On Sunday 20 November, the football world cup kicks off in Qatar and so, this week, Panini have launched their traditional sticker album, which, if past tournaments are anything to go by, will now provoke hordes of children to tug incessantly at their beleaguered parents' sleeves for weeks on end in a bid to collect all of the 670 photos necessary to complete the set. (A word to the wise, little ones - don't do the sleeve-tugging thing if mummy and daddy have just opened the electricity bill.)
Like everything else, the stickers have seen a massive hike in price since more innocent times when everybody had far too many Sepp Maiers and we all thought Jairzhino must be Portuguese for 'hen's teeth'. Anyway after myriad 'Got, got, not got, got, not got..' playground rituals most of us eventually seemed to accrue the complete collection, even if it meant acquiring a missing El Salvador centre half by handing over a couple of gobstoppers and a sherbet dip in a clandestine deal behind the kitchen bins.
Some chap somewhere has made a calculation as to how much completing this year's sticker collection will cost based on probability and bearing in mind Jairzhino won't be playing. Brace yourselves - it's a whopping 1,012.09 euros. Crumbs, you could light a small bathroom for over a minute for that amount of money.
Not to worry, though, I've come up with the perfect solution - Competitive Community Stickering. Youngsters would form teams with their chums in order to collect stickers together. Parents will, of course, be delighted to lob a couple of quid into the kitty if it means their kiddiewinkies will be obliged to tear themselves away from their screens for an hour or two and communicate with their peers in real life. They could even learn the 'Got, got, not got, got..' chant and strive, as a team, to collect all 670 photos of their idols before any of their rival groups get there. There could be a nominal prize for the winning team which wouldn't necessarily have to involve gobstoppers, although that would be nice.
All of this would, of course, mean lesser profits for the Panini company but sympathy may be thin on the ground since most parents probably still hold a grudge, suspecting to this day that a paucity of Jeff Astle's was a deliberate ruse on the part of the company to whip 1970 sleeve-tugging into a veritable frenzy, especially in the Birmingham area.
No, all in all, I think it's a winner. I'm offering Domagoj Vida and Federico Valverde for Wayne Hennessey. Swaps, anyone?