The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘panini’ as: A sandwich made with Italian bread, usually toasted.
If you’re OK with that definition, do not read on. Close the tab, turn off your laptop, lock your phone and shove it between two slices of grilled focaccia. Because the next four paragraphs are dedicated to those for whom the term ‘Panini’ holds iconic status.
I am of course referring to today’s official launch of the Panini 2018 World Cup Sticker Collection. The horrendously addictive, subtly expensive, ‘I know I’m in my 20s leave me alone mother’ craze that engulfs a small community of football geeks every four years. Lives are put on hold. Bank accounts are raided. Lunch breaks are spent sprinting to the nearest corner shop or if you’re feeling brave, doing a swap deal in a darkened alley.
Here are a few stats. This will be the 13th World Cup album that Panini have released. This year’s edition will have 528 stickers to collect, including 50 of those much sought-after ‘shinies’ (Stop me if this is getting too sexy). A free 26-sticker starter pack is available, but unconfirmed reports suggest that there will be only five stickers per pack, two less than in 2014. Outrageous, I know, but is it really going to put any of us off collecting?
Except it’s more than just a collection. It’s an education. Panini sticker albums have taught me how to negotiate. They’ve taught me how to say ‘Tunisia’ in six different languages. I’ve obtained the precision to stick Miroslav Klose into my collection, without giving him a grotesque crease down his forehead. I’ve learnt that swapping half of the 2002 Brazil squad for Fernando Morientes is a frivolous act of negligence that you WILL regret. All are invaluable life lessons.
So if you are one of the unconverted that chose to read on, I have a request. Don’t judge our addiction. Don’t label us immature. Don’t comment on the eroded corner of our thumbnail, caused by endless peeling. Don’t tut when a pile of Shinji Kagawas fall out of our coat pocket, because we can’t help ourselves. It’s almost summertime. It’s a World Cup year. It’s the Panini period.
In a few months time, it will all be over and we can all return to eating Italian sandwiches without a care. But until then, do you know anyone who has any Saudi Arabian midfielders?