A football memorabilia shop in Newcastle. Photo: Ian Horrocks/Getty Images
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Damn and blast – my epic football collection is going down in value

Fans have no money left for books and they can look it up online, anyway.

In 1953, coronation year, Stanley Matthews had had 21 years as a professional footballer – but had never won an FA Cup winner’s medal, the medal all players and all boys had dreamed about since 1872, the year of the first FA Cup final. How times change. What boys and girls dream about now is becoming a celeb.

Matthews had been in two finals, 1948 and 1951, and lost both, so, with our hero aged 38 and Blackpool playing in the final against his side, Bolton, it looked like the last chance for him. A nation held its breath.

(In fact, Stan played till he was 50. In 1953 the maximum wage for a player was £14 a week but Stan did get another £20 a week from the Co-op for the use of his name. So he was lucky. He also got knighted while still playing, the only time it has happened. Poor old Becks: still not made it.)

Any road up, Bolton were 3-1 ahead with only 35 minutes left to play – when Matthews turned on the magic, sorry wizardry, for was he not the Wizard of Dribble? Blackpool won 4-3 and phew, at long last, Matthews got his medal from the Queen. A nation cheered. Ever since, the 1953 final has been known as the Matthews Final. He died in 2000.

In 2001 his medal was sold at Sotheby’s for £20,000 – and I remember thinking: goodness, all that money for a bit of metal.

I was often bidding around the same time, adding to my football collections – but for books and paper memorabilia only. I prefer to collect stuff I can read, that has content, not silly stuff like medals and shirts.

That year at Sotheby’s, I bought the four-volume Gibson and Pickford Association Football and the Men Who Made It, published in 1895. I paid £520 – writing it down in code in case my wife ever saw how stupid I’d been, but telling myself that all prices of football stuff would be going up, no question.

Alas, I was wrong. In a dealer’s catalogue last week I saw those four volumes for sale at only £250. Hell’s bells, what have I done?

That Matthews Final medal came up again for sale at Sotheby’s just a few months ago – and sold for £220,000. Shows how much I know.

My Beatles and suffragette material and almost all the stuff I’ve bought over the past 30 years has gone up in value, oh yes. In fact, suffragette stuff has gone mad. Postcards I bought for £8 are now going for £80. I blame the feminists, especially at American colleges with rich funds.

But football seems to be collapsing, at least for run-of-the-mill stuff. That Matthews medal was a one-off. With all collecting, the unique or amazing stuff always sells well.

I am now noticing that programmes from the 1950s and 1960s – of which I have thousands – are down to half the price they were just five years ago. Damn and blast. (Do notice the period swearing. Now that everybody says f*** and c*** all the time, I’m reverting to childhood, to the oaths my father used.)

Old gits are dying out and their families are selling their stuff cheap. But that was always the case. EBay has saturated the market, with everyone trying to sell the same stuff. Prices were too high ten years ago, and the recession has had an effect on all collectibles.

Graham Budd, who does the sporting auctions at Sotheby’s, suggested another possible explanation – that it’s connected with the collapse of the second-hand book market. “Historical information is now so readily available on the net. Bookselling these days is a tough business.”

It’s true that geeks and nerds today can look up fascinating football facts on a screen and have no need actually to buy books. Think also of the huge cost of football now – whether to go to a game or to subscribe to Sky and BT. Fans have no money left for books. And there is so much present-day football on the telly that young fans forget or have no interest in the past.

To save you looking up more details of that 1953 final, Stan Mortensen got a hat-trick and won it for Blackpool. Matthews did not score. So still calling it the Matthews Final after all these years is bollocks: I mean, a terminological inexactitude. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Struggle

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Peter Hitchens on Twitter seemed barely human – then he came round for tea

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me.

But what about Peter Hitchens?” everyone is asking after my last encounter with him. He came round to the Hovel, you see, the day before the column, in which I said all sorts of nasty things about him, appeared. The reason why he came round is complicated and boring, but suffice it to say that books were exchanged, in a spirit of mutual diplomatic tension.

I offered him a choice of red wine, whisky, or tea. It was five o’clock. (He was punctual, which unsurprised me. He chose tea; he is not a fan of intoxication. Aha! I thought, he’ll love this: as a foe of modernity in many of its aspects, such as duvets and central heating, he will appreciate the fact that I do not use tea bags. Loose Assam leaves, put into a scalded teapot. “Conservative in everything except politics” was a formulation – originally, I think, applied to George Orwell – that Peter’s late brother was fond of, and I thought my old-fashionedness would soothe him.

Not exactly: he noticed I was pouring semi-skimmed milk into the mug. Of course you put the milk in last when you are using tea bags. When pouring from a pot, you put the milk in first. Milk poured in afterwards does not emulsify satisfactorily. If you are one of those people who say “but how do you know if you’ve put in the right amount of milk?” then I exhort you to start trusting your pouring arm.

Semi-skimmed milk, I learned quickly, is a no-no in the world of P Hitchens.

“But Orwell himself,” I replied urbanely, “said that milk that was too creamy made the tea taste unpleasant. Not, of course, that I believe everything Orwell said, but on tea-making he is sound.”

Mr Hitchens demurred, saying that Orwell was referring to the equivalent of what we know today as Gold Top. This allowed me to go off on a little rant, a positive, life-enhancing rant, about how good Gold Top is, how my children love it, etc. We moved into the living room. I noticed my shoes were more old-fashioned than his. Come to think of it, they may have been older than him. They’re almost certainly older than me.

There was a mood of civility in the air. Slightly strained, perhaps, like his tea, but unmistakably present. Part of the reason was that I had mentioned our forthcoming meeting on a social medium, and two of my friends, one a well-known novelist, the other a well-known columnist, both women, both left wing, had asked me, extremely sincerely, to pass on their best wishes. They knew him of old, had worked with him, were fond of him. These are two women whose opinions I take very seriously indeed. The Peter Hitchens I knew, of column and Question Time panel, was clearly not the whole picture. If these women say he’s Basically All Right, or All Right enough to ask me to pass on their best wishes, then that is pretty much good enough for me.

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me. I was becoming increasingly conscious that, the next day, in newsagents throughout the land, the latest edition of this magazine would appear, and in it, on page 82, would be a column by me, which contained several jokes at the expense of P Hitchens, Esq. And I knew that this column would not escape his vigilance. I massaged the bridge of my nose and launched into a pre-emptive apology. “I think I had better tell you...”

He seemed to take it fairly well, though I’d not given him the full nature of my assault. When we were tossing insults back and forth on Twitter, he seemed barely human; now, in my living room, he all too clearly was. I suppose this is how we all see our enemies on Twitter: as botched versions of the Turing Test, spouting opinions that are quite clearly wrong in spite of all our well-reasoned arguments. The only variable is how quickly the arguments de-evolve into base invective. I have my own theory about this. It involves Lacan, so I’ll spare you.

A couple of days later I received an email from him, courteously asking after me and my latest troubles, the ones I can’t write about due to their immensity. It also contained the precise quote from Orwell regarding milk in tea. (“Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.” You have to love that “ninthly”.) “Tempus mutatur,” I replied... but noted, too, that there was no mention of That Column. I was rather impressed. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear