As a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I used to collect hockey cards. The company that manufactured them was called O-Pee-Chee, and I loved the photography, having all the players’ stats on the back at my disposal, and I especially remember noticing the visual cues that signalled one year’s collection from the next.
Then one day in 1982 I visited my cousin Kyriakos in Thessaloniki. He showed me his completed World Cup 1982 Sticker Album. The company that made the stickers was the same one that holds the FIFA sticker manufacturing license to this day – Panini. It was then I realised; hockey cards are great, but there’s something very satisfying and permanent about placing a sticker of a player next to his teammates, exactly where he belongs.
My son, who was born near London but is not the biggest football (soccer) fan, has at least discovered my penchant for collecting soccer cards. We went to the FIFA World Cup website to see whether collecting virtual cards might be as satisfying as the real thing. It’s not. Here’s why:
1. Real stickers are real. They can’t be Ctrl-C’d or Ctrl-X’d.
2. The ritual of opening the pack is immensely satisfying. Everyone has their own way of doing it. Only the child can unleash that potential.
3. The anticipation of having something in your hand is like a kid’s instant lottery. Only there is nothing to throw away. Only doubles to trade.
4. Real kids get together with real kids to trade doubles. They learn that a Kaka or Messi double is worth at least 5 North Korean players (no offence, Dear Leader).
5. Sticking the sticker in exactly the right place, as carefully as possible, can never be digitised.
6. They know the teams, their players, and the groups they’re in, in a way that they control. It’s not about Googling players when watching the tournament. It’s about compiling a real collection of pictures and information that forms a reference that they’re responsible for. There’s power in knowledge, and kids love the power.