What I'd Rescue From A Burning Building: My 1980 Panini Football Sticker Book

It may be dog-eared and missed Brighton’s Brian Horton and Spurs’ Terry Naylor but if my house caught alight there's one possession I'd have to go back in and save
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I have a family escape plan in the event of a fire breaking out in the middle of the night. My wife and children are well versed and we have all been over the routine time and again. There is however one extra element to the plan that I have not revealed to them.

On safely depositing my kith and kin onto the patio and well out of harm’s way, I plan to risk life and limb by re-entering the inferno to retrieve one last irreplaceable object.

I can see the scene unfolding before me now: The relief as my wife double checks that all three children are safe and well as the Fire Brigade arrive and set about their work. Then, as she glances round from her head count, she sees me disappearing back up onto the lean-to roof and into the smoke-filled bedroom. Shouts of “No, it’s too dangerous” from the Fire crews below go unheeded and the seconds seem like hours as panic sets in. Neighbours gather, nudging each other, muttering “he’s gone back in, we haven’t seen him for ages, he’s a goner”.

Then after a flicker of movement at the window I appear choking and spluttering, covered in thick black smoke. Then cries of relief turn to incredulity as I reveal the object of my near-fatal mission and proudly hold aloft my Panini Football 1980 sticker book. It’s been with me for over 30 years and is a regular source of much-needed self-indulgent nostalgia. I can’t imagine my football following life without it.

In a world that changes beyond recognition on almost a daily basis, it’s refreshing to see that the humble football sticker album remains pretty much preserved in all its original greatness. You can still buy Panini sticker albums now. Same format, even the same logo of the little jousting Knight with an unfeasibly large lance.

Shoot, Match and Roy of the Rovers have fallen by the wayside or reinvented themselves in a totally alien and unacceptable format. League Ladders and Cigarette Cards are but a faded memory – as are the images of seven year olds puffing wistfully away on a white stick of sugar with a red tip like a true 40 a dayer.

Football has changed beyond recognition. There comes a time when any proper football fan in his thirties needs to revisit the true golden era. Like a trip to rehab, flicking through the pages of an old football sticker book revitalises you and for a few glorious moments, and temporarily cures the jaded cynicism of today’s game.

Every now and then I feel the urge to lose myself in a world of bubble perms, outrageous facial hair, cheesy sideburns and iffy kits. So let me take you on a journey to a time when Panini was the byword for boyhood heaven and not a fancy sandwich.

"Like a trip to rehab, flicking through the pages of an old football sticker book revitalises you and for a few glorious moments, and temporarily cures the jaded cynicism of today’s game."

Like crazed kids searching for golden tickets in Wonka Bars, the Holy Grail circa 1980 was ‘a shiny’. Silver foil badges of the English First Division clubs. I can still recall the tension walking to my local newsagents to buy my latest batch of stickers. Barely out of the shop, you could usually tell with the first tear of the wrapper that it contained the unmistakeable treasure of ‘a shiny’. The elation that you had one was often deflated with the realisation that it was the bloody Coventry badge again, of which everyone in south London seemed to have coming out of their ears. I wonder if there was a regional variation? I can imagine the street corners of Coventry full of frustration as the piles of Crystal Palace ‘shinies’ bulged in back pockets.

But these albums weren’t just there for whacking stickers in and forgetting about. Oh No. In our darker days, when pocket money was exhausted and you were faced with the long wait before the Bank of Dad opened so that you could replenish your collection, endless hours were whiled away seeing who knew Derby County’s record attendance or what the capacity of Elland Road was. If you needed cheering up, a quick look at Wolves’ George Berry’s incredible afro, the 18 year old, going on 40 Everton defender John Barton or the sheer ugliness of the Scottish players was enough to bring sunshine to the bleakest of days.

A few years on from my 1980 sticker obsession, I found myself getting mildly excited at the delivery of a brand new carton of Panini Football 86 stickers to the newsagents where I worked as a paperboy. The fact that this aroused me whilst my other 14 year old colleagues were attempting to grab copies of Escort and Razzle from the top shelf without the shopkeeper noticing is perhaps a discussion for another time – or a psychologist’s sofa somewhere.

My boss tapped the carton affectionately, knowing what a little gold mine it was and then, in a moment of weakness,  imparted some incredible information:

“Do you know”, he mused, in an almost Yoda-like way, “this carton contains every single sticker you need to complete the album”.

I was aghast. This was a life-changing moment. It was like being allowed into the secret realms of the Magic Circle. For as long as I could remember, filling the Panini football sticker album had been one of life’s true unconquerably conundrums. Even when you could send off to complete your collection, you could never get the amount of empty spaces in your book down enough to be able to actually accomplish this.

My bedroom was a shrine to piles of doubles and stained, dog-eared copies of Footballs 80, 81, 82, 83, 84 and 85. Now, the door to the Forbidden Kingdom had been thrown open wide to me. Not only would I have a completed Panini Football Sticker Album, it would be in pristine condition!

By coincidence, it was payday at the newsagents, which was the main reason I was hanging around. My wages were soon exchanged for a complete, sealed carton of stickers and I joyously tucked them into my paper bag along with a brand new copy of a Football 86 album and rode home. My boss couldn’t believe his luck, record quick sales! My porn-hungry colleagues also thought all their Christmases had come at once. My transaction had caused a distraction for sufficient time for them to fill their boots. Needless to say, none of us were bored that particular sticky weekend.

My boss was as good as his word. Within a few hours I was sat surrounded by approximately 600 curly sticker backs, over 100 ripped open packets and the complete works of Figurine Panini 1986. Oh, and hardly a ‘double’ in sight.

It was brilliant. Marketing genius. And yet so simple. How many times had I unwittingly bought packets of stickers from the same section of the carton and wondered why they were all doubles?

"For as long as I could remember, filling the Panini football sticker album had been one of life’s true unconquerably conundrums"

And yet the feeling I was left with was not the one I was expecting. I felt empty. There was no satisfaction in the achievement. I quickly became blasé about revealing the silver Liverpool and Manchester United badges that usually took so long, so much pocket money and great heartache to acquire.

The completed album was tossed aside, never to see the light of day again, not lovingly thumbed day after day as I poured again over those final empty spaces that needed filling. It was too perfect. All there on a plate for me. No effort or skill required to accomplish it. I quickly took it for granted and it lost its gloss at about the same time that the once-a-year treat of a live football match on TV was replaced by constant full coverage.

I felt like I’d cheated the system. I’d got what I wanted, but it didn’t sit comfortably with me, almost as if I’d stolen it. I would have felt less dirty and depraved if I’d grabbed that copy of Men Only instead of blowing my week’s wage on a box of bloody stickers.

It’s no great surprise that Football 86 has long since vanished and true pride of place belongs to Football 80. It didn’t take me long to I realise that the shiny perfect things aren’t always as good as you first imagine. I’m glad that I scribbled my name across the top. I’m glad that, in a moment of inspiration, borne out of boredom one Sunday afternoon I decided to plaster the back cover with my many doubles, then realised it looked crap and ripped them off. I’m glad I added a little blue biro moustache to David Price on the front cover. Brighton’s Brian Horton and Spurs’ Terry Naylor may have eluded me, but the months of enjoyment I got from chasing them never did. It made it unique. Shabby but unique. That’s how I like my football sticker albums. That’s how I like my football.

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