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Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Wednesday, 30 June 2010 12:13 UK
Always look for the shiny side of life

Panini football sticker of Maradona
Diego Maradona in 1986, the "sticker of God"

You tear open the the small paper packet, fingers crossed for a Glenn Hoddle or Wayne Rooney, only to reveal the funny hair and ugly mug of the German reserve goalkeeper.

But pleasant childhood memories of the Panini World Cup sticker collecting don't need to end there.

Many adults dust off their collections every four years and settle down to start all over again, carefully tearing, peeling and sticking their way to another complete collection.

One such adult collector is Guardian journalist John Crace, who has completed every collection except the very first, from 1970, (which is "gold dust" and fetches £1000 on eBay).

His obsession started in childhood and just carried on, he says, and is actually a great deal more enjoyable as a mature, employed person, when "you have a chance of actually completing the collection".

The former England team

"Probably it's a resolution of deep childhood trauma, rather than anything else," he says.

What's more, as long as you are patient and well funded, there should be no barriers to your completing the collection.

"Unlike the football, it won't actually let you down," he says.

Conspiracy theory

Each World Cup book needs 640 stickers to complete and the stickers are sold in packs of 5. As the number of stickers you have collected increases, obviously, the number of duplicates you're likely to find also goes up.

As blogger Simon Whitehouse calculated for Radio 4's More or Less , this means that you would need to buy 4,505 stickers to ensure you had filled your book.

So if you want to be a successful collector, a broad network of fellow collectors with whom to swap stickers is vital.

But despite the complex mathematical probabilities involved, some collectors are certain that there is a geographical conspiracy afoot.

They allege that the distribution of stickers is not as random as makers Panini claim.

"It's a conspiracy theory that comes around every four years, and I subscribe to it entirely," says John Crace.

Cover of the 1986 Panini collection
The collections are released two months before the finals begin

"Once you've got six Thierry Henrys in your collection and no Jonathan Bornsteins - and you've no idea who Jonathan Bornstein is but you really want him - then you kind of get to realize that perhaps things aren't as random as..."

Panini, however, insist they print exactly equal numbers of each sticker and are rigorous about the randomness of their packets - and statistically, a random distribution would not prevent random gluts and droughts in cards from emerging.

Competitive dad

Like many adult collectors, John Crace's first port of call for swaps is his son.

But unlike many, he does not pretend that the collection is really for the child, with the adult merely 'supervising'.

His son's book is now complete, but only after the final back was peeled in the most important collection - his own.

"We're not competitive, it's just a question of priority," he says.


Are you an grown-up World Cup sticker collector? Get in touch with Today via email , Twitter or Facebook or text us on 84844.




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