“GOT, got, need. Got, got, got, got, need!”
Or was it: “got, got, got haven’t”? I’m sure that was what we said doing our swapsies in Liverpool.
These were the excitement-filled staccato sentences heard in every school playground and boys’ clubs in the late 1970s and 1980s. The excellent ITV4 Documentary Stuck On You this week, charting the rise and rise of football sticker collections, brought it all flooding back.
Like many kids of that era, my first awareness of football’s glitz was caught up in the magic of a World Cup compilation. For me the virgin sticker hunt was West Germany ’74. Those were heady days when Brazilian names – with Pele by now on the wane, but Rivelino and Jairzinho still shining – were truly exotic. Mysterious Eastern Europeans were always “crack” and African countries, with the madcap lads of Zaire immediately springing to mind, were men of wonderful obscurity and no football boots.
For this six-year-old with the constrictions of a weekly income fixed at 10p and a Satsuma, filling that 1974 album was too much of a stretch. Four years on though, a more resourceful 10-year-old had a right good crack at Argentina ‘78. Just writing this, the magnificent flowing locks, mean moustache and sheer menace of the hosts’ Leopoldo Luque jump into my mind’s eye. What a player! What a sticker!
England didn’t qualify for Argentina but bizarrely still got a page in the album. The image of Ray Clemence at the arse end of the publication summed up their misery perfectly. Here was Liverpool’s hero pictured with his eyes closed in disbelief, maybe still ruing being beaten by a firm near post Roberto Bettega header in the key Rome qualifier. Bettega’s eventual brace sent the Azzurri to the finals leaving England back in Blighty.
The host nation went on to win that World Cup on its own Patagonian fields. Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa – another Latin resembling Jesus Christ – rocked up at White Hart Lane that same blistering summer. There was something marvellously incongruous about a Tottenham Hotspur teamsheet that had Eva Peron’s glorious Ardiles and Villa next to Witham’s Barry Daines on the same piece of A4.
Hapless Tottenham ‘keeper Daines – and the rest of England – hadn’t made it to South America so to stick him in your book then the domestic “Football ‘78” had to be your bag. The picture of Daines’ frizzy perm is probably more of an embarrassment to him to this day than the seven goals he shipped at Anfield when Ardiles et al were mauled 7-0 by Kenny Dalglish and co.
By this time, Figurine Panini had cornered the market. Gone were the days of the stiff 1950s cigarette cards of footy stars sold with bubble gum. We had also said goodbye to the flimsy little non-adhesives which needed an application of glue to stick them down into the treasured album.
The whiff of a fresh packet was more potent than anything Bob Marley or Howard Marks could serve up. The smell was akin to a brew so strong it could make a cat speak.
The backs of these breathtaking little sticky pieces of paper were a gateway drug for me. I ended up sniffing paraffin before the 1980 FA Cup Semi Final replay and thought I saw the devil. As it turned out it wasn’t Satan, just Brian Talbot.
A life’s ambition was fulfilled after three months of stealing and playground bartering saw me complete “the set” of Football ‘79. It is a thing of beauty, open on my desk as I pen this. On the cover, Berger Jensen of Club Brugges rises to catch and deny David Fairclough with an expectant Kenny Dalglish, eyes ablaze, looking on in the background.
Completing a Liverpool double spread, awash with muzzies and perms, was one thing – finishing the whole collection was another? All the pre-pubescent agonies of spaces unfilled in 1974, 1978, and a rival domestic assortment, Soccer Stars 1977-78 were soothed when Leeds United’s Arthur Graham was the last elusive guest to arrive at the Football ‘79 party.
This treasured possession would be worth something now had I not defaced images of most of the Nottingham Forest squad. Brian Clough was given a comedy moustache, with a simple word across written across his face; “bastard”.
Peter Shilton’s jet black fuzzy wig was extended in ink to cover his whole face. Kenny Burns had “shit” daubed on his phizog, Larry Lloyd was labelled “fat” and tormenting wing genius John Robertson was tagged as “Fatty Robbo”. Follicly-challenged Archie Gemmill was “baldie” and lesser light Ian Bowyer was disfigured with by one simple question, “who?”.
Still, who cares? I’d done it. A full Football ‘78. My nerd status was complete.
Not everyone was so lucky.
By the early 1980s, a nipper growing up on the mean streets of Manchester was experiencing my former pain of the more elusive last sticker. Friend of The Anfield Wrap, Steve Armstrong – our go-to Mancunian – was still crying his heart out (sorry for the Oasis gag, Ste) over the two startling gaps in his Football ‘81 album. Red Devils’ fan Steve, of United We Stand fame, had more Joe Jordans and Lou Macaris than you can shake a stick at, but two naughty lads – and then just the one – from other clubs remained missing.
Steve picks up the tale here.
“So, it’s 1981. Eventually, I had just one sticker missing from the book. Middlesbrough’s Irving Nattrass. No cunt had ever heard of him which made ‘who?’ the default answer when trying to do swaps. The last but one – George Berry – had turned up three weeks before so I was confident of filling the book. Two weeks and six days on and there’s no sign of fucking Nattrass. I spent every bit of dinner money, pocket money and even dosh I stole from my mam’s purse on stickers. Just to get Nattrass.
“The guy who ran the paper shop knew all about my quest and told me that once this last box at the newsagents had gone, that was that for the season. Nightmare! I bought the last three packs, opening them and shaking like a crackhead rooting round to get his hands on some gear. Anyway, no sign of Nattrass, and to make matters worse, George fucking Berry again, again, again and again in all three of those last packs. You wait ages for a George Berry and then three of him comes at once.
“I was heartbroken. To this day, I hate Irving Nattrass and George Berry. I hate Middlesbrough and Wolves as well. My wounds will never heal. My hatred for all of them will never end. Not ever!”
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) 13 November 2017
Nowadays, the noble art of collecting is acceptable to all; even us adults, especially if we’re buying for our kids. In my day and Steve’s and those of countless other whippersnappers down the years, it wasn’t cool to blow all your dough on stickers past the age of 13. The pursuit became more clandestine with each passing season. How else can you explain my finding of the Euro ‘88 book (published when I was 20) hiding away beneath a copy of Penthouse?
Thankfully, it’s a tradition that lives on to this day. I’m pretty sure the not-so-cool cats still collect and are au fait with the guilt brought by a pile of swaps that weighs more than a sack of potatoes.
They say that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be but not with this. Open a pristine pack of Panini and inhale. When I get that familiar whiff, I’m jumping on the back of Daniel Passarella as we parade the World Cup around the Estadio Monumental. Then, a night on the town as Mario Kempes and Luque and I carouse round Buenos Aires on the pull.
See you tomorrow at Anfield by The Kop block 306 lift and we’ll do swaps. I’ll swap you 10 Dejan Lovrens for your Virgil van Dijk.
But, keep it a secret or the deal is off.
Get on this week’s Wrap Up, featuring a chat with Kenny Dalglish ahead of the premiere of his new film “Kenny”. If you like our video content, why not subscribe to The Anfield Wrap’s YouTube channel?