Porn stars and piracy: the cut-throat world of football stickers with author Greg Lansdowne

2014 Panini World Cup stickers

It’s amazing how those bits of sticky paper had a mesmeric effect on an eight year old kid. It must be part of the human condition to endeavour to finish things, hence the intense fascination with completing every sticker album you ever own. Of course, being the type that instead attached them to the teacher’s pullover, I never did.

Though you mightn’t think it from the frayed edges and vast swathes of chocolatey thumbprints, a fully-occupied football sticker album was a rare and very costly thing. Today, a complete book will set you back the grand total of £3.99 on internet auction sites – that’s the equivalent of almost forty packets of Transform-a-Snack from your typical corner shop in 1994.

Greg Lansdowne knows this all too well. So well, in fact, that he (probably) claimed he could write a book about it… and he has. Look, I’ll spare you the usual JWAW froth – let’s jump straight into my interview with Greg, the author of forthcoming title Stuck on You: The Rise and Fall …And Rise of Panini Stickers.

(Hits play on tape)

JWAW: I hope Lionel Ritchie give you permission to use that title… what would you do if his lawyers got in touch?

GL: I’d take advice from the Farrelly brothers who also used the title for a film…or other authors who have used it!

Don’t worry, I doubt Mr Ritchie will suddenly become litigious after all these years. But why a book? What sparked the idea of putting to paperback the Panini story?

It was down to the extraordinary success the Panini brand enjoyed during the last World Cup – they were one of THE stories of that tournament. A lot of ‘mature’ collectors who were into football stickers in the 1980s got back into it for Brasil 2014 – helped by the internet offering numerous avenues to swap stickers. I was one of those ‘born again’ collectors and I thought the story of how Panini got to this point – having ruled the roost in the eighties before losing their way (certainly in the UK) from the nineties onwards. It is a story that has never been told…so why not by me?!

Stuck on You stickers

Who can you spot in this picture?

That last question, and indeed the book’s title, hint at exactly what it will contain. But it isn’t just going to be about Panini, am I right? I do remember Merlin being the dominant sticker manufacturers when I was at school in the 1990s.

The book is the history of self-adhesive football stickers in the UK. Panini introduced these to the mass market but a few other companies brought out series from the late sixties, with limited success. The main players in the story are Panini and Merlin but the tales of how other companies tried and failed to compete are equally important. As you say, Merlin was to kids in the nineties what Panini was in the eighties. If you want to know how Merlin toppled Panini you’ll need to read the book!

Ooooh, I really want to know now! I shall pitch a tent outside Waterstones Wigan so I can get a copy on the day of release.

The Golden Age of the Football Sticker

OK, I’m going to be a bit cheeky here, as is my wont as an ‘interviewer’. In your many months of research, I imagine you’ll have uncovered a few interesting stories from the ‘sticker wars’. Can you give us a sampler of these, or will we have to buy the book to find out?

There are indeed a number of fascinating stories that I gleaned from industry insiders. I won’t give too much away but among my favourites is how a former belly dancer, turned pornographic magazine model/columnist – who went on to marry a billionaire – became a leading player in the football sticker industry. Then there was the time the Merlin MD feared he was going to be kidnapped when he was called to a meeting at Panini’s headquarters in Modena. It is a more cut-throat business than one might think!

What, so you’re saying there might have been football sticker pirates? Oh yeah, and I just remembered about the missing lorry load of Panini World Cup 2014 stickers – I hope that story makes the final cut too.

Stuck on You cover art

Okay, it isn’t *exactly* like a magic eye picture. In fact it’s nothing like one…

The book’s cover art is certainly distinctive. What I like about it is the fact it looks completely different close up than from the other side of the room, almost like a magic eye picture or something. Can you tell us the story behind the cover?

As part of my research I wanted to feature some of the more unusual stories around Panini stickers during the 2014 World Cup. There was the Panini Cheapskates (who drew every sticker to save money); the exhibition at a London gallery of every Panini World Cup sticker since albums began in 1970…and then there was a pixel artwork at the National Football Museum – using Panini Brasil 2014 stickers – of Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup. I did an interview with the artist in question (Dan Farrimond) and then it struck me that it would be a good idea to have something similarly eye-catching for my front cover. It required a lot of work from both the artist and myself to come up with the final work but it is certainly distinctive. I believe it will prove very popular with people who remember collecting stickers from across the decades.

Hey, that Dan bloke sounds familiar. Can’t quite place him at the moment, though…

Stickers or cards?

I note that in a past life you were editor of a cricket magazine. I vaguely remember cricket cards being given away with packets of cigarettes – my aunt has a collection of them framed on her kitchen wall. Why do you think they never made the transition to stickers and albums? Or did they, and I just so happened to miss it?

Panini brought out a cricket album in 1983 (as mentioned in my book) but it proved unsuccessful apart from the fact it pioneered Swap Shops for collectors. Part of the problem was down to the album coming out in May, so once people started getting doubles it was time to break up for the school summer holidays. Everyone knows how important the playground is to collecting – and swapping – stickers. Panini had another go with cricket in 1995 but I think this was due to having lost the football contract, so they were trying out a number of other sports. None of them worked – football will always be king in this country in terms of popularity.

Agh, I remember those swap shops being advertised in the back of the 90s Merlin albums! I always wanted to visit one.

Cricket on the cards (Courtesy nazimcricket.com)

Cricket on the cards (Courtesy nazimcricket.com)

But going back to your book, where can people buy it, and when?

Stuck on You comes out on March 2. It is already available on Amazon to pre-order and has been number one (or thereabouts) in the list of best-selling new releases in the football category for quite a while now. That’s the power of football stickers! It will also be available from selected book shops from early March onwards. I would imagine the publishers (Pitch) would also be happy to hear from anyone interested in a copy!

Right then, Greg, I very much look forward to reading that! Looks like we’ll have to stick it out until then… heheh. Wow, I’m surprised I made it this far without resorting to the silly sticker puns! Anyhow, thank you for sticking with me through this interview, and good luck with the book sales.

A pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting together this book and I hope it comes across to readers.

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