For the first time in their history, sticker aficionados Panini have secured the licence to the Premier League. To celebrate, COPA90 explored the Italian company’s rich heritage and how they’ve managed to maintain relevance in a digital era.
Those of a certain generation will have fond memories of playground swapsies. An intense, back-and-forth negotiation where only those blessed with steel nerves under immense pressure and scrutiny emerged victorious.
Panini defined a generation of football fans and were deep-rooted in British culture during the 1980s and ‘90s. It all started back in 1961, when two Italian brothers – Benito and Giuseppe Panini – bought a collection of stickers off a Milan-based company and sold them in packets of two at ten lire a piece.
From there, an empire was born. The company formed a partnership with FIFA in 1970 and entered the realm of football, publishing their first sticker album ahead of the Mexico ‘70 World Cup.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, though, that Panini fever swept across the UK, when they secured the licence to the old First Division, thus providing another medium through which football-crazed kids could consume the beautiful game.
There was a certain mystique to Panini. The exotic allure of an Italian brand which provided the incomparable, exhilarating thrill of opening packets of stickers. Close-to-complete albums became a source of great pride as playgrounds across the land played host to hotly debated trades.
In keeping with the club’s success during the ‘80s, Liverpool stickers proved to be the rarest of commodities. “Whether you lived in Liverpool, London, Devon or Cardiff, half of your class supported Liverpool,” Greg Lansdowne, Panini connoisseur and author of Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise of Panini Stickers, tells COPA90.
“Even now I’m still writing articles about Panini for various publications and websites. It’s amazing how it’s taken off.”
Greg Lansdowne, author of Stuck on You
“In fact, there were probably more people who supported Liverpool in London than Liverpool in those days. If I look back over albums where I was ten or so short, you can guarantee that at least two or three of them would be Liverpool stickers.”
As Manchester United began dominating proceedings throughout the 1990s, Panini naturally saw their most coveted assets shift to those that bore the crest of the Red Devils.
As the digital age took hold, a rival company gained the Premier League contract, and replaced the iconic stickers with trading cards. Nevertheless, Panini stickers remained as popular as ever in the fervour leading up to major international tournaments like the World Cup or European Championships.
In 2006, Panini partnered with Coca-Cola to produce the first ever virtual album ahead of the World Cup in Germany. It was the company’s first step towards embracing the changing landscape of football fandom and provided them with something of a renaissance in the digital age.
This venture into a new era culminated in 2014 with the boom of social media. Online networks such as Facebook and Twitter became hotbeds for trading, while sites like SwapStick popped up to add to the frenzy. “Obviously now with social media you can do swapping on Twitter and Facebook and sites like SwapStick,” Lansdowne explains.
It was this resurgence that inspired Lansdowne to write his book. “I was thinking Panini were massive in the ‘80s. They’re massive now and no-one really knows anything about them. So I thought why don’t I look into this a bit more and see if anyone’s interested in a book about it?
“It came out in 2015, it was well received and, two years later, ITV did a documentary about it. Even now I’m still writing articles about Panini for various publications and websites. It’s amazing how it’s taken off.” What has undoubtedly aided the stickers’ popularity is Panini’s seamless ability to blend modern appeal with nostalgia.
“There’s little things, like you’ve got Carlo Parola, who’s the bicycle-kicking player on the front of the packets in the ‘80s, and he still exists somewhere on the cover of albums and on t-shirts. You still see all these things that remind you of Panini in the ‘80s and it takes you back to that era,” Lansdowne continues.
“Lots of companies rebrand but the key branding of Panini remains constant. That helps people of my age maintain an interest but, as you can see from the 2020 album, the cover is also designed to appeal to the kids with players of today.”
Now, it appears we are on the cusp of another watershed moment, with Panini securing the licence to distribute Premier League stickers for the first time.
Chris Clover, Head of Marketing Sport at Panini, said: “We are hugely proud to launch Football 2020, which is the first ever Premier League sticker collection published by Panini. Football 2020 has been eagerly awaited by all true sticker collectors and it is one to treasure for posterity.”
Many believe the brand will have to wrestle attention away from more modern concepts, like FIFA and Football Manager, but Lansdowne sees Panini working brilliantly alongside other types of media, and points towards things like Ultimate Team as an example of how popular collecting can still be.
“There are a lot of stats involved and children lap that up. They want to get closer to the players, to learn more about them, and there’s also the value of owning a physical thing. You can also collect them digitally and trade online so it’s appealing in both respects.”
Having created a cross-generational appeal and modernised to maintain relevance in the digital age, all evidence suggests that Panini’s new Premier League album will be at the top of every fan’s wish list this Christmas.