Friday, 6 March 2015

Panini: Football 83

In 1983, Panini did for football players what Morecambe & Wise did for Angela Rippon. Where before there was a tidal wave of heads and faces, now there were legs everywhere - hundreds of them adorning virtually every sticker on every page. This was a new approach: out went the head-shots of previous collections and in came full-length shots of every player in full team kit. Amazing.

It's difficult to know what people thought of this change back in the day. Speaking personally, I remember being a little confused but ultimately rather pleased with the sight of whole players, rather than just their heads and shoulders. Now we could see a complete team kit, and though we might have seen glimpses of it on TV, it was now possible to gaze eternally at the entire ensemble in all its detailed glory.

The shift to tall, thin stickers from the squarer, more squat shape was a seismic event in the history of Panini's UK domestic football collections. It's never been repeated (not to my knowledge, at least) and people still talk about it to this day. The obvious nod towards the old cigarette cards of the early-20th Century would have pleased the nostalgia lovers no end, but younger collectors may have missed the chance to see what a player looked like close up. As it is, they weren't missing much. Who wants to see sensible haircuts and dead-behind-the-eyes facial expressions in fine detail anyway?

The change in shape of the stickers could have posed one or two problems where the foil badges were concerned. Your average club crest tends not to be tall and slim by its very nature (Birmingham City's being one of the few exceptions), so how could you fill up all the empty space going spare? One idea was provided on the first page of the album with the shiny versions of the logos for the Football League and Professional Footballers' Associations in England and Scotland.

What Panini did for the team badges, however, was rotate them 90 degrees and add a cartoon illustration of the team's nickname. My 12-year-old self thought this was magnificent; an informal adjunct to the ruthlessly slick content found elsewhere in the album. More often than not, the cartoons were literal (Ipswich had pennants sporting the word 'Blues') while others were common knowledge to the regular football fan anyway. It was when I got to the Scottish teams that I struggled, though. My knowledge of football north of the border was considerably patchier, so why were Dundee United represented by a bunch of fans being noisy?

The illustrations, despite not having the nicknames provided, were good fun and very nicely drawn. In fact the whole presentation of the foil badges was very well done indeed, from the scarf-like team name banner to the inclusion of the year the club was formed.

But back to those player pictures. Despite Panini's usual meticulous efforts to get all the required photographs in a single shoot, their high standards were sometimes compromised by the players themselves - or specifically their attempts to dress appropriately.

The classic example of this was found on pages 38 and 39 of the Football 83 album where you'd find several of Swansea City's fine band of men devoid of any decent footwear. First there was Colin Irwin, captain of the side and a former Liverpool defender and yet, despite having been given a football to hold onto, didn't have any boots to wear. The same can be said of Bob Latchford, one-time Everton great yet now, at the ripe old age of 32, forced to pose for a picture with only socks on his feet.

Alan Curtis notched up the embarrassment levels even further by wearing a full kit and carpet slippers on his feet. Little is known about the Great Swansea Shoe Shortage of 1983, but this album will give historians a valuable insight into those austere times.

Over on the West Ham pages, Phil Parkes only just avoided humiliation of a similar nature by donning what appeared to be a pair of desert boot/football trainer hybrids, but even with the right footwear, other perils were abound. Take, for instance, the gentleman in the dark jacket and grey flannels walking accidentally into shot behind Birmingham City' Pat Van Den Hauwe. All very unfortunate...

At least Football 83 had its fair share of curiosities throughout. There was Arsenal in their first ever modern, shiny kit complete with Dennis the Menace socks; Dave Sexton wearing that rarest of things - a Coventry 'Talbot' tracksuit top; and a host of future Premier League managers from Martin Jol to Alan Curbishley all looking fresh-faced and free of the stress that was to blight their post-playing careers.

After the previous year's collection, Panini decided not to bother with a section on Division Three and stayed with the tried-and-trusted 'badge and team pic' format for the Division Two teams. As for the Scottish Premier Division teams, there were no full-length pictures for their players. Yet again, they were two to a sticker (head shots only), but as with the English First Division teams, there was room for an extra player on the page thanks to some skilful rejigging of the layout.

Finally, on the last seven pages of the album, we were treated to one of the more inventive and interesting features from Panini's rich canon. 'Laws of the Game' made great use of the longer-shaped stickers by giving us pictures explaining each of the laws of Football. Accompanied by full text descriptions of everything from the correct way players should be dressed to the offside rule, this was a genuinely useful and satisfying addition to the album - not least because of the 'Boys Own' style of illustration used on each of the pictures.

And that was that - a great end to a very good collection filled with new ideas that kept our love for Panini well and truly alive. But could it last, and what would the thousands of loyal Panini sticker collectors expect in 1984? All would soon be revealed...

-- Chris Oakley


  1. Great read Chris, I remember being thrilled to bits with the new full figure stickers as a bo. As I was a kit fanatic even then it was wonderful to see the strips in all their glory.

    1. Thanks John. Totally agree with you on that shared experience!