Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Panini: Football 81

You could hardly miss Panini’s Football 81 sticker album as it rested on the newsagent’s shelf alongside the Angling Times and the latest instalment of Carrier’s Kitchen. The bright yellow cover and dynamic picture of Ray Wilkins taking on Gerry Francis shouted ‘come and get me’ to any passing 10-year-olds, and I'm proud to admit that I was one.

By now, a strong format had become the foundation of the annual Panini sticker album. First Division teams had a double-page spread upon which were printed rows of stickers showing head-and-shoulder pics of the manager and various players. A team picture and foil badge headed it all up with mini player biographies and a club profile thrown in for good measure.

The page layout had been changed from Football 80, however, with two fewer player stickers on show. To compensate for that, however, the single Team picture was now made up of two stickers, half-and-half style. The foil badges had changed too, no longer silver but back to gold as they had been in Football 78.

Because of the double-sized Team pic, the club profile was moved from the top of the first page to the right hand side. This made for a big column of space that had to be filled, so as well as the usual details like ‘Manager’, ‘Honours’ and ‘Record Attendance’, there was also a factual nugget called ‘From the history books’ which appeared here for the first and only time.

The player sticker design took elements from Football 78 and 79 with a red border ring-fencing the picture, club badge, player details and the returning pictogram. Among the high-class fizzogs captured for posterity in this album were a 20-year-old Gary Megson playing for Everton, the ever-giving Sam Allardyce at Sunderland and a Leicester City team clearly trying to go one better than Coventry City’s moustachioed outfit from the year before.

A nice touch by Panini in this collection was to give every Second Division team a big foil badge and a two-part team picture of their very own. Though the individual half-size player pics from Football 80 had to be sacrificed, this somehow seemed a more pleasing way to show off the teams in question. Mind you, that whole issue of getting the two halves of each team pic to match up perfectly was always going to trip up some people - something that was still evident with Panini’s Euro 2012 collection.

For the first time ever, the Football League Third Division was featured in a Panini album of this kind, and here each team had it’s own single-sticker team pic alongside the ubiquitous profile of the club. Sadly there wasn't the space for a foil badge in each case, but I doubt supporters of Blackpool or Chester City would have been complaining back in the day.

Fans of Scottish clubs might have been happier too. Compared to Football 80, Panini finally gave Premier League teams a page each once again, however the players all still appeared on half-size stickers as they had done the previous year. At least there was a full size badge and two-piece team pic to restore some pride, but that would have been nothing compared to the pride felt by Scottish First Division supporters who also saw their teams making their Panini début.

In each domestic Panini album there were always two variables you could hang your hat on: the opening page and the middle section (after the First Division teams). In the case of Football 81, the former was dedicated to showing off the ‘Players of the Year’, namely Terry McDermott (England) and Davie Provan (Scotland). A nice little biography for both players was provided in what was a suitable opening gambit for the album, if not a greatly exciting one.

The middle section also seemed to lack a little pizazz in its remembrance of the 1980 FA Cup Final. True, there was a four-part sticker pic of the winning West Ham team and a couple of other two-part pics showing action from the Wembley showdown, but somehow this full-page feature lacked any real zip. Probably just as well this kind of thing would improve in future Panini albums.

With a sketchy pen and ink illustration bringing things to a close on the back cover, it’s fair to say this wasn't the finest hour for the Italian sticker makers, but at least their standards hadn't dropped since the previous collection. Onwards and upwards to Football 82, perhaps...


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