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Thinking Inside the Box

It happens to me all of the time.

I am having a tidy up and I open a box that I must have filled ages ago. When I start sorting through it, I begin to find things that I had simply forgotten were there in the first place. There are boxes that came from Mum’s place when she died that I still can’t open. The smell of her and different times is on every page of every book and impregnated into every photograph. But when I actually pick up the courage to go hunting, I always find something long logged in the file at the back of my cluttered memory.

It’s the same with less personal stuff. Over Christmas, I dug out a box in my house that had been there since I moved in. I was actually looking for some paperwork but ended up sitting there for hours going through a pile of pre-war football postcards that I started collecting years ago when you could find them for relatively little money. I had forgotten how beautiful the images were; capturing teams from an age before most of a generation was sent overseas to defend the free world with many destined never to come back.

Soldiers in uniform at a football ground

Young men sat posed for the camera dressed in their new kits, boots polished and hair slicked back like extras from the Peaky Blinders. They had their careers ahead of them and none of them could truly know what life had in store. I often look at such images and wonder what was going through their minds - the hopes and fears, happiness and sadness. Life.

Some of the cards were of the same players dressed in WW1 military uniform, and many of them were taken by the same studios that had snapped them for their team shots, only this time no new shirts, no FA Cup and no League trophies, only cap badges and side arms. A totally different scene and setting, all locked away in a box waiting to be found.

The same thing happened recently when getting ready for our March sale. The last box of a collection that had thrown up many treasures delivered a wonderful surprise. In the midst of many programmes, collected from the plethora that were printed in the 60s and 70s, were several gems. One of which captured a match that was never played.

On May 29th 1968, Manchester United famously won their first European Cup at Wembley by beating a Eusebio-led Benfica 4-1 in extra time. But had they not, the replay would have taken place just a few days later, with the venue set to be Highbury Stadium. With a tight turnaround for such an event, you would need a programme to be more or less ready and here and within the box, in lovely condition and mixed with others of that era, was one of the very few that any of the team has ever seen.

1968 European Cup Replay programme

It features in our Programmes & Ephemera sale, and we have an estimate on it at between £3,000 and £4,000. It would be a rare jewel in any Manchester United collection, or any serious programme collection as well.

I’ve always been encouraged to think outside the box. Now I am not so sure!

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