The very, very last lucrative drop of Wembley lore

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Like Rasputin, the Russian monk who refused to die, Wembley Stadium simply will not roll over gracefully. We've been presented with the last match, the very last match, and the very, very last match, and might have been forgiven for thinking that the next stage of Wembley's demise would, finally, involve several large bulldozers.

Like Rasputin, the Russian monk who refused to die, Wembley Stadium simply will not roll over gracefully. We've been presented with the last match, the very last match, and the very, very last match, and might have been forgiven for thinking that the next stage of Wembley's demise would, finally, involve several large bulldozers.

But no. In an attempt to squeeze one last lucrative drop of sentiment from an obliging British public, the on-line auction company QXL presented, live from Wembley on the internet and Sky Sport 1, the last ever sale - at least before the next last-ever sale - of Wembley memorabilia last night.

The auction was introduced by Hugh Scully, who maintained an admirably straight face throughout. The lots ranged from the fairly sublime (the venerable eight-yard Union flag first flown from the twin towers during the 1948 Olympics) to the completely ridiculous (a "Keep Off The Grass" sign described in the auction catalogue in a masterpiece of hopeful hyperbole as "one of a number placed strategically around the stadium by the dedicated groundsmen to remind the spectators at Wembley that they must keep off the hallowed turf".)

The emphasis was on the ridiculous. Lot 69, for instance, taken from the Wembley TV studio, was "a 2ft x 18in mounted reproduction on 5mm Foamex" of Angus "Statto" Loughran, the celebrity punter. A fine fellow, undoubtedly, but not a man any sane person would want reproduced in their home on 5mm Foamex.

Marginally more desirable, perhaps, was Lot 26, an autographed cardboard cut-out of Kevin Keegan. With magnificent if unwitting ambiguity, the catalogue described Lot 26 thus: "One of England's most famous managers, this autographed cardboard cut-out is a very unique item for the football collector."

This description begged an irreverent but irresistible thought. Might the cardboard cut-out have fared better as England manager than the flesh-and-blood version? The latter, it will be remembered, cast terrible despondency over England's last match at Wembley, the 1-0 defeat by Germany in a World Cup qualifier earlier this month, by walking out of his job immediately afterwards.

It will also be remembered, certainly if QXL have anything to do with it, that England once managed to defeat Germany at Wembley. And Sir Geoff Hurst, inevitably, was on hand to stir yet more memories of English football's finest hour, the 1996 World Cup Final.

Lot 13 evoked the occasion even more powerfully. It was the framed photograph, which for years hung in Wembley's Banqueting Hall, of England players Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore and Roger Hunt dancing a celebratory jig.

But I resisted bidding for that, nor could I be persuaded to raise a hand in pursuit of Lot 25, a set of fitted clothes pegs from the south dressing-room, or Lot 34, the players' tunnel itself, an unwieldy contraption made from extendable galvanised steel. No, I saved my (unsuccessful) bid for a real piece of history, one of the 39 steps up to the Royal Box.

For, as any football fan knows, those steps inspired one of the greatest of all lines of TV commentary. Never mind Kenneth Wolstenholme's fabled "They think it's all over, it is now!"

When the Manchester United captain, Martin Buchan, walked up the steps to lift the FA Cup in 1977, the BBC commentator, John Motson, dropped an unforgettable literary allusion. How appropriate it was, he said, that a man called Buchan should climb the 39 steps. Indeed.

And how appropriate, too, that a man called Astaire - Jarvis Astaire - was for so long in charge of Wembley. We have certainly been led a merry dance of hype these last few weeks. Still, I think it's all over. But don't quote me.

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