Friday 28 February 2014

Subbuteo catalogue, 1986

There can be fewer more gladdening sights as a Subbuteo match being played in front of a packed stadium under floodlights, fans holding their scarves aloft in the foreground. The floodlights, in reality, were about as bright as the North Pole in December and some of the fans were supporting a team in red that weren’t even playing, but these are small details. Welcome to the world of Subbuteo.

Published in time for the 1986 World Cup, this was the first catalogue to be released by Subbuteo since 1981 after several years where the poster format was deemed better at promoting the full range of products. And a fine catalogue it was too: 15 full colour pages showing off a whopping 636 team kits, along with the usual array of  factual information, accessories and team indexes.

For me, this catalogue is better to look at than the 1988 version we covered back in April last year. It’s not too overstyled, it’s got many more team strips to look at on each double page and the pictures are bigger and brighter. True, you get the usual text explaining how Subbuteo was invented and developed and a brief explanation of how the basic ‘flick-to-kick’ concept works, but it fits in nicely with the imagery that captures a kid’s imagination so well.

The three boxed sets are there for all to see, including the World Cup Edition that contained the teams of Mexico (1986 hosts) and Italy (1982 champions). Better still was the International Edition: here you had three teams (red/white, blue/white and Argentina) plus a scoreboard, floodlights, pitch fencing and all the paraphernalia you could ever wish for.

As for the accessories, many were displayed in their green branded cardboard boxes or their clear plastic-fronted cardboard packs. Seeing so many items looking smart in their uniformly designed packaging made you feel like there was a never-ending supply of wonderful whatchamacallits to keep you interested for years and years.

And to celebrate a World Cup year, there was also a photographic trip down memory lane to remember not just the most recent FIFA tournaments, but also the Subbuteo World Cups that were held in the same year. Of more interest to the average collector, however, were the new special edition World Cup Squads that contained 14 outfield players and two goalkeepers, all presented in a bigger-than-usual box. The available squads were illustrated accordingly, providing you with the perfect reference should you decide to purchase the teams for Iraq, Canada or Australia.

With all the team indexes at the back and a pleasing array of flags showcasing the national Subbuteo associations on the reverse cover, there was no excuse for not laying out your pitch and flicking away to your heart’s content. Everything you needed to get you going was contained between the pages of this lovely catalogue. Shame about those floodlights, though…

Friday 14 February 2014

Panini: Soccer Superstars (1988)

Mention the name 'Panini' to anyone and the word they're likely to associate it with is 'stickers.' An understandable association, given the many thousands of self-adhesive pictures the Italian company had churned out by the late 1980's. Not all of their collectable pictures were sticky, however. Not even tacky. Having said that, Panini's Soccer Superstars album did use the words 'crucial' and 'wicked' on the cover, so tackiness was never too far away.

In 1988, Panini sticker albums were still a mainstay of many a schoolboy's juvenile life, but already the allure of home computers was becoming something of a distraction. Not only that, but after over a decade the novelty of collecting stickers was no doubt starting to wear off a little, sad though it is to say it. Luckily Panini have always had the ability to innovate, and in this special set they kept the collecting bug alive with this curious football sticker/picture card hybrid.

One of three 'checklist' cards from
the set
As detailed on the back cover of the album - sorry, 'display folder' - there were 96 cards to collect, available, as ever, from your local newsagent. At this point, Panini connoisseurs might have dropped their doubles at such a low number compared to the 500 or more stickers featured in their annual 'Football' albums. The reason for such a low number was because of the medium used - card. The folder was made up of seven sheets of card, and the collectable images were made of card. Put any more pages in the folder and the damn thing wouldn't have folded at all.

As it is, this wasn't a serious problem because this was Panini offering something different - a modern-day equivalent to those dusty old albums your granddad owned containing cigarette cards of the late, great Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews. Each double-page spread of Soccer Superstars had diagonal slots where each corner of your picture cards had to be slotted in. A refreshing change from the peel-and-stick nature of Panini's other collections, although the downside was that the front cover of your display folder ended up with lots of white triangles all over it.

Another difference between this album (sorry, I can't keep up this 'display folder' nonsense any longer) and it's once-a-year sticker equivalents was in the layout of the pages. Instead of players being displayed as part of their respective clubs, here they were shown off as fine examples of their respective playing positions. Mind you, even that was turned on its head by Panini. No double page spread on 'Goalkeepers' here - instead, these were 'Custodians.' Similarly midfielders were labelled 'Playmakers' before inspiration ran out altogether for the 'Defenders' and 'Strikers' sections.

Titles aside, each page simply contained half a dozen pictures of the top players of the era, along with a short summary describing their career and other notable facts. Some of the text was on point - David Seaman "tipped by many as a future England goalkeeper" - while other passages were, well, let's just say... 'interesting'. John Lukic, we were told, was "probably the only Arsenal goalkeeper ever to speak fluent Serbo Croat". That must have come in handy...


The centre pages of the album were undoubtedly the high point of the collection with a focus on World Stars, but genuine stars seemed a little thin on the ground at the time. Yes, there was Maradona, Gullit, Van Basten and Voller, but Portugal's Dito looked slightly out of place, and though Jean-Marie Pfaff was undoubtedly a good goalkeeper, his place might have been better taken by Rinat Dasayev of the Soviet Union in my humble view.

Still, all that was just half of the deal because Soccer Superstars had a clever selling point up its sleeve because each picture card had a peel-off sticker on its back. Adhere the stickers to the poster that came free with the album and you'd be able to build "giant colour pictures of four of the most crucial stars in the collection."

Panini 'body part' stickers
Quite who they were remains something of a mystery because two of the stickers seemed to come up far more often than the others - one showing a hand and the other showing a pair of feet. As for the poster, they're similarly elusive as anyone trying to find one on eBay will testify. Though the albums and cards are attainable, the posters, sadly, have become separated from their main publication in all too many cases.

Detatched or complete, this is an interesting collection from Panini that shows its ability to reinvent its output for many of its avid followers. Old-fashioned football cards they may have been, but Panini showed they could still produce wicked stuff, even with the 1990's just around the corner.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Fantasy Nostalgia: Panini World Cup 2014 Wish List

Just over 122 days. That's how long we've got to wait until the arrival of FIFA's 20th cavalcade of football brilliance, the World Cup Finals. And where there's a World Cup, there's always an accompanying Panini sticker album to look forward to...


It's always a big event when a new Panini World Cup collection comes along, so what would we like to see when the new album finally makes an appearance?

I've been looking back through some old Panini albums for some ideas that would brighten up this year's compendium, and I've drawn up a wish list of the things I'd like to see when it finally reaches the shops. See what you think...

1. A decent cover

If a picture paints a thousand words, it's fair to say that some of Panini's previous albums didn't have a lot to say for themselves. Quite often, the front cover would feature a picture of one or more players painted by an artist that clearly didn't understand the excitement that football provides. Sometimes, we'd get a generic montage of flags or a picture of a football that seemed a little soulless. Very rarely, we might get to see some real players on a pitch, but they were usually unidentifiable and therefore boring.

Painted players... uninspiring

Finally, however, Panini ditched that approach for its Euro 2000 album by basing the entire front cover design around the official tournament logo. At last - something modern and dynamic... and corporate. Oh it was fine the first couple of times, but the same approach has been used over and over again right up until the Euro 2012 album. It'll no doubt be used again for World Cup 2014, too.

Panini's Munchen 74 album
It needn't be that way, though. Going back to the Munchen 74 album, Panini used the official poster of the 1974 World Cup as it's main cover art. And art it most certainly was - a no-nonsense abstract painting of a player striking the ball on a stark black background. How refreshingly mature. So why not go back to having some proper art on the cover again?

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Any number of artistic approaches could be used: Impressionism, Surrealism, Art Nouveau. Here's my very basic example of how it could look, using a Pop Art approach... (see right)

It needn't be technically complex, so long as it was more visually interesting than a corporate tournament logo or a badly painted player. How hard can it be?

2. Map and flags

If there's one image that sticks in my mind from my earliest sticker collecting days, it's the opening page of Panini's Europa 80 album. It featured a three-by-three sticker image showing a map of Europe with lots of flags stuck in where the competing nations were located. Perhaps a little juvenile to some people, but to me it was a pleasing summary of who had made it to the prestige finals in Italy that year.

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Putting aside the fact that it was the devil's own job trying to line up nine stickers in a perfect grid, I think Panini should bring back the big map - but this time apply it to this year's World Cup. Here's how it might look... (see left)

Admittedly my attempt to show all of the European flags became rather challenging due to the imbalance of too many flags and not enough land mass, but in general terms I think it admirably keeps the spirit of Europa 80 alive.

Before you say it, that bottom-left sticker does look a bit bare, but hey, you can't have everything, right?

3. Excluded Nations

If you go back to Panini's main albums of the 1970's/early-80s, you'll find one of my all-time favourite features - the Excluded Nations section.

Here, you can allow yourself a brief snigger as Panini attempted to make its collection more appealing to a wider audience. You see, England singularly failed to qualify for anything of note during the 1970's and that meant few kids in England were likely to buy its sticker albums whenever a World Cup came around. The same could be said for many other countries - France, Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland, Greece...

Panini Europa 80: Excluded Nations

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The answer? To create a section showing some of those self same teams that would have been given a double-page spread if they had qualified. Miserable over the fact that Eusebio didn't make it to the 1974 World Cup? No problem! There's a sticker for him in Munchen 74! Crying over Trevor Brooking's absence from Argentina '78? Weep no more - he's in the World Cup 78 album! (etc, etc, etc...)

Taking this wonderful attempt to please all of the people all of the time, I think Panini should bring it back for 2014. Unlike the old way of doing things, there's actually no need to include a few players from each of the excluded nations. A simple page showing the badges for each country should suffice, because everyone loves a foil badge, right? Perhaps it could look like this... (see right)

4. World Cup Posters

The idea of including former World Cup posters is not a new one where Panini is concerned, but the posters themselves were often included in a wider look back at previous tournaments. They were usually packaged together with pictures of legendary players and teams, and good though that was (and sadly absent as that's been from recent World Cup albums), it did rather detract from the lovely artwork of those posters.

With that in mind, I suggest that as a tribute to this year's 20th Finals, Panini should display all 20 tournament posters on a decent-sized double page spread. Think of it as a gallery of artistic greatness, displayed for posterity and viewed upon with pride. Something like this, for instance...

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5. Venue Posters

And while we're on the subject of posters, who's seen the creations for each of Brazil's 12 stadium venues? Aren't they magnificent?!!

If you haven't guessed already, I'm a big fan of art and graphic design. When it's done properly (something I wouldn't know about personally), it lifts the spirits and nourishes the soul. So once again, let's see if Panini can show off such a wonderful array of poster art with another double page spread. Go on Panini, you know it makes sense...

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So those are my ideas... what would you like to see in Panini's World Cup 2014 sticker album? Leave us a comment and tell us your thoughts!