World Cup ticket collectors hunt for treasure

Mohammed Abdullateev visited his first world Cup four years ago in Russia, where he had to make do with watching most of the games on TV.

“It was difficult,” he recalled, “to get a ticket.”

Talk about irony.

Few people on the planet have more World Cup Tickets than Abdullateev, whose collection contains 1200 pieces and continues to grow. He has tickets to all but one of the World Cup matches played since 1958. For the first tournament in 1930, when tickets were sold in three categories, he has all three, as well as an Associated Press media credential.

He even has tickets for games that have never been played, such as the 1938 Germany-Switzerland play-off match, which was originally scheduled for two dates, and the final in 1982, when Abdullatef said tickets for the reserve date were printed out. but never used.

Mohammed Abdullateev pulls out a ticket from his World Cup ticket collection.

Mohammed Abdullateev pulls out a ticket from his World Cup ticket collection.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

However, as Moscow has proven, he doesn’t handle games that haven’t been played as well.

“We went to the fan zone,” he said. “Sometimes in the hotel we watched.”

Abdullateev refuses to say how much the collection cost him and how much it would cost if he tried to sell it. But back then, money wasn’t what aroused his interest in the first place.

“I’m crazy about the World Cup,” said Abdullateev, 50, who became addicted to the tournament after watching a game from the 1982 competition on TV as a child.

However, he wasn’t crazy enough to start collecting tickets until 2010. Qatar got the rights hold a tournament this year in Doha.

“When it was announced, I could not believe, could not imagine that the World Cup would be held here. Because I know the meaning of the World Cup,” Abdullateev said over coffee in the sun-drenched lobby of Doha’s pyramid-shaped Sheraton Hotel on the Persian Gulf. “So, of course, I was excited.”

Mohammed Abdullatef's collection has this ticket from the 1950 World Cup.

Mohammed Abdullatef’s collection has this ticket from the 1950 World Cup.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

In fact, the seeds were planted more than a decade and a half ago when Saudi Arabia became the first Arab nation to reach the World Cup playoffs. A memorabilia dealer in the United States, who Abdullateev said didn’t know the difference between Saudi Arabia and neighboring Qatar, sent him a ticket from the Saudis’ first match, along with pictures of some of the players.

“I still have that ticket,” said Abdullateev, a telecommunications engineer and political cartoonist. “But I never thought about collecting tickets. I collected books. I like reading about the World Cup.”

This interest led him to an online forum where he stumbled upon a conversation about ticket collectors.

“So I came up with the idea to collect one ticket from everyone, from 1930 to 2010,” he said. “I started looking on eBay. Especially eBay.

Abdullatef said collecting most of the memorabilia from the World Cup, especially tickets, would be nearly impossible without the Internet. His original plan was to collect just one ticket for each of the 21 tournaments, but as more and more tickets became available, he decided to expand his search to include at least one ticket for all 900 World Cup matches. .

This hobby was not only his.

Mohammed Abdullatef's collection includes this Associated Press media pass from the first World Cup.

Mohammed Abdullatef’s collection includes this Associated Press media pass from the first World Cup.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

“Ticket collecting is not only a thing, it is arguably the most popular pandemic-era subgenre in the sports collectibles market,” said Chris Ivey, sports category director at Dallas Heritage Auction. “Many collectors compete to create the most complete and high quality collections on various topics.”

Abdullatef estimates that his 12-album collection in the safe is around 95%, but admits it will never be complete. However, only the ticket of Italian football fan Matteo Melodia can compete with him, who has more than 6,000 tickets for World Cups, European Championships, Italy matches and even club matches with his favorite AC Milan team.

Melody began collecting as a boy 35 years ago, after a friend gave him a ticket to Manchester United. He started out with English club games, but as his family traveled a lot, his focus quickly expanded. Four years ago, Melodiya, a retired police officer, put together his collection in the form of a book, Tickets for the 1930-2018 World Cup.

Melody said it world Cup There are 19 games missing from the collection, many of which are from the 1950 tournament in Brazil, when the games were played away from the major cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Tickets for the 1934 World Cup in Italy and the 1938 tournament in France are also in short supply, as many were lost during World War II.

Filling in the gaps, Abdullatef said, may require some detective work.

Mohammed Abdullatef's collection has this ticket for a World Cup match that was never played.

Mohammed Abdullatef’s collection has this ticket for a World Cup match that was never played.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

“You have a list of World Cup games and you know what city they were in,” he said.

But the tickets are not always there.

“It could be someone from Belgium, but he has something from France,” Abdullateev said.

For collectors, the most sought-after tickets aren’t the game tickets everyone remembers. For example, almost 200,000 tickets were sold for the 1950 final in Brazil, and tickets for the 1966 final in London, where England won their only title, quickly became souvenirs. As a result, they are not uncommon.

However, the 1966 group match between North Korea and Italy, played in front of 17,829 fans in Middlesbrough, was soon forgotten – as were tickets, which are now hard to come by.

But just because the tickets are rare doesn’t make them valuable, Ivy said. It often happens just the opposite.

Mohammed Abdullatef's collection has tickets from the 2010 World Cup.

Mohammed Abdullatef’s collection has tickets from the 2010 World Cup.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

“In our experience, championship games and those that debut iconic players or document historic moments are highly desirable,” he said. “A large percentage of World Cup matches would be pretty pointless historically. The finals probably cost many times more than group stage tickets.”

Which suits Melodiya quite well, who, like Abdullateev, was not going to engage in collecting in order to get rich.

“Money is the last thing in a passion for collecting,” he said when asked how much his collection was worth. “Passion is unmatched in money.”

However, some tickets can be expensive. The holy grail of World Cup collectibles is the ticket to the 1934 final in Rome. It is believed that only three or four tickets exist for this game, and Melodiya and Abdullatif each have one; The Qataris were signed by three Italians who participated in the game. In 1934 a ticket cost 60 lire; Abdullatef said he bought it on eBay for $5,800, which he considers a steal.

“Boy,” he says of the salesman, “maybe his grandfather died or something and [he thought] it’s just a ticket. So he booked a starting price of $120. He didn’t know the price.”

Abdullateev did just that.

Mohammed Abdullateev touches an item from his vast collection of World Cup tickets.

Mohammed Abdullateev touches an item from his vast collection of World Cup tickets.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times)

“You must know the trick of bidding,” he said. “At the last second, you need to pray not to give [a] chance for others.

Politicians can also get in the way of collectors. A woman from Uruguay once suggested to Abdullateev that they sell tickets for the first World Cup, but the government insisted that the rare treasure remain in the country and blocked the sale.

However, the biggest danger for collectors is counterfeit tickets, especially for tournaments held between 1950 and 1962. Abdullateev said he became aware of the scam when he emailed photos of some of his tickets to a collector in the UK.

“He said, ‘This is a fake, this is a fake, this is the original,’” he recalls. “He started teaching me how to know. He gave me the key.”

Abdullateev quickly became so adept at spotting forgeries that, after visiting a FIFA exhibition in Russia four years ago, he told a friend that many of the tickets were counterfeit.

“He said: “What, you know better than FIFA?” Abdullateev recalled. “He didn’t believe me.”

And FIFA too. But after Abdullateev told them how he knew, FIFA responded that he was right and removed photos of the tickets from social media posts.

Eventually Abdullateev got tickets to a couple of games in Russia, the only World Cup matches he saw in person. He plans to attend both semi-finals this December in Qatar.

But the owner of one of the world’s largest ticket collections said he didn’t have tickets for any of those games. Entry into Qatar will be via mobile apps, which may be more secure and secure but will make it impossible to obtain these tickets.

“The move to mobile apps will be the final nail in the coffin,” Ivey said. “Important surviving tickets will always be coveted and valuable and are likely to continue the growing trend enjoyed by sports collectibles.

“Although we will certainly mourn the loss of tangible mementos of iconic sporting moments.”