The Ultimate Guide to Buying Football Trading Cards and Stickers

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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Football Trading Cards and Stickers

The first game of football took place in 1863 in Battersea Park, very soon after the rules had been agreed upon, and the Football Association (FA) had been formed. On that windy morning, history was changed forever. In 1888, the Football League was formed, opening the door to football as is it becoming widespread and very popular. The first set of football trading cards were produced by Marcus's tobacco in 1898, and consisted of a set of over 100 cards under the title "Club Colours". On the rear of each card was an advertisement for the tobacco company, while the fronts sported images of famous players of the day.

The idea behind them was that customers would collect the cards, and in so doing would buy more cigarettes to try to finish their sets off. These sets became hugely popular, not only with smokers, but with their sons and daughters, who would collect and swap their cards at school.

Regardless of whether the buyers are looking for football trading cards or stickers, knowing the various types and kinds of cards and stickers available can only help them make a more informed buying decision. Armed with this knowledge, buyers can purchase them with confidence.

Knowing the History of Modern Football Trading Cards

The era of modern football trading cards started in 1958 in England when they were sold with packs of bubble gum by A&BC. At the time, it was starting to dawn on politicians and the general public alike that cigarettes were not good for the health, so a healthy alternative was offered, specifically aimed at youngsters. These became hugely popular, and were issued until 1975 when Topps Cards, a U.K.-based company, took over. In about 1981, other manufacturers realised that this was a lucrative market, so they brought out their own versions. Early cards are certainly more sought after than later ones, with some extremely rare examples fetching considerable sums when they come up for sale.

Other modern manufacturers included Futura, Panini, Pro Set, and Upper Deck.. Each manufacturer would have their own size and style of card, so cards manufactured by one company could not easily be added to a collection by another manufacturer.

From about 1981 onward, cards were also sold separately, specifically aimed at children, and many of these card sets had peel-off backings to allow enthusiasts to stick their cards into a specially printed album. It is these stickers that have taken over as the most popular kind of card because once stuck into an album, they are a permanent record of the buyer's collections.

Learning That Cards and Stickers Are Not Just for Children

As with coins, and later stamps, fully grown collectors have sprung up who either collect them purely for the enjoyment of seeing their collection grow, or getting hold of a particularly rare card. Others have started collecting these for their perceived monetary value. They see that their collections may someday be worth more than they paid for them. To aid in the collecting and classification of football trading cards and stickers, a card, or sticker's condition can be assessed into 1 of 10 categories. These categories are as follows.




Absolutely perfect in every way, even under a magnifying lens. It should be perfectly shiny.

Mint condition

No imperfections visible to the human eye, but there may be minor printing imperfections visible under a magnifier. There may be one or two scratches to the gloss of the card.

Near Mint/Mint

No visible imperfections to the naked eye, but on closer inspection, there may be slight imperfections or damage. A few minor scratches are allowed.

Near Mint

There may be noticeable imperfections, but these must be minor. There should be a good gloss in the paper, but very minor scratches are allowed.

Excellent Mint

There may be noticeable imperfections, but these should be minor. Signs of wear are allowed, but must be minor. The finish should be a mostly solid gloss, with minor scratches allowed.


Moderate wear or noticeable imperfections are allowed. There may be some loss of the gloss finish with minor scratches.

Very Good/Excellent

Moderate wear of noticeable imperfections are allowed. There may be a great loss of gloss with minor scuffing, and an almost invisible tear is allowed.

Very Good

A lot of wear on the card, with some heavy imperfections. There may be minor scuffing or a very small tear. The card has virtually no gloss on the finish.


Severe wear or imperfections. The card may be noticeably scuffed or torn.


Excessive wear on the card with destructive imperfections and heavy scuffing and heavy creases or a severe tear.

Of course, assessing the quality of a particular card is a very subjective art. Obviously the owner of a card or sticker wants to grade it as highly as possible. With this in mind, if the owner is seeking to value their collection, or to sell one or more of their cards, it is advised that they get an independent, unbiased opinion on them.

Searching for Classic vs. Modern Cards and Stickers

Some collectors, like stamp collectors, concentrate on 'classic' cards from between the wars. For example, while other collectors, particularly youngsters or children, may want to collect the latest teams, and may well not be interested in footballers of yesteryear.

Also, because football is continually evolving with new players, new managers, collectors can never say that they have every card of every team of every season. Instead, many 'serious' collectors of the classic cards and stickers tend to concentrate on a particular team, or even a particular period of football, such as Liverpool F.C., or cards from between the war years.

Card Values

The value of a particular card may rise, or even fall, depending on the popularity of the player or team it represents. This can make for fascinating collecting, as individual players and teams progress in their careers or history. If a particular player is not well liked, for various reasons either on or off the pitch, the value of his card may fall, whereas if a player scores the winning goal in the final of the World Cup, collectors can be sure that if they have the player's card, it will rise in value.

Researching particular cards and their possible values can be a time-consuming affair, but ultimately very rewarding. If football card or sticker collectors take their time to learn a little about the cards or stickers they are interested in, it is certainly not time wasted.

Card Rarity

By their very nature, vintage football cards are scarce. The vast majority of the cards ever printed have been thrown away, or otherwise destroyed. New cards, however, do not suffer from this problem, as manufacturers print tens of thousands of copies of a given card in each run.

By the 1990s, however, football cards and stickers were being produced in such numbers that collectors were beginning to lose interest. Manufacturers then tried various methods of enticing collectors to their cards.

Autographed Cards

These cards are either printed with the player's autograph on them, or in much rarer cases, the cards have been individually signed by the players themselves. This latter type of card is particularly sought after, and many serious card collectors can be seen on match days trying to entice players to sign cards or the back of stickers, with the players' photographs on the fronts.

Other Memorabilia

Card manufacturers have also taken to offering authentic additions to their cards. These can include pieces of the actual shorts, or other items of sportswear worn by that player. While these additional items may be of interest to a 'casual' card collector, apart from an individually autographed card, these add-ons are generally of little interest to the 'serious' collector.

How to Buy Football Trading Cards and Stickers on eBay

Simply typing in "football trading cards" into an eBay search box brings up thousands of results, so the trick when searching for cards or stickers is to narrow down your search as much as possible. This is easily achieved by looking at the search options. Included in these options are autographs of the footballers on their individual cards. These are particularly sought after, and can often attract very fierce bidding between collectors.

Also look out for are the full team sets from various card manufacturers. These are often bought by collectors with an eye on their future value in years to come. Other collectors may consider this as 'cheating' by buying up whole sets, but the choice is entirely up to you.

If buying individual cards from dealers on eBay, it is always worth checking out the dealer's other eBay offerings to see if there is something else that may be of interest to you. The reason for this is that many dealers may considerably reduce their postage charges if more than one item is bought at once.


Collecting football trading cards or stickers can be a fascinating hobby in much the same vein as stamp or coin collecting. Like vintage stamps and coins, vintage football cards and stickers are a fixed commodity, with no new ones being printed or made. These can generally only rise in value as time passes. Modern football cards and stickers, however, are printed in the tens of thousands, so are only really of value to an avid fan or youngster keen to support his or her team. If a card or sticker has been personally autographed by the player on the front, this raises its value considerably.

While there can be many trading cards and stickers available on eBay, it is always worth the buyers while to spend as much time as possible searching for the sticker or trading card they are after. There are many bargains to be had, and buyers should also check out sellers of other items in a bid to reduce possible postage charges.

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