Album of the Year

I’m talking about the Official Panini South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup sticker album, of course.

Tomorrow, one of the last things I’ll do before I set off for E3 – besides spending several hours fretting about the flights, natch – will be to order the remaining 34 stickers we need to complete our collection. All being well, they should arrive around the time I’m due back and I can spend some time with my son finishing the book.

It’s been an expensive pastime, it has to be said. The hundreds of swaps we have attest to that, though admittedly many of those are from other family members, in this case Mel’s parents who James frequently manages to cajole into buying some more whenever they’re out shopping.

I vividly remember my Mexico ’86 World Cup sticker album, and I’m sure I’ve still got it somewhere, possibly in the cellar. I think a big sticker collection like that is an essential childhood experience, but it has to be said that I’ve probably enjoyed collecting the stickers at least as much as James has, and it’s not just been a vicarious pleasure, either.

It’s perhaps more of a male thing, though I’m certainly not alone in my pursuit of the complete collection. My friend Will and I spent several hours the other day relaying our needs and swaps over Facebook. The following day Will came around and we traded – about forty of mine for about fifteen of his. I didn’t mind, really – they would only have gone to waste otherwise.

That’s not to say that getting tons of swaps is a waste of time, however. Far from it, in fact: it’s an essential way of getting used to player names and faces, but I think it also teaches an invaluable lesson to a child that you don’t always get what you want out of life, and when you do, you should treasure it. So as the book started to fill, the relatively few needs took on a greater significance. Swaps were no longer disappointing, but expected. The delight at finding a sticker for an empty space was amplified. The discovery of Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a happy moment in the Schilling household, as was the team sticker for Chile. “Look, there’s Waldo Ponce!” James gestured excitedly towards the player on the far right of the line-up, thus proving my point.

While I’m not sure the World Cup itself will be the first major football tournament he really remembers from his childhood (the next European Championships in two years time, or maybe even Brazil 2014 are probably favourites) but I’m certain he’ll have fond memories of his first completed Panini sticker album.

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