How can buyers of sports memorabilia be sure they are getting authentic items

Before going up for auction, Maradona's "Hand of God" shirt is on display at Sotheby's

The price growth in the thriving sports memorabilia market is unabated. But how can collectors who spend thousands, if not millions, of pounds be certain they are getting the real deal?

When Michael Jordan's No. 3 was smashed, The $10.1m (£8.8m) price for the number 23 jersey from the first game of the 1998 NBA Finals generated international media attention.

Twenty bidders assisted in setting a world record for a piece of match-worn memorabilia as they competed for the chance to own what the auctioneers called "a rarefied piece of history.".

The amount soared higher than the previous record of £7.9 million, which was set just a few months earlier for Diego Maradona's fabled "Hand of God" football shirt.

Thousands of pieces of equipment are traded annually by auction houses, specialized websites, and private collectors, even though very few people would ever consider competing for those specific items.

How simple is it to prove a shirt or pair of boots belonged to a specific player months, years, or even decades later, and what happens when ownership of an item is disputed?

Michael Jordan in action in Game 1 of the 1998 NBA finals for the Chicago Bulls
Despite being on the losing side in Game 1 of the 1998 championship series, Jordan went on to win his sixth and final NBA championship.

A shirt allegedly worn by football player Jim Baxter during Scotland's victory over the reigning world champions England at Wembley in 1967 was taken off the market earlier this month by Glasgow auction house McTear's after two other parties asserted that jerseys they own are in fact authentic.

The Hand of God shirt was also the one that Diego Maradona wore in the second half of Argentina's 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match against England, when he scored two of the tournament's most illustrious goals, according to Maradona's family, who attempted to stop the sale of the shirt last year.

Sotheby's asserted that the item's "remarkable provenance," which served as a history of its origins, demonstrated the falsity of that assertion.

The exchange, which involved England midfielder Steve Hodge, was detailed by both players in subsequent books, and the jersey was on display at the National Football Museum for almost 20 years.

Specialists in photo-matching were also able to produce "conclusive" results by looking at distinctive details like patches, stripes, and numbering.

According to a spokeswoman, Sotheby's chief science officer reviewed those findings to provide an additional level of confirmation.

Maradona's andquot;Hand of God" shirt on display at Sotheby's ahead of its auction
Steve Hodge of England had been given Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" jersey.

According to David Convery, head of sporting memorabilia at Northamptonshire-based Graham Budd Auctions, attempting to piece together an item's history is frequently a "minefield.".

As experts, there are many techniques we employ for shirts—minor details the general public may not be aware of—as we work through the verification process.

"The hardest part is proving it. However, in most situations, we start with the vendor. Is it a relative or an ex-player?".

Despite his years of experience, including his time at Christie's where he assisted in the sale of Pele's Brazil jersey from the second half of the 1970 World Cup final for nearly £160,000, Convery says there are occasions when private collectors who specialize in a particular field are contacted for assistance.

As a result of this research, "hundreds and hundreds of items" are rejected each week because they were unable to pass the business' verification checks.

The chief executive officer of Graham Budd, his colleague Adam Gascoigne, says, "One thing I've certainly learned is not to take anyone's word.".

Details are lost in the mists of time, but it could be innocent - not everything is someone trying to fake something.

In particular, during the 1970s and 1980s, when there wasn't much of a memorabilia market and people didn't pay much attention [to what they had or where they kept it afterwards, I've seen numerous instances of players [mistakenly] believing it's a shirt they wore in a specific game. ".

Diego Maradona handling the ball ahead of an approaching Peter Shilton
Argentina's opening goal against England in their 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, which Maradona claimed was assisted by the hand of God, is one of the most infamous in football history.

Transparency is essential in Gascoigne's eyes. He thinks that the precautions reputable companies take should reassure bidders, but he also advises them to always read listings carefully and conduct further research.

"We're obviously attempting to describe something precisely, and if we can't show that it is a match shirt, we won't say that it is.

"Mistakes do occur when working with hundreds or thousands of lots. Most of them will be picked up by us before the auction, but occasionally something will come up.

"Obviously, the temptation to fake things is greater where values rise, especially with autographs. The prevalence of fake Muhammad Ali signatures in the 1990s and 2000s has been well documented.

"The things themselves are harder. I like to think that we are constantly vigilant.

If you take into account the volume of lots that need to be sold annually, I don't believe [issues with auction houses are particularly common. Additionally, a lot of sales are made privately and on online marketplaces like eBay. It's a little bit hazy there.

I'm only able to speak from our perspective. It's best to remove the item from consideration if there is any ambiguity until it is clarified. ".

Sergio Aguero celebrating his title-winning goal in 2012 by
A listing for what was purported to be Sergio Aguero's jersey from the Premier League championship game in 2012 was taken down last year.

One such incident happened last year when the company withdrew a shirt that was purportedly worn by Sergio Aguero on the day he scored his infamous injury-time winner to give Manchester City the 2011–12 Premier League championship.

It was anticipated to bring in more than £30,000 when it was sold by Neville Evans, one of the nation's top football memorabilia collectors, to benefit stroke and cancer charities.

The decision's justifications were kept a secret.

Gascoigne says, "It's really hard to comment on that one.". "I believe the best thing I can say is that after new information was discovered, it was advised to remove the item.

"It was unfortunate that it came to that, but you can only deal with the information when you receive it. There was a lot of disappointment.

"Neville's collection is incredible. He has been a client for many years and lends memorabilia to the National Football Museum. When people with that status possess something, it is a significant object. Not just a stranger from nowhere is involved. ".

Later, the shirt was once more removed from the market in October after being listed by a different auction house.

An inquiry for comment from Mr. Evans was not answered.

Jim Baxter being hugged on the Wembley pitch after Scotland defeated England in 1967
The shirt that Jim Baxter wore in Scotland's historic victory over England in 1967 has been claimed by three different parties.

Convery asserts that any uncertainty regarding the larger market would ultimately harm businesses' reputations and — given that they receive commission — their bottom lines.

"It's amazing to see these things. I believe I am the only Scotsman to have owned medals from every World Cup and nine of the original 11 awarded to the 1966 England team.

"We want everything to be as accurate as it is possible to be so that customers can buy with assurance.

"With such high standards, people must do it right. That much is true.

. "

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