Collecting Soccer Memorabilia: Expert Tips

By Jonathan Castner

Will a piece of soccer memorabilia soon reach the million-dollar mark? Will the US sports collectibles market embrace soccer? Must one have big bucks to play this game?

The love of any game eventually leads to collecting famous objects and articles that secure precious memories of a special team, a favorite player, or a unique and pleasurable time and place. Soccer is no different than any other sport. It has more than its share of great teams, superb athletes, and exceptional international events.
Most people, particularly here in the US, seem to think that soccer stardom has come late to the table. They assume that collecting caps, scarves, photos, flags, and balls is a recent phenomenon. That's why they'll pay up to $250 for a Freddy Adu signed ball-assuming he's a full-fledged patron of the sport and that his "John Hancock" will be worth a lot more in just a few years. (After all, look at the value of a baseball hit by Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, or even Barry Bonds.)

The world has established some trends we would be wise to notice. Christie's in London held their first sale of football memorabilia in 1989. The first sale offered 284 lots and realized a total of just over 45,000 pounds. Last year their sale went over a million.
The highest price paid to date for any piece of soccer memorabilia was $879,778 last May at Christie's for the FA Cup (1896-1910) presented to Lord Kinnaird. It is the oldest existing FA Cup. That same auction saw a world record price for a football medal as well, about $300,000 for Alan Ball's 1966 World Cup Winner's medal.

In September 2000, Geoff Hurst's red football jersey from the same World Cup brought 91,750 pounds (not dollars) and the world record was set in 2002 by Pele's shirt from the 1970 World Cup final. It brought a whopping 157,750 pounds. Kind of puts the recent sale of Joe DiMaggio's Yankee uniform in perspective. David Convery, head of Christie's Sporting Memorabilia department said, "The sale total of 1.16 million (pounds) is the highest ever realized for an auction of football memorabilia, and the highest for ANY sporting memorabilia at Christie's."
It won't be long before the million-dollar plateau for a single item will be reached!

Just as US soccer has finally caught up in talent and respect on the field, it won't be long before the collectibles market here in the US will expand as well with soccer memorabilia-and not just Mia Hamm's jerseys and photos. (The Women's World Cup Soccer Ball signed by all US players lists on the Internet for $989.)
As the sport grows, so does awareness of its history. Up for a June 2006 auction is the 1930 FIFA World Cup third-place medal awarded to Thomas Florie, captain of the USA team that was beaten by Argentina in the semi-finals of the first ever World Cup competition. It is estimated to bring $20-30,000. Just imagine the impact of a World Cup win or even appearance in the finals (you'll have discovered the results by press time).

We will begin to see a plethora of material-good, bad, and ugly from which to choose-everything from obsolete Metro Star textiles and ephemera (paper goods) to veritable NASL Cosmos goods, including the always popular, but overdone Pele. (His signed ball can bring anywhere from $500 to $2000.)
Unfortunately, it takes success, name recognition and a loyal fan base to support a collectible sports market. A Claudia Reyno signed Rangers Jersey is now on sale for $200. That's down from a list price of $350. US players spending time in Europe become quickly forgotten at home (out of sight, out of mind). Current MLS foreign players may have cult followings in their own ethnic community, but that doesn't usually transcend into a broader market.

Once people get beyond their narrow tunnel vision, they will expand into true collectible territory-the real history and defining moments of the game-both here and abroad. The world game, as we know, is not the world game here. Neither is the memorabilia.
Fortunately, the collecting category is wide. Matthew Paton of Christie's London says "Every sale offers lots from 150 pounds, and people are often just as happy to have bought a shirt worn by their favorite player for hundreds of pounds as if they had bought a world cup medal for thousands of pounds or the FA Cup for hundreds of thousands of pounds."

Now is the time to start collecting US soccer. As Brian Kathenes of National Appraisal Consultants in New Jersey says, "start small, but start smart. Collect original material-not replicas or items termed vintage or retro." Here are a few more of his tips:
    Collect quality. One can decorate a room with all kinds of soccer junk, but the wise collector will pick one good item over five not so good.
    Seek history or provenance. Always place an item with a specific game or event. A signed Pele ball from a specific known game is always worth more than one that has no history.
    Stay away from anything sold as a future collectible. It hardly ever is.

So maybe the Freddy Adu ball is a good place to start-but not at $250. A signed autograph from a pre-game warm-up might be better. It's legitimate. It's personal. It's free.
My childhood was spent idolizing Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees. (I never even heard of a round football.) I'm sure I had his rookie baseball card and every one after that. When he retired, so did my collection. It was no longer useful for trading, showing off, or using between my bicycle spokes. I guess I threw them away (or I can blame my mom).

Someday a Yankee collectible will bring over a million dollars -and it will probably be soon. (The antique and collectibles world loves baseball.) It will turn heads and make news.
I wonder when the first genuine, "home-grown" US soccer collectible will break $10,000 (excluding the 1930 FIFA Medal)? My guess is that it hasn't turned up yet and may be still in the making-a game ball or player's jersey. It won't be something available today- either on line or through a store. It might be from a common collection. It might be yours!

Other noteworthy collectible prices:

A red and white Arsenal 1952 FA Cup Final shirt, worn by Ray Daniel --- $20,964
A 9ct.1948 FA Cup Winner's Medal, presented to Henry Cockburn --- $24,275
A blue World Cup 1966 Tournament Cap, presented to Alan Ball --- $79,445