Sticker books are a superb educational tool. Geography, Maths, Art and Design, Hand eye co-ordination. Yup – It’s all there. I’ll soon be able to identify the Algerian keeper in a crowded room, be on first name terms with the Costa Rican back four, and I’ll be lethal in the ‘flags of the world’ round in any pub quiz. Old or young, collecting football stickers is an essential part of the excitement, ritual and tradition of the world cup experience.
Still, there’s something comically pathetic about a grown adult entering a shop with the sole intention of purchasing five pounds worth of football stickers. The first few times I would tell the server at Tesco’s they were for my little cousin. I also desperately tried the self service, but the packets were too light and so the red light flashed for the staff member to come over and check.
My first Panini sticker album was when I was 7 years old during the France 98 World Cup. Bright enough to work out the likely chances of ever having enough cash to complete the album, I instead decided to draw each footballer in his empty box using a limited array of crayons. Older people were much amused. All the kids in my year at school were totally obsessed with collecting football stickers. In fact, buying and trading these little cards became so popular that a thriving black market flourished at St Teresa’s Catholic School in Nottingham that summer. The playground transformed into a contraband marketplace, with players being bought and sold on at wildly inflated prices.
I have collected stickers for every world cup up until the last one, 2010 in South Africa. I don’t know why I didn’t collect – I just didn’t. So when a brand new Brazil 2014 sticker album fell onto my lap one Sunday morning, free with my newspaper I was stopped in my tracks. It was like seeing an ex you’d forgotten you still had feelings for suddenly saunter into the bar.
But there is nothing embarrassing about collecting Panini. They are nostalgic, addictive treasures that awaken your inner child and are, it would seem, great bonding with your mates and colleagues alike. We now have regular swap shops scheduled in, where at least 4 of us will sit in a pub and bust out our “swapsies”. Joel Campbell has even been at it. The Arsenal striker, on loan at Olympiakos and likely to line up for Costa Rica at the World Cup, made amusing headlines last week after buying 100 packets of stickers in a bid to locate the all-important rectangle No296: his own. Much to his disappointment, it wasn’t among the 500 stickers he bought, although photographic evidence of the aftermath of his foil-tearing frenzy suggests he has no shortage of Neymars available to anyone prepared to help him out with “swapsies”
You start with 6 free stickers that can be found in every album. Yaya Touré? Got. Cristiano Ronaldo? Got. Hugo Lloris? Got. Gonzalo Higuaín? Got. Roman Shirokov? Got. Daniele De Rossi? Got. That leaves only 633 spaces to fill – a little bit less than 124 packets bought blind at an accumulative total of around £64. That’s the minimum spend, in the preposterously unlikely event that you’re lucky enough to get stickers you actually need each time, rather than end up withmultiple Han Kook-youngs, Phil Jagielkas and Wakaso Mubaraks.
As well as players, the official World Cup sticker album features the usual highly sought-after “shinys”, special glitter stickers featuring the Panini logo, Fifa Fair Play logo, official World Cup ball, World Cup trophy, World Cup mascot and badges for each of the 32 competing teams. That’s a lot of shininess. Perhaps best of all, it also features two-part half-and-half stickers of the various World Cup stadiums, a state of affairs that enables collectors to add to the tournament’s authenticity by leaving many of the grounds half-finished in the run-up to kick-off. My first packet of stickers contained 50% of the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba. Five more packets down the road and the other half remains elusive, presumably on the grounds that nobody knows what it looks like because it hasn’t been built yet.
But how much does it actually cost to complete the whole book?
Working in the basis the people do not swap cards with others, research by two mathematicians from Switzerland has revealed that it costs just under £450 to get all the stickers needed. As for the maths, the mathematicians looked at the number of stickers needed to complete the Panini 2014 sticker album: 640. At 50p a pack, if there were no doubles or duplicates, the outlay needed to complete the album would be £63.99. But based on mathematical probabilities, the experts claimed that in fact 899 packs would need to be purchased, costing £449.50.
So far I’ve been lucky. I’ve spent about £40 and only have 30 odd stickers to go (most of the flaming Iranian team). There’s a fair few of us going man in my friendship group and we’ve amassed enough ‘swapsies’ each, that buying packs has now been made redundant. But Still, at 530pm today, I will find myself in the newsagents after work, with a pound for 2 packets. I can’t help it. Nothing beats the feeling and sound of tearing open a new packet of football stickers.