A Collector's Guide to Valuable Soccer Apparel and Souvenirs

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Though not as popular in the U.S. as in other countries, soccer, also known as association football, has a devoted following in this country. With the continued interest in the FIFA World Cup and the rise of American Major League Soccer, Americans are becoming more and more interested in the world’s favorite game. With increased interest comes increased demand for soccer memorabilia from both domestic and international teams.

It is important for collectors to both ensure the authenticity of their collectibles and purchase items that will increase in value over the years. With the rise of online marketplaces, both of these tasks have become far easier than they were previously. In addition, knowing the history of the sport and some of the most famous teams and players from years past can help collectors make educated decisions when it comes to buying valuable soccer memorabilia.


Brief History of Soccer

The history of standardized association football began on October 26, 1863, when The Football Association (The FA) first met in London. Over the next few months, The FA hammered out the rules for soccer, though several clubs ended up leaving after rules allowing carrying the ball and tackling were removed. The clubs that left formed the Rugby Football Union, which eventually led to American football.

Over the next few decades, the rules of soccer were gradually adopted by football clubs throughout Britain and Europe, culminating in the establishment of the first soccer league in Birmingham, England in 1888 and the formation of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (the International Federation of Association Football), in Paris in 1904. Currently, soccer is played around the world. According to a survey conducted by FIFA in 2001, over 240 million people in more than 200 countries regularly play football, while billions more follow matches in the media.

While soccer has been enjoyed by Americans for several decades and the U.S. routinely sent teams to the FIFA World Cup, soccer did not begin to catch on in the U.S. until Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993. Founded in an effort to both capitalize on and to increase national interest in the U.S.-hosted 1994 World Cup Finals, the 19-team league enjoys moderate success in the domestic market. In the 2002 World Cup, the American team unexpectedly made it to the quarterfinals after defeating Portugal and Mexico.

It is important for buyers to know a little of soccer history in order to put memorabilia in perspective. Items associated with top teams and souvenirs from well-known games are likely to be more valuable than other types of memorabilia.

Overview of the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is the world soccer championship. The current tournament format involves national teams playing in qualification matches over three years in order to determine which 32 teams play in the World Cup Finals. The Finals are held every four years over a period of about a month in stadiums throughout the host country. Currently, Brazil holds the record for most wins in the World Cup, in addition to being the only team that has qualified for every tournament since the first World Cup in 1930. Teams that make it to the World Cup Finals represent the best players each country has to offer, and memorabilia associated with these teams and players, especially championship teams, often fetches high prices at auction.


Famous Soccer Teams and Players

Over the decades, several soccer teams and players have distinguished themselves with their consistently exceptional performance in league play and in international competition. Any memorabilia associated with these players and teams is in high demand by collectors and routinely commands high prices. In addition, as most of these players and teams have retired, the value of this merchandise can only increase because the amount of memorabilia is now fixed and can only grow more limited over the years.

Brazilian National Teams

The Brazilian national team is currently the most successful team in the history of the World Cup, with five wins out of 19 tournaments. In addition, the team is the only national team to appear in every tournament since the first World Cup in 1930. In fact, a common quip about soccer is that "the English invented it, but the Brazilians perfected it." In addition to winning five World Cups, the Brazilian team has also won three FIFA Confederations Cups out of eight tournaments. On a continental level, Brazil has played extremely well, winning eight Copa América tournaments, with more than half of those victories coming after 1989. Any memorabilia associated with any Brazilian team, but especially the winningest teams, proves to be extremely popular and valuable among soccer aficionados.

1974 West German Team

In addition to hosting the 1974 World Cup Finals, West Germany put on an extremely impressive performance, winning the Cup for the second time in Germany’s history. Two years previously, the national squad, led by Franz Beckenbauer, became continental champions after defeating the Soviet Union 3-0 in Euro 1972. In the World Cup, the West and East German teams met in a politically charged match after both of them were already qualified to advance to the next round. Though West Germany lost that game 1-0, they eventually prevailed over the favored Dutch team in the finals, defeating the Netherlands 2-1. This was the first time that a reigning European championship team won the World Cup, a feat that would not be repeated until Spain defeated the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup. In addition, it was only the second time that a team that was defeated in a Finals match went on to win the championship, the previous time being West Germany’s first World Cup victory in 1954. Programs and souvenirs from any of these games now command high dollars in the vintage market.

1986 Argentinian Team

The Argentinian national team has been a soccer powerhouse for years, winning two World Cup trophies, a colossal 14 Copa América championships, and two Olympic gold medals. Perhaps the best team ever fielded by the country, however, was the team it sent to the 1986 World Cup Finals, led by star player Diego Maradona. Argentina stormed through the tournament before eventually defeating West Germany 3-2 in the final. Perhaps the most famous and controversial game of the tournament was the quarter-final match between Argentina and England. In that game, Maradona scored both goals for Argentina: first, the infamous "Hand of God" goal, and second, the "Goal of the Century." Though Argentina defeated England 2-1 and went on to win the tournament, the English team felt that they had been cheated out a chance at the Cup, which led to the beginning of a long-standing soccer feud between the two countries.

Pelé

While soccer fans may debate who was the better player, two names are at the top of every list of the top players of all time: Pelé and Maradona. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known by his nickname Pelé, is a national hero in his native Brazil and widely recognized as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He still holds the all-time record for most goals scored in league play with 541, in addition to scoring a total of 1,281 goals in 1,363 games during his career. Pelé also holds the record for most goals scored by a Brazilian national team member, and he is the only player to be a part of three World Cup championship teams. After retiring from soccer in 1977, he received numerous awards, including being named Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport, being appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and receiving an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. Pelé currently serves as Honorary President of the New York Cosmos, a MLS team.

Diego Maradona

Close in fame and skill to Pelé, Diego Maradona also routinely tops lists of the best soccer players of all time. The Argentinian star played in four World Cup tournaments with the national team, including the victory in the 1986 World Cup final over West Germany. An exceptional player, Maradona won the FIFA Player of the Century award after being voted for by readers of the association’s website, magazine, and a grand jury. His second goal against England in the quarterfinal match of the 1986 World Cup, where he dribbled the ball 60 meters past four English defenders, was dubbed the Goal of the Century by a poll on the FIFA website in 2002. Since retiring from play, he has coached several clubs, including the Argentinian national team from 2008 to 2010.


Types of Soccer Memorabilia

There are many types of memorabilia collectors can buy, but it is important that the serious collector purchase valuable memorabilia that will increase in value over time. This class of items is much more limited and expensive. In general, mass-produced jerseys, mugs, bobbleheads, clothing, and photos are not of much value, nor will they increase much in value over time. A collector who wants to make a good investment should focus on finding authentic autographed memorabilia as well as game-worn or game-used apparel and equipment. Souvenirs from historic games, such as programs and ticket stubs, can increase in value if kept in mint condition.

Memorabilia and souvenirs associated with popular players and teams command higher dollar figures than memorabilia associated with lesser known players and teams. The "closer" the item is to the player, the higher the price. For example, an autograph by Pelé or Maradona may be worth more than a program or ticket stub from one of their games, but a game-used jersey or ball touched by either of them is worth more than an autograph.

In general, the older the item, the more valuable it is. An autograph by Maradona signed during the 1986 World Cup is more valuable than an autograph signed in more recent years. Memorabilia that contains historical significance is also prized more highly. A ticket stub from the 1974 World Cup may sell for more than a ticket stub from another game that occurred in the same year. Additionally, the condition of the item affects its value. The better the condition, the higher the price.


Ensuring the Authenticity of Soccer Memorabilia

While buying soccer memorabilia can be an extremely rewarding pastime, it is important to take the time to ensure that the items are genuine, especially autographs. An athlete’s signature on an item can significantly increase its value, but only if the autograph is genuine. There are several techniques that forgers use to copy a celebrity’s signature, but there are also ways of determining whether a signature is genuine.

Evaluating Autographs

One of the most common ways to copy a signature is through the use of an autopen, a mechanical device that uses a metal form with the signature in question to produce fast and fairly accurate copies. However, autopen signatures both start and end abruptly, with none of the trailing which occurs in an organic signature, and they are also prone to slight shakiness in the lines. Some older forgeries were done using a rubber stamp of the celebrity’s signature, but this technique has generally fallen by the wayside. Rubber stamps left noticeable ink blots and smudging, especially when stamped quickly.

Modern technology also allows forgers to create fairly convincing copies of signatures through the use of printers. This method of reproduction is usually only feasible for photos and trading cards, and it is easy to spot. When a photo or card is signed, the ink from the pen lays on top of the picture, but when a signature is reproduced through a printer, it is printed with the rest of the picture. If there is any doubt about a signature’s authenticity, engage the services of a reputable third-party authentication agency to review the item and issue a certificate of authenticity (COA). If an item already has a COA, it is important that buyers research the organization that issued it to make sure it is reputable.


Purchasing Soccer Memorabilia on eBay

While there are a number of places to purchase soccer memorabilia, including flea markets, private dealers, and fan conventions, one of the most convenient places to find collectibles is from online marketplaces like eBay. Interested buyers can choose from thousands of items in the Sports Memorabilia, Cards, & Fan Shop portal of the site.

Shoppers can browse the selection of items by using the Search function to find a particular item or by using the Categories tabs on each page to narrow results by item type, condition, price, and other factors. In the unlikely event that shoppers are unable to find exactly what they are looking for, they can also browse eBay Stores or save a search on My eBay.

After finding a suitable piece of memorabilia, buyers should take the time to research both the item in question and the seller. Looking at a seller’s Feedback rating can give buyers insight into how the seller operates and whether he or she is trustworthy. This eBay feature allows buyers to leave comments and rate interactions with a seller, which lets future buyers know how the seller has interacted in the past.


Conclusion

As the world’s most popular sport, soccer enjoys an extremely wide and devoted fanbase. Collecting memorabilia from famous teams and players is both a fun and potentially profitable pastime for interested soccer fans. By taking the time to carefully consider any item before purchase, collectors can protect themselves from forgers and ensure that their items are authentic. Collectors can find thousands of quality soccer souvenirs for competitive prices online.

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