18 March ~ It was with images of a playground ritual fresh in my mind that I made my way to the newsagent one lunchtime recently. The words "Got. Got. Need. Got. Got. Need," rang in my ears. The joy of swapping the utterly psychotic-looking Trifon Ivanov for dapper Jorge Campos during USA 94, replaced by the exchange of Toni Polster for José Luis Chilavert, four years later. Imagine my horror then when I ripped open the packaging of the Panini World Cup 2010 sticker album to find what amounted to little more than a colourful ring binder.
Gone are the halcyon days when the book contained a double-page team spread with rectangular guides to show you where to put the stickers, gone are the stickers of the stadiums, the same goes for a list of the group fixtures and woe betide the ignorant wretch who doesn't know the players' date of births or clubs.
More disgraceful than this is the fact that there aren't even cards for every team – no North Korea, no Mexico, no South Korea, no New Zealand, no Algeria, no Chile. And notice too I used the word card because now there aren't even any stickers. Instead I was faced with this Top Trumps-style monstrosity called Adrenalyn XL, obviously dreamed up by a team of Nathan Barleys over skinny lattes in a Starbucks somewhere. In France 98 there was a reason, to do with image rights, that certain teams were only photographed in their tracksuits. But this? This is just nonsense.
To me there is something beautiful about the sticker. The care and attention that goes into lovingly getting the sticker perfectly into the rectangle, which is no mean feat. The feeling you get when swapping a journeyman Cameroonian for Roberto Baggio. And probably the crème de la crème, the wonder of getting that first glimpse at a "shiny". But no. Not in the world of Adrenalyn XL. A despicable world where the "Star Player" is king. "Fan's Favourite"? Another phrase beginning with F springs to mind.
I for one, and I know I'm not alone, will be mourning the passing of the humble sticker this summer. Because I certainly won't be joining in with the "soccer" fans who think this is acceptable behaviour. Adam Bushby