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

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.