That crappy old Cup Final song could be worth a packet

On 4 June at Christie's in London there's an auction of football memorabilia, most of which consists of Spurs programmes, the property of a private collector. Many of them are quite modern, from the 1950s onwards. Guess how much they expect the sale to make? Between £100,000 and £150,000. Golly.

I went at once to look at my stuff. Like most real collectors, as opposed to investors, and we don't talk about them, I grew into being a collector after metamorphosing from being an accumulator.

As an accumulator, you shove things that you think are interesting in drawers, things that mean something to you and your life, which could come in useful, or just things that you can't bear to chuck out. Hence I never threw away my 1966 World Cup programme. Most people kept them, but I also kept the ticket stub, which is much more unusual. People usually throw that away.

Then one day, rummaging through my drawers, I realised I'd gathered together quite a lot of football bits and bobs without consciously trying, so I thought, I know, I'll now add to them. So at stalls, car-boot sales, junk shops, collectors' fairs, I began looking out for football things.

About ten years ago, I was buying Spurs programmes from the 1920s and 1930s for between £4 and £8. No chance of that now, partly due to rotten old Christie's. It was the first major auction house to hold specialised sales of football stuff. This was in 1989, at Christie's in Glasgow. Grant MacDougall, who organised it, was amazed to find that a 1930 FA Cup Final medal belonging to Alex James of Arsenal, which he had estimated at £1,000, went for £5,000. That first sale made a total of £50,000. Now all the big auction houses have football sales, and they rarely make less than £250,000. (Christie's has another in September and Sotheby's has one in October.)

The most expensive single item so far has been £254,000 for a replica of the Jules Rimet trophy, made when the original got pinched. That was a mad, one-off, dopey price. The next highest was £50,000 for George Cohen's 1966 World Cup medal, followed by £20,000 for an England shirt worn against Scotland in 1872, the world's first international match. The next most expensive shirt has been Roger Hunt's 1996 World Cup final shirt, sold this year for £17,000.

What's interesting about football memorabilia, despite the huge increase in prices, is that investors have not come into the market, as they have done in stamps. It's all genuine fans and enthusiasts, usually of a particular club. The most popular and most expensive items, as you might expect, are to do with Man Utd. Next comes Spurs, which explains the big prices expected for those programmes next month. After that come Arsenal, Chelsea, Rangers and Celtic.

An ordinary Man Utd programme of the 1930s can now fetch £200, while a Spurs one can make about £80. The exceptional ones run into thousands. "Exceptional" can range from a midweek overseas match in snow when few were printed, or a match that later turned out to be historic in some way, such as one featuring the Busby Babes. The most expensive programme so far has been for the FA Cup Final of 1915 between Chelsea and Sheffield Utd, the "Khaki Final" when most of the crowd was in uniform. That went for £10,000.

Even run-of-the-mill modern ones can increase in value rapidly. It's been estimated that if you kept every programme of your favourite club from the 1950s to the present day they could be worth £20,000. Someone aged 60 could easily have done this, and get all their money back. And more. It's also interesting that there are still so few shops where you can actually buy old football stuff. I know of only two in London - one in Walthamstow and one in St John's Wood. There are also about 20 or so full-time programme dealers, but they tend to work from home, going round the fairs.

John Eastwood, an ex-history teacher who runs Extra Cover in St John's Wood, doesn't do programmes but specialises in books, especially club histories. He recently sold a history of Gillingham, published in 1991, priced £19.95, for £145. The reason was that so few were printed. "As a rule," he says, "it's always better to have a good collection of Walsall than a poor collection of Arsenal." John Motson is said to have one of the best collections of club histories. But then he would.

Apart from Spurs stuff, I collect prewar books and booklets about football in general. Jolly hard. John has a 1900 book called The Real Football by J A H Catton which looked good, but I didn't like the price - £350.

Poking round his shop I then came across a 1932 gramophone record of the Arsenal team. Repeat, 1932. I had always assumed that those stupid football records, where the Cup Final teams sing some shitty song, were a recent innovation, dating from, well, somewhere around the 1970s. So I was amazed. Alas, he didn't have a wind-up gramophone, so I couldn't hear it, but he says it includes the team talk and lots of rousing Arsenal chants. It was priced at £150. Probably a snip.

Hard to believe that the current Manchester Utd or Newcastle Cup Final sing-along records will be kept for more than five minutes after the final whistle blows on 22 May, but if you see one, don't play it. Just stash it away. You, too, could become an accumulator.

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 17 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - A culture of pretence