THE 21st World Cup starting in Russia this afternoon will be the biggest ever, and the financial implications are immense.
Immense if you are trying to complete the official Panini sticker album, that is.
Though the number of competing nations this year - 32 - is the same as in South Africa four years ago, Panini have somehow conjured up an extra 41 stickers. Here is today’s thought - never under-estimate a money-making company’s ability to make even more money. And Panini are very good at making money - over £650m a year by all accounts.
There were 640 stickers in the 2014 album, and there are 681 this year - including Joe Hart, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Ryan Bertrand, none of whom actually made Gareth Southgate’s England squad but will forever be yolked to Russia 2018 in a tiny way thanks to Panini.
In contrast, there were only 426 stickers in the World Cup album 36 years ago. How do I know that? Because I still have my completed Espana 82 album, that’s why. It’s gathered dust in a succession of lofts across four decades, but it’s still in pristine condition. Some (highly optimistic) sellers are asking over £300 for a completed album on Ebay. If you’re interested, you can have mine for £250. Actually, on second thoughts, no you can’t - last year a Mexico 1970 World Cup album fetched over £5,000 at an auction. Give me 10 years and I could be coining it in.
I don’t know how much it cost my 13-year-old self to complete Espana 82, but I know this - it was a damn sight less than it will cost anyone trying to fill the current album. Back then, packets of stickers were 10p. Now - I can’t believe I’m typing this - they’re EIGHTY PENCE A PACKET. That’s a 30p rise from just four years ago.
A maths professor has calculated that, on average, a collector will splash out £773.60 before they can gleefully place the last sticker in place. And let’s be honest, after 680 stickers and having shelled out the best part of £800, I’d be stuffed full of glee to finish the damn thing.
Apparently, the minimum price it would cost to fill this year’s Panini album is £109.60 - but you would have to purchase 137 packets and never get a duplicate. Iran have more chance of winning the World Cup. Hell, Scotland have more chance and they’re not even in Russia.
On average, you would need to buy 967 packets - a cool 4,832 stickers - to complete the book. Remarkably, even if you only had 19 stickers left to collect, you would still need to buy another 483 packets before you had a full set based on a set of mathematical equations so complex my head started to hurt just looking at it.
Thankfully, there is no need buy those last 483 packets as you can order your last stickers - well, the last 50 at any rate - direct from Panini. At 22p per sticker - plus £1 for postage - that’s just £5.18 in total for 19 stickers (it’s cheaper if you order them online as you get a 10 per cent discount). A bit cheaper than 483 packets at 80p a shot (total = £386). Back in 1982, it only cost 2p per sticker, but as Tim Berners-Lee was still some years off his Eureka moment we didn’t have the chance of a 10 per cent discount either.
Of course, back in the real world, there are such things as friends who also have more money than sense and an ability to control their emotions when they find they have the Artur Jedrzejczyk (Poland) sticker for the third time. Those friends means swapsies and the mantra which used to echo around virtually every school playground in the 70s and 80s - ‘got, got, got, NEED!’
I will remain forever glad I grew up back then, in a far more innocent age where my mates and I played football in the playground and swapped Panini stickers. We used to have huge bundles of swaps with thick rubber bands to hold them together. Do today’s 13-year-olds still huddle around a friend holding a swathe of footie stickers while shouting out ‘got, got, got, NEED!’ I have no idea, but I’d like to think so. I’d like to think some kid in some playground somewhere will be asking, if he hasn’t already, ‘I’ll swap my spare Alireza Beiranvand for a Genki Haraguchi?’
Society has moved on in many ways since 1982 - some for the better, some not - but surely there is still place for some childhood innocence? Perhaps not, though. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps selfies have replaced stickers, and perhaps posting on Instagram or Snapchat has replaced the thrill of tearing open a packet of stickers to find out you’ve got the Holy Grail - a ‘shiny’ England badge.
If they have, I know this - society wise, we’ve lost more than we’ve gained ....
PS Alireza Beiranvand (sticker number 174) plays for Iran and Genki Haraguchi (sticker number 668) plays for Japan. But if you’re well on the way to shelling out the best part of £800, you probably know that already ...
PSS Fingers crossed today’s opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia provides more goals than the first match of the 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978 tournaments combined. If only one goal is scored, it will.
Back in 1966, England - the host nation - drew 0-0 with Uruguay. Four years on, hosts Mexico and the Soviet Union did likewise. In 1974, holders Brazil and Yugoslavia couldn’t find the net, and four years after that holders West Germany drew 0-0 with Poland.
Since then, mercifully, opening games have been slightly more exciting. My own favourite remains Cameroon’s seismic 1-0 win over holders Argentina in Italia 90. The African nation ended with nine men due to two red cards - one of which was handed out following what remains one of the most spectacular fouls in football history. Look up Benjamin Massing’s brutal bodycheck on Claudio Caniggia on YouTube. People have found themselves in the dock in Portsmouth courts accused of GBH for lesser offences ....