YOU know the World Cup is drawing ever nearer when every other TV advert features a footballer or two.
From shampoo to chocolate bars, worldwide brands are following their usual tournament game plan and linking their products to this summer’s carnival of football and using the big-name players to help sway an unsuspecting public.
But while football-related adverts swamp our screens, it is something needing little air time that is for me the biggest tell-tale sign a big tournament is just around the corner – the release of the new sticker album.
As a football-mad youngster, the only January outlay for my Christmas spends was that season’s sticker book and the chance to fill school playtimes in the dark winter months trading swaps was all that mattered for several weeks.
But when it was World Cup year, there was the added bonus of a summer where the main vocabulary I used was “got-got-need”.
I do not think my mum and dad were as enthused as this 12-year-old when a tea-time plea for some extra spends to nip to the paper shop for a couple of packets of stickers became a regular occurrence.
But that was my sole focus – not sweets or crisps but getting the stickers required to fill that book. I probably spent more of my parents’ spare cash on those small packets of six stickers than anything.
The satisfaction when you did peel off that last label and fill your book was euphoric. I will never forget the moment in the playground in 1986 when my pile of swaps so big it now needed an elastic band to contain it was finally traded for that priceless last need – Spain goalkeeper Luis Arconada is a name I will never forget.
You would think the increasing interest in girls and alcohol further down the teenage path would end the sticker obsession and for a while it did. But then I was coerced back into the addiction at university in Sheffield.
In some respects, this was more dangerous than before – now I was using my own money and having more cash than I did as a 12-year-old (well, marginally) meant it did not stop at just one or two packets a day – it even stretched to a full box at one point.
It might have set me back a fair few quid but that was some night in front of the TV – seeing how close to completing Premier League ’94 I could get.
I went cold turkey after that – disillusioned with this new trend of sending off for your final 50 needed to fill. Where is the fun in that?
I am still on the sticker book wagon but the sight of the Rio 2014 album on my colleague Marc Iles’ desk is threatening to pull me over the edge again. If only there were counselling meetings for us sticker book addicts.
Until then, no paper shop counter is safe. Keep away from the sticker box!