Philip Barker

The record breaking sale of a jersey worn by the late Diego Maradona for £7.1 million ($8.9 million/€8.4 million) has once again demonstrated the astonishing demand for sports memorabilia and the eye watering sums it commands.

Maradona wore the shirt during Argentina's 2-1 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final victory over England, in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.

During the match he scored the infamous "Hand of God" goal - but he followed it up with an individual goal considered to be one of the greatest ever scored.

The second goal is still remembered at the stadium. "The Azteca Stadium pays homage to Diego Armando Maradona for his extraordinary goal scored in the Argentina -England match," a sign reads.

The shirt broke the record for an item of sporting clothing worn during a match, eclipsing other items.

It is 20 years since the jersey worn by Pelé in the same Azteca Stadium, during the 1970 FIFA World Cup final, was auctioned for only £157,750 ($198,00/€187,000).

Incidentally, photos show that Pelé was chaired off without his shirt by jubilant fans after the match.

Where sports memorabilia is concerned, it is best not to let the price get in the way of a good story.

Brazil were awarded the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy in perpetuity because they had won it for a third time in 1970.

It was said to have been hidden under a bed during the Second World War.

In 1966, it was famously snatched from a London philatelic exhibition and later recovered by a dog called Pickles.

Quietly, organisers arranged for a replica to be made, just in case.

Diego Maradona's shirt from the Hand of God match has sold for more than £7 million  ©Sotheby's
Diego Maradona's shirt from the Hand of God match has sold for more than £7 million ©Sotheby's

Then, one night in 1983, the original disappeared altogether, after thieves broke into a display in Rio de Janeiro.

The story had a further twist in 1997, when FIFA paid more than £254,500 ($319,030/€301,000) for a trophy which they believed to be the original.

Subsequent examination suggested that this too was probably a replica.

The FA Cup in England is the oldest football competition but it too has an unsolved mystery.

Next weekend the 150th anniversary of the first final at Wembley will be celebrated, but the trophy that either Chelsea or Liverpool will receive is very different in appearance to what was presented to the captain of The Wanderers, the first winners in 1872.

Known as the "little tin idol", it was the pre-eminent trophy in football until 1895, when it was stolen from a window display at Birmingham sports outfitters William Shillcock and never seen again.

Initially, a replica was made, which was possible because 1893 winners Wolverhampton Wanderers had presented miniature copies to their players.

In 2020, this came up for auction.

"It generated a lot of interest and some spirited bidding at auction before the hammer fell," Jon Baddeley, managing director of Bonham's, said.

The buyer at £760,000 ($966,-00/€899,000) was Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansoor.

This was quite an advance on the £20 (€23/$25) which was the cost to make the trophy in 1872.

Anyone who witnessed the queues to purchase Beijing 2022 mascot Bing Dwen Dwen will not be surprised to learn that more unusual items of Olympic memorabilia command huge sums.

None more so than a document outlining Pierre de Coubertin's vision for the modern day revival of the Olympics, which brought in more than $8.8 million (£7 million/€8.3 million) at Sotheby's in 2020.

The purchaser was eventually revealed as Alisher Usmanov, the International Fencing Federation President and a Russian oligarch. 

"Pierre de Coubertin had a vision of a world united by athletic pursuits and not divided by confrontations and wars," Usmanov said.

"I believe that the Olympic Museum is the most appropriate place to keep this priceless manuscript."

Before this week it was on record as the most expensive item of sporting memorabilia ever sold.

In 2002, a shirt worn by Pelé at the 1970 World Cup final was auctioned ©Getty Images
In 2002, a shirt worn by Pelé at the 1970 World Cup final was auctioned ©Getty Images

Material from the first Olympics of the modern era in Athens in 1896 is also highly prized.

A cup presented to marathon winner Spyridon Louis was auctioned by his descendants in 2012.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, based in Athens, paid more than €650,000 (£549,00/$814,000) to buy it and the trophy has subsequently been displayed at museums across Greece.

"In these tough times, all Greeks must follow the bravery, resilience and fighting spirit that made Louis win," Foundation head Andreas Dracopoulos told Reuters.

A 1913 sketch of the Olympic Rings, signed by Coubertin, was sold to a Brazilian collector for €185,000 (£156,00/$196,000) in a sale at the Cannes auction house.

In 2013, a gold medal, one of the four won by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, went for $1.46 million (£1.1 million/€1.3 million).

It was sold by SCP Auctions on behalf of Elaine Plaines-Robinson, the widow of entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson who had become a close friend of Owens.

"We are honoured to handle what we consider to be among the most inspiring sports artefacts ever offered at auction," said SCP President David Kohler.

In 2010, the original rules for basketball fetched $4.3 million (£3.4 million /€4 million). This was a record for any piece of sporting memorabilia at the time.

They were set out on two signed typescript pages by James Naismith, the Canadian physical educator who devised the sport in 1891.

They were sold by the Naismith International Basketball Foundation at Sotheby's in New York, and purchased by Kansas basketball fans David and Suzanne Booth.

In 2019, a jersey which had belonged to legendary baseball player Babe Ruth went up for auction and realised $5.8 million (£4.7 million/€5.4 million).

"While the record-setting prices attained today are certainly astonishing, I am not surprised at all given the incredible materials and the mythical status that Babe holds in the history of this country," auctioneer David Hunt declared.

Even a tiny ticket from Comiskey Park for the 1919 World Series fetched $4,750 (£3,700/€3,500), a considerable increase on its face value of $5.50 (£4.40/€5.20) which bought the original purchaser a Grandstand box seat and a "rain check".

The 1919 matches were infamous for a match fixing scandal which led to life bans for many of the Chicago players, who were dubbed the "black socks" after their actions.

In recent years, humanitarian causes and natural disasters have prompted sportsmen and women to offer some of their most treasured items.

In 2020, the late Shane Warne offered for auction his Australian Test cricket cap, known as a "baggy green", to help victims of the Australian bush fires.

Before Maradona's shirt was sold this week, this original Olympic manifesto written by Pierre de Coubertin was the most expensive item of sporting memorabilia ©Getty Images
Before Maradona's shirt was sold this week, this original Olympic manifesto written by Pierre de Coubertin was the most expensive item of sporting memorabilia ©Getty Images

The conflict in Ukraine prompted many sports stars, among them Bayern Munich's Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, to offer items for online auctions.

Other sporting teams have worn special strips, later auctioned, to raise funds for victims of the war, including the Hibernian women's team in Edinburgh.

In 1968, an otherwise ordinary county cricket match between Glamorgan and Nottinghamshire at Swansea hit the headlines when Notts batsman Garfield Sobers hit every ball of a six ball over bowled by Glamorgan's Malcolm Nash for six.

This was the first time such a feat had been accomplished in first class cricket and, by good fortune, the feat was televised.

In 2006, a ball was auctioned for £22,000 ($28,000/€26,000).

It had been described in Christie's auction catalogue as "the ball hit by Sir Garfield Sobers to score his historic six sixes".

However, there was speculation that the ball sold wasn't the genuine one.

Nash confirmed that it was manufactured by "Stuart Surridge", whereas the ball offered at the sale was made by the Duke company.

It seemed most likely that the ball had become mixed with others in the player's kit bag.

There was also confusion over the contents of Tiger Woods' golf bag, but that didn't stop the sale of a set of clubs said to be used by him when he dominated golf majors in the early years of the millennium. 

This sold last month for a second time for $5.1 million (£4 million/€4.8 million), despite denials by his agent that the clubs were those used by Woods at the tournaments in question.

For collectors of golfing memorabilia, an original green jacket from Augusta National might well be considered the holy grail.

Every Masters winner is presented with the garment but is usually required to leave it in a locker room at the club.

Yet in 2013, a green jacket belonging to Horton Smith, the winner of the first Masters in 1934, was sold for $682,000 (£543,00/€643,000).

In 2017, the club was granted a temporary injunction that prevented the sale of three other green jackets, amid suspicion about how they had appeared on the market.

It is this fascination with mystique and intrigue which helps explain why sporting artefacts have become such big business, a message reaffirmed by Maradona's shirt this week.