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Memories of collecting MUFC Panini Stickers

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  • Memories of collecting MUFC Panini Stickers

    This article first appeared in the fanzine Red News 194. Each mag is packed with unique, different content - and can be ordered in print or digital format at

    A MUFC Panini sticket desktop wallpaper at

    That nervous rush of excitement as you raced from school at the end of the day; coins skipping in your pocket with the pace of your feet - white trainers, probably - eager to get the transaction sorted so you could rip open the packet and utilise its wares.

    Doing the same for condoms, if you bothered with them or should that be had to bother with them, were still to come in your future, but in all our pasts, kids of a certain age and era went through the ritualistic scrambling of said coins from pockets (dare they not be pockets from hand me downs), onto the counter, urging whatever old duffer stooped above, giant like, to hurry up so his hands could enter the prized Panini box, and hand over the packet you so desired. If you were lucky, your era was one of self adhesive stickers rather than affixed by glue which in not wishing to harm your players entering their albums, would usually cause much harm to you, be it clothes stuck together or sticky fingers, that too in later life, you'd relate to entirely different meanings. Rites of passage. Right way to be a cool kid if you collected your albums well.

    And if you were really lucky, your hopes from the purchases made pre, during or after school would be realised - no duplicates, better still the exact ones you were after, and the Holy Grail for each and any MUFC collector; Manchester United players popping out as you ripped into the packet with zeal that only children and selfish adults at Christmas can muster.

    Mind you, I'll grab my turquoise once more and adopt a David Icke stare into space now as I suggest those moments were few and far between. Most collectors seemed cursed, the collection always to be completed, a conspiracy, Waiting for Goddard (Paul). Whilst all that excitement would have been great to bottle up - it sometimes kept you going through the week and certainly was more effort and energy than I showed in any bloody classes that separated the drug like high you sought - surely there was some greater conspiracy going on in the Fortresses of Nirvana - Panini Sticker factories - as not only were duplicates common; they were always of the shittier players or Scousers, ones you hated to see staring at you as your fingers showed these footballers daylight of freedom before stuck in albums (which would either be delicately poured over and administered with rulers if you had those early nerd like tendencies, or OCD I'd hazard a guess, as pre-puberty you had an unfathomable and pointless need to make sure the sticker and the rectangle they went in were exactly right to scientific perfection and proportion). Or you'd just thump them in, Roy Keane like, satisfied that job was done. ‘Take that you cunt.’ Why did they over produce so many useless footballers?!

    Collecting Panini Stickers was always much more fun in the collecting part rather than the end result. Some kids finished all their pages, some of us just wanted to complete the United pages and fuck the rest, and some just lost interest pretty quickly, all about the quick burst that led to nowhere, and the intensity in the immediate aftermath of another collection being released started to sizzle out as large groups at my school each morning would initially shout ‘swapsies’, ‘bagged’, ‘got it’, ‘want that’, ‘need that’, which diminished to smaller numbers of us still going strong but now being eyed by suspicion by those who had long since forgotten why the bother.

    Of course there was the other element - the bullies who just grabbed what they could, or the lucky few (usually the richer kids) whose Dad’s either owned or knew newsagents and had access to plenty of the fuckers or worse still to garner affection (probably because their Dads were shagging behind their Mum's back, and I don't mean anal), would give them shedloads of pocket money so they'd come in, laden with bag fulls - so many duplicates of Southampton players that no-one ever wanted or needed- but still summarising this peculiar lopsided nature of production, owning probably more stickers than anyone else, but still not able to finish their own book. Some things money can’t buy. Yes. Completed Panini albums!

    We'd huddle in corners and try and pre-empt production and distribution. Was a Scouser having a laugh, was he deliberately flooding our market with non entity players so the big teams like United couldn't be finished, and why was it that I always ended up with a packet of three of the same Wolves players when it was my last spend I could afford on the fix for the week? Druggies can talk about their issues, I could well sit them down and lecture them on the hardships of being skint, too young to blag and rob for our habits and being lumbered with Wolves and Southampton duplicates that no fucker wanted; presumably even in Wolverhampton and the South Coast!

    The good days were few and far between. I'd urge the old duffer (and yes I realise how I didn't get hit was pretty amazing all things now considered) to go and pick in the front and back of the box if I could afford a few, or if particularly feisty, say couldn't he go out the back and open up a new box. I'd go in later, then earlier, to fool time, but still this hunt for United players and new ones seemed as elusive as United's own quest for the league. Like team and fan, there were highs, more lows and a dependency to want Robson in your team first so you could build a side around him. Desperate measures, kids would now up the ante if they had him in possession: I traded in conkers, favours in return (no, not that kind), and my family also utilised this to their advantage as the money ran out from the habit as they suddenly underpaid my services to do odd shitty jobs that only kids can do and get away with within this whole crooked employer-employee-family wage structure, like cleaning a pigeon shat on car for pennies. Cursing pigeons that seemed to shock and awe bomb my Mum’s car. Rush through it, rush to shop. Do their head in, or be brave and head further afield and run back hoping that their stock would be different.

    And then that cunting realisation that perhaps is needed in an early age in each kid that life isn't fuckity fair as you ripped them open (and sometimes in a rage, ripped the head off the first fucker - arrgh - oh no!) and found exactly the same couple of duplicates you'd bagged a week ago. If I'd been older, I'd have thought someone was having some Truman Show joke on all us youthful collectors. I went to sleep thinking I was cursed. Please not another Mick Mills. And not even Mick Mills from when he used to be good! My nights would be sleepless, not from libido growth spurts (ahem), but restless at this paradox; not what happened when I completed my United pages, but what the hell would be the consequences if I didn't. Yes, the Panini Sticker album was always bloody half empty, never half full.

    I suppose some of the more astute collectors and traders are now bankers fucking up the global economy as it taught them how to negotiate and rip us poor fuckers off in their aim of world/school domination. All I know is by the time I'd eventually finished a United page off (never a book, never a book, it's my own Vietnam...), I'd be a lot poorer, in debt to kids in my class, my family, and have pissed off most of them and all the newsagents around me, and it would only be a short while until the next set was released and you'd have to start all over again. Of course kids being kids, and slightly slow at these things and thinking, most of us threw the old ones away, especially if not fullly complete, not realising all that effort and stress could have finally paid off as the fuckers are worth quite a bit now what with all that retro appeal for stuff as 20 year old kids tell us football isn't what it used to be and pretend they have travelled in a DeLorean by buying up that junk from the era which we lived in.

    I pity kids now though. Here I adopt the pose of the poncy platitudes uttered by those being patronising by saying, ‘no, it's nothing like the old days’. It goes for collecting too. Kids now shove their joysticks around on computer games, as they demand too much and usually get it from parents who just want to shut them up. For us, it meant a few coins and bugger off to the shop. Now, it's get them a Playstation, or whatever - and Panini in trying to keep up have had to do shitty holograms and worse still moved away from their core market so it's One Direction and JLS stickers - which is some strange circle of life of shite, when we'd dread a Ralphie popping up, the kids of today want shit performers where it’s all the album is full of!

    But like most, I look fondly at my time collecting the little bastards. It soon went the way of most fads, and for a time I'd condescendingly think I was an adult by growing out of it as school neared its end, and then drink came along (but sadly not enough girls so that I could use the pennies buying more of the other sort of packet that would provide an entirely different satisfaction upon completion), but now I eye it all with a glazed fondness.

    Like football itself, Panini became a machine, they probably always were (and it would explain all the bloody duplicates) but there was something unique and special that Benito and Giuseppe Panini created, not least the ability to have thousands of schoolkids arguing each morning about random footballers that for the rest of our lives we didn't give a shit about. A kid nowadays would look at you mad if you told him to do what we did, but back then it was only the mad who didn't join the collective psychosis of wanting to be top dog in your school. Pretty much, I just wanted to be the first to finish my Manchester United pages off, and I don't think anything in adult life has matched my cheshire cat grin when I did that one year. I probably cost sacrificed a large part of the Amazon Forest to do so, and had haze filled eyes and gurning cheeks from the sleepless nights and effort in doing so, but this was one habit well worth the price of.

    I just wish I'd kept the bloody things now!

    Paul: “I think a lot of men of my age reminisce about those halcyon days of subbuteo floodlights and Shoot centre-page pull-outs of Big Norm's goal in '85!”
    “having Panini swap days in the old family stand, dads begging stewards to let their kids through gates under the stands”
    “in the crazy world of early 80's Blackley, lad in our class got addicted to sniffing 'em...”
    “Remember battering my younger brother for putting the Piqué mascot sticker from Mexico 86 in and it wasn't straight”
    “I genuinely used to throw away city players as well, even at the age of 6.”
    “The club badge silver foil one was always prized. Had to nick that one several years in a row.”
    “I once got a pack from the shop and all 6 stickers were George Berry from Wolves. #fuming”
    “I hate Boro purely cos one year I needed Irving Nattress to fill the book and he proved elusive.”
    “Got....Got...Got.....NEED!! SWAPS?? Nah mines a SHINY. swap for two of mine then
    “I had about 15 tony cotons when he was at brum. Gutted Everytime I saw his daft perm n tache- unable to swap I had so many”
    “One of my albums had a huge hump in it, where I'd stuck about a dozen pics of Gerry Gow, who was at Bristol City...
    “Robbo was gold. Would swap any amount of stickers for a Robson. This was the most sought after one.”
    “my (only) sway into crime - nicking a quid outa my mums purse and buying 10 packs of stickers”
    Thanks to all who helped with this piece. Too many to list but also Alwyn, Daniel, Steven, Kieron, NH, Bren, Jason, Paul, Mick, Paul OC, Jez. Cheers.

    A MUFC Panini sticket desktop wallpaper at
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