we reviewed Panini’s ‘Soccer Superstars’ collection from 1988. Consisting of an album into which picture cards (not stickers) could be inserted, this was a rare chance to see Panini veer away from the tried and tested sticky-backed formula of yore. It was not, however, the first time they’d attempted something so radical.
Four years earlier, the similarly-named ‘Football Superstars’ made an appearance and on this occasion, the medium of choice was not cardboard, but plastic. Clear plastic. It was an inspired selection and provided a somewhat futuristic slant on the stickers we’d been collecting for many years (not that these were self-adhesive).
As with Soccer Superstars, the pictures of players and national team emblems had to be slotted into diagonal cuts on each page of the accompanying album. The pages were loose and unstapled which meant, in theory, that you could pin each completed double-page spread on your bedroom wall. Five teams were featured - England, Scotland, France, Italy and West Germany - while the last two pages featured ‘All Stars’, a collection of top players from around the world.
Curiously, the double-page format isn't as jam-packed with pictures as in Panini’s regular ‘Football’ series that was available at the time. Instead, only a dozen cards are featured, and in the case of the five mentioned teams, that means one team badge and eleven players. There’s no text giving a potted summary of their careers, just a few paltry details relating to each individual below their card.
The plastic cards themselves, however, look great. Before they’re slotted into the album, they can be held up to the light like a film negative to gain a tantalising glimpse of a picture that isn’t immediately complete. Placed on a white space inside the album, though, they come to life with a distinct vibrancy you won’t find on a regular Panini football sticker.
The choice of teams is a curious one and reinforces the feeling that this was a one-off set-piece project by Panini. Dated by various internet sources as being from 1984, the album features Scotland’s Graeme Sharp who didn't make his international début until 1985. Whether Football Superstars was actually published the following year is unclear, but either way the absence of other prominent countries like Spain and Belgium is a little unfortunate.
England’s line-up is a mish-mash of established players, those heading for the end of their international careers and those struggling to get theirs off the ground. The reassuring presence of Peter Shilton in goal is matched by Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins outfield, but beyond them, there are some less familiar faces. Stoke City’s Mark Chamberlain (father of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) made only eight appearances for England, while Mike Duxbury of Manchester United only managed two more. Tottenham’s Graham Roberts only notched up six appearances.
All of the other teams boast an altogether more convincing array of current and future stars covering everyone from Lothar Matthaus and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to Paolo Rossi, Michel Platini and Kenny Dalglish. Nearly all of them made an appearance at the 1982 or 1986 World Cups, and a fine bunch they make too. Added to the dozen ‘All Stars’, however, you have an even more rounded view of the top footballing talent of the mid-1980’s.
Here we find South Americans in the form of Passarella, Zico, Maradona and Falcao, plus the best from the rest of Europe. Finally there is a mention of Arconada and Gordillo of Spain and Enzo Scifo of Belgium (both countries capable of having their own double-page spread), plus Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek and Chalana, Portugal’s ace midfielder of Euro 84. Even Ian Rush gets a much-deserved inclusion, alongside another star of Euro 84, Soren Lerby.
It’s all very nice and all very different, but in many ways this collection seems a little tame by comparison to Panini’s regular self-adhesive equivalents. The innovation of making clear cards is excellent and the attempt to show such versatility is very admirable, but the content of the album lacks substance and direction. One could even bring into question the use of the term ‘Superstars’. Diego Maradona, absolutely, but with the greatest of respect, Mike Duxbury? Probably not…
There was, however, one additional reason to buy packets of Football Superstars cards, and that was the inclusion of a scratch card game. It consisted of a series of silver spots located all over a football pitch, and as either the red team or the yellow team, you had to scratch one off at a time to navigate your way from the centre circle to the opposing goal. Revealing a ball symbol enabled you to scratch off another silver spot, failure to do so gave your opponent another turn. Good harmless fun, and further proof that Panini could think outside the box when it came to creativity, but this was very much a sideshow to those clear cards that numbered only 72 in total. Personally I’d have rather had more cards to collect and not had the scratch cards, but there it is. This was, as mentioned before, Panini showing off their many and varied skills, and this album is an interesting part of their history accordingly.
-- Chris Oakley
Our huge thanks go to Graham Hannay of Retro Football Stickers for allowing us to use the images featured in this article. To find some of those missing stickers you need to complete your collections of yesteryear, check out Graham's website at www.classicfootballstickers.co.uk.