THE world of sports gifts isn’t what it was: the days of a tennis ball in your stocking on Christmas morning are long forgotten, so if you’re going to get something special, be prepared to splash.
For that special, once-in-a- life-time gift, how about some memorabilia? You can pick up a signed Muhammad Ali glove for a song from the Famous Memor- abilia store, but only if by ‘song’ you mean £1,250 (€1864). It’s authentic, but at that price you’d maybe expect one of the Champ’s hands, or a couple of ribs thrown in.
Oddly, that’s at the upper end of the taste market: for a gift to make your head truly shake, what about a Lance Armstrong Silver American Eagle Bullion Coin Display? Not only is this a lovely present — at $1,295 (€985) — but the coins “provide investors with an exciting way to add silver to their investment portfolios”. As Tiny Tim would say, God bless us every one (of our Silver Bullion Coins).
Okay, enough of the funny stuff. Nothing is as good as the live event, so what about a short journey to see your heroes? Dawson Travel in Cork have a variety of trips on offer to suit your sporting tastes.
Rugby fan? Italy v Ireland in the Eternal City next March will set you back €769 per person for direct flights (to Rome), transfers and three nights in a three-star hotel. Bella.
Premiership fan? If you want to see the champions at play, then €319 will get you into Stamford Bridge for Chelsea-Middlesbrough (flights not included), with prices rising to €569 for the visit of Man United. Again flights aren’t included, but on the up side, accommodation is in the Chelsea Village Hotel. What more could you ask for?
Well, if you’re a Manchester United fan you could look for the Kraken Opus this yuletide. ‘Book’ doesn’t quite do this tome justice: it’s 35kg in weight and comes in a limited edition of 10,000. For a mere £3,000 you can have the United Limited Edition (signed by Alex Ferguson and Bobby Charlton). If you really love the person you’re getting this for then you can lash out another £1,250 for the United Icons Edition, which is autographed by Denis Law, Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson as well. Just make sure you reinforce the bookshelves.
FOR a sign of the future in sports gifts, consider the options now facing Texas Tech fans. This US college is giving its supporters the opportunity to purchase a very special piece of their school’s athletics history: the astroturf previously played on by Red Raider football teams from 1999-2005 in Jones AT&T Stadium.
Not only will the buyer receive an actual piece of the Jones AT&T Stadium astroturf, it’ll be the turf that was played on, or trampled, whatever, during Texas Tech’s 1999 win over No 5 Texas A&M, the 2002 win over No. 4 Texas ... you get the message. The turf will be sold in rolls 65 feet long by 15 feet wide, with a shorter cut by approximately six to eight feet wide; the longer pieces of turf are $500, while the shorter stretches are $200.
For years now in the US, a hugely lucrative business has been operating in parallel with professional baseball — the fantasy camp.
Boys of all ages pay out a rake of money to spend a few days in the company of their heroes, who give them a few batting tips and recount some war stories from their glory days. And some of those glory days are fairly distant: the New York Yankees’ fantasy camp includes a few survivors from their top teams of the 1940s.
IT costs $4,495 to rub shoulders with former greats, but invariably fantasy camps featuring big names from the past are sold out months in advance. Perhaps the sports fan in your life isn’t a baseball fan, but don’t be surprised to see a rugby fantasy camp, or a hurling fantasy camp, popping up in the near future. So long as we get a finder’s fee we’ll be happy.
Fair enough, let’s get out of doors and breathe in that fresh diesel. Event organisers Greatdaysout.ie have a one-day rally driving course for €245 in Dungarvan. Once you’ve finished a training run you can then hurtle around the enclosed course. The session runs from around 9am to lunchtime, though you’re strongly advised not to bring your new- found rallying skills onto the public highway immediately afterwards.
(The same goes for another one of Greatdaysout.ie’s day trips — to Donegal, where you can drive a tank for an hour before finishing off with the piece de resistance: the crushing of a car. Anything which promises you the crushing of a car has got to be a bargain at €350).
In fact, Greatdaysout more than live up to the company title. For instance, if a certain movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet tickled your fancy, you might enjoy another vaguely sporty trip they organise — a journey via submersible to the resting place of the Titanic, 12,460 feet beneath the sea. In St John's, Newfoundland you board the Russian research vessel Akademik Keldysh which then travels through the Grand Banks (nervous travellers may recognise this zone from The Perfect Storm, but we won’t dwell on that).
On dive day you descend nearly two-and-a-half miles to come face to face with the Titanic, travelling on board the MIR I and MIR II submersibles, vessels capable of reaching ocean depths of 20,000 feet. (Each MIR's habitat compartment is seven feet in diameter, accommodating three persons. “Air pressure inside the habitat remains at a constant one atmosphere and during the dive the temperature will drop to around 54 F (12 C)”, the company states on its website; which is a coded way of saying ‘lay off the baked beans the day before the dive’.
THE cost? A paltry €31,000. On the up side, you don’t have to listen to Celine Dion singing unless you really want to.
Maybe that’s a tad over the top. Maybe. But we still haven’t exhausted all the alternatives. You can get your sports fan a share in their favourite football club (outfits like Celtic, Charlton, Newcastle and, er, Waterford). The gift includes a genuine share certificate displaying their name (registered and delivered separately) and the entitlement to rights and perks of the shareholder. They will also receive important information directly from the club, including annual reports, invitations to meetings and a right to vote on issues affecting the club. And a free placard saying they have confidence in the manager (Okay, we made that last bit up).
If you want something to pop under the tree, can we suggest The Best of Charlie Buchan’s Football Monthly? Said to have sold over 200,000 copies a month at its peak in the sixties, it is a glimpse of another world: one letter complains of paying in for six shillings (for a Burnley home game), shelling out another shilling for a programme — and the bus ticket to the ground another two shillings! Almost as good as the advertisement from the fifties in which an England and Spurs player endorses a particular consumer product: "I couldn't afford to smoke a cigarette that irritated my throat.”
In similar vein, You Are The Ref is out this Christmas also to help you test your whistle- blowing knowledge. You’ll have change from €30 if you buy either of these - room in the stocking for a tennis ball.
Last but by no means least, you could always give something very precious indeed. Galway GAA star Alan Kerins has set up a charity to help disabled children in Zambia, and you could do worse than logging onto Alankerins.ie and following the link to the “donate” page, which shows how you can improve the lives of people living in abject poverty. Christmas is a time for giving, after all.