Reminiscing about the Cup Final a couple of weeks ago made me realise an important truism about ageing, and it involves the fact that the trite, post-modern, reflections on youth so beloved of lazy comedians and grown men who claim that “it’s okay because I only buy intelligent computer games” are actually, mostly, complete balls. You know the ones: “Didn’t Mars bars used to be so much bigger back then”, “Check out my Hong-Kong-Phooey t-shirt” or “Do you want to come round and watch Transformers: The Movie? I’ve got it on the original laser disc.”
It is a cultural cul-de-sac. A stinking, repressive form of self-flagellation where people aren’t allowed to grow old, or grow up, and life starts to resemble the heaven of the Talking Heads song, where the band play your favourite song over and over again for eternity… and nothing ever happens.
This may be a white, English thing – after all, it’s better to reminisce about thankfully defunct “wacky” flavours of crisps or TV shows, than it is thinking about the miners’ strike (“Wasn’t it just the biggest strike you’ve ever seen, you don’t get strikes like that anymore.”) or the cruise missiles based on our doorsteps (“They used to be so much bigger back then. Weren’t times grrrreat?”).
But, despite my hard-wired cynicism, it is a default setting that I still slip into as much as the next man adding his revisionist take on the dubious merits of MC Hammer. This happens approximately every two years in time for the next big football tournament. It happened the other day, not with a bang, but with a conversation about whether or not I will be buying the EURO 2012 sticker album.
There was a time before the Panini was the middle class lunch of choice. There was a time when that, at the time, gloriously continental word – Panini – meant only one thing, and that was that one’s social status was not defined by ones parents’ jobs, or relative wealth. It was defined entirely by whether or not you had unwrapped that spare Jesper Olsen sticker that morning that everyone else wanted. Your standing, for a couple of glorious weeks, was linked directly to the size of your pile of swapsies. It was the richest kids who would have huge piles, but they, for possibly the only time in their lives, would always be lower down the pecking order than the kids with newspaper rounds who would walk out of work with boxes of stolen stickers.
For a few short weeks, these working class heroes could be heroes in class.
Unfortunately, I was sacked from my paper round long before I came close to getting the full EURO ‘92 set for my complete and spectacular ineptitude and work-shyness. I would resign myself to being way down the pecking order for years. I was a bad paperboy and a worse thief. My Panini sticker album would always be full of more gaps than England’s defence against Germany in the last World Cup.
I haven’t bought a Panini sticker album for many, many years, but in the interest of research, of course, for which the Sportsdesk is renowned across this fair land, I went out this morning and picked up the new one to see if it still brought back the old magic.
Naturally, the first thing that caught my eye was the selection of starters included. Philipp Lahm, Carles Puyol, Sean St. ledger. These would be gold dust, I thought, but then that is what they want you to think. It is much more likely that the bearded Olof Mellberg, glowering back at you like a man whose Sunday Times was currently stuffed inside a bush down the side of the newsagents, would be worth a jot. The beauty of the sticker collection is in the oddities. There would always be half a United Arab Emirates side that would never be completed, a Stewart McKimmie that has slid down the back of the big sofa of life.
I won’t be going out tonight offering up my pile of swapsies, and honestly the next time I can see myself indulged in a conversation that goes along the lines of “Need it, got it, got it, need it,” will be when I am picking up my prescriptions, trying to stave off ill health and natural, self-inflicted, infirmity and incontinence.
But there was a moment, flicking through the pile, past Denmark’s Andreas Bjelland and Greece’s Loukas Vyntra, when I found one of Gerd Müller scoring for the impossibly wonderful West German side of 1972 against the USSR. Maybe, just maybe, I could get back into this…..
Fortunately, reality took over again, and, like the man who rashly decided that he would get into Sun Ra, I know that until I get a proper job (like a paper round) I will never finish this album.