I tear the foil open nervously, looking around to see if anyone has seen me. Wasting no time, I turn the first card around. Get lost, Gokhan Inler – I’ve got you already. Turn another. And another. Got. Got. Yes, Edinson Cavani…you greasy bastard, I need you! More follow…got, got. Then the final card – and I can feel it’s a shiny. Anxiously, I flip it over…it’s a shiny…Neymar! Yes!! That’s a nice shiny. Right, I need another pack…
Collecting World Cup cards (or stickers, if you prefer) is not a hobby. Well, it is in the beginning. Then it’s a compulsion, a need, an addiction. It will all be worth it, I tell myself, when I turn on Iran v Bosnia-Herzegovina and recognise the players.
It’s not easy, though. You have to overcome the social stigma – people who don’t like football (to the point of obsession) don’t get it, so you’ve got to be tactical about where you get your hits, and when. I feel like a crack head as I cautiously open the packs in public, my back turned to passers-by to avoid embarrassment.
The first step is buying your packs – ideally, you find a stockist who has the packs out on display. Self checkout, done – no embarrassment required.
It’s not always possible though and needs must. I scuttle up to the cashier and ask for the World Cup cards. “These?” they reply, inevitably pointing to the stickers. “No, the cards, to the left” I reply. The cashier reaches past the Ben10 cards and finally grabs the correct pack.
Payment made, I get out as fast as possible, hoping they think you’re buying them for a younger sibling. Sometimes, though, you get a wry smile and a knowing nod from the lad behind the till. He knows.
So you’ve bust open a few packs, and it’s time to sort them. If, like me, you’re a card fan, then the satisfaction is carefully sliding the cards into their place in the folder. If you prefer the traditional stickers, it’s the precise placing of each sticker in the album. Either way, there’s nothing like lining up that final Ecuadorian thug that you’ve been waiting for.
The early elation of need after need soon starts to fade as the swaps start to become more and more common. Got, got, got, got, got, need, got, got, got. The bad packs can ruin a good day. But this misery brings with it the glory of ‘swapsies’.
As a guy in his mid-twenties, swaps are harder to come by. There is no school yard to swap in anymore, so you have to adapt. Fortunately, technology facilitates where working life hinders.
My phone vibrates and it’s a Snapchat from a mate some 70 miles away – he’s just opened a shiny Messi. Son of a bitch. But my lunchtime hit has unveiled a Germany team logo – lovely. The phone vibrates again, and this time it’s a WhatsApp message. In the group titled ‘World Cup’ – with a picture of Phil Jagielka’s all-too-common mug as the group image – half a dozen equally desperate swappers are exchanging cards. Sadly, no one seems to want my Danny Welbeck's or ten-a-penny Tranquillo Barnetta ‘Expert’ shinys.
But now, the pace has slowed. Swaps are piling up, and ‘needs’ are harder to come by. Even one need in a pack of ten feels like a victory. The ellusive cards that Panini no doubt holds back are nowhere to be seen, and without a playground full of swappers, the completion seems unlikely.
At this point, Panini have me by the balls. I’ve invested so much time and dignity in this, there’s no turning back. Not to mental the financial hit I’ve taken.
Equally, though, I’m a realist – I have a chance at completing the base teams, but the shinies? There are so many; Fans’ Favourites, Game Changers, Experts, Top Masters, and the seemingly unobtainable Double Troubles (two superstars on one card). I can’t stop until I’ve at least found the Aguero/Messi Double Trouble. I feel like Charlie looking for Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.
The choices? Well, there’s cheating – you can always turn to Panini’s official website and order the cards you need for extortionate rates. Then there’s Ebay, full of people shipping off their wedges of swaps for equally outrageous prices. Or, the traditional method – plough through more packs in search of the elusive cards you crave so deeply.
“Excuse me…no, not the stickers…”