World Cup year means one thing to those of us too delusional to accept that we’ve lost all of our child-like wonder and naive sense of dreams. It means we can turn back the clock to those jubilant days of school playground competitive wheeling and dealing and formative negotiating tactics that would build themselves to the hypnotic soundtrack of “Got…got…got…got…got…NEED!” World Cup year means Panini sticker album time.
Of course as the years progress and the rest of the world slowly changes from viewing you and your much leafed through album with affection to suspicion and a possible call to Operation Yewtree, you also gain a greater competitive advantage. Not only do you gain the statistical knowledge to make better judgement calls (a shiny team badge is, it turns out, not worth the 7 stickers that somehow became the standard market value when I was a kid) it also provides you with the financial independence to pursue your stickers with the commitment they deserve. No longer are you begging your parents to buy you a packet of stickers, you’re now purchasing them online, 500 at a time. In my case I have even managed to import these stickers to my home in Libya, despite the lack of a postal system in the country.
Last World Cup I didn’t manage to finish my book. I only recently found out that my girlfriend at the time was particularly unhappy as we were poor students at the time and apparently I kept spending our food money on a continual supply of stickers in order to get closer to completing my quest. That she considered Panini stickers less important than food probably speaks to the sensible and logical concept of our break up. Last tournament’s failure has only left me more determined for this competition though and with a couple of weeks until kick off I am well over three quarters of my way to victory.
As I make my way through the repetitive ritual of teasing the top corner away from the plastic backing and carefully placing the adhesive rectangle onto the corresponding vacant gap in the book, I have developed a new game in which I try to guess from the player’s face what the photographer might have said to them the instant the photograph was taken. This all harks back to a personal experience of mine at Glastonbury festival in the early 2000s when, after requesting a photograph with two on duty coppers, one of them whispered into my ear as the camera was clicking “Got loads of drugs on you, then, have you?”. It being Glastonbury I, of course, did and as I assumed I was about to be nicked my face fell. The coppers grinned and I was left with a snap of me looking like I’d just voided my bowels while the two officers smiled happily beside me. They giggled as they left, explaining that they didn’t care about drugs and it was just a wind up they were having whenever they were asked to pose for a photo but the joke got me thinking about my World Cup players and I started to come up with my own ideas for what might be flashing through their minds as the camera flash illuminated their faces.
Michael Carrick’s dumbfounded look of disbelief, for example, invites us all to imagine that just as the photographer was depressing his button to capture the England midfielder’s image he was also explaining:
While Ramires carries a look of justifiable anger that can only be attributed to his reaction upon hearing:
Bosnia’s Sead Kolasinac appears to be obediently responding to the request to:
While Pogba ups the ante on Ramires’ look of rage and injustice to the point where he’s almost certainly just been informed that:
One can only imagine the insensitivity of Australian cameramen considering the one that took Mark Milligan’s photo has clearly chosen an inopportune moment to inform his subject:
And the distracted concern of Zabaleta can only be explained by the idea that the photographer has just asked him:
Honduras’ Roger Espinoza takes the “guiltiest looking player” award, almost as if he’s just been accused thusly:
But the real star of the album in every way is France’s Franck Ribery whose photographic inclusion can only be a reaction to this statement: