I transferred from stamps into football - and hit my financial goal

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The Independent Online

I was so smart, so far-sighted, so lucky coming into football programmes. Over the last four years, while most of my shares, bonds and Peps, and other financial nonsenses have halved in value, my footer stuff has doubled. Makes up for having been so stupid with stamps.

I was so smart, so far-sighted, so lucky coming into football programmes. Over the last four years, while most of my shares, bonds and Peps, and other financial nonsenses have halved in value, my footer stuff has doubled. Makes up for having been so stupid with stamps.

I made two awful mistakes when collecting stamps. People always tell you to take advice from the experts, so in 1979 I did, paying £4,000 for a portfolio provided by Stanley Gibbons. Twenty years later, when I sold, they were worth only £1,500.

I had bought them as an investment, knowing little about stamps at the time, right at the very top of a boom in stamp prices. What I learned from that experience was to buy for fun, for my own amusement and pleasure. Bugger the experts.

So I started collecting Penny Blacks at about £20 each. People don't realise that millions were printed, so you can get lousy ones for very little. What I discovered, when I came to sell, was that a cheap Penny Black in tatty condition will always be a cheap Penny Black in tatty condition. If only I'd bought a good one at £200 instead of 10 rubbish ones at £20 each, I would definitely have got all my money back, and more. The lesson there is to go for quality. Buy the best you can unless, of course, you just want to have fun.

I sold all my stamps in 1999 and decided to concentrate on one of my real passions in life, football. I had always kept my match programmes, including the one for the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966, and the ticket stub. But until 1999, I hadn't actually gone to fairs, dealers and auctions, actively looking to buy football tat, I mean treasures. I was disorganised with stamps, all over the place, so with football I vowed to concentrate on specific areas. I don't collect caps, medals or shirts. I collect only paper memorabilia, which mainly means programmes, football books and magazines. I've got Spurs programmes going back to 1909 and England-Scotland programmes back to 1932. I probably won't get any further back with those two collections, now that prices have doubled. It's one thing to have come in before a boom, so notionally my collection has increased in value greatly, but I can't bear to pay £200 for a programme I could have got for £80 just a couple of years ago.

The most I have paid for a programme is £95 for an Everton one of 1910 vintage – and this was because of its fascinating history. Well, fascinating to me, as I'm writing a history of football, and am able to reproduce items from my own collections. It's a joint programme with Liverpool. For many years the two Merseyside clubs shared the same publication. If Everton were playing at Goodison Park, it would be mainly about their first team, plus Liverpool's reserves, also at home that day. Next week, it would be reversed, featuring the Liverpool first team and Everton's reserves.

The biggest sum paid for a programme was £14,400, three months ago at Sotheby's for a 1901 FA Cup Final programme, featuring Spurs and Sheffield United. Cup Final programmes have always been greatly sought after. The most desired club is Manchester United – they have the biggest fan base – followed by Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Rangers and Celtic. But pre-war programmes from the smallest clubs can fetch big prices. And every British club has its collectors. The smaller the club, the fewer programmes were issued.

"Programmes are the easiest football items to sell," says Graham Budd, football specialist at Sotheby's. "There's always a demand. They have gone up greatly in price recently, but it's still cheap to start collecting them. You can still buy 1960s programmes for two or three pounds. I think they're very good value and will increase."

Budd agrees that prices for good material have doubled in the past four or five years, but says that the growth over the past 10 years is even more remarkable, with some items increasing almost fivefold. At Christies in 1991, a 1897 Cup Final programme for Aston Villa v Everton sold for £1,600. This year at Sotheby's, the same item went for £7,200.

A new development has been football ticket stubs. I kept my 1966 World Cup ticket for my own amusement, and for a long time did not hear of anyone else collecting tickets. But in the last three years, they've started appearing in auction catalogues. While my 1966 programme is now worth about £50, the ticket stub, a mere scrap of paper, is worth £150. The reason is scarcity – most people throw them away.

Old football books, magazines and annuals have not increased in price as dramatically as programmes. And as with programmes, 1950s and 1960s publications are still relative bargains. Also excellent value are post-war and pre-war boys' "budget books", which can be found for about £5 to £10.

The best produced, best written, most lavish football books were published around the 1890s to 1910, when football was still being run by and read about by gents. Action photography did not exist, but the studio portraits of star players and top teams was excellent – and has not been bettered since. Famous Footballers – 1895-96, by Alcock and Hill is the best of the photographic books, costing about £400 today, but alas many dealers over the years have ruined copies by tearing out plates and selling them separately.

In the 1920s and 1930s, by which time football had become a working class sport, football publications became mass- produced on poor paper with cheaper writing, but were full of social history all the same.

Will prices continue to increase? I think so, because purchasers of football memorabilia are genuine collectors, not outsiders looking for investment portfolios, as I was with stamps. People collect football stuff out of love of football, and as football has become more popular, especially among the middle classes – those with a few bob to spend on dopey things – the demand should continue to grow. The first football sale by a famous auction house was relatively recently, conducted by Christies in Glasgow in 1989, so the market is still expanding.

The scope is huge. You can choose your own club, professional or non-league, find your own collector's niche and start with a few pounds. But don't throw anything away. It's estimated that if a regular football fan aged 60 had kept every programme and every ticket from every match, he would now have a collection worth £10,000. Without really trying.

'Boots, Balls and Haircuts', Hunter Davies' illustrated history of football, will be published in September by Cassells, £20.

On the ball

* The world record for a football programme was established in February this year at Sotheby's when a 1901 Spurs-Sheffield United FA Cup Final programme went for £14,400.

* The most desirable books are the four-volume Association Football and the Men who Made it, by Gibson and Pickford, 1905. Expect to pay around £500.

* The world record for a shirt is £157,750, paid for Pele's 1970 World Cup Final shirt.

* The record for an English shirt, as worn by hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup Final, is £91,750.

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