Collectors net a profit from football's greatest moments

Wayne Rooney and Euro 2004 are stoking up the trade in soccer memorabilia, writes Hunter Davies

I was in Sainsbury's in Cockermouth last week, queuing up at the Wayne Rooney till. All the check-outs have been named after a member of the England team, isn't that sweet? Or at least isn't that commercial?

I was in Sainsbury's in Cockermouth last week, queuing up at the Wayne Rooney till. All the check-outs have been named after a member of the England team, isn't that sweet? Or at least isn't that commercial?

I was there to buy my official England medal collection album, priced £2 when it all began, and some sets of medals, which had also been selling at £2 for a set of four.

I had held back buying them at the beginning of Euro 2004, thinking prices will fall if England don't do very well. Which came to pass. After their disappointment against France, and mainly boring performance against Switzerland, prices indeed dropped.

So I rushed to Sainsbury's when I heard the albums and medals were now half price. Hurry hurry.

I am a football fan, and I have always collected such football tat, for my own amusement, for my own collections, not as investments, although, as it has turned out, the prices of football memorabilia have exploded in the last three years, with almost everything remotely desirable doubling in price.

But will these medals from Sainsbury's ever be worth anything? Yes, in the sense that in 30 years, idiot collectors like me will be willing to pay a few quid of them, if in reasonable condition and the set complete. Perhaps the same will be true of those "bobble-head" figures of the squad.

There was a similar collection done for the 1970 World Cup by Esso - which was given away free, if you bought Esso petrol. It was a huge success for Esso, with people driving miles out of their way to find an Esso garage. Millions of the ordinary sets were sold, yet today they sell for up to £30. They also did special sets, one in bronze which can now fetch £150 while one in sterling silver is now worth £250. So don't dismiss souvenir tat.

There is a long history of these sort of cheap and cheerful football medals and stickers, dating back well over a 100 years, which were either given away with comics or sweets, to encourage sales, or sold in sets for kids to collect and swap.

The earliest, and in my opinion still the prettiest, are the cards produced by Baines in the 1890s which you could buy in tobacconists and confectioners. One of the artist Peter Blake's best known works, F is for Football, features a line-up of Baines cards. They were just little paper stickers, often shaped like a shield, about two inches high, but they now sell, if you can find them, for £40 each.

Graham Budd, who runs the sporting auctions for Sotheby's, and also Graham Budd Auctions, agrees that the present day Sainsbury's medals will have a price in years to come - but the price will all depend on one thing. If England wins Euro 2004.

"We were flooded with football souvenirs for the 1966 World Cup, the first time it had happened on such a scale, most of them very cheap. Millions were sold, which usually means they end up valueless, but because England won people now want to collect them, even though millions still exist."

World Cup Willie, who I thought was a repulsive creature, a joke figure even at the time, now commands respect from all dealers whenever he turns up in some piece of football rubbish.

The reason for the sudden rise in football memorabilia is partly explained by the enormous interest in football today, that cuts across all ages, classes and sections of the population.

But it's the arrival of the more affluent middle classes into football that has made the huge difference to prices. You have to be well off anyway to follow football today, with £1,000 for a season ticket and £3 for a programme. The middle class also tend to have an interest in football's history and space to store or display their treasures.

I only collect football artefacts you can read and study, such as programmes, books, posters, annuals, cards, magazines. I don't go for shirts and caps and medals. Now I look at the Sainsbury's album, it's quite well produced with some good pictures and profiles of the England squad. Quite a lot to read for £1. I wonder if it will come down even more after Euro 2004 is over.

It compares rather well with the £500 I paid for Association Football and the Men Who Made It by Gibson and Pickford, published by Caxton in four volumes in 1904, probably the best and handsomest of all football books, though Famous 1895-96, published by the News of the World in 1897 is equally attractive. Along with the Book of Football, published by the Amalgamated Press in 1906, these are three of the most desired of the early books which all serious football collectors would like to get their hands on.

There are other, slimmer, less well illustrated books from the same early period which can be just as expensive, such as Association Football by NL Jackson, (Newnes,1899) or CW Alcocks's Association Football, (G Bell, 1906).

I have also got a large collection of football annuals, the fat little paperback books which came out once a year, on cheap paper, with cheap photographs, but they are crammed with interesting facts and figures, profiles and personalities.

They were mainly produced by national papers, such as the Daily News, Empire News and News Chronicle, as well as the main regional papers, such as the Liverpool Echo. You can pick up examples from the 1920s for as little as £20. They provide loads of innocent fun for all good clean-living football anoraks.

I also have lots of programmes, but now the prices have shot up, I can't bear to pay the prices.

About 10 years ago, I came across a 1923 Cup Final programme, the first held at Wembley Stadium, for £100. I offered the dealer £90, which was turned down. When I came back, a few weeks later, to offer the full price, he'd sold it. Now they go for £1,000 at least.

I have always collected Tottenham Hotspurs programmes, but now their prices have gone equally mad. It seems only yesterday I was paying £8 for a 1930s Spurs programme. Now they are £50. The highest price fetched so far for any programme was for Spurs v Sheffield United from the Cup Final of 1901 held at Crystal Palace. That went for £14,400.

About five years ago, I started collecting England-Scotland programmes because that match played such a vital part in my childhood, and I was always willing Scotland to win, but also the prices seemed so low, compared with FA Cup final programmes from the same period. Now, they too have shot up, and it costs over £1000 for anything decent pre-war.

It's best to stick to one club, or you'll never cope, a sensible rule which I break all the time. Last week, also in Cockermouth, I bought from Ron Scott, who has a stall in the antique market, an Everton programme from 1929 for £70. Rather cheap, but a bit has been cut off the margins. I have no personal interest in Everton but I am fascinated by the fact that in the 1920s they shared a programme with Liverpool. I already had a Liverpool programme, when their first team was at home, so I've been looking for an Everton one. My collection of this arcane event, numbering only two, is now complete. I also collect cigarette cards of footballers and love examining the hair styles, the shirts and the boots and watching them change over the years. Well, time can hang heavily in Lakeland.

The information on the back is always interesting but alas, so many kids in the 1920s and 30s stuck them down, into albums, so you can't read the backs. Hence stuck-down cards always go for far less than loose ones. At the time, of course, that was what you were meant to do, as with stickers today: put them in the little albums issued with the cards and display them.

I don't collect football shirts as they now cost fortunes. And anyway, what do you do with an old shirt? Takes up so much space, framed on a wall. That obviously does not put off some people. The highest price for any piece of football memorabilia is for a shirt - one worn by Pele which went for £155,750. The highest price for any England shirt, so far, was for Geoff Hurst's World Cup shirt which sold for £91,750.

While watching this year's Euro 2004, and feeling as sick as a parrot when France came back and scored two goals at the very death, I noticed that afterwards David Beckham swapped shirts with Zidane.

Lucky bloke, I thought, getting a Zidane shirt for free, in which he had scored two brilliant goals. I wondered what it might fetch. So I asked Graham Budd.

"Probably about £3,000, at the moment. If, of course, France go on to win the tournament then it will be worth more."

During all the games, Mr Budd sits with his eyes glued to the TV watching carefully when the shirt swapping starts, just so he can remember where the shirts went, in case someone sends one for auction and he's not sure of the provenance.

"I've noticed with Beckham how clever he is. He tends to swap with other star players, carefully targeting them. If say an unknown Swiss player asks for his shirt, he'll make some gesture, indicating we'll do it later, but I suspects he holds on to it, knowing it's real value."

So is Becks one of us, a football collector, or just very canny?

Hunter Davies is the author of 'Boots, Balls and Haircuts' an illustrated history of football, Cassells, £12.99; and also the writer of 'Gazza - my story', Headline, £18.99.

FACTFILE COLLECTIBLES THAT SCORE HIGHLY

* If you were starting to collect football memorabilia now, what should you go for? Most Euro 2004 stuff is pure tat. Apart from the souvenir medals, which will show modest increases, eventually, a better bet will be any limited edition items, as in theory there will be fewer around and therefore should be better investments. But do you really want to hang on to some expensive lump of commemorative nonsense for the next 30 years that was produced specifically for you to collect?

Anything pre-war is now hard to find, and expensive. War time stuff is now also going up, even though this was always on cheap paper with poor illustrations. The best bargains today are items from the Sixties. While 1966 World Cup items have shot up in price, ordinary league programmes and football magazines from the Sixties can be found at most car boot sales for around £2.

I asked Graham Budd of Sotheby's what he would suggest, for complete beginners. He thought for a while. "Rugby union, I think that would be a good thing to go into now. At our last sale, prices for all rugby union material suddenly starting to rise. Thanks to rugby's World Cup win, boys from the city have begun to take an interest and are beginning to spend a lot of money."

Following your favourite footballer, as opposed to your favourite club, is a neat way to start amassing a collection. You could pick Pele, the world's greatest, though you'd need to be a millionaire to afford one of his shirts. But you can get an autographed photograph of him for about £100. Much cheaper, though it will take a bit of research, is to buy programmes in which he appeared. Brazil has always played a lot of internationals, all round the world, most of them friendlies, and these can be found for as low as £10.

Sir Stanley Matthews, arguably our greatest home-grown talent, played for so many years that it's easy to find ordinary league programmes in which he played - unless they are pre-war. He started his career in 1932, but continued till 1965. The 1950s and 1960s programmes can be found for a few pounds.

Despite the £20 maximum wage during his working years and few commercial opportunities, he did a surprising amount of advertising work, for people like the Co-op and putting his name on boots. He also did several books which are worth collecting.

Today's new big star, as we speak, is of course Wayne Rooney. I expect his Everton programmes are already being saved. And I'm sure there will be a smart person at this moment running off glossy copies of him doing his cartwheels in Euro 2004, working out ways of getting him to sign them. In which case, they could be worth a small fortune in years to come.

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