How-to guide: Collecting football memorabilia

04 August 2008
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The Collectors Gazette takes a look at the many collectables available to football memorabilia fans. ...
How-to guide: Collecting football memorabilia Images

Is it any wonder that football memorabilia makes such a regular appearance at auction houses? Given the international profile of the sport, and the cavalcade of great moments that it’s given us over the past 100 years, it’s inevitably left some fabulous collectables in its wake (as well as some, to be fair, less impressive items). And what makes it particularly of interest is the fact that it genuinely ranges from headline grabbing, multi-thousand pound items, through to the smallest items that no doubt mean something to someone.

Just recently, Tommy Taylor's 1956-57 Division One championship medal fetched a record price. Sold via Convery Auctions, Taylor’s prize – which he won while playing for Manchester United – reached a staggering £20,231 (the same auction also saw a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal from 1991 going for £5,000). Meanwhile, Graham Budd Auctions oversaw a sale that fetched £20,000 for Tottenham Hotspurs’ Maurice Norman’s double medals from 1960-61. And on the flip side of all of that? Football programmes and coins can often leave change from a single pound! So let’s take a look at what else is out there…

Programme Collecting

Football Programmes
Football programmes may now be an easy way to be robbed of £2-3 for a lightweight match day magazine, but auction houses – as well as highlighting individual rareties – are proving to be a good way to get hold of a job lot. It’s well worth checking listings to find bundled collections: Knights listed a guide price of £40-60 for over 300 Ipswich Town programmes spanning the 1960s through to the present day. Clearly the higher prices are fetched for rarer, individual examples. The same Knights’ auction was expecting £1,000 for a 1925 FA Cup Final programme (where Sheffield United played Cardiff City), with the majority of interesting individual programmes selling for between £25 and £50. Meanwhile, Cameo Auctioneers dropped the hammer at £1,650 for a 1921 FA Cup Final programme, and £650 for one from the 1930/31 FA Cup meeting between Gillingham and Aldershot.

Esso Coins
The modern-day ‘loyalty’ card at the local filling station is no match for the collectable Esso coins of old that forced a generation of dads to fill their tanks in a simple bid to satiate the anklebiters screaming for the latest etchings of footballing heroes. And even if Esso isn’t interested in its coins any more, many collectors are. Esso Coin

For instance, complete versions of the World Cup collectable coin sets (which took a slice of the ozone layer to accrue) are still popular, and surprisingly affordable, even in the appropriate presentation material. More recent attempts by the likes of Sainsbury’s to cash in on the popularity of collectable coins have yet to succeed, however, with its 1998 England World Cup coin set easily available for just a pound or two. The Esso sets won’t set you back too much more than that, but they do have a brighter and more interesting collecting heritage.

Cigarette Cards
It wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s when the trade in football cigarette cards really took off. Until then, cards had been included in cigarette boxes, but business was nowhere near as brisk as it would be when the touch paper was effectively lit. Several companies produced cards including Ogdens, Singleton & Cole, Churchman, John Player and Lambert & Butler, and they are among the most collectable of all vintage football merchandise.

The cards featured accurate drawings, caricatures or actual photos of the footballer concerned, and it’s unsurprising that the pre-war examples can fetch thousands of pounds in certain cases. That’s the exception rather than the norm, and even cards that date back to the late 1800s tend to sell for around the £200 mark. On the other side of WWII, when the cards themselves were phased out (primarily due to paper rationing), examples tend to sell for around £5.

Panini Football StickerIn recent years, the likes of Panini football stickers and albums have taken on the mantle left behind by the cigarette cards. Panini reports that an excellent condition album of its first Italian collection has been known to fetch over £600.

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Given that the firm produces over a billion stickers a year for football fans, there tends to be little shortage of more recent collections, although a 1997 collection of the UK Football League book and stickers does fetch close to £30.

As with any form of autographica, authenticity is key in the world of football, and the need to trade via established and reliable auction houses for the best examples is paramount. If you do so, there are some enticing collectables, including a 1966 England shirt signed by many of the World Cup winners, which sells for nearly £800.

This proves the long-held belief that autographs tend to work best when they adorn an item of relevance. A modern day photo of Birmingham City striker Cameron Jerome can sell for £15 with his signature on it, for instance, while a signed picture of Dimitar Berbatov holding aloft the Carling Cup has a £50 price tag. And a David Beckham autograph? It might be worth digging out a fresh mortgage application if it’s on anything other than a simple piece of paper.

Tickets1950 FA Cup Final Ticket Stub
The thriving market in tickets is inevitably focused on good condition examples for key games. That, or for matches played a very long time ago. Manage to get a mix of all of those, and the price goes through the roof.

Mullock’s, for instance, recently sold a ticket for the 1895 FA Cup Final between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion for £2,100. More conservatively, the same firm also oversaw the sale of a 1966 World Cup Semi-Final and Quarter-Final ticket, and took £35 for the pair.=

More recently, a ticket from Glasgow Rangers’ UEFA Cup jaunt of last season was selling for a handful of pounds. Had Rangers been able to pull off a memorable victory in the final, you can bet that it would have had an impact on the selling price.

Football memorabilia also exists outside of the auction house, and the game that kept generations of fans entertained – until the Playstation crowd came along – is one particularly active area of enthusiasm. Subbuteo has a heritage that stretches back to the 1940s, and over the years hundreds of teams and accessories have been made available.

So popular was the game that memorabilia from the past is available in good quantities, with old teams generally starting from just a couple of pounds. Some of the rarer line-ups can set collectors back closer to £50, with the Melchester Rovers side that was only available via the Roy Of The Rovers comic being one example (it was replete with a blonde Roy Race figure!). Some have fetched more. The excellent collectors store lists the limited 1982 Italian World Cup team at £85, while fans of Queen’s Park in the 1970s could face a price of £150 for a numbered model edition of their side. Conversely, many of the light 1980s teams are available still for £10 or less.

It’s little secret, of course, that football is big business, and fortunately for collectors, that goes a long way beyond lining the pockets of the players who run out on a Saturday afternoon. Thousands of football-related items go up for auction every month, and it’s well worth keeping your ear to the ground for specialist sporting auctions from reputable auctioneers. You’re unlikely to find something to make you rich, but there are real nuggets and gems of interest in the catalogues, waiting to be found…

Full time...
Space dictates that this is inevitably a whistle-stop tour of the football world. Yet what is clear is that the most interesting, and less cynical, of the associated merchandise and memorabilia certainly hasn’t been produced in the last 20 years. Keep your collecting to memorabilia from before these years though, and there’s plenty to get your teeth, and wallet, into…

• This feature was publshed in the September issue of Collectors Gazette.  If you enjoyed reading this why not take out a subscription... click here.