The Wednesday before last I went to an auction of football memorabilia at Ludlow racecourse. I went mainly because I had heard on the radio that one of the lots was to be a menu signed by the Busby Babes. Not just any menu, either, but one from a dinner at the Majestic Hotel in Belgrade following the 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade on 5 January 1958, on the very eve of the Munich air crash.
This menu was almost certainly the last thing signed by Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones and Geoff Bent during a convivial evening in which it must have seemed as if the world was theirs for the taking. Despite having led 3-0 at half-time and been forced to settle for a draw, they had just reached the semi-final of the European Cup.
I was intrigued to see who might bid for the menu and for how much. I even got my own grubby hands on it for a few moments, and thought you might like to know what they ate at the post-match dinner: Potage de volaille, Filets de sandr Orlly Sce tartare, Cochon de lait rôti, Omelette sirprise and Fruits assorties, if you're any the wiser.
The autographs were obtained by the British ambassador to Yugoslavia, who'd been introduced to the players on the pitch before kick-off, and it was his son who, a few weeks ago, gave the menu to the auctioneers, a firm called Mullock Madeley.
It was eventually sold for £12,000 following a frantic bidding war between two blokes on the phone. I sidled up to the winning bidder afterwards but he wouldn't give much away, except to say that he was representing a London-based businessman.
The estimate for the menu had been an absurdly conservative £1,500. On the other hand, the estimate for lot 149, the shirt worn by Bobby Moore in the opening match of the 1970 World Cup, the 1-0 defeat of Romania, was £12,000, and it reached only £9,000. I must say I was surprised. After all, England played only four games in the 1970 World Cup, so I'd have thought that an original Moore shirt from that tournament would command a sum well into five figures. But then, I'm the man who once paid £100 for a box of old hats at an auction, so what do I know?
I thought they'd be good for the children's dressing-up box, but I hadn't intended to pay more than £30. It's just that once I've started bidding I can't stop until I'm successful. I enjoy auctions almost as much as auctioneers enjoy seeing me there.
Anyway, the Moore shirt had an interesting provenance. It had belonged to the old Wolves, Brighton and West Ham player Bertie Lutton, who was picked to play for Northern Ireland in the Home Internationals at the end of the 1972-73 season, and asked his esteemed clubmate if they could swap shirts after the England v Northern Ireland match. However, Lutton stayed on the bench for the whole game, and afterwards, when they met in the tunnel, Moore told him that he'd already swapped shirts with somebody else. Lutton was disappointed, but a couple of months later when he reported for pre-season training, the ever-honourable "Mooro" was there with the 1970 shirt, to make up for the one he'd promised.
It's a heart-warming tale and it's pleasing that Moore's generosity is still reaping dividends, nearly 14 years after his death. That simple gesture has made Lutton, who retired through injury at the age of 24, and later emigrated to Australia, the best part of nine grand better off. Mind you, he could have had a better day. He also sold the Scotland shirt he got from Billy Bremner after the Scotland v Northern Ireland match on 16 May 1973, but that too went for well under its estimate: £900 against an estimate of £2,000 to £2,500. Not that Bremner will be too upset about that, looking down from the celestial dug-out. He'll still be whooping it up with Jock Stein, Ukraine notwithstanding, following Scotland's result against France.
My expenditure at the auction, to my wife's relief, was considerably less even than the mere £900 it took to buy Bremner's shirt. I made a successful bid of £40 for some 1960s Everton programmes, and one of £30 for two boxes of 1970s football annuals, through which I have been ploughing ever since. They make a nice addition to my own modest collection of sporting memorabilia, which includes a cricket ball signed by Shane Warne, and which my wife is under instructions, when I'm gone, to cart down to Mullock Madeley.
Peggy, the widow of the former England football trainer Harold Shepherdson, did just that a few years ago. After Harold's death, a man offered her £80 to clear the contents of her garage, which included Bobby Moore's spare 1966 World Cup final shirt. She phoned the auctioneers and asked, tentatively, if they could get her more than £80.
They got her £88,000.
By: Brian Viner
Babes' 'last autographs' for sale
A menu card thought to be the last item signed by Manchester United's Busby Babes before the 1958 Munich air disaster is set to be auctioned.
The card, from the Majestic Hotel in Belgrade, was signed by 14 members of the squad on 5 February 1958.
William Andrews, who is overseeing the sale in Ludlow, Shropshire, said it was expected to fetch about £1,500.
The disaster happened as the United team was travelling back from a European Cup tie in Belgrade.
Among the 23 who died in the crash were eight members of the famous Busby Babes, named after manager Sir Matt Busby.
They were Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Billy Whelan and Tommy Taylor
All eight signatures are included on the rear of the menu card, which was acquired by the seller's father, who was the British Ambassador to Belgrade.
It was the ambassador who introduced the players on the pitch before the game against Red Star Belgrade in February 1958.
Mr Andrews, a football memorabilia expert, explained: "He then obtained the autographs personally at the post-match meal.
"Shortly afterwards, the team left for Belgrade airport for the flight home, landing for a refuelling stop at Munich which ended in the tragedy which is known the world over.
"It is unlikely that they signed anything collectively after they signed this menu card and therefore it must be considered to be the very last thing they ever signed before that fateful disaster which claimed so many of their lives."
The card is part of a sale of football-related items being staged by auctioneers Mullock Madeley on 4 October.
The air disaster claimed the lives of 23 people connected to the club, including players, officials and journalists.