And now we come to Lot 311 – a rare piece of history from the day Birmingham FC opened St Andrew’s in 1906."
William Andrews, the auctioneer and specialist in football memorabilia, has his patter already worked out.
But this is one of those items that will not need a hard sell, for it is rare that this antique programme becomes available. It is not a match programme in the strictest sense but rather a souvenir to commemorate the opening of Birmingham’s new stadium.
The story is well known of how the plot of land was discovered by Harry Morris, the Birmingham chairman, who saw only "a wilderness of stagnant water and muddy slopes off Garrison Lane" in Bordesley Green. He envisaged a football stadium to house 75,000 people.
Legend has it that a band of gypsies, who had lived on the site for generations, did not take kindly to vacating the site and they placed a curse on the club that was supposed to last until December 26, 2006 — the hundredth anniversary of the stadium.
When Birmingham played Middlesbrough on a blanket of snow at St Andrew’s that Boxing Day in 1906, the football programme was a largely alien concept. That, in one sense, makes the item particularly unique.
"Although this is not a programme as such, it does relate to the league match against Middlesbrough," Andrews says. "The first official Birmingham programmes were not issued until several years later."
The publication, fragile but beautiful, will be auctioned along with many significant items at the Mullock’s football and rugby memorabilia auction at Ludlow Racecourse, Shropshire, on October 9.
Also included in the sale are the FA Cup winners’ medal and 1957 match-worn final shirt that belonged to Stan Lynn of Aston Villa.
Few of the St Andrew’s opening ceremony publications are known to exist. The club itself, which changed its name to Birmingham City in 1945, has one copy, while there are a handful of fans who own copies. As they seldom become available on the open market, it is hard to know how much the programme is worth.
Mullock’s have put an estimate of #300-#400 but it is likely that it will sell for significantly more than that. It is more than a programme; it is an historical document of a time when football was barely marketed and when players earned little more than the average man in the street.
"The programme has many pictures of the ground and past pictures of Small Heath [Birmingham’s previous name], and pen portraits," Andrews says. "There is some damage to the first few pages otherwise it is fair-to-good for its age."
A century on, the Birmingham programme is a slick, glossy magazine. The stadium itself has a capacity for 30,000 people and does not accommodate those who want to watch matches standing up. There is no evidence of "a wilderness of stagnant water and muddy slopes off Garrison Lane".
The Stan Lynn medal is Lot 300 and evokes images of the time Aston Villa defeated Manchester United in the 1957 FA Cup final at Wembley. Lynn, who died in April 2002, is one of the few players to have achieved success with both Villa and Birmingham. His shirt, the famous claret-and-blue pin-stripe design of the era, is also on offer and is Lot 301. Andrews estimates that the medal will fetch between #4000 and #45000, while the shirt has an estimate of #1500 to #1800.
Among the other items of interest are a near complete set of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly magazine, a collection that includes the rare first edition in 1951. There are rare FA Cup final programmes, match-worn Birmingham and Wolverhampton Wanderers shirts, and an abundance of autographs.
Football memorabilia remains a growing industry but there comes a time when a particular item arouses an interest that transcends football. Andrews believes that the 1906 Birmingham publication is such an item.