Panini Official Celebration: Book Review & Interview with author Greg Lansdowne
Panini football stickers are a worldwide phenomenon. Greg Lansdowne is the author of Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise of Panini Stickers (Pitch Publishing, 2015) and Panini Football Stickers: The Official Celebration (Bloomsbury, 2021).
As a long-term collector and enthusiast, Greg Lansdowne is perfectly positioned to tell the story of one of the world’s most successful brands. From humble beginnings in Modena, Italy, by the late 1970s the Panini brothers had captured the imagination of the UK’s football-obsessed youth with their sticker albums. During the 1980s they were shifting even more of their product, each collection eagerly awaited and keenly swapped in classrooms and playgrounds across the country. Stuck on You told the story of UK sticker collecting and Panini’s emergence to dominate the market (only to lose it and then regain it once more). Last year’s beautifully-produced 60-year anniversary Official Celebration does justice to the place of Panini in football culture.
The book captures decades’ worth of Panini albums and stickers in all their glory, together with the stories around them. Each generation that grew up with the excitement of opening a fresh pack will find their nostalgic memories re-created in the pages of The Official Celebration. For those of us whose early albums are falling to pieces (my Football 80 is in a bad way), the pristine quality of the photos is a real pleasure. The text gives the background to each collection, as every new season or tournament shows the evolution of album design – and of course, players’ hairstyles. A range of features on different aspects of collecting, the history and background of Panini, and albums from around the world, round out a fitting tribute to the biggest name in stickers.
Greg kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his books and the enduring appeal of Panini stickers.
Could you just introduce yourself and give a little background on your early football memories and history with the game?
My earliest football memories were from 1979 and initially centred around my dad and brother getting up to go to West Ham United’s Chadwell Heath training ground (my dad was reserve team manager and my brother was part of the first-team squad). I vividly recall really getting into football at the start of the 1979-80 season, that’s when I got my first copy of Shoot!, Roy of the Rovers and Match Weekly. My first game was West Ham United v Crystal Palace reserves – my dad being West Ham’s manager and my brother the centre-forward. So an unusual way to watch your first match, I suppose! Very soon after that game my dad lost his job at West Ham…which changed everything for me in terms of football. I couldn’t be a West Ham supporter – to stay loyal to my dad – and as he’d supported Arsenal as a boy I became an Arsenal supporter.
Can you remember getting your first Panini album, and buying stickers for it?
Even though I wasn’t particularly into football at that time – I was still a bit young – my first Panini sticker album was ‘Football 79’, which came out in January 1979. My brother had collected stickers as a kid (FKS in his day) and kindly got me into it. He must have been very generous with his buying as I got within one sticker of finishing the album (the St Mirren badge). I still have the album despite it being in a very shabby condition!
When did your first enthusiasm for collecting stickers start to die out (if at all)?
I have always maintained an interest but when I finished my A Levels to go to University in the ‘90s there wasn’t an adult sticker/card community there and there was no internet to look for like-minded souls. I dipped back into it for the Panini Euro 2000 and early Champions League albums but seriously returned to the hobby around 2012.
… and what re-ignited it?
I was looking through all my old sticker albums at my parents and decided I was going to attempt to complete my old albums from the ‘80s. I enjoyed that process so much that I wanted to also start collecting in ‘real time’ again – beginning with the Panini Brasil 2014 album.
What was the original motivation for writing Stuck on You?
Having been seriously back into the hobby for a couple of years by then I started thinking that there was this company – Panini – that was as popular as ever (the 2014 World Cup album was their biggest seller around the world in their 50-plus year history) yet they remained a largely mysterious entity. I thought it was about time somebody wrote the history of Panini stickers – as it turned out ‘Stuck On You’ was about the overall history of football stickers in the UK so also heavily featured the likes of Merlin – and as I was a writer why should it not be me?!
Have you been surprised at the response, and the apparent revival of Panini and sticker nostalgia?
Yes and no. The reason I pitched the book (to Pitch, appropriately) was because Panini stickers had returned to the level it had reached in the ‘80s for the 2014 World Cup release. It was clear there remained a huge interest and kids from the ‘80s could now afford to complete the latest albums. Large groups of adult friends and work colleagues had great fun swapping with each other and the online community was also growing. Did I expect the value of historic football stickers would rise to the levels they are now? Clearly not and few others did otherwise many more would have been buying them up when they were much cheaper than they are now!
What did writing The Official Celebration involve – and did you have full access to the Panini archive?
Sadly the pandemic meant I wasn’t able to travel to Modena to go through Panini’s archive, as had been intended. As a result a large chunk of the content, especially for the UK domestic albums, came from my own collection. That was the only slight down-side to putting the book together as I don’t believe my inability to get over to Italy massively impacted on the quality of the book. I had written to Bloomsbury as far back as 2017 – to put together an image-led book on the history of Panini football stickers – and they then went to Panini to obtain an official license, which greatly helped with access to their archive. Of course they have produced so many albums and stickers over the years that we were only able to reproduce a tiny amount in ‘Panini Football Stickers – The Official Celebration’. It was a labour of love and difficult to decide what to leave out…but I’m happy with the way it turned out.
How do you see the future of Panini and football stickers for generations which have grown up with the Internet? Will they keep their old albums in attics as our generation did?!
It’s the youngsters who have really helped to move the industry on over the last couple of years (as well as lots of North American collectors buying up ‘soccer’ cards and stickers from the time the pandemic first hit). The internet has also made the hobby far more global in terms of the ease in which collectors can buy from overseas and access content from other countries. It seems many keep their stickers ‘loose’ rather than putting them in the album, which is clearly done from an investment perspective. That’s all a bit alien to people in the UK/Europe, whose only focus in years gone by was to fill up an album, but keeping cards in pristine condition with a view to making future profit has been the name of the game in North America for decades. Certainly there are a lot more eyes on sports cards/stickers around the world than ever – which can only be a good thing!