A rare football treasure, an FA Cup winner’s medal given to a Midlands footballer in the saddest of circumstances, is expected to fetch thousands of pounds at auction.
In 1954, West Bromwich Albion player Norman Heath was looking forward to taking part in an FA Cup final against Preston North End – a match West Brom went on to win 3-2.
But after playing in the FA Cup semi-final match, Heath’s career came to an abrupt end. He suffered severe neck injuries in a match against Sunderland and was forced to retire from the game.
Despite being unable to play in the FA Cup final, Heath was awarded an FA Cup winner’s medal and his team mates took the trophy to his bedside in hospital.
Now Heath’s gold medal, estimate £4,000-£6,000, together with a ‘treasure trove’ of his football mementoes will be sold by Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on February 21.
The memorabilia includes Heath’s WBA football contracts; letters from WBA; a rare 1935 Sheffield Wednesday v WBA FA Cup final programme and an autographed West Bromwich Albion celebration dinner programme from 1935. Items will be sold separately and the entire collection is expected to fetch between £8,000-£10,000.
Alistair Lofley, football valuer at Hansons Auctioneers near Derby, where the items will be sold on February 21, said: “This is the first time I’ve ever had the honour of selling an FA Cup final winner’s medal. You don’t see them often. This is an incredible find and one of the most important collections of memorabilia relating to one player that I’ve ever come across.
“For any keen collectors, the opportunity to own a genuine FA Cup final medal is the stuff of dreams – and the circumstances surrounding its presentation make it extra special
“Norman Heath is remembered with great fondness by his club and supporters. I don’t think there can be a football fan in the land, or even the world, who could not be touched by his story. To suffer a career-ending injury just before an FA Cup final is the cruellest of blows.
“His memorabilia is a treasure trove of nostalgia and provides an historical record of a player’s life in the 1940s – including the Second World War - and beyond.
“For example, we have his first professional football contract from 1943 where his wages were ‘permissible in wartime’ though no figure is given. By 1948 his contract stated that he was earning £10 per week - the equivalent of £345 a week in today’s money - with an extra £2 if he played in a first team league or cup match.”
There are also several letters from the club to Heath alerting him to his selection to the team. One from November 1943 tells Norman he has been selected to play in an away game against Stoke City and says, ‘Please be in attendance in good time… bring your sandwiches with you…. We will pick you up at the Gaumont Cinema, Wolverhampton’.
Heath, who was born in Wolverhampton, joined West Brom as an amateur in 1942 and turned professional in 1943, having made his debut in September 1943 in the Football League North against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
His career was interrupted when he joined the Army in 1944. He returned to WBA and made his full Football League debut in 1947 against Sheffield Wednesday. In 1952 he replaced Jimmy Sanders as the Baggies first choice keeper.
Following his injury, Heath was granted a testimonial against an International XI in 1956 and a record crowd of 55,000 went along. He had a spell as manager of Great Barr Gunners before his death in Great Barr, Birmingham, in November 1983.
Norman Heath’s FA Cup final winner’s medal, made in gold by Fattorini and Sons of Birmingham, and his memorabilia will be sold on February 21 in a Football in Focus Auction at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, email Alistair Lofley – [email protected] – or call 0786 320 3377.
Alistair will offer free valuations of sporting memorabilia at St Chad’s Church, Hollyfield Road, Sutton Coldfield, B75 7SN, on January 15, 10am-1pm. General valuations also available. Alistair can also offer free valuations at clients’ homes.