It was in 1978 that Panini arrived in the U.K. with the imaginatively named “Football ’78″. Within weeks of its launch, Panini was struggling to meet the demand that Football ’78 was generating, sticker collecting fever had truly arrived. The concept was simple. Each of the top flight clubs had a double page spread which included a shiny club badge, a team photo as well as stickers of each squad member. Second division clubs (The Championship) followed however these were four to a page, with only shiny badge stickers, team photo’s and club info on each one. Finishing the album came the Scottish Premier Division, arranged in a similar way to that of the English top flight.
Newsagents quickly grasped that these stickers should not be hidden below the counter along with black jacks, fruit salads and other penny chews, but more prominently placed next to the till ensuring pocket money was spent with them and not elsewhere. Barely had you left the newsagent before you ripped open the packet unable to contain yourself much longer to see if you had a missing Bob Latchford, a missing Bristol City team photo or just a shiny club badge. Nothing could beat the feeling of ripping open the packet and instantly seeing the corner of a shiny club badge. Whether you had the said shiny badge or not, was not always in question as shiny’s soon found their own currency, often being traded for two or more alternative non-shiny stickers such were their worth.
Before school, during break, after school, these were the times when you could enhance your collection by trading your doubles or ‘swapsies’ with fellow collectors. The familiar words of got, got need, need could be heard as you flicked through swapsies. Sometimes a shout of NEEEED rather than need, emphasised just how important the swap was and such keenness could often increase the value to more than just one sticker when dealing with a cunning trader. Sticker collecting became an obsession for some and boys would do anything to earn extra money just to get the opportunity for additional packets, for the possibility of filling the album at the risk of getting yet another double of Bob Paisley.
There was an unexplained joy of completing a team or a page, a feeling that could only be beaten by completing the whole album but this was a challenge in itself. Having explored and exhausted friends doubles, the only option available to completing the album was to send off direct to Panini to obtain the final stickers but this could only be done if you had got within 24 stickers of completing the album. Having reached this landmark you were able to send off a postal order for 2p per sticker to complete your collection but unfortunately had to then wait 4 weeks for the missing stickers to arrive, a lifetime in sticker collection world.
Football ’79 followed with similar success but it came with a subtle difference, fabricated team badges rather than gold or silver shinys. Interestingly this was the only year which Panini adopted this, reverting back to the traditional shiny style for Football ’80 and beyond. Football 80′ was joined by Europa ’80 and soon a regular pattern of a collection book per league season coupled with one for a summer tournament when held emerged.
This continued until Football 93, a time when the Premier League was formed and the sticker landscape changed once again. Merlin were awarded the licence for the newly formed Premier League and launched their very own Premier League 94 collection which went on to be one of the most successful sticker books of all time. Panini having lost the rights to the top flight failed to deliver an album at all in 1994 but followed this absence with a Football League 95 edition which focused solely on football league divisions 1, 2 & 3. A similar edition Football League 1996 followed the year after and at the same time they tried to break Merlin’s monopoly with an interestingly named Super Players 96, covering premiership players just without the supporting Premier League badge.
At their height during the 80′s, 90% of males aged between 9 & 11 bought and collected Panini football stickers. By the late 1990′s this figure had plummeted. Panini’s success was on the wane. Sales dwindled as Merlin, the new power house in football sticker collections went from strength to strength. Panini enjoyed a renaissance in early 2000, having secured the licence for champions league stickers but sales never reached the dizzy heights of their classic early collections. With stickers now being joined by trading cards, the market share which they once enjoyed had gone forever. However Panini will always be appreciated and fondly remembered for bringing us the football sticker collection & got got need need to the masses.
Remember, next goal wins.