got got need

'Using my son as a proxy, the Euro 2016 album marks my return to the sticker collection game'

Tommy Martin is opening packets of stickers and a world of memories.

A LOT HAS changed in the almost three decades since I last collected Panini stickers, but one thing hasn’t: the preciousness of a foil.

Beautiful, shiny and rare, like an endangered tropical fish. Of the many thrills about collecting Panini that I’ve rediscovered with the Euro 2016 version, the light catching a foil as it falls out of a freshly opened pack remains the ultimate.

Not that I’m opening the packs, or finding the foils, or indeed, collecting the stickers at all in the first place. No, it’s my son’s album of course. I’m just…helping.

A guide, if you will, taking him by the hand and introducing him to the world of Panini, the creed of Got, Got, Need.

All for his enjoyment, of course. Honest.

And yes I do sometimes bark my disapproval when he sticks one in a little crooked. These things are important. So it makes me seem like an eastern European gymnastics coach – “Concentrate! Straighten up! No! No! No! Give it here!!” – but it’s for his benefit in the long run. I mean, you should see what he did to poor Seamus Coleman. Dear, oh dear. (Although as an Everton defender, he’s used to being miles out of position.)

Using my son as a proxy, the Euro 2016 album marks my return to the sticker collection game for the first time since the 1990 World Cup. I’d collected the Panini albums for the league seasons from 1986 to 1990, as well as Euro ’88 and Italia ’90.

Football ’87 was the peak. My brother and I completed it, thanks to a considerable investment by our parents in Sweeney’s Newsagent, Main St, Dungloe. We determinedly swapped our doubles at school and sent off for the final 37 stickers, accompanied by a postal order for £12.41.

As well as the splendour of the foils – usually club or country badges or trophies – other things I remember are unchanged. Though Panini insist stickers are distributed equitably, there are still certain teams that seem to proliferate. In Football ’87 it was Oxford United.

Not a pack was opened without one of their players, an extraordinarily high proportion of whom had moustaches, tumbling out. Malcolm Shotton, Gary Briggs, John Trewick, John Aldridge – every last hairy one a got, got, got.

This time round, it’s Albania. The search for a precious foil or big name player invariably runs into a clutch of Migjen Bashas and Odise Roshis. But while the tournament’s expansion to 24 teams means less well known players outnumber the superstars, there’s something democratic about how the Panini album treats Shkelzen Gashi the same as Cristiano Ronaldo. Just another ‘got’ or ‘need’.

That is one thing that has changed. Back in the day the minnows (the Scottish Premier Division in the regular albums, the Cameroons and South Koreas at World Cup time) had to squeeze into a single page, two players to a sticker. Now every team gets a full two page spread and every player his own sticker. It’s as if pressure from Amnesty International forced Panini into ending their mistreatment of developing nations like Morocco, Honduras, and Scotland.

All this also means a hell of a lot more gaps to fill. The Euro 2016 album runs to well over 600 stickers, twice as many as in my 1980s collecting heyday. This makes nostalgia a costly business. If by some outrageous streak of luck every sticker you bought was a ‘need’, it would cost you just over €100 to fill your album.

This, of course, is highly unlikely. Matthew Scroggs, a London maths teacher, worked out the probability that you’d have to buy 4,505 stickers to fill the 640 spaces in the 2014 World Cup album, which would cost you a cool €720.


That is without swapping – the key to Panini’s recent resurgence. The company’s glory days in this part of the world came to an end, coincidentally I’m sure, around the time I moved on from sticker collecting. They lost out on the contract for the Premier League to Merlin, and subsequently Topps, whose Match Attax trading cards became the playground staple of the Premier League era.

But the last World Cup saw a rebirth in popularity, driven admittedly by the curious tendency of my generation to revisit the kitsch staples of their youth, but also by the use of social media as an arena for swapping. Without playgrounds to do their swapping,

Twitter and online forums gave adult collectors places to make those crucial exchanges.
That’s still not a good enough reason to begin collecting stickers after a gap of 26 years. While I admit to using my son as a vehicle to revisit my childhood, I am hoping that he gets some lasting positives out of it.

An introduction to football; some basic geography, maybe. But more importantly something he’ll hopefully remember fondly doing with his dad. The sense of anticipation while tearing them open, both of us eagerly looking out for those foils, the excitement as the album gradually fills up.

That’s presuming the trauma of the Seamus Coleman incident hasn’t ruined it for him.
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