Football: Owen a hit under the hammer

Nick Harris sees football memorabilia excite bidders' interest at Sotheby's
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MICHAEL OWEN is worth more than Jimmy Greaves but is still some way from matching Roger Hunt. That was the message sent out yesterday at an auction of football memorabilia at Sotheby's in London.

While a shirt destined to be used by Liverpool's teenaged England striker during last year's World Cup (a spare shirt, incidentally, that was probably never even seen by Owen, let alone worn by him) fetched pounds 2,415, two items from Greaves' wardrobe failed to make their reserve prices and were not sold.

The highlight of the day was the sale of the red No 21 shirt worn by Hunt in England's 1966 World Cup final victory over Germany. Bidding started at pounds 4,500, reached pounds 10,000 within a matter of seconds, stalled around pounds 15,000 as two prospective buyers in the room waited to see if a telephone caller would up the ante, and was eventually sold for pounds 17,250.

The buyer, Gordon Mousinho, is a British collector of football memorabilia now resident in the United States. "I've been after the shirt for a little while so I was very pleased to get it," he said of the latest addition to his 1966 treasures.

As well as adding Hunt's shirt to a collection which already includes another jersey from the 1966 final (that of the German Lothar Emmerich) and a sheet of paper autographed by the England squad the night before the game, Mousinho yesterday also bought the official match report from England's finest two hours. The 12ft Telex print-out of the game, sent in short snatches around the world throughout the game by the General Post Office's Wembley press officer, sold for pounds 977.

Compared with prices paid in the past, Mousinho's expenditure yesterday was modest. At a Sotheby's auction two years ago, a replica Jules Rimet trophy was sold for pounds 254,500. Even individual match programmes, such as a mint condition copy from the 1915 FA Cup final, have been known to fetch pounds 10,000 or more.

"There's a healthy football memorabilia market and more people are coming into it all the time," Grant MacDougall, a specialist at Christie's, the country's other main auctioneers, said. Christie's first ran a dedicated football auction in 1989 which drew around 70 people and made a total of pounds 50,000. Last year, MacDougall said, his company staged two football auctions, and more than 200 people attended each and spent some pounds 575,000.

"The interest in these auctions speaks for itself," MacDougall said. "The past is the future in football." MacDougall added that typical buyers fall into two main categories: fans who are looking for a "special" purchase relating to a specific club or player they follow; and general football hobbyists who collect for pleasure. Serious investors, he said, whose sole aim is making money, are few and far between in this market.

"There may well be people who buy with a view to investing but it's not something I'd advise purely as investment," he said. "You're never sure what will happen in the future."

One example of fluctuating fashions was seen at Sotheby's yesterday when two Jimmy Greaves' shirts failed to sell. As one of the legendary England player's tops failed to meet its reserve price of pounds 800 and then another - from a 1965 England v Scotland inter-league game - was withdrawn because it only reached pounds 300, the auctioneer said: "Poor old Jimmy Greaves doesn't seem very popular." Michael Owen beware.