So that’s it then, a lifetime of collecting is over. My 2,000 or so football scraps – sorry, I mean treasures – have left the house. Except for two objects I will keep forever.
I can’t really explain the joy of collecting, least of all to a non-collector, such as my dear late wife. There’s the excitement of tracking stuff down, the thrill of acquiring, now and again the ecstasy of completion. There’s the delusion of knowledge, that you know and have something unique. It gives a purpose in life when often life just rolls on. I would go out hunter-gathering round the charity shops, the stalls, the fairs. At one time I had 20 different collections, so I always came back with something. Often to find I already had it.
So why am I selling now? I suppose it was Tottenham Hotspur, the ungrateful bastards, finally turning down my offer of donating all my Spurs memorabilia to their new museum. The architect creating the museum came to my house, raved over my treasures, said yes, they will be wonderful. Then the board said nah. In knocking down the old White Hart Lane, they found a stash of ancient stuff in the boardroom, enough for their museum, so thanks but no thanks.
Or is it because I is old? I did used to tell myself that when I can’t get out much I will sit in my armchair with the Beaujolais and go through my treasures, feeling them, ogling them. Now I am old – I said it first – I find I don’t have the time. I have a young girlfriend, aged 72, and we are always off doing exciting things.
Also, being alone in this house for four years since my wife died, I have become fed up by my own clutter. Time to clear out. All my Beatles stuff has gone to the British Library. I have donated some Wordsworth stuff to Dove Cottage. The Wainwright material will go to the Wainwright Society. If I’m not on the next Honours list, I will be spitting.
The footer stuff, I have decided to auction. Well, not physically. It is an online auction run by Graham Budd, who used to be head of sports at Sotheby’s, and for a number of years has held his own auctions at Sotheby’s in Bond Street. God, the money I have spent there over the decades…
He has just sent me his estimate for the 20 or so lots of mine he is selling in a week’s time, from 9 to 11 November. I could weep. Association Football and the Men Who Made It, a classic book published in four volumes in 1905 by Gibson and Pickford, has an estimate of only £200. Blast. I paid £500 for it at Sotheby’s 20 years ago. If my dear wife were here, she would be chortling. I always used to tell her, it’s an investment, pet.
The early books on football history, which go back to the 1860s, once so valued, all seem to have dropped in price, though other stuff has gone up. The thing about selling at auction is the surprise. Things you bought cheaply when nobody else was interested do often go for large amounts.
My suffragette postcards, which I started collecting 40 years ago when they were £8, are now £80 each. I am leaving all my suffragette stuff to my older daughter Caitlin. She was able to use some of my suffragette treasures when she wrote a history of Holloway prison, so that turned out to be useful. I will tell my wife when I meet her in the next world.
I am keeping only two football items away from my Graham Budd sale. The first is my ticket for the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley: proof that I was there.
The second is a handwritten postcard sent to me from Iceland by Spurs manager Bill Nicholson in 1971, when they were playing in the Uefa Cup. It was the only time, while working on my book The Glory Game, that I did not travel with the team.
When the postcard arrived, I was so touched. Nicholson always seemed such a dour Yorkshireman, yet he must have taken my address with him. He tells me how the team is preparing. “But you know what it is like…” He signed it “Billy N”.
That is my greatest football treasure. How could I ever sell it?
This article appears in the 28 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Reckoning