PANINI football stickers were so big in the 80s that even the tooth fairy got involved.
This reporter can recall vividly the thrill of lifting up the pillow to find that he had been left two yellow Football 81 packets instead of the customary 10p piece.
Countless memories like this – remember the smell of them – come flooding back as you look through a new book celebrating 60 years of Panini’s relationship with football.
What began as two brothers from Modena, Italy, selling cards became a multinational, multi-million-pound phenomenon.
And it still is, with The Sun offering free World Cup 2022 stickers to all readers this weekend.
From the launch of the first UK-specific album in 1978 up until 1993, collecting Panini stickers was an essential part of being a football fan.
Greg Lansdowne, author of Panini Football Stickers: The Official Celebration, said: “There were a few other staples – magazines such as Shoot, Match Weekly and Roy of the Rovers, plus football programmes.
“But Panini stickers had the most community spirit. Everything else divided but they brought football supporters together.
“It didn’t matter which team a player played for, every sticker was worth getting.
“Everyone was in it together, everyone wanted to finish the album and everyone wanted to help each other.”
At the heart of the fun was swapping. Playgrounds up and down the country echoed with cries of, “Got, got, need”.
Every school had its own rules about how many normal stickers were worth a badge, foil or ‘shiny’ (in 1981 at St Mary’s in Royston, Hertfordshire, it was usually two).
As Lansdowne, 47, writes: “Swapping was a rite of passage that provided a whole range of life lessons far more character-building than endless hours spent trying to decipher algebra or fumbling with a Bunsen burner.
Most read in Football
“Diplomacy, persistence, perseverance, fortitude – all of these character traits and more were required to survive the law of the Panini jungle.”
In an era before the internet and wall-to-wall TV coverage of football, Panini albums were the best way to find out what players looked like.
The World Cup and European Championship editions provided first glimpses of the kind of exotic foreign stars who would later flood into English football as players.
By 1987, Panini was selling 100million packets of football stickers a year in the UK alone.
The company lost the Premier League rights in 1994 but the international tournament albums maintained their presence.
And the company’s embracing of digital technology means they have become stronger than ever by adding a new generation of collectors.
The first virtual album was produced for the 2006 World Cup, with online swapping, player rating games and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – a sort of digital proof of ownership – bringing football stickers into the 21st century.
Lansdowne, who also wrote Stuck On You, about the rise, fall and rise of Panini, said: “The revival began with Germany 2006. In the UK alone,
Brazil 2014 was back to the 100million packet mark and around the world it was their biggest seller ever.
Stuck on you
60 YEARS OF PANINI
1961 Brothers Giuseppe and Benito Panini start selling cards of Italian players under brand name Calciatori -“footballers”.
1970 First World Cup album, mostly containing cards but some stickers.
1974 All sticker “Munchen 74” World Cup album.
1977 Euro Football is free in the UK with Shoot.
1978 First UK-specific album, Football 78.
1989 Robert Maxwell buys company for £96million.
2006 First virtual album for World Cup in Germany.
2011 First women’s World Cup album.
“Panini pulled off a masterstroke by giving away albums for the first time. Lots of people, especially lapsed older collectors, saw them and thought, I’ll give it a go.
“They enjoyed it so much they’ve been doing all the albums since.”
Now interest in the stickers is set to hit a whole new level, thanks in part to the pandemic.
Lansdowne explained: “In America, there’s a big culture of collecting cards for investment, particularly sports cards.
“About 18 months ago, lots of
Americans in lockdown decided they were going to collect football stickers and cards.
“As a result, the prices, especially for the really big names, have risen exponentially.
“A few months ago, a version of Diego Maradona’s first Panini sticker sold for $555,960 (more than £400,000) in America.
“We haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg. When the World Cup is in America in 2026, I think it’s going to explode even more.”
That means it is going to be difficult ? and expensive ? for Lansdowne to complete all the unfinished albums he found at his parents’ house a decade ago.
But he and millions of others will continue to collect Panini products.
Lansdowne said: “You still can’t beat getting a card or a sticker with a player from your favourite club.
“Whereas in the old days we were reliant on our parents to give us money to get a couple of packets, we can buy whole boxes and almost live out our childhood dreams.”
And we all “got, got need” to do that once in a while.
- Another Panini brother, Umberto, invented the Fifimatic, a machine that ensured stickers were distributed randomly into packets.
- Juventus defender Carlo Parola, known as ‘Mr Bicycle Kick’, was thought to be the player depicted on the iconic Panini packets. In fact, he was one of a number of inspirations.
- The only player to feature in every UK Panini album from 1978 to 1993 was Bryan Robson (West Brom and Manchester United).
- The Football 83 sticker bearing the name of Manchester United’s Arthur Albiston actually carried an image of team-mate Kevin Moran.
- When Panini asked for images for the first women’s World Cup album in 2011, the Mexican FA initially sent photos of the men’s team.
Panini Football Stickers: The Official Celebration by Panini and Greg Lansdowne (Bloomsbury Sport, hardback) releases on Thursday, November 25 and is available to pre-order now.