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Victory for investors both on and off the pitch

The idea of keeping ageing football boots may sound unsanitary, but what if they could fetch £38,400?

By Cherry Reynard | Published Jun 14, 2010 | comments

That is the what a collector recently paid for the boots worn by Stanley Matthews in the 1953 FA Cup final.

A lucky fan also received a £16,800 windfall for the medal thrown into the crowds by José Mourinho following Chelsea's 3-0 win against Manchester United in the 2005-06 Premier League final.

With these prices on offer, and equity and bond markets mired in volatility, should investors hang around the touchline in the hope of profits instead?

Although true statistics are hard to come by because each piece is different, the sports memorabilia market has proved a lucrative place to invest in the past 20 years.

Trevor Vennett-Smith, manager director of specialist sporting auction house T Vennett-Smith says: "Had someone invested in this area in the early 1990s, they would not be worrying about the recession now. Football programmes, for example, have moved up at an incredible rate and cricketing memorabilia has also held its own."

The sports memorabilia market operates with a strict hierarchy in the UK. At the top of the heap are cricket and football, which attract the most money, the most collectors and the most dealers. Rugby is moving up into this top league. Bonhams recently sold a cap from the first ever England v Ireland international for £11,000.

The next tier down is boxing, the Olympics, tennis and motor racing. Mr Vennett-Smith says golf is also rising in popularity both in the UK and US. He adds there are also a number of smaller sports with dedicated collectors:

"Ice hockey and baseball in the UK would fit into this category. Billiards, snooker, table tennis, rowing and canoeing also have a following. In particular, polo memorabilia tends to be very well collected, though the market is very small." One of the highest prices achieved by auctioneers Graham Budd was the Ascot Racecourse entranceway to the winners’ enclosure, which sold for £280,000.

In the US, the sporting profile is different, with ice hockey and baseball the major sports. The prices are also much higher. Sports memorabilia specialist Lelands has recently auctioned a 1967-68 Bobby Orr Boston Bruins Game worn jersey for $182,712 (£126,493) and a 1985 Peter Rose Corker 159th home run bat for $105,395. For those lucky enough to have caught one of Babe Ruth’s home runs and got him to sign the ball afterwards, they could have a nest egg of up to $150,000.

Most buying and selling is done through auction houses.

Chris Hayes, a sports memorabilia cataloguer at Bonhams, explains that there are different types of buyer in the market. He says "There are dealers who try to buy and sell to make money. Then there are collectors. These may come from different areas, such as specific clubs. They are likely to be targeted in the type of things they buy – it might be programmes from certain tournaments, for example. If these people come to an auction, we tend to know what they are going to buy. Then there will be investors or people who are buying them as gifts for relatives."

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