The highest priced piece of sports memorabilia is now a soccer jersey.
Sotheby’s sold the shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored perhaps the two most famous goals in World Cup history for $9,284,536 Tuesday morning, setting a new world record. The price was significantly higher than the $5 million+ pre-sale estimate, but insiders believed the international interest could push bidding into record territory.
Prior to Tuesday’s sale, the auction record for any sports memorabilia was the original Olympic Manifesto from 1892, which sold at Sotheby’s for $8.8 million in December 2019. The previous record for a game worn jersey was $5.64 million for a Babe Ruth jersey, also sold that year via Hunt Auctions.
“In the weeks since we announced the auction we have been inundated by sports fans and collectors alike, with a palpable excitement in the air for the duration of the public exhibition – and this unfiltered enthusiasm was echoed in the bidding,” stated Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s Head of Streetwear and Modern Collectables. “This is arguably the most coveted football shirt to ever come to auction, and so it is fitting that it now holds the auction record for any object of its kind.”
The jersey, worn by the superstar from Argentina when he scored two improbable goals in a victory over England in the 1986 Cup semi-finals in Mexico City, had been consigned by English midfielder Steve Hodge. It was Hodge, who acquired them in a post-match trade with Maradona, that played a role in the “Hand of God” goal, unintentionally tipping the ball to Maradona whose hand knocked the ball into the net for a controversial score.
The 25-year-old Maradona also had the jersey on his back when he weaved in and made another huge shot that lifted Argentina to victory. To coincide with the 2002 World Cup, FIFA held a vote over the course of six weeks, with 340,000 participants from over 150 countries casting their ballot for “goal of the century.” Maradona’s effort won the vote.
The semi-final game was held four years after the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom. Argentina beat England 2-1 and then went on to win the Cup.
“This historic shirt is a tangible reminder of an important moment not only in the history of sports, but in the history of the 20th century,” Wachter remarked.
The jersey was actually a store model shirt. After beating Uruguay in the Round of 16, Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo was concerned that their usual cotton jerseys might be too heavy in the scorching heat of Mexico City and thus went looking for a last-minute replacement. The choice came down to two options and Maradona selected the style that was used, stating “That one. We’ll beat England in that one.”
At the training camp, just before the match, makeshift Argentinian Football Association patches were sewn on, and the numbers were ironed to the back. In Maradona’s words: “When we went out onto the field, some of the guys had sparkles on their face because the numbers were silver and sparkly… And after genius kit man Tito Benros had ironed those numbers onto 38 jerseys, he looked like he should have been at a carnival, not at Azteca Stadium.”
“I have been the proud owner of this item for over 35 years, since Diego and I swapped shirts in the tunnel after the famed match,” Hodge stated. “It was an absolute privilege to have played against one of the greatest and most magnificent football players of all time. It has also been a pleasure to share it with the public over the last 20 years at the National Football Museum, where it has been on display. The Hand of God shirt has deep cultural meaning to the football world, the people of Argentina, and the people of England and I’m certain that the new owner will have immense pride in owning the world’s most iconic football shirt.”