Interview: Panini Cheapskates

For lifelong football fans, the phrase “got, got, need” is likely to be a familiar one, closely tied with the care that was given to placing these sticky, rectangular collectibles within the boundaries of their destined space. Panini’s sticker books have assisted fans’ enthusiasm for the summer’s international tournaments since the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, but along with the cost of housing, tuition fees and the more commonly used financial comparison of Freddo Frogs, the prices of football stickers have risen over time.

46 years on from the tournament that brought ‘that tackle by Moore’ and “What a save, Gordon Banks,” a completed sticker collection in the Jamie Vardy-era will set you back several hundreds of pounds. Those who followed the Panini Cheapskates during the 2014 World Cup, will have seen a heroic couple attempt to overcome the hurdle of Panini’s Financial Fair Play and fill the album for completely free. Using nothing but pens, stickers “borrowed” from Alex’s work and Sian’s A-level in art, the couple completed the 2014 World Cup collection within their self-imposed time limit of before the winners lifted the trophy aloft.

The results of the sketches deserve more than a short, light-hearted news feature at the end of more serious football coverage. Because, as you peer into the lost eyes of these scribbled men, flicking through the collection and analysing them each individually, you realise that each has a unique emotion and story to tell.

Lionel Messi, the most gifted footballer on earth, is wondering why the hell these guys are drawing him. Thomas Müller is also confused, but polite enough to let out a smile. Giorgio Chiellini is happy, innocent and blissfully unaware that he will soon be bitten by a Uruguyan man. Salomon Kalou has shit himself.

Messi Panini CheapskatesChiellini Panini CheapskatesKalou, Panini CheapskatesMuller Panini Cheapskates

All of the 639 stickers that the couple drew in 2014 can be found here, but we spoke to one of them before starting on their 2016 challenge – the brilliantly titled ‘Difficult Second Album.’

So how did you two embark on this artistic journey? Have you always been collectors of the Panini sticker books?

ALEX: As a fresh-faced ten year old, I collected the USA 1994 World Cup Panini album, though I never quite completed it… think I had maybe half a dozen stickers left to get when I gave up. Twenty years later, I had a bunch of similarly immature friends collecting the 2014 World Cup stickers, and a nagging little part of me was a bit jealous of them and their ‘swapsies’… so I mooted getting the album to my other half (Sian), but she quite rightly pointed out that it costs an average of several hundred pounds to fill an album, and we didn’t really have that kind of cash to squander. Then, over a pint on the eve of the World Cup, we hit on the idea of just getting the empty album (which was free from the Co-Op) and just drawing them in ourselves. We thought it might amuse a few friends and family, so I wrote a little blurb for it and stuck it on a hastily bodged WordPress site the day the World Cup kicked off. I wouldn’t call us avid collectors beforehand… just a couple of slightly lapsed children.

At what point did the world start taking an interest in your sketching?

ALEX: Within an hour or two, we’d had 10,000 blog hits. It was all a bit scary. I registered a Twitter account to go with it, and between them we suddenly were getting a frankly silly amount of attention. I think the Guardian mentioned us on their football blog very early on, and it just went from there.

What you’re doing is certainly a more economical way to fill the album…

ALEX: The whole idea was that it would cost zero pounds and zero pence. Sian is quite into crafty stuff, she crochets and knits and drew a little in her youth, so she had a big stash of pens and pencils and paints. The actual blank stickers were, er, ‘borrowed’ from a stationary cupboard at work. This time round, we might have to make a trip to Ryman’s, but hopefully we won’t be spending more than a couple of quid.

Were the any unforeseen difficulties in your task? Were some players hard to distinguish in your drawings or somewhat ‘undraw-able?’

ALEX: To begin with, everything was ‘undraw-able’ because – and I really can’t stress this enough – neither of us can draw. Sian had an A Level in art from 15 years, which is the sum total of our artistic expertise. We’re both pretty hopeless. But it immediately became clear that the worse the drawing, the better the response. So we never worried too much about drawing a cubist Gary Medel or making Ronaldo look like a massive thumb. If it was wonky, so be it. And we were under such a ridiculous timeframe of twenty stickers every single day, fitting around actual real jobs and, y’know, life, that we didn’t really have time to say “You know what, I should probably start this appalling doodle again.” We just blundered on regardless.

Cubist Gary Medel

What effect did the sudden media commitments have on your work?

ALEX: It was just weird stuff like having to wake up at 6.30 up go on the radio and explain ourselves, or just keeping the blog/Twitter updated even though we were having to draw such silly amounts of stuff. I think the blog came to 15,000 words when the month was up, or “one-and-a-half dissertations” as my brain will insist on referring to it.

We will be checking in on Alex and Sian another couple of times once Euro 2016 is underway, so expect to see Jamie Vardy’s chin etched in detail on our site very soon. Or, alternatively, be sure to track their progress here: https://paninicheapskates.wordpress.com/

There’s also a link where appreciators of their art can donate to their chosen charities.

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