got got need

The enduring allure of one of childhood's most fulfilling pursuits

Any swaps?

Stickers Panini stickers have stood the test of time.

ON A THURSDAY morning six weeks or so ago, I went out to the supermarket for bread and chicken fillets and came back with the ingredients for a mid-life crisis.

Something had caught my eye while passing the magazine shelf en route to the checkouts, provoking a rare appearance from my inner voice of reason.

“Hey, idiot!” came the intervention. “You’ll regret this – and don’t even bother pretending that it’s for the child.”

As usual, the advice was ignored and I returned home with a brown loaf, 420 grams of poultry and Panini’s official sticker album for Euro 2020.

As soon as the first few stickers went into the album, I knew I had been reeled in. Leaving it incomplete would gnaw at me. I was committed for the long haul.

When compiling the grounds for justification, the need for a new hobby to break the monotony of lockdown was cited first. Is collecting football stickers an appropriate pastime for a 37-year-old? Perhaps not, although in my defence I was still only 36 when I started.

The expense was a concern, but I classed it as an early birthday present to myself, as well as writing it off against the petrol money that has been saved on all the journeys that weren’t undertaken while we were penned in by the pandemic.

There are 678 stickers to collect in total. The recommended retail price for a packet of five is €1, yet some shops have them on sale at €1.39 a pop. When gobshites like me keep coming back to buy them, who am I to complain?

While initially hesitant to embrace our new joint-venture, my five-year-old was eventually swayed. Before long, she was imploring me to behave more frugally after learning that a few duplicates in our pile of swaps had been donated to her cousins.

Album At least I didn't forget the bread and chicken.

After paying close attention during my tutorial on the meticulous affixing of the stickers, she was intrigued to discover that the much-coveted “shineys” were the most valuable in the collection. 

In defiance of the lucky-dip nature of each packet, she suggested: “If the shiney ones are worth more, maybe we should just buy them all now before somebody else does.”

If she can maintain such a ruthlessly self-serving emphasis on profiteering, the government will have a place set aside for her on the front bench.

It had been well over 20 years since I last opened a packet of football stickers, so why all of a sudden am I again engaged in something that I assumed was left behind in my teens?

Perhaps the urge has always subconsciously been there, waiting for the arrival of kids of my own to facilitate a desire to rediscover one of childhood’s most joyous and fulfilling pursuits.

What started as a classic case of living vicariously has quickly become something of an obsession – to the point where my brain will eventually only recognise Europe’s greatest footballers by sticker number instead of name.

The initial objective was to have the album complete before the tournament kicks off on 11 June, and we’re well on track. Russia winger 219 – previously known as Denis Cheryshev – is the last remaining absentee.

As anyone who has ever indulged in this pastime can attest, an effective swapping strategy is essential if you’re to have any hope of filling the book.

In the world of football sticker trading, the schoolyard is Wall Street. That’s off limits for any adult who’d prefer to avoid a stint in prison, so other avenues have had to be explored.

Russia squad sans Denis Cheryshev The Russia squad (sans Denis Cheryshev).

Instead of being forced to post some sort of ad in search of like-minded eejits in the locality, Twitter has provided a useful platform to connect with other collectors, most of whom appear to be UK-based.

Through the #GotGotNeed hashtag, in addition to the @Euro2020Swaps and @PaniniSwappers accounts, sourcing missing stickers has been relatively straightforward.

Panini is still the market leader, but the Rolls Royce of football sticker albums will forever be the World Cup 1990 edition that was produced by Orbis.

Much more than just a sticker album, the various info-filled folders made it an educational textbook, so I knew what Archie Gemmill’s classic goal in ’78 looked like before I had ever seen it.

Lúlú agus Rírá gave me the cúpla focal, Busy At Maths looked after the addition and subtraction, and Orbis World Cup ’90 taught me about the beautiful game (it also taught me that the metal ring in a binder can take half the flesh off your fingers if clasped shut with too much vigour).

The humble sticker album may not be as vital a resource for the younger generations, with their smartphones and their red-button remotes, but in the pre-digital age we lived off scraps when it came to being briefed about the players who were preparing to light up major tournaments.

In the build-up to Italia ’90, for example, it was the only place where a young lad could learn that John Van’t Schip was a 26-year-old Canadian-born Dutch winger who became captain of Ajax when Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard left the club.

Merlin’s offerings would perform a similar function for the Premier League. Quarter of a century later, the faces of arbitrary footballers like Wimbledon defender Alan Kimble and QPR attacker Gary Penrice remain embedded in my memory. Present me with a line-up of current Premier League players and I wouldn’t be nearly as confident of identifying them all. 

Back then, sales of Wham bars plummeted once sticker season kicked off and kids diverted their finances. On days when the local Super Valu was out of stock, we were gripped by a sense of panic that didn’t abate until we sourced our fix from one of the other shops in the area after setting off in a convoy of bicycles.


There was no greater feeling of wealth than the one that accompanied you while walking away from the counter clutching a few fresh packets of the good stuff.

When the lads from school convened to conduct some business, the fella with the shiney Manchester United crest as a swap carried himself like Vito Corleone as he laid out his terms for a transaction.

With the album nearing completion, your bundle of swaps had swelled to such an extent that carrying them to school each day became a chore. Finding room for them in the pocket of a uniform pants was like trying to fit a cinder block into an empty crisp packet.  

In the yard, you displayed your wares while looking over your shoulder to guard against the sadistic fuckers who lurked with the intention of turning the stickers into confetti.

Nowadays, the only person I’m looking over my shoulder for is my wife, who could be forgiven for questioning her judgement after observing her husband packing stickers into envelopes to send to swappers in Derby and Altrincham.

Maybe I will need to post an ad after all. 

Divorced man-child and football sticker enthusiast seeks companion.
P.S. Has anyone got a spare 219?

Ladies, keep that queue orderly.

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