Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 12:44 UK

Genuine concern at fake mementos

By Julia Houston
BBC news, Chester

Picture of a photo of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher kissing the European Cup after Liverpool's victory in Istanbul. Alleged fake autographs.
It can be difficult to tell if a signature is the real thing

They have always been a treasured possession for the keenest of fans.

But while in years gone by, an autograph of a sporting hero or celebrity would become a cherished keepsake, nowadays they are just as likely to end up being sold - for as much as 1,000.

Driven in no small part by the growth of web-based market sites, a thriving multi-million-pound market has flourished for memorabilia.

And with it has come some fairly hard-nosed, and in some cases downright dodgy, operators.

The convictions of Faisal Madani, 43, and Graeme Walker, 45, demonstrates the current zeal of the authorities in clamping down on fakers.

But it has come too late to save Matt Wilkinson's memorabilia business - which he believes foundered because of the number of fakes being offered for sale.

He set up and ran the Liverpool-based sports memorabilia company Big Blue Tube in 2000.

We noticed there were hundreds of Jonny Wilkinson autographs for sale on the internet and we knew he was very careful about what he did and didn't sign
Matt Wilkinson
Mr Wilkinson said the venture was perfectly suited to the internet - but he believes competing against forgers drove him out of business and the firm went into administration last year.

"We became the market leaders in the UK, but in about 2003 the business changed," he said.

"We had a number of sportsmen on our books, Jonny Wilkinson, Wayne Rooney and Andrew Flintoff, for example.

"What we did, for example, was pay a player to sign 500 items. We'd sometimes pay them to sign something that was a limited edition so it was more valuable.

"We brought in a system where solicitors placed holograms on the memorabilia and witnessed the signings, but that added cost to the product, and we absorbed that cost.

"It was around the time that England won the rugby world cup, and English sport was on a high that we began to notice a huge increase in the number of forgeries.

"We noticed there were hundreds of Jonny Wilkinson autographs for sale on the internet and we knew he was very careful about what he did and didn't sign, so we knew these were fakes.

"We noticed our sales took a hit after that. When you're competing against people who just buy a marker pen, and then they're off, it's very difficult."




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