In recent weeks, the wonderful Who Ate All the Pies blog has been posting some corking classic Panini stickers from yesteryear. Of course, I quite understand the obsession with Panini - my Italia ‘90 sticker book with future Albion flair icon Tony Meola was complete by the end of that tournament (my poor old man was two short and we all knew he’d bought the majority of my stickers). It took until 1994-95 for Panini to launch their Football League sticker book which included a whole half page of the then third division Brighton and Hove Albion (about seven stickers with two players apiece, a team photee and shiny logo). When we became fourth division, Panini only gave us three stickers - a shiny Albion logo, team photo and star player (Jeff Minton I think). But collecting the Panini Football League stickers was a suitable riposte to those completing their Merlin Premier League stickers who had begun to dominate the playground.
I was at a Primary School two weeks ago and the thirst for watching the Albion at Falmer amongst the kids is a world away from when I went to school. These days they talk about their last or next visit and almost nobody is immune from the excitement of the Amex. When I pass kids' football training in any Sussex park, Albion shirts dominate the backs of youngsters. Back when I was at school, the only Albion shirted youfs were my good self, the co-ed and ever present TSLR contributor Carter. It meant that we were in the minority when it came to collecting Football League ‘95 stickers and swapsies were few and far between. But we stuck to our guns, collecting a lesser-known Steve Gritt sticker in his managerial role at Division One Charlton was way better than joining my classmates as they fought over some bloke kung-fu legend Eric Cantona and this fat geezer, Neville Southall.
From 1990-92 (and maybe a little beyond), my obsession with national collectives that featured the Albion focused solely on one thing and one thing only: Pro Set. You see, Pro Set were collectible cards with player photos on the front and biographies on the back. They featured players from all four professional English divisions, colour coded by the division they were currently in. It meant that there were hundreds of cards for the more successful clubs who has a disproportionately higher number of collectibles. Then of Division Two, Albion cards were therefore very hard to come by and colour coded in a sort of turquoise blue.
It took me a full three months to convince a friend of mine (who supported a team of higher division ilk - who exactly, I forget) to swap several red coded Premiership players for his turquoise coded John Byrne. But when I got that card, and a Perry Digweed or Gary Chivers one thereafter, I was as cock-a-hoop as I have ever been. In a way it helped that the rest of my schoolmates were glory supporters because they were quick to request a swap in the unlikely event of an Albion player featuring behind their foil wrapped pocket money bought Pro Set goodness. They knew, I would (and still will) pay big Pro Set money for an Albion player.
The photo atop this post features cards from the 1990-91 series, the second photo was when they scrapped colour coding on the front for the following 1991-92 season. The Perry Digweed Pro Set card (below) cost me about 17 top flight cards in a hard fought playground swap deal.
I don’t know what the ever increasing number of Albion supporting kids do these days. I suppose with the internet so easily accessible, collecting football stickers or cards is so 1990’s. But I, for one, will never forget the joy that those beautiful little packets of Pro Set used to bring. Especially when they (on the extremely rare occasion) featured my Albion heroes looking resplendent in their glorious blue and white stripes.