Flint's Off on One

Everybody is guilty of indulging in a spot of nostalgia once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Weekends inventing every variation of football involving walls, mud, and bruises. Ears glued to 606 phone-ins on the way back from the match. Super Soccer marathons on the clunky, grey SNES with 99-minute halves (yes, that is NOT made up in my case…). I could go on. So I will; James Alexander Gordon, Football Italia revealing the mystical faraway land of Serie A, play-by-mail management games. Ah, the good old days – right?

One rather consistent theme through this vein of our lifeblood we call football is stickers. My good friend Joel Amorim is a legend in the online world of sticker memorabilia, and his love for collecting and preserving adhesive portraits from Euro ‘92 and beyond is infectious. If it is Dmitri Kharine’s birthday, you will know from Joel’s legendary “The world isn’t getting any younger” tweet. His collection must number in the thousands, and is probably worth a packet (sorry…).

That actually is precisely the element that has pushed me beyond the limits of my patience. Badgering one’s mother for more packs to finish your album was standard practice, because kids have no concept of budgets. Why should they? Playing with their mates and having fun is infinitely more important than lessons in economics at an early stage in life. Now though, they will be asking their parents to shell out extraordinary sums of money to get duplicates of Taisir Al-Jassim. Yes, I did have to google his name.

I was really gearing myself up to get back into collecting for an album. The last one I did was for the 2006 World Cup, and amazingly the pretty Russian exchange student also had one. Ah, fond memories… It has been over a decade and I thought it high time to reconnect with my inner child.

Then I saw the prices. Eighty pence for a packet of five stickers… This is just utterly ridiculous. It was always 30p for a pack of six until it went up to 50p, and that was pushing it. Now I am simply not going to bother.

It’s not even the pricing that pisses me off though. Look, let’s be honest, football was always destined to become a business. That’s the price of becoming a globally popular phenomenon. I don’t subscribe to the whingers’ views that it money is destroying the game – the game did that to itself by becoming universally popular. Disagree if you want, but it is true. Panini would be idiots if they didn’t charge the maximum they could get away with; it’s supply and demand.

Some people, however, indulge in something more sinister – nostalgia appropriation, if you will. The swathe of people clamouring on social media to have the deepest emotional connection to World Cup stickers seems a touch disingenuous to me to be honest. I’m sure plenty do have fond memories, but the extreme nature of their claims feels unnatural. Amazing isn’t it how for quite some time almost nobody has made much noise about collections like this, and suddenly a couple of weeks before the official Panini launch the whole world and his dog is pining for a sticker fix to satisfy their apparent addiction.

It now feels as though you have to prove yourself to be the most dedicated fan of stickers. Of course the marketing ploy of Panini is the focus on the childhood memory of playground swap sessions – but again, how can you blame them? That is specifically their job. Somewhere in my old bedroom is a shiny of Manchester United’s 1993/94 team, and I still remember the tree stump next to which I was standing when I traded for it. If a multi-national can’t tap into that stream to maximise profits, they’re in the wrong business.

Who am I angry at then? To be honest, I’m not sure – and that annoys me. Football as a sport can’t help it if others decide to make a buck or to out of it. Businesses are making a living for themselves; don’t cry about it. “They’re fleecing honest everyday fans,” come the complaints. Erm, which industry doesn’t try to make the most money possible out of its consumers? Fans can genuinely want to forge a memory for themselves by collecting; fair play.

If you do decide your pockets are big enough to indulge – and I’ll be honest, I may well cave in myself between now and the tournament – just promise me you’ll do so because you want to, not because you feel the need to compete with vacant avatars online.