Collecting the beautiful game

I’ve always been a baseball card collector first and foremost. This summer however, in about July, I started thinking again about a different game from my youth. Soccer. Or futball. To me it’s soccer since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the US. It’s a game my dad loved and still loves now as I grew up. Baseball was and is in my blood, my lifeline. My dads sport was soccer. He loved it so much he was a referee for years and was in charge of all refs for our local league. For a few years I was a ref as well. Sideline judge and center. For a high school kid it was good money for 45/90 minutes of work and it taught me the game. I can still spot offsides. Those skills are a bit rusty, though, I’ll admit. So my thinking came from this background. I was a ref and a goalie/keeper. JV starter but never really that great. Still had a lot of fun diving out at strikers and getting dirty on a rainy muddy field – lots of those in Seattle! Especially during the fall soccer season.

This summer I started hearing more about soccer again and it’s growing popularity. I wanted to start collecting soccer cards, since I love baseball card collecting and it sounded intriguing to me. I initially started in Discord groups and while helpful, there was a lot of focus on current players and prospecting. A few talked vintage soccer. I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to dive full on into the modern game that I didn’t know very well. Ills fully admit at this time I had an inking or a thought that soccer might take off more. I think it came from following people online, specifically Twitter, some Discord groups, some Blowout. The World Cup is coming in 2022 and will be in the US in 2026. This could be huge for soccer. This was just a notion , though and not the true driving force. It was a factor. I thought this through and decided early on that I didn’t actually want to focus on prospecting much for the World Cups. Too hard to predict. I thought that maybe there might be a trickle down effect on older cards. I’ve seen this happen in basketball. A big increase of interest in modern can lead to a boom in vintage. That factored in some.

But I also just love vintage and the history in vintage cards. I made my choice and dove into researching soccer cards on EBay. I also found a very helpful Facebook group full of collectors who’d been collecting soccer their entire lives. In particular vintage. They were amazingly helpful and and friendly. They came at things from a collectors POV. So did I. I really wanted to learn and pick up vintage – and as it turned out, pre-war cigarette cards. I’m talking cards from the 1900s – 1920s/1930s. As I looked I realized something. The cards were cheap! They still are and are a bargain. I was happy browsing through EBay and the listings. There are so many from Ardath to Carreras to Ogden’s and more. I highly recommend as a place to learn about all the sets. It’s been very helpful to me.

I couldn’t have learned as much and picked up what I did without the help of fellow collectors in the Facebook group. Their attitude was great and I learned a lot about the soccer card market and history. When you start collecting soccer please respect and remember those who have collected it forever and have enjoyed it as a hobby. Try to connect with collectors, learn from them. I had so many questions early on and they helped with each of them.

The rookie card is new again

It is also very important to know that to a lot of lifelong soccer collectors the idea of the “rookie card” is new and a different way of thinking about things. To those in the US this is normal. But in soccer it’s brand new and there is still a lot of confusion about how to define a rookie. Especially in vintage with so many different brands of cigarette cards, stickers, and more. Please be careful when researching and always always research before making a big vintage purchase. Sellers will try to take advantage of the newness of the rookie card concept for soccer.

Lists of the greats

I started my foray into vintage soccer by reading a lot of lists about the best footballers of all time. It helped me get a handle on the names and who I wanted to pick up. I actually started with John Charles by picking up a few of his cards from 1956 for about $5 each. Churchman’s cigarette cards. Then I picked up a small lot of cigarette cards. That was fun but I got advice to be careful with lots. They can be fun but also risky. Like packs of cards. So I paused and started going back to the lists and found a few names that I really liked. I loved their stories and who they were to the game. They were Dixie Dean and Sir Stanley Matthews. I recommend checking their Wikipedia pages for an overview of their careers.

Dixie Dean pickups. 1927 Mac Caricuatures, 1927 DC Thompson Dixie Dean (not his rookie), 1928-1929 Dixie Dean Players Cigarettes.

Dixie Dean and Stanley Matthews

About this time I was beginning to think the vintage soccer card market would take off in about a year. Instead it started happening fairly quickly. Prices were already jumping some from when I looked in July. So I decided to move forward and do heavy EBay searching and picked up several Dixie Dean and Stanley Matthews early cards. I managed to pick up a pair of Stanley Matthews RCs, the 1934 Ardath Cigarette card. One is actually in an album with the full set, glued in. I’d originally thought of taking the Matthews out but decided quickly when I got it that I couldn’t do that and had to leave it alone. Too much history there. So I started with Dixie Dean and Stanley Matthews. I picked up a few other cigarette card sets. They are amazing and there is so much history to the cards. I love vintage baseball so it was a natural transition for me. I love history in general. So of course I’m going to love 90-100 year old cards. My oldest soccer card is a 1908 Ogden’s Ernest Needham. It was one of the first I picked up. It’s now off to PSA for grading along with 2/3 of my Matthews and Deans. I did this so the cards will be authenticated and protected. Fakes could be a huge problem down the road. If I do sell I wanted the assurance they were real.

1935 Wills Cigarettes Stanley Matthews and 1908 Ogden’s Ernest Needham

If you want to grade, I highly recommend using a third party. I finally made this choice after a recommendation from WatchTheBreaks. I sent off 9 cards for a 45 day bulk submission knowing full well it would take close to a year. I’m fine with this but do miss my Matthews and Dean cards! I sent them off about 3 weeks ago now. I might get them in the summer due to PSAs backlog and of course all the other issues we’ve had this past year.

So for those looking to start collecting soccer, I recommend a few things.

Collect the era, the players, and teams you love. Finds a player that resonates with you as a collector. For me this was Matthews and Dean. I loved who Matthews was – a gentleman player and person. Dean has been called the Babe Ruth of soccer. They appealed to me.

Keep it simple. Start with reading lists of the greats. Get to know the names. Remember all the countries. I focused on England because it just happened. Remember Brazil, Spain, Germany. I need to pick up some Lev Yashin cards.

Spend a lot of time researching listings on EBay. The tobacco/cigarette card section on EBay UK is fascinating. Pick up some cheaper ones just to get a feel for the cards. It’s amazing to own something that old. To me at least.

The best part about starting this journey into collecting pre-war football was the joy it brought. I remembered how much I do love soccer and the history in it, and the pre-war cards are a part of that history. It’s been great focusing on a part of the hobby I love: the history it represents. This can be so easy to forget. We all want the latest prospect and player and love the thrill of that hunt. I do also. I’ve stated picking up some modern players like Erling Haaland (my favorite). But I will always love the pre-war cigarette cards first. They are history and represent lives forgotten and lost and their cards are a way for them to live on, for us to remember now. Collect what you enjoy and love and focus on that. The rest will come.

Thank you for reading!

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