Cameron Carter investigates the vast spectrum of football collectables, with some unusual finds

It used to be a lot simpler. Collecting football memorabilia meant saving your match programme and tremblingly accepting the football card from father's cigarette packet. Now there appear to be hundreds of different categories of collectables to choose from. And, like television channels, the greater choice means only that there are a lot of choices that should never have existed.

The collection of football tickets would be one example of mindless diversification. This pastime is politely described on the Footybits website as "not perhaps as well known or established as programme collecting". This could be because a football ticket, as an object, possesses neither weight nor artistry. Flipping through Uncle Malcolm's collection of football tickets dating back to 1968 is never going to be a transporting or inspirational experience. While the act of collecting does not require its object to hold any intrinsic value, the thing should probably transmit something more than the fixture, the date and "East Stand Lower".

Inevitably, after hours trawling through collectors' websites, the literal-minded brilliance of the bigger clubs' marketing technique will envelop you as a vapour bath. By placing the word "Official" followed by the team's name, followed by any household item you might care to imagine, the glib assumption is made that absolutely anything can be sold to the committed fan. The Chelsea FC official toothbrush counts as a collectable, according to Ebay, as do the official Old Trafford wall clock and the Arsenal FC tax disc holder. I thought I had dreamt that last one, after three days of flicking through pages of this kind of thing, but, no, when I went back to Ebay in the morning it was still squatting there, available to buy with daytime actual money for £2.25.

For real cheek, though, the VIP menus take some beating. The Spurs v Inter executive box menu and wine list had not had any bids at £1.49 plus £1.25 p&p, but presumably there are people out there who could caringly own something that lets them know that the group from Universal Plastics had braised shoulder of lamb with honey-glazed carrots and baby sweetcorn at the game.

There are those collectors of football-related menus that will find the Spurs v Inter menu needlessly glamorous and who will opt instead to purchase the Blue Square Conference 2008 annual dinner brochure (one bid, at time of writing, at £1.50). Because this is real roots catering. A bemusing delivery caption for this laminated turd-brown opuscule urges us to "Get it in time for the holidays". What an utterly and wonderfully complex world we live in where it is genuinely possible that, on the same day, one man may be circumnavigating the globe 15 times in an international space station, while another is getting the Blue Square Conference menu for Christmas.

Then there is the dark side of memorabilia. Because it is not all "Superb mixed St Johnstone collection badge keyrings" and rare Barron Knights/Luton Town recording collaborations. There are also items available such as the West Ham ICF badge ("with stud back, gold rim and writing"). Perhaps a more sobering thought than that which dwells upon the buyer of this badge, who presumably believes they are gaining ownership of an authentic footnote of the game's history, is the one that dwells on the seller, finally acknowledging a slowly approaching tide of reason and letting go of the past, like an ex-pro selling his Cup-winner's medal through necessity.

The seller has added the disclaimer "Please note this badge is for memorabilia purposes only and not to promote football violence", which makes it clear that this is an objet d'art to be curated in a scholarly way and actually constitutes the original owner giving something back to society. In a similar way, I myself keep a large collection of late 20th century German glamour photography – for memorabilia purposes only.

A significant percentage of the material on offer on the internet can be classified as either cynically merchandised tat or the historic-but-dull. In the latter category, the four-part press pass from Nottingham Forest v Chelsea in February 1999 probably just shades it, in a highly competitive field, from the 1972 Spurs UEFA Cup route analysis chart and the 2002 Crystal Palace decorative A5 envelope (used, creased).

At the same time there is more than enough to keep you interested and searching for something truly soul-stirring that just might appear on the next screen. The postcard, dated 1903, of Scarborough FC – 11 moustachioed hearties book-ended by avuncular moneymen – is of interest partly for its age and partly for the accompanying personal message, from "SRJ" to "R Robson", which is so Britishly lacking in warmth or detail it teeters on the brink of coded espionage.

On the Football4Sale site, Percy M Young's book The Appreciation of Football is advertised with a glimpse of its flyleaf, which describes, among other of the author's pioneering merits, his belief that the average half-back's performance would be enhanced through study of the viola. Elsewhere, on Ebay, a signed photograph of Millwall's Barry Kitchener holds some passing interest for the student of human behaviour, owing to the fact that the signature has been scrawled, in black, all over the face, as if by way of feverish self-harm. Many would sign in the corner of the photograph or neatly across their breastbone, but Barry has elected to obliterate his own chubby face. No bids, as yet, for this one.

Like searching through YouTube from a starting point of "Ian Ure", it does not take long on these collectors' sites before one is lost in a deepening reverie, the conscious mind jammed full with Peter Ward postcards, unsigned John Sleeuwenhoek photos, Hastings Town's 1995-96 fixture card (50p), several "You Are The Ref" strips – lovingly excised from old Shoot! magazines – and a whole parade of half-forgotten names and faces. You won't find an Aladdin's cave of treasures online, most of the memorabilia on offer has lapsed from the collective memory for good reason, but it is easy to see how a fellow might get involved.

First you perhaps linger just a moment too long considering the Eccleshall Football Club member's pass, then, during your wedding service, you are considering the authenticity of the letter of authenticity that would accompany Brendan Batson's match-worn boots, until finally a social worker and a doctor are burrowing through the tunnels of old Goal magazines to see if you can still make your own decisions. That's the trouble with trying to pin down the past – it keeps moving.

From WSC 287 January 2011

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