BY PETER MORGAN
As the subtitle of this book implies, the art of sticker collecting has been making a comeback in recent years. Author Greg Lansdowne cites research claiming that during the summer of 2014, over $4million was spent on eBay by bidders on items that matched the keywords ‘Panini World Cup’. Indeed, the album released by Panini for last summer’s tournament in Brazil appears to have been a welcome turning point not only for the company, but for the industry as a whole. Stuck on You therefore comes at a time when invigorated collectors old and new are eager to engage with one of the oldest practices of the dedicated football fan.
The book begins with an exploration of this renewed enthusiasm. Ironically, this is best encapsulated not by conventional sticker collectors but by an English couple, Alex and Sian Pratchatt, in their successful attempt to draw each player into Panini’s 2014 World Cup album. Receiving widespread media coverage, this story highlights the ability of fans to innovate and captivate through niche, adored endeavours. In the opening pages, interviewee and marketing expert Paul Hewerdene refers to sticker collecting as ‘a brilliant way to market the World Cup to children’, which foreshadows the business-orientated focus that much of the book entails. Lansdowne explores the industry in huge detail, giving as much information about Panini’s competitors (such as FKS and Topps) over the decades as he does about the formation and development of the Italian brand itself. This enables readers to contextualise the evolution of the sticker album, with insights into marketing and legal battles taking place along the way.
One drawback of the book is that it very rarely halts to interrogate the social or cultural impacts of the practice of sticker-collecting beyond the basic and repetitive (albeit valid) memories of swapping in the yard at school. In particular, an almost completely neglected area is the role of the sticker collecting in creating and reinforcing gender divisions amongst children. While on occasion there are allusions to the fact that girls also collect football stickers (Kevin Keegan’s daughters receive a notable mention), too often the book accepts the preconception of this being a habit of boys and men. In one section, various collectors are asked their opinions, and lines such as ‘It’s that blokey-obsessive thing’ and ‘Kids (especially boys) like collecting things’ pass nonchalantly. With Panini launching its first Women’s World Cup album in 2011, and repeating the endeavour this year, perhaps a welcome increase in awareness and discussion of the relationship between gender and sport-related industries will arise. Of course, Stuck on You never claims to be a critique of the industry, but the issue of gender is indicative of the main weakness of the book: its narrative style.
Throughout the text, there is a huge dependence on lengthy, uninterrupted quotations from interviewees to drive the narrative, rather than merely to support it. Particularly early on, as the reader is confronted with a vast array of different voices and opinions, this can become difficult to follow. When Lansdowne does take the narrative baton himself, he is clearly capable of captivating an audience, which makes his over-reliance on external sources for content quite a shame, at least in the early stages. As the book develops, this problem decreases and those sources become more familiar names, guiding the reader through the interior underworld of the sticker industry. It is no stretch to refer to it as such, with quite amazing business dealings unravelling throughout. Sections involving media baron Robert Maxwell and billionaire Patricia Kluge are particularly dramatic highlights.
While the dependence upon interview segments for content can be frustrating, the scope of the research conducted by the author must be commended. Ranging from veterans past and present of the industry itself, to marketing and media figures, and avid collectors who now operate successful sticker-trading websites, Lansdowne manages to represent a plethora of authorities on his chosen subject matter. This diligence gives the book significant depth in its exploration of the various stages of pre-production and marketing necessary for companies to prosper. One notable example of this concerns a television strike during the 1979/80 season that proved to have drastic knock-on effects for Match magazine and the short-lived sticker company Transimage. Such segments provide excellent demonstrations of the interdependence of print and audio/visual media in securing each other’s successes.
A book dealing with the history of a particular visual culture, with such a beautifully detailed and colourful front cover (courtesy of artist Dan Farrimond), could have benefited from a greater quantity of imagery throughout. The pictures included do provide an enjoyable snapshot of the development of football stickers, but Lansdowne’s exceptional knowledge of particular quirks and dodgy experimentation with sticker design over the years warranted greater evidence in the form of visuals. One example that is included is a rare portrait shot of former Swansea City player Bob Latchford, posing in his socks with a knowing grin on his face. Surely a bizarre sight for the younger reader, this shot is indicative of the kind of nostalgia and cultural history that Stuck on You presents so thoroughly, particularly to veteran collectors such as Lansdowne himself.
The topic of imagery should not pass without mentioning the Panini exhibition that took place at Proud Gallery, London in 2014. Curator Rob Manley had the idea of covering an entire wall with ‘every single sticker they’ve ever produced for a World Cup’, as a kind of homage and mark of excitement for the upcoming tournament. A frenzied eleven weeks ensued and the result was so well received that Panini staged its World Cup party at the venue. This anecdote, occurring early on in the book, serves as a brilliant illustration (and reminder) of the art involved in the process of sticker-producing and collecting.
Indeed, that art is not only visual but educational in nature. Manley encapsulates his experience with sticker-collecting as follows:
“But for me that’s what Panini was about – the knowledge you ended up with. You knew teams, you knew squads; you knew badges. You knew a little bit extra about the geography of where they were from. I remember Saint-Etienne, Monchengladbach, Malmo – great days.”
With this reviewer embarking on his first sticker collecting journey in the 2001/02 season, Manley’s words certainly resonate. Anyone new to the practice in 2015 exists in an age where such learning can be done in a Googling instant. Towards the book’s conclusion, Lansdowne writes that “Another battleground on which Panini and Topps will fight it out in future is cyberspace”. The introduction of features such as digital albums and trading sites indicate the flexible and ever-changing capabilities of collecting in an online world. One wonders what nostalgia will look like twenty years from now when it comes to this much-loved cultural practice. Perhaps Lansdowne will update us on the progress in the years after the head-spinning complications of Qatar 2022 unfold.