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Review: Stuck On You The Football Sticker Story

If you were a child whose eyes lit up when seeing a shiny foil badge in your newly opened packet of stickers or maybe someone who has rekindled your craving for collecting in adult life then Stuck on You, which airs at 10.15pm tonight on ITV4 is a must watch.

The hour-long documentary charts the history of football stickers in the UK, those bundles of self-adhesive joy which have given so much pleasure to both children and adults alike in the years since Panini’s emphatic arrival on these shores in the 1970s.

But this isn’t simply an excuse for an overdose of nostalgia or just an opportunity to reminisce about those heady days of swapping stickers with friends and classmates; Stuck on You charts the fascinating story of how a product which was initially used as a gimmick to sell bubble gum became one of the biggest and most lucrative industries going.

Thanks to some fascinating archive footage, along with first-hand accounts from those who were there from the start, this is the tale of how the humble football sticker progressed from a passive playground pursuit to a multi-billion pound industry, ultimately ending in one of the biggest boardroom battles between two  Titans of the tabloid world in the late 1980s.

With contributions from the likes of celebrity collector Ryan Giggs as well as a number of fellow sticker superfans, including Greg Landsdowne whose book of the same name was published in 2015, we are treated to a fascinating insight into how the phrase, “Got, not got, need,” entered the vocabulary of football fans everywhere.

What’s shocking when watching the programme is the poor quality of football cards and stickers available in Britain prior to Panini’s intervention in the mid-1970s, as children were left to battle-it-out over a mish-mash of various incarnations that often had been coloured in by hand and had to be stuck into shabby albums using PVA glue.

Of course, that was before four brothers from Modena invested in large-scale sticker making machinery prior to their expansion into the British market in the 1970s, culminating in the launch of Football ’78 which was the spark that lead to the sticker explosion; mostly thanks to a clever piece of marketing which saw albums and stickers given away free in Shoot magazine and by the mid-1980s it was estimated that some 90% of children were collecting Panini football stickers.

Such success soon attracted the attention of some of the biggest players in the publishing industry and, after a bitter battle between the two biggest selling newspapers of the time, The Sun and The Daily Mirror, the Panini brothers decided to sell up to media mogul Robert Maxwell - a decision which ushered in something of a sea change in the football sticker market.

As a result, the four men at the heart of the UK sticker craze - Kelvyn Gardner, Peter Warsop, Mark Hillier, and Peter Dunk - decided to jump ship and take on the mighty Panini by setting up rival firm Merlin and venturing into the world of music, wrestling and even royalty as the two companies vied to corner the collectables market.

Documenting a story that has more twists and turns than a George Best dribble Stuck on You brilliantly depicts how the newly formed Merlin overcame all the odds - thanks in part to the likes of Hulk Hogan and Hacksaw Jim Duggan - to become the official partner of the newly formed Premier League, while Panini’s future was thrown into doubt following the death of Robert Maxwell in the early 1990s - only to be revived again some years later before selling tens of millions of stickers during the World Cup of 2014.

A thoroughly enjoyable watch this light-hearted yet informative documentary brilliantly blends a fascinating story with a hearty dose of nostalgia in equal measure which anyone who has ever collected football stickers, avid or otherwise, will definitely be glued to.

Stuck On You: The Football Sticker Story airs Tuesday 14th of November at 10.15pm on ITV4.

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