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Tom's Column - April/May 23

Embracing The Simple Joy Of Football Stickers Is A Surprisingly Sweet Hobby by Tom Beasley

I have long thought that the key to enjoying life as an adult is embracing childish things. There's a lyric in the brilliant West End musical version of Matilda – recently made into a movie – that sums this up perfectly. In the song 'When I Grow Up', one of the child characters is discussing all of the things they'll do when they have the freedom of adulthood and sings that they will “play with things that mum pretends that mums don't think are fun”. It's a perfect summation of the struggle that adults face when they deny that the things that are the most enjoyable are things made for children. Anyone who has been utterly spellbound as an adult by a Pixar film can attest to that.

This is a roundabout way of saying that one of my favourite hobbies I've rediscovered over the last years has been collecting football stickers. It's a pursuit that's intrinsically linked with the playground, right? Anyone who ever collected Panini or Merlin stickers as a child will remember heading into school with a pile of swaps meticulously held together by colourful elastic bands, ready to be greeted by the chorus of “got, got, got, need” as your friends looked through them in the hope of filling their own books.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the process of filling a football sticker album is less fun as an adult, with the playground aspect of the hobby ripped away. And while certain workplaces might have a thriving community of collectors, most offices don't house dozens of adults clutching piles of duplicate James Maddison shiny stickers. If the joy of football stickers is in the swapping, where's that joy found in adulthood?

There are a few answers to that. Firstly, I have found that football stickers are a delightfully relaxing activity. While others might sit down with a colouring book, a crossword or an hour of Candy Crush, I've found that buying a handful of packets of stickers and quietly adding them to my book is a perfect way to spend a quietly therapeutic half an hour away from the stresses of work and everything else that comes with life in the modern world. We talk a lot about self-care these days, and I see the peaceful and methodical act of sorting out football stickers as a really useful pillar of my own self-care.

But it's also not the case that the swapping side of the pastime is inaccessible to adults without close friends who are also collecting. As I neared the final furlong of my collection journey last year, I found a handful of Facebook groups populated by other collectors. Granted, many of these were helping their kids finish their books – or so they claimed, at least – but others were hoping to find the last few stickers in their own books.

I spent a couple of weeks posting my duplicate stickers to members of these lovely communities, duly receiving the last few that I needed in return. Given how little post many of us receive right now – and so few things that turn up in the post are nice – it was genuinely exciting to be receiving stickers a couple of times a week. Social media, as we all know, is a toxic hellhole that's making all of our lives worse, but it was delightful to find one of those corners populated quite simply with nice people sharing a hobby.

Re-embracing football sticker collecting is one of my favourite things I've done in recent years, presenting me with a hobby that really helps me to unwind. And there's nothing quite like the buzz of finding a really exciting shiny in a packet. The only downside is that you sometimes have to look at Cristiano Ronaldo's irritating, smug face. It can't all be win-win, I guess. I'll make sure to swap that one.

© 2023 Tom Beasley

Tom Beasley is a staff writer for the film/TV website, The Digital Fix, living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at