In­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of soc­cer trea­sures

A unique as­sort­ment of world foot­ball mem­o­ra­bilia is on dis­play in the city, writes RAY­MOND JOSEPH

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

LOOK­ING for all the world like an age­ing rocker, Rus­sell Martin is on a roll as he launches into one of his favourite sto­ries about fallen foot­ball icon Ge­orge Best – “the man who drank his way through two liv­ers”.

An old London drink­ing mate of the for­mer Manch­ester United and North­ern Ire­land star in years gone by, Rus­sell, who wears his hair in a spiky Rod Ste­wart looka­like-style, is ex­plain­ing how he got Best to sign 500 col­lectable cards with a pic­ture of him­self, for an al­ls­tar foot­ball star card se­ries.

“I had this mate who worked for a com­pany that had in­vested a for­tune in the cards and Ge­orge had agreed to sign his ones that were to be in­serted in se­lect packs, but he never kept any of the ap­point­ments,” ex­plains Rus­sell, 63, in his broad cock­ney ac­cent.

“So I phone Ge­orgie and he agrees to meet us in the pub for a drink and to sign the cards. This guy from the card com­pany asks him what he wants for sign­ing and Ge­orgie takes a moment, and then says ‘500 quid’.”

What Best didn’t know was that the com­pany, hav­ing laid out a small for­tune for the rights to pro­duce the cards, were des­per­ate, as the chance of win­ning one signed by Best, which were to be sprin­kled across thou­sands of packs, was the at­trac­tion to get peo­ple to buy them.

“He could have asked for 5 000 quid, even more, they were so des­per­ate. Of course Ge­orge, who was al­ways broke and in trou­ble with the foot­ball au­thor­i­ties, couldn’t be seen to be tak­ing the cash, so the dosh was handed over while he and this guy were stand­ing at the uri­nal.”

Which all sounds like pub talk – and, with Best long dead, there’s no one to con­firm or deny it.

Ex­cept Rus­sell’s got the pic­ture to prove it, show­ing him and Best shar­ing a glass of wine – with the boxes of freshly signed cards on the ta­ble in front of them.

It’s just one item in Rus­sell’s unique col­lec­tion of world foot­ball mem­o­ra­bilia that is on dis­play at Green­point’s Cape Quar­ter, sit­u­ated on the Fan Walk to the new sta­dium.

And Rus­sell, who has lived and worked all over the world and is now liv­ing in Hout Bay, doesn’t tire of telling the sto­ries.

The ir­re­place­able col­lec­tion – worth mil­lions of rands – is on dis­play in a shop do­nated by the Cape Quar­ter af­ter Rus­sell had tried, but failed, to get a place at the Cape Town Sta­dium to mount the dis­play.

His dream is to one day open a res­tau­rant he’d call The Leg­ends Lounge, with all his mem­o­ra­bilia – sports, show­biz and more – as decor.

Like the signed jer­seys, that in­clude one au­to­graphed by the en­tire Brazil­ian team last to win a World Cup, and oth­ers signed by a long list of stars that reads like a roll call of the who’s who of world soc­cer, past and present: Pele, David Beck­ham, Ron­aldo, Eusébio, Michael Owen, Maradona and Thierry Henry… and more.

But Rus­sell’s three favourite items all have English con­nec­tions. Two of them a rare team pic­ture of the all­con­quer­ing English 1966 World Cup cham­pi­ons, signed by all the play­ers, and a 1966 Eng­land World Cup shirt signed by Geoff Hurst, the only player ever to score a World Cup fi­nal hat trick.

The third is a paint­ing of Eng­land skip­per Bobby Moore and Pele, rated by many as the great­est foot­baller of all time, swop­ping shirts dur­ing the 1970 World Cup, which has been signed by both men – and is the only one of its kind, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sell.

One of the vis­i­tors who ar­rived to check out the col­lec­tion this week was John Sis­sons, a for­mer West Ham United and Eng­land player who was also at one stage the youngest player ever to score a goal in an FA Cup fi­nal.

Sis­sons, who fea­tures in sev­eral of the pho­tos on dis­play, has been res­i­dent in South Africa for 30 years, and now lives in semi-re­tire­ment at Thee­wa­ter­skloof, near Her­manus.

Por­ing over the ex­hi­bi­tion, a clearly moved Sis­sons said: “This is a truly amaz­ing col­lec­tion.”

Sis­sons was also a mem­ber of West Ham’s 1965 Euro­pean Cup Win­ners Cup side, “the last all-English team to win the cup… now there are play­ers from all over the world in the English league teams,” he says.

“You’ll find ex­ten­sive foot­ball col­lec­tions in the UK, but they’ll all cover one team. You could go to any club and they would have a great col­lec­tion cov­er­ing their his­tory. What makes this col­lec­tion unique is that it is so wide and cov­ers so much ground, so many dif­fer­ent teams and na­tion­al­i­ties.”

Re­mem­ber­ing the glory days of foot­ball “when there were real stars… not ones cre­ated by the me­dia”, Sis­sons re­calls play­ing against icons like Pele and Eng­land cap­tain Bobby Moore.

Rus­sell says he’s never paid for any­thing in his col­lec­tion and items have come as gifts from the peo­ple in­volved, or given to him by some­one he’s done a favour, like reps from com­pa­nies who spon­sor dif­fer­ent teams.

“Peo­ple just keep help­ing and giv­ing me stuff. I do peo­ple favours and they give me signed shirts, pho­to­graphs and the like in re­turn.”

Rus­sell, who cap­tained his school soc­cer team and even had a trial with West Ham’s colts’ team, has trav­elled back and forth be­tween the UK and Dur­ban and Cape Town for the past 40 years, with a few years’ so­journ in Jersey and on the Greek is­land of Corfu, and claims to be re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing the con­cept of “cock­tail bars”, “not bars or pubs”, into South Africa.

While in Dur­ban, he be­gan meet­ing “a lot of English guys who had come over, in­clud­ing sev­eral English foot­ball stars, who came out to South Africa to play for lo­cal teams”.

“South Africans may not re­alise this, but eight of the English 1966 World Cup­win­ning squad – in­clud­ing Geoff Hurst, Terry Payne, Ge­orge Eastham and Bobby Moore, played here. Like the other English play­ers who came to SA, they all came for one last pay­day… a bit of fun and wages.”

At one stage, Rus­sell owned a hol­i­day com­pany called Villa Par­ties in Corfu, trav­el­ling to South Africa for the sum­mer.

“Greece was amaz­ing. I also had a disco club and video bar in Corfu. I was sur­rounded by gor­geous girls ready for fun, I lost count of the ones I had; it was a non-stop party. I was drunk for years.

“If I had not met and mar­ried my wife Jan, I would be dead now.”

His col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bilia be­gan many years ago when he bought a his­toric ho­tel on the banks of the River Wye in Here­ford­shire in Eng­land, which was of­ten used for fashion shoots and as a movie set.

“I met lots of fa­mous peo­ple there, like English rugby star Jeremy Gus­cott and loads of Bond girls, and I started ask­ing them for me­men­tos and signed pho­tos. It just grew from there.”

Rus­sell’s life in the ho­tel and en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness be­gan at the age of 18 when, af­ter a mi­nor brush with the law, his fa­ther helped find him a job as “sev­enth bar­man – my job was to clear the ta­bles” – in an up­mar­ket London West End cock­tail bar that at­tracted many fa­mous peo­ple and their hang­ers-on.

The job was in the trendy Polo Room of the West­bury Ho­tel and was fre­quented by mem­bers of the “Swinging Set”, the likes of top ’60s model Chrissie Shrimp­ton, one-time girl­friend of Mick Jag­ger, and world land-speed record holder Don­ald Camp­bell, the Kray twins, two of the Eng­land’s most in­fa­mous gang­sters – and oc­ca­sion­ally even Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Harold Wil­son.

“I was 18 and the girls loved me. It was a fun time and I was hav­ing a party.”

He went on to run classy cock­tail bars all over London’s West End, of­ten cater­ing for pri­vate par­ties for fa­mous peo­ple, like Princess Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd.

“I think she fan­cied me, but I was warned off,” says Rus­sell, about to tell an­other of his sto­ries, be­fore de­cid­ing that per­haps some dis­cre­tion may be called for.”

One of the at­trac­tions of South Africa for Rus­sell, he says, is the sport­ing ties that have long ex­isted be­tween the two na­tions.

“Did you know that the Kop at Liver­pool got its name from the Boer War bat­tle at Spi­oenkop?” asks Rus­sell, be­fore launch­ing into yet an­other story, this time about how re­turn­ing Bri­tish sol­diers who had fought in that fa­mous bat­tle started dress­ing as Zu­lus and per­form­ing be­fore big foot­ball games back home.

And for any­one who doesn’t be­lieve the story, there’s a copy of a re­port from an old Liver­pool news­pa­per in one of the dis­plays, re­lat­ing the story of the nam­ing of the Kop, to prove what he says.

Rus­sell’s Leg­ends ex­hi­bi­tion is in a shop tucked away in a corner of Level One of the Cape Quar­ter in Som­er­set Road. En­trance is free, but vis­i­tors are en­cour­aged to make a small do­na­tion to the Amy Biehl Foun­da­tion.

PIC­TURE: ERIC MILLER

CHEERS: Rus­sell Martin points to a pic­ture of Ge­orge Best and him­self cel­e­brat­ing with the col­lec­tors’ cards Best was paid £500 to sign on the ta­ble in front of them.

PIC­TURE: CINDY WAXA

WALL-TO-WALL: Part of Rus­sell Martin’s col­lec­tion of foot­ball leg­ends’ signed shirts and pho­to­graphs.

PIC­TURE: ERIC MILLER

PRIZED PIECE: A Brazil shirt signed by the coun­try’s last World Cup-win­ning team.

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