - who was a League of Ireland referee - brought some home too.
From there he started to reply to ads in Match and Shoot magazines. He joined clubs for programme collectors and this gave him a connection with people who were selling and trading. He’s still in contact with some of members that he used to write to all those years ago.
“I used to answer ads and put ads in. There were some dealers around so you could buy current season FA Cup matches or big international games. You could get bundles as well so they would sell you 100 programmes for a couple of quid. They would have collected the unsold or left-over programmes.”
For as long as he can remember Spain has been fascinated by football and equally enraptured by the history of the game. He goes to all the Ireland games and also never misses a Limerick FC match. Initially he used to collect programmes from everywhere but he was filling his parents' home with so much memorabilia that he had to specialise.
“I’m specialising since the early 1980s. As well as Ireland home and away games I collect Northern Ireland ones as well, FAI Cup finals, European games, friendly matches and Limerick home and away.”
There are plenty of valuable programmes in Spain’s collection but for him the ones he treasures most have personal meaning. They represent memories he holds dear.
“The programme from the day Limerick won the League in 1980 in Athlone is very special. It was the only win in my lifetime; the programme was only one page but it means so much to me," he says.
“Another stand-out one is from my first time seeing the men’s international team play. I had seen the women play in 1974 in Limerick. I went to see the men a year later in 1975 against Switzerland. That is special to me. Also, I have Ireland versus England in Goodison Park in 1949 and that was a famous day and is special.”
His collection stretches back to 1884, a game between a team from Liverpool called Stanley and a team called Ulster in the old Anfield. He also has an international one from 1888 between an All-Ireland team and England and he has Bohemians versus Preston from 1901.
First and foremost, Spain is a dedicated football supporter, he loves watching his club Limerick and his country Ireland play. His collection has enhanced his love for the game as it has taught him where it came from and shown him how it has evolved. Where his teams go Spain will follow and along the way he will always be able to tell people their stories.
This article first appeared in the Official Match Programme for the '3' International Friendly against Uruguay.