Like a flash of sticky gold, an advert the other day reminded me of some of the most important conversations my ten year old self had ever had.
Conversations that would teach me the art of negotiation; the art of holding your nerve; the pragmatism of knowing that Stan Cummins, despite his obvious red and white dreadfulness, could make your day, and save your mam writing another number on your list of needs.
Ten years olds today can hone their player requesting skills by pressing crosses and triangles on a controller. Back in the day, those skills were taught by the good people at Panini. Through the simple act of buying a sealed packet of footballers, lads, and some of the lasses, would collect footballers in their sticker book. The league version had over five hundred stickers in it; completing the book was like saving up for a spaceship.
Each team had a squad of about fifteen, so collecting the lot was no small feat. In the early 80s’, collecting the lot felt slightly more dirty as that lot from down the A19 were in the First Division (in the days when ‘first’ meant ‘first’, in contrast with today’s ‘one’ meaning ‘third.’)
As a second division team, Newcastle United were a half sized foil badge and a team photograph. It was virtually impossible to tell the difference between Steve Hardwick and Imre Varadi, even though Steve Hardwick was in goal. Nominally. This was primarily because their heads were three millimetres high on a slightly blurred printed team photograph. This printing problem could not mask the disappointment when you got St. Mirren and thought it for a beautiful moment that it was Newcastle United. Never mind; at least it wasn’t the mistaken identity of Morton, QPR, Queen of the South and Reading.
One sticker, you see, did not hold the simple value of another sticker. For a start, there were the club badges. Apparently, some folk called them a ‘shiny’, but this didn’t happen at my school. They were just ‘badges’. Maybe we lacked spark in our naming skills, but a badge could be worth, ooh, let’s see… a thoughtful rub of the chin and a ‘that’s going to cost three normal stickers. And a chocolate biscuit.’
The offers, counter offers, and discussions over personal terms, could last all of playtime. And if the player was injured… well, I say injured; I mean slightly ripped/already removed from the backing and clumsily replaced/dog eared from being in the pocket of a pair of sta-press… Neymar’s contract negotiations were probably less complicated.
To start off it was easy. The chances were, you needed nearly every swap your mate had. You were needy. You were desperate. Your trio of duplicates was of no interest to the kid who had started a week earlier and already had an impressive pile of swaps.
But after a while, there were more and more swaps. More disappointment as each packet yielded fewer Swansea City, bootless portraits in 1983, and more badges of teams that became strangely important to your life. We disappointedly murmured ‘got’ progressively more, and excitedly exclaimed ‘need’ less and less.
And that was where the entirely reasonable offer of help came in. Panini would send you the last fifty football stickers of the several hundred featured in the book. You just sent a list –in an envelope, with actual writing- and within 28 agonising days, they sent the stickers. Well, your mam or dad sent a list, because you needed a cheque or postal order, or other method of grown up money stuff. The trick was to get loads of stickers sent to different addresses. It seems my Auntie Christine collected football stickers. Every year.
This year, we have a new idea. ‘The Road to Russia.’ Covering the qualification groups is an obvious gap in the market. The young ‘un collected the last Euro football stickers book – but thankfully lost a bit of interest before we had to sell him to cover the mounting cost of stickers.
In an interesting update, there was an online version of the Euro ’16 sticker book. Some of the stickers had a code on the back that linked to a virtual sticker. Suddenly, a distraction that temporarily stopped us playing football for five minutes and made us talk to each other, was given the ultimate reboot. No playing football, but no talking, either.
Stickers, contract negotiations and needing an average Watford midfielder; I have no coaching qualifications, but I loved collecting my badges.
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