The Graphic Bomb: Pilgrims’ Progress

‘Trust from the people at the club is important… they encourage us to produce ideas I don’t think a normal editor would’

The Graphic Bomb have been designing matchday programmes for Plymouth Argyle since the start of the 2015/16 season, winning awards and plaudits for their innovative approach. As Plymouth face a potentially crucial Devon derby, and a nervous run-in to secure automatic promotion from League Two, we caught up with them to talk history, design and Pirates of the Caribbean.

SGABTA: How did your arrangement come about with Argyle? Were any of you fans of the club beforehand?

TGB: As massive football fans we’ve known about Argyle through the years. One of our number supports Luton Town so has definitely known them as opposition! But having worked for the club for a number of years now you find yourself looking for their results and hoping that three points come their way for the staff and the fans.
 
SGABTA: What kind of research into the club’s visual culture and traditions did you do? 
TGB: During our first season with the club the idea of recreating programme covers from the past came up so we were plunged headfirst into researching old programmes and therefore got lost in the ways Argyle has changed through past issues. Any club the age of Plymouth Argyle has a great archive of players, matches, kits and fans. Those lucky Pilgrims are blessed with the mighty Greens on Screen archive. If every club had something like this the world would be a better place!
 
SGABTA: What’s been your favourite cover or page so far? Have there been any players you’ve particularly enjoyed portraying?
TGB: The Liverpool FA Cup one [1] we’ve just done has been a highlight. Something completely different and if we’re honest something we didn’t have a lot of time to think about because of the print deadlines! We’ve really loved doing the kits this season. We’re fans of the simple 60s-70s ones but quite partial to the odd 90s horror show (the FA Cup Round 2 programme v Newport [2]). A cover that stands out even if it divides opinion a bit is a great thing.
In terms of players I think one of us illustrating a player as the incredible hulk was interesting – fair play to the player in question for not complaining! We enjoyed Photoshopping players into certain characters as it’s always a bit tongue in cheek but the players at the club seem to take it well. We once Photoshopped Curtis Nelson in Pirates of the Caribbean garb and he liked it so much he got dressed up like it for the players’ Christmas do!

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[1] Programme for the FA Cup Third Round replay v. Liverpool – complete with Klopp
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[2] Programme cover for the FA Cup 2nd Round tie v. Newport – a tasteful take on a ’90s horror show
SGABTA: Has anything come up which you’ve found challenging about the commission?
TGB: It’s always a challenge to come up with a new direction for each new season and to know the limits you have to work within. However, the trust from the people at the club is important and they encourage us to produce ideas I don’t think a normal editor would. Rick at the club is a pleasure to work with.
 
SGABTA: How have the fans reacted to the designs?
TGB: We’re still a bit unsure of what we’re doing with Twitter et al but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on these channels; sales of the programmes have gone up within our time designing The Pilgrim so we’re happy with the way things are going. One tweet which took us aback sums things up nicely…


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SGABTA: Other clubs have also embraced a more design-led approach to their programmes [Wolves and Derby are two high-profile examples] – do you see a general trend emerging for more attractive football-related publications?
TGB: We do, there are more talented football illustrators out there who are being given the chance to express themselves and it can only be a good thing. The Champions League previews on BT Sport have had illustrators in competition with each other which has been good to see. We’re always keeping an eye out on what is going on and there are some wonderful individuals out there pushing each other to do better things. Must mention a group we know called Wundergol who have artists drawing goals for charity this season (www.wundergol.com). Really loved what Wolves did with their cover this season definitely worthy of any praise that’s gone its way. Also we’re big fans of Paine Proffitt who has been elevating the standard of football merch/programmes for ages!
 
SGABTA: Finally, how do you see Argyle’s season ending up – and do you have plans to carry on your work with them? 
TGB: We’d love to continue working for Argyle for ages and to come up with more ways to interest the fans. Our aim is to produce bespoke merchandise for the club that will be as unique as the programmes. Fingers crossed for the automatic spots this season, I think its achievable. Would be even nicer if they could reel in Doncaster for a title decider!

Questions by Tom Clayton.

Find out more about The Graphic Bomb here.