Sport

Would you like a vodka with your half-filled Panini, Sir?

The Panini World Cup album has come a long way since Espana 82 – Dodgy’s first foray with the phenomenon. For starters, it will be virtually impossible to swap your Russia 2018 spares with British Army foot patrols in west Belfast
Kevin Farrell

PANINI. To the landed gentry it will always mean only one thing: A rough Italian translation of ‘glorified toastie with ragu of coleslaw on the turn, an amuse-bouche of stale Ready Salted crisps and 5p change if you’re lucky from a fiver’.

For the sans-culottes, though, it always meant and continues to mean something much more soulful, romantic, revolutionary and intrinsically satisfying.

We’re talking the gateway to beg/borrow/extort spare coins from your granny and other elders’ purses to buy football stickers by the arm-load.

All in the name of trying to complete a daunting album boasting more pages than the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Magna Carta and the Old Testament stapled together.

Those early ’80s were heady times indeed, the Troubles and all.

In the days before Clive Sinclair and the Commodores steamed in with mind-blowing tech that allowed us to wear virtual sheepskin coats and watch pixelated stickmen clinch major trophies for us from dawn ’til dusk, it was sticker albums and stickers, not libraries or schools, which gave us power and clout.

British soldiers tipping out your Army surplus satchel on any given sumptuous Springtime morning only ever found much of the same thing: quadruples of the, er, Argentina badge and half-a-dozen Daniel Passarellas or his ilk.

Despite the size of their own backpacks, the Brits very rarely had the spares you’d been hunting down for ages. Not that you’d ever have dealt directly with Falkland reserves anyway. Obviously.

Still, at 10 pence a packet, you technically got to own homegrown and exotic ballers like Terry Cochrane, Trevor Brooking, Harald Schumacher, Maradona and Zico respectively. 2p a player. The same price as a wapper, two bubblys or a Refresher.

Like, what would you even think about buying in real life for that sort of cabbage nowadays? A Dedryck Boyata? An Alberto Moreno? A couple of Luke Shaws?

The drill from the street corner to the schoolyard was always intense and business-like.

At its busiest, the bartering could have ripped Wall Street clean out at the root between break time and lunch time.

Confiscations, when you think about it, were the only thing that made nerve-racked primary school masters crack their faces with a smile in 1982.

Got. Not Got. Need. Swapsies. Not Got. Got. This was the most used and most important English Language lexicon of childhood for every forty-something worth his salt.

I mean, who even actually needed Thatcher’s milk? Panini collateral was life itself. As Bill Shankly himself sort of said back in the day, three inch by two inch foil crests weren’t a matter of life and death. They were much more important than that.

The holistic and formative experience of those hard-nosed exchanges, though, definitely helped mould us into the fine, distracted, fickle and Machiavellian chancers we’ve all more or less become today.

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia now looming large, we’re firmly back on the prowl like a Spartak Moscow Ultra on a trough of steroids.

Show me the man who won’t be parking the online gambling habit to instead collect stickers for, erm, his kid or a relative’s sprog and I’ll show you a pathological liar who’s telling great, big dirty fibs to the wife.

That said, the release of the 2018 Panini World Cup album on Thursday, 48 years after the Italian geniuses released their first World Cup album, has already been mired in thick controversy.

For starters, a digital album has also been launched alongside the real one with an all-dancing app that allows you to swap virtual stickers online and collect special badges through redeemable codes from Coca-Cola products.

That’s the future for you. Too much screen time, severe tooth decay by primary seven and an inability to develop fine and gross motor skills via peel and placement. Cambridge Analytica will be all over it in no time too, mark Dodgy’s words.

There’s also the fact that filling the real album could now cost the seasoned stickerist in and around 600 quid.

A 60 per cent hike on the cost of five stickers from the 50p price point at Euro 2016 to an eye-popping 80p combined with the fact that it takes 747 packets on average to secure the 682 stickers needed to fill the album is, quite frankly, every Credit Union and every granny’s worst nightmare.

Think about that for one moment. Six hundred English pounds.

At the time of writing you could book a flight to Moscow via Amsterdam with a stopover in Budapest in late June for about 550 quid and spend a day or two watching English hooligans having manners put on them from a ringside seat in Red Square.

You might even have enough spare roubles for a couple of Kulov and cokes and a salted herring toastie/panini while you’re enjoying the biggest mismatch of the summer.

All things considered, maybe best to stick with the stickers. Anyone with a spare Oleg Blokhin from 1982, I’ve one or two Gerry Armstrongs and Luis Arconadas knocking about the big six-yard box in the attic.

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