Billy Meredith (1874-1958) won league titles with the Red Devils in 1907-08 and 1910-11, and another FA Cup in 1909. However, before making a Carlos Tevez-style controversial cross-city transfer in reverse, he had scored the winning goal and captained the Sky Blues when they beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 at Crystal Palace in the 1904 FA Cup final (the club’s first major honour).
He became United’s oldest player when turning out against Derby County aged 46, then on returning to City in 1921 on a free transfer. he became City’s oldest appearance maker in a 1924 FA Cup semi-final against Newcastle United, aged 49.
His career off the pitch was certainly not without controversy either. In the 1905-06 season he was banned for bribing an opposition player.
More than a century after his days of fame and notoriety his name is still a big draw, judging by a cigarette card offered by Reading firm Loddon Auctions (19% buyer’s premium) on July 19-21 in a sale of Beer Labels, Stamps, Collectables, Sport, Cigarette & Trade Cards, Postcards.
Produced by Cope’s ‘Clips’ Cigarettes as part of a Noted Footballers series, no 125, involving 282 subjects overall, it took £4500 – nine times the top estimate.
Another Meredith card, this time a blue-black version by Smith’s Cup Tie Cigarettes, simply marked no 27 W. Meredith, Manchester United, made £920.
A set of 35 American boxer cards, ‘Pugilistic Subjects’ from Red Sun Cigarettes of New Orleans, sold for £5100 against a guide of £400, and a Canadian National Hockey League set of about 40 cards from 1923 took £7100 (estimate £150-200).
Cigarette cards owe their origin to 1870s USA when they were included in packets as stiffeners. The initially blank cards were then used as a marketing ploy by printing pictures and words onto them.
The first British manufacturer to catch on was WD & HO Wills in 1888. General interest sets such as sporting subjects appeared and could be collected.
In 1906, Thomas Ogden’s released a set of cards depicting footballers in their club colours – one of the first full-colour sets.
Cigarette cards died off after Second World War restrictions but for football fans 1961 was the start of an alternative and highly collectable option.
In Italy brothers Benito and Giuseppe Panini (later joined by two other brothers) kicked off mainly with cards that you glued in but from the early 1970s they produced all-sticker albums, the cause of many a playground swap or trade.
Estimated at £120-150 by Loddon, a Europa 80 (European Championship) counter display box (no lid) containing 120+ unopened packets of stickers was offered with an unused album from the same series. It did rather better – selling for £4000.
In Loddon’s auction a month earlier, on June 22, a Panini World Cup 78 selection estimated at £100-150 took £2600 online instead.
It comprised a counter display box part complete with approximately 45 unopened packets sold with an unused album for the same series.
Guided at £60-80, another, a counter display box for Football 84 including about 80 unopened packets sold for £1700.
Hand of God hefty sum
Good luck if your heart is set on a Maradona sticker from the 1979 Panini Calciatori series to complete your collection: in April last year US firm Goldin Auctions sold one for a premium-inclusive $555,960.
That demolished the previous world record football card price set in November 2000 for a Pele card from 1958 Alifabolaget (a Swedish trading card company) that made $288,000.
They were both ‘rookie’ cards (a sports card that is the first to feature an athlete after that athlete has participated in the highest level of competition within his or her sport).
Such prices underline the huge investment interest football/soccer memorabilia is sparking stateside these days.
The beautiful gum
Chewing and bubble gum manufacturers also took advantage of the trade cards craze.
A&BC Gum was a north London then Essex firm founded in 1949 by four men recently de-mobbed from the army. It produced a wide range of football theme cards from the 1958-59 season until 1974-75, when US firm Topps took the company over.
The last A&BC Gum English football cards were produced in 1974-75 and the first Topps versions appeared a season later. They were short-lived, however, lasting only until 1980-81, ensuring a certain rarity value. Several sets of Topps and A&BC Gum football trade cards were on offer at North Yorkshire saleroom Tennants (22% buyer’s premium) on July 27.
The best-seller comprised, in three albums, Topps 1979 light blue backs 1-264; A&BC Gum 1970 orange backs 1-255; offered together with an album of part sets. Estimated at £100-150, they made £1100 online.
Guided at £80-120 but sold for £950 in one lot were A&BC Gum 1973 blue backs 1-131 and A&BC Gum 1971 purple backs 1-219.
Two more sets took £350 and £320.