Got, need, swap: The Panini football cards that span the generations

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The World Cup is just around the corner and that means football sticker collections are all the rage. Chris Bond takes a trip down memory lane.

FOR me it was the Heart of Midlothian badge.

That small, rectangular piece of foil was the final piece of the jigsaw, the last sticker to complete my 1984-85 Panini album. For weeks I’d slowly, through dogged persistence and a fledgling poker face, reduced my last 10 “needs” down to just one, the wretched and elusive Hearts badge.

It might sound a tad over the top but for a football-mad 11 year-old it was proving to be my Everest. As anyone who’s ever collected a football sticker album will tell you, there’s always a couple of players, the dreaded duplicates, whose faces seem to greet you every time you opened a packet. So while I had oodles of Phil Neals and Steve Hodges and I’m sure I could have filled half the album with Peter Shilton and Mal Donaghy, I couldn’t find that Hearts badge for love nor money.

That was until one lunchtime in the playground when a classmate produced a wad of swaps. Up to this point he hadn’t been one of the gang who met up each break time to flick through each other’s unwanted stickers, but he, too, was now on the home straight and had come out of the woodwork to try and complete his set.

He had hundreds of swaps and halfway through them I spotted the badge. In the past I would have given the game away (the previous year I’d failed miserably to complete my album), but instead I slowly went through the whole lot picking out half a dozen I didn’t need and then going back for the badge after a deliberate spot of umming and ahhing.

Thankfully, he needed a couple of my swaps and the deal was done and my album was complete. You don’t win a prize you and you don’t get any money, you just get that feeling of satisfaction from having seen something through to the end.

I mention all this because with the start of the World Cup in Brazil just over a month away there’s been a flurry of interest as those age-old chants “Got, got, need!” rise up again in playgrounds up and down the country.

It takes me back to the 1986 World Cup when, flush from my success the previous year, I started collecting stickers of stars like Michel Platini, Michael Laudrup and, of course, Diego Maradona, along with a string of mullet-haired Eastern bloc defenders.

There was the weekly ritual of using your pocket money to pop into your local newsagents to buy as many packets as you could afford (they’re now 50 pence for a packet of five stickers).

But of all my memories of watching that mesmerising World Cup at home on TV and all the abundant excitement that came with it, one of my abiding recollections is of my then eight-year-old brother shouting excitedly “Polska team, Polska team” (his poker face skills still needed polishing) as he spotted that I had the Poland team photo.

As any good older brother would do I gave it to him ... eventually, once he’d handed over 30 of his swaps.

It’s 44 years since Panini launched its first World Cup edition and in the intervening decades these glossy stickers have become loved by football fans all over the world.

Like the beautiful game itself they transcend borders and languages and you can guarantee whether it’s a playground in Amsterdam and Athens or Beeston and West Park, children be busy exchanging stickers.

As with football itself, these albums have become big business, although interestingly it’s no longer just schoolchildren who are buying the stickers, a growing number of adult are, too – including a few in our newsroom.

I don’t have my old sticker albums any more, they got lost in house moves or ended up in bin bags thrown out while I was away at university. But I might just go and get myself this year’s World Cup album and fill it one more time, you know, for old time’s sake.