Ian Plenderleith goes looking for football collectibles and comes back without any bargains, but with an insight into a weird world where Eva Perón rubs virtual shoulders with middle-aged Surrey saddos

At DC United’s final home game of the season you could have your match ticket punched in exchange for a Bobble Doll of Un­ited and US defender Eddie Pope. Eddie is modelling the black kit of his club side, who that evening finished bottom of the US professional league, and has a star-spangled banner draped around his neck. He is also, according to the box, “genuine” (meaning the doll is eith­er honest, or is the actual Eddie Pope), “hand crafted and hand painted”, and his oversized head jerks around on a spring like he’s having some sort of a seizure. What’s more, he’s col­lectible.

Aside from the fact that the crazily nodding centre-back was free, why would anyone want to possess this item? It’s unwieldy, unattractive, and you can’t do anything with it except idly pretend to be scrambling its brains. Yet to try to rationalise why human beings collect ugly, pointless memorabilia is as futile as tack­ling the question of why some of us choose to put our faith in God. Or football teams.

The internet has opened up a broader, swif­ter traffic in material uselessness, and foot­ball items are right in the thick of this baffling, but nonetheless fascinating, trade. Sites like Sporting Memorabilia, for example, offer you the chance to buy a set of four World Cup tickets for 400 quid. Which might seem a fairly normal black mar­ket asking price un­til you realise these tick­ets are for the 1966 World Cup, for four dif­ferent games at Hillsborough (“very good con­dition, all same West Stand seat”). Perhaps the buyers of such ephemera have an eye on scientists one day cracking time travel so they can nip back, have a punt on the match, and then enjoy it live before they collect enough win­nings to come back to the present and pay for their next used ticket.

The Halifax Town 1921 share certificate for £110 is a steal by comparison, although even allowing for inflation it’s hard to imagine the certificate is worth that much in real terms (if you don’t mind consolidating a bit of debt, you can probably buy the whole club for less). Over at Collect Soccer, meanwhile, you’ll at least get extra ink and pages for your money, even though the site’s hard sell on its antique match programmes seems to be trying a little too hard. The blurb for a 1930 game between Read­ing and Tottenham at Elm Park tells us: “Read­ing’s programmes are very collectible and hard to come by, they are also unique as in this par­ticular season they open up to be­come one large sheet which contains interesting… editorial and some great pictures of the team in action.” For all that, at 800 nicker, they’re al­most giving it away.

Sadly for those with a penchant for amassing tiny plastic footballers who fall over a lot and break easily, Collecting Subbuteo is mostly under reconstruction, but you can relive the day of the recent swapmeet at Woking FC, where several dozen enthusiasts met to buy Subbuteo gear from each other. “Accessories ranged from a couple of pounds to £38 for the mint boxed early floodlights,” reports the site, adding: “Apparently two or three of the people there had actually bought sets at the 1947 Schoolboys Exhibition!!” The pictures of green-box covered tables are interesting en­ough, no doubt, but readers may be more in­trigued by the balding, middle-aged men standing behind them. My theory is that the Woking swapmeet was actually a cover for the AGM of a militant, clandestine anti-fashion cell.

If you’re chasing down something more concrete in terms of value, the RPVC – Preserving Football History site offers very cheap, but bootlegged, videos of international, European and league matches that you might be unable to find elsewhere. And Eden Books claims to be “the UK’s leading dealer in rare football books”, although I couldn’t find any of the do­zen I was looking for. Still, they seem to stock many long-lost player biographies, as well as Leonard Gribble’s rare novel They Kidnapped Stanley Matthews for £110.

In terms of sheer quantity, there’s nothing like a trawl through the wild west of the online auction world at ebay to make you an addict of the obscure and useless artefact. It spans the whole gamut from cheesy tat, through dirt-cheap replica shirts from Australia, to the strange and worrisome (anyone want a soccer mag Goles, featuring Eva Perón “supporting the Argentines in soccer and other sports activities”?)

And once you’ve resisted the urge to buy a lucky soccer angel pin with a card saying “wear­ing this soccer angel may help you kick the winning goal”, or a Glasgow Rangers v Viktoria Zizkov match ticket (which omits to pass it off as “an enduring souvenir of the Gers’ glorious 2002-03 European campaign”, al­though it did go for 99p), you may find your­self bidding on an Eddie Pope Bobble Doll. For, less than a month after you could get him for free at RFK Stadium, Eddie’s big-bonced, plastic double sold for $27.66. With soaring values like that, who needs shares and a pen­sion plan?

From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month

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