The crimped plastic binding is painstakingly peeled back: fears of a poorly placed rip drift through the room like ripples of a bygone conflict, it’s trauma echoing still throughout the ages.
The treasure slowly appears and a golden glow illuminates his face. He hesitates, delaying the inevitable moment the truth will be revealed. This time, will he finally find it?
“Awwww. Two whole packets and I only got one I needed. I’ve got so many swaps now. Is anyone at your school doing swapsies?”
The scene replicates itself throughout the country. The world. Enthusiastic children everywhere raid their piggy banks, scrabble down the back of the sofa and nag poor, tired parents for extra pocket money to buy ‘just one more pack’. That pack. The pack which will contain the holy grail, the golden ticket, that one sticker, so desperately searched for, which will finally complete a whole team.
Huddles of pre-pubescent boys skulk in dark corners of the playground, conducting negotiations of such delicacy and a complexity even Kofi Anaan would struggle to oversee them without UN security forces on standby. Some are easy: a straight swap. Others are far more complicated: an intricate calculation of the worth of those which, despite Panini’s protestations, seem to be in far sparser circulation than bloody Wilfried Bony, whose face seems to pop out of those plastic wrappers more often than Katie Price appears on the front of Heat magazine.
Despite some press coverage, it’s a harmless enough pastime. Some would even argue it’s a rite of passage.
But what about when that rite of passage passes into adulthood? For the scene above is not a description of the students I teach or the children I know, but of my husband, the father of my child,
A few weeks ago my husband transformed from an intelligent, educated and rational (mostly) man in to a slightly obsessive teenage boy. Every night he spends hours pouring over his sticker book, carefully placing each player exactly within the lines; a strain of expletives ensues should any sign of a bubble dare to appear. Desperate to preserve its perfection, he realised early on that simply batting away the attentions of our 2 year old boy was not enough and invested in a second sticker book, a placebo in Heinrich ‘spare swaps’ could be haphazardly stuck by chubby toddler fingers, thus keeping everyone happy and, most importantly, maintaining the integrity of the original.
Unable to engage in playground swaps without the risk of earning a criminal record, and disheartened by my refusal to engage in covert swap sessions with the students I teach, he has turned to 21st century technology as an alternative. Each night when our son is tucked up in bed, he spends hours scouring Facebook and Twitter for other like-minded grown-ups desperate to complete their books. No doubt they, like him, are only doing it so they can ‘give it to my boy when he’s older’.
How many of us are there? Not just football widows, but sticker widows, gazing bewildered at our other half, wondering how the man we pledged our life to morphed so suddenly into this strange, obsessive anorak.
Panini market their stickers with the hashtag #gotgotneed. While we often assume young people live their entire lives through technology, it seems this is really an outlet for the hidden sticker hunters. It’s for those who are constantly forced to take responsibility and leave the frivolous pastimes of youth behind: do the garden, feed the baby, wear cardigans, grow a goatee, but for goodness sake don’t admit you still enjoy doing the things you did as a kid.
So #gotgotneed has become the secret refuge of the man who refuses to grow up; a secret rebellion which provides a harmless, hedonistic throwback to youth – and all for the bargain price of 50p a pack and a few stamps to send your swaps to Gary Jones in Bognor.