Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Gots And The Needs

Something a little lighter than last week's hospital visit perhaps. Or perhaps not for my wrath is rising and my poison pen is at the ready, hand twitching as I grip this metaphor and strangle it like QE2 euthanising pheasants.

One of my favourite childhood pastimes was collecting stickers. More specifically football stickers. There were slight variations. I remember a Return Of The Jedi related album and even one linked to the spew-inducing cheesefest that is the 1980 cinema version of Flash Gordon. Winged Brian Blessed and all. Yet these were minor interruptions. Football was the mainstay of all things Panini in my formative years, and I had every album from around 1979 to something like 1987. Some classic images remain and can still pop up in conversations with my friends even now. Aidrieonians goalkeeper Ernie McGarr's outrageous claim to be 25 years of age, Motherwell's Hugh Sproat's inexplicable moustache, and the early 80's Swansea squad insisting on being photographed in their stockinged feet. McGarr was 75 if he was a day, while the sight of Merseyside legends like Latchford, Toshack and Ray Kennedy in Swansea's white socks is an indelible one.

With the World Cup in Brazil fast approaching I, like any other sane sports fan, am getting far more excited than is advisable, particularly given my recent health worries. Should the miracle happen and Steven Gerrard volleys England to victory in the last minute of the final it is quite likely I will have one more, fatal, palpitation. Since the chances of this happening are pretty remote I can probably get away with saying that if it does happen it will all have been worth it. What else is there to live for once you have seen England win the World Cup in dramatic fashion?

Well the answer to that of course depends very much on whether you have completed your Panini sticker album. In my excitement I have decided to delve back into the world of nerdy collecting. It can never be the same, of course, but that is true of a great many things that we continue to do until we keel over and die. Some have suggested that collecting stickers is childish. That I obviously have too much money. Gary Barlow has too much money. I just have imagination and a liking for nostalgia. Besides what should I be spending my time and money on? Something more mature like tattoos? Sunbeds? The gym? Or should I be glued to Masterchef, hanging on the every word of the latest TV chef and food fascist telling me what I can and cannot eat? The kind of people who have labelled me childish are the kind of people who would declare a preference for either Team Edward or Team Jacob. Enough said.

Money isn't an issue quite yet, anyway. I haven't actually bought any stickers. The only ones I have came free with the album added to a few extra I acquired from a very kind work colleague. She bought her album for the kids. Right. I bought my album for the kids too. All I need now are the kids. Imagine my surprise when I realised that it takes at least nine months for those to arrive. By then the World Cup will be a distant memory, the sad-song montage of recently failed English penalty-takers a fading, sketchy memory. But I'll be able to refer to my album and see the unlucky men in more happier times, or at least more neutral times as they pose stoney-faced for their Panini mugshot. I've never filled an album but I confidently predict that my barren run is about to end. I won't be allowing the fact that only a limited number of shops stock the stickers, or the fact that I have just read that it will cost me at least £64 to complete the collection stand in my way. By the way, that figure is optimistic because it assumes you won't buy any stickers that you already have. Or twicers as we used to call them.

Twicers. In my childhood these were probably the most valuable currency. They were like hard drugs in Baltimore in an episode of The Wire. Except nobody came flying around the corner in a police car to beat us with baseball bats when we tried to swap them. Some lads would have piles and piles of twicers, hundreds upon hundreds of the things. I had a fair few myself and I have got one already this year, one Cristiano Ronaldo. That won't be worth anything in 10 years time if the gelled genius does a Maradona and single-handedly leads Portugal to glory, will it? The trade of twicers brought with it a familiar refrain as between you and your dealer you would work out which stickers were valuable to you and which you could ignore. You all remember it. He flicks slowly through his twicers one by one, showing you what is on offer and you start up....

"Got. Got. Got. Got. Got. Got. Got. Got. Need!". You'd scream the word 'need' like you were asking for oxygen rather than a small card with a sticky back with a picture of a footballer with a bad haircut on it. Doubtless you had prepared for this meeting by painstakingly writing down the numbers of all of the stickers you were missing so that you would be able to quickly decipher which were 'gots' and which were 'needs'. As your collection progressed you would get up to around 25 or 30 'gots' before you found a 'need', but was just a sign that you were heading in the right direction. That you were so nearly there. And yet despite several of these sticker summits I never quite got there.

This time. More than any other time. As the 1982 England World Cup squad once sang....

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