By Neil Pickford
For those of us who grew up in the 1970s,80s and 90s an impending football World Cup meant many things.
It meant the chance to watch more live football on television in one month than you could possibly expect to see in a whole year.
It meant discovering that football was played so very differently beyond our nation’s borders, and by players with exotic names and equally exotic skills such as Socrates, Zico, Maradona, Kempes, Tardelli and Rossi.
It meant the raising of hopes and national pride ahead of what would usually be a glorious and dramatic failure.
And it meant Panini sticker albums.
Yes, for the uninitiated, World Cups meant getting your hands on a book devoid of any pictures but with hundreds of spaces for you to place stickers.
Weeks before events unfolded in Argentina in 1978, Spain in 1982 or Mexico in 1986, thousands of youngsters across the land would begin their collections and start the playground ritual of swapping doubles with mates.
Got, Got, need
For football fans of a certain age the playground refrain of “got, got, need” will transport them back to days of daily classroom milk in a bottle, grazed knees and “shinies”.
Yes, the ultimate stickers were the shiny ones which featured the competing nation’s official badge.
The trade in football stickers was often brisk at my own school, with potential city bankers striking their first deals by offering 10 stickers in exchange for a much-needed Boniek or Zoff.
Deals were done and most people went away happy.
But there were many who simply didn’t have the financial resources themselves or could not persuade parents to part with hard-earned cash to complete their collections.
The occasional smug collector would boast of completing his album, but he wouldn’t bring it school to prove it for fear of the item being damaged or, gasp, even stolen.
Neymar JR's Panini sticker - some faces will just keep cropping up in packet after packet. Shutterstock
In my own particular part of deepest Kent, I rarely saw a completed album and certainly never finished one myself.
Which is probably why now, with a slightly higher disposable income than in the 1970s, I am among the many thousands of grown-ups who are collecting Panini stickers.
They may not admit it publicly, and they may pretend they are collecting for their children, but deep down they know they are doing it for themselves.
Panini sticker albums in 2018 - an expensive business
Most men are just little boys at heart.
In fact, as you may have read, maths professor Paul Harper from Cardiff has calculated that filling this year’s World Cup sticker book will cost you around £773 if you don’t get to swap your doubles with anyone or choose not to splash out 22p per sticker to get those missing final few direct from Panini.
Professor Harper says that on average an individual would need to buy 967 packets or 4,832 stickers to get the full set of 682 stickers.
However, he also says that working with 10 others and swapping brings the cost down to around £250.Still far from cheap. So why do we do it?
It’s the thrill of the chase.
It’s the internal euphoria at completing the full set of Costa Rican players with some left back you’ve never heard of but whose name will now forever be ingrained in your consciousness. It’s the reward you are giving your nine-year-old self, because you know he would be so happy if he had ever completed one of these books.
There is, of course, a dark side to all this. You will encounter a new nemesis.
Players whose smiling face appears time after time, after time.
Who appear to be in every other packet you buy.
For me, four years ago, it was the Columbian former Chelsea player Juan Cuadrado. I had at least a dozen copies and couldn’t even give them away.
But the dark moments are rare and far outweighed by the good ones.
Cherish that thrill of ripping open a packet and finding Mo Salah or Lionel Messi inside.
And exalt at completing the challenge.
Oh, and has anyone got the England shiny?
The Panini strategy
Panini group editorial director Fabrizio Melegari said: “Stickers and cards can be developed at such a level of flexibility that we believe they can fit everywhere in the world. And whatever we do, it all depends on the consistency of our magic formula! Our products are already sold in more than 100 territories covering every part of the world but we continue to find new opportunities.”
Panini Group new media director Giorgio Aravecchia said: “We have developed new Apps which contains many exciting original features to enrich existing projects and enhance the collecting experience for all our fans.
“Giving Panini and football fans worldwide, the opportunity to collect, trade and play, by all possible methods both physical and virtual, this is our goal!”