Book review: GOT or NEED? Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise of Panini Stickers by Greg Lansdowne

Stuck on You cover art

Ooh, is that Charles N’Zogbia I can see there?

As children, we had a tendency to cycle through fads. Our developing attention spans only stretched as far as a few months learning the ‘latest’ yo-yo tricks and how to successfully flip milk bottle caps… yeah, looking back, that was a bit of a strange one.

Thus, our relationship with football stickers was fleeting – or at least, mine was. 1995 was the year I attempted to complete the Merlin Premier League sticker album, with a token gesture of at least obtaining the 1996 edition – a quick glance at said collections, which I still own, tells me I persuaded my mother to buy very few packets. Following a long summer holiday, stickers were soon forgotten as electronic media slowly muscled in, with automated binary games like Tetris and Pokerman [sic] taking fast precedence in the playtime pecking order.

At the time, sticker swapping was a fun activity to do with our friends. The last thing on our minds was the responsible grown-ups jostling for position in what was in fact an aggressive and cut-throat business. Through the cynical goggles of adulthood this is unsurprising, considering the gargantuan success of those first Premier League sticker albums, but again, we were not to know (or even care about) this at the time.

2014, however, was the ‘Football Sticker Summer of Love’, the year those adhesive portraits shot back into the public conscious like never before. Such was the success of Panini’s World Cup collection, this childhood pastime would ascend to an artform, with hand drawn tributes and crowdsourced collages working their way into galleries. And when Italy defeated England in the group stages, Mario Balotelli paid a small fortune to furnish his album with an entire team of mini-Marios – ‘why always me’ indeed.

Porno publishers and belly dancers

Greg Lansdowne’s Stuck on You is your guide to a 140-year history of those collectable portraits, from the first cards included with cigarette packets right up to the many newsworthy events of that magical summer. And before your innate cynicism takes over, know this is not the Championship Manager-esque textbook of eye-watering figures it could so easily have been. Heck, there are only 250 pages – it would be impossible to fit all that stuff into one book *and* leave room for the main narrative.

Panini Big Picture, National Football Museum, 2014

Making the #PaniniBigPicture at the National Football Museum, 2014 (c)Illarterate

Panini’s story begins in the 1960s, but things become really entertaining when young pretender Merlin – formed by ex-employees of the Italian outfit – enters the market some 35 years later. Cue much jealous and callous underhand activity when the print media help push the humble football sticker to new commercial heights.

As the ‘sticker war’ escalates, matters become rather unsavoury indeed. Though you might initially suspect otherwise, the promised porno publishers and belly dancers are the ones on the ‘light’ side… quite who is on the ‘dark’ side is quickly apparent to the reader as they become engrossed in the fight for economic power. Hey, that’s what you should expect when the media moguls get involved!

The story is related by industry insiders, some of whom even risk the wrath of lawyers in the name of a good book. And I’m not necessarily talking about Lionel Richie taking issue with the book’s title.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that it nearly didn’t happen. Who’d have thought that, were it not for the World Wrestling Federation, Merlin could have been extinct and this book may never have been written? Certainly not I.

Ah look, I’ve already given far too much away!

Stuck on You is so well-researched and compiled you don’t even need a passing interest in football, stickers or collectables to enjoy it… though it obviously helps! From my own perspective as a sometime sticker collector, it’s fascinating to read about the ongoing battle for sticker (and card) supremacy between the collectable equivalent of the ‘Big Three’ – Panini, Merlin and Topps (the latter of which obviously moonlight as tile manufacturers).

Indeed, the football sticker shoot-out rages to the present day. This leaves open the very real possibility of a follow-up publication about humorous photo edit jobs riding high on the back of the million-selling 2018 World Cup… well, we can only hope.

Swansea bootless stickers

Groundsman: “Hey, no boots on my pitch!” Courtesy Panini/The Football Attic

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