The advent of the internet has seen a boom in the market for sports memorabilia. From signed football shirts to vintage programmes and actual match balls, there's a broad range of items on offer. It's even possible to buy the Panini football stickers that you used to "need" so badly back in the playground – although the price has gone up a bit now!
So is it all old stuff then?
You'd be forgiven for thinking that might be the case, but in fact much of the growth in the sports memorabilia industry has been in selling new items – albeit sometimes with the autographs of sporting legends. Popular items on some of the big memorabilia sites include Manchester United shirts signed by recent players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, footballs signed by legends such as Booby Charlton and Geoff Hurst and boxing gloves signed by popular fighters. To quote the late and great George Cole (whose TV character Arthur Daley would have loved a slice of this market) this works out as a nice little earner for both the memorabilia company and the sportsperson – who will usually be paid to sign the items.
You make it sound like a bit of a racket!
Well, there have been some high-profile scandals surrounding the sports memorabilia industry in the USA – with evidence of counterfeiting, doctoring of items and claims of shill bidding in auctions. It's an area that you need to go into with your wits about you. But if you want a Spurs shirt signed by Paul Gascoigne and you're happy to pay £140 (just as an example), then its hard to see where the harm is. In the case of some of the legends of the past who earned a lot less than today's soccer stars, you might even be happy that some of your money is helping to finance their retirement.
I'm not really into football
That's OK, there are buoyant memorabilia markets for a range of other popular sports, including rugby, boxing, horse racing, cricket and motor racing. Golf, darts, snooker and tennis fans are also catered for – and its possible to spend just as much money on signed items as it is for soccer nuts.
What if I want vintage stuff?
We wouldn't blame you for wanting something authentic from your favourite club or player's past – perhaps from the era of your childhood. Vintage football programmes often come up for auction, either on eBay or via specialist auction houses – so with patience you might be able to grab the one from the first match you ever attended. And depending which club it is and how long ago it was, it could cost you anywhere from £5 to £2,000-plus. Taking football as an example again (sorry), it's also possible to pick up signed vintage shirts from eBay for a lot less than you might imagine. We're talking about £20 to £50 for popular clubs or national jerseys – though perhaps not with the most-famous players of all time having signed them.
What should I watch out for?
It's good to have a certificate of authenticity and perhaps even a photo of the star concerned signing the item you are buying. Obviously this is no guarantee, but if buying from a reputable dealer it should be a reassurance. Try to stick to usual online bidding etiquette for auctions. Set a price and don't go above it in the heat of the moment – and use your instincts just as you would if buying a car. If anything looks fishy or makes you unsure, just leave it.
Have you bought some fantastic sports memorabilia? Leave a comment below...