Italy | Stickers have strong backing

Modena, Italy | Collectible football stickers (figurine) have achieved such cultural cache in Italy that they are afforded dedicated museum space and now a comprehensive exhibition running into February. “Mondo calcio—Campionati e campioni della storia del calcio in figurina” (The World of Football: Championships and Champions in the History of Football, in Sticker Form) at the Museo della Figurina celebrates the pastime that took hold in fin de siècle Europe and became institutionalized in Modena in 1961 with the creation of publishing concern Panini S.p.A.

Gazzetta di Modena includes 30 images from the exhibition in an online gallery, including the first Panini volume of Calciatori. (Pubblicato da Gazzetta di Modena)

Enthusiasm for football collectibles dates to the 19th century and cigarette cards (see Mar 16), but volumes of glue-backed or, in the Panini tradition, self-adhesive stickers purchased at newsstands and then inserted into annuals proved more long-standing and easier to organize. One precursor, shown in the Modena exhibit, originated in Argentina: “caramelos combinados.” These were pictures of sportsmen on candy wrappers that could be rolled out and affixed to an album page (see Massimo Ciuchi, “Una mostra da collezione,” La Gazzetta dello Sport, Dec 17).

In Italy, the collecting craze extended originally to images of film stars and to propagating interest in commercial products. One contest offered a Fiat 500 (“Cinquecento”) to those who met the criteria for filling sticker books and for finding or trading for the inevitably rare item that would fill in the last blank space.

But the two world championships under manager Vittorio Pozzo in 1934 and 1938 made football the pursuit of collectors, primarily young boys. Newspaper distributors Benito and Giuseppe Panini started their collectibles business by reselling abandoned lots of old stickers they acquired in Milan. They placed the stickers in small white bags with red trim and charged 10 lire for each.

Diego Maradona in standard figurina size (4.9 x 6.5 cm), Napoli colors (1987–88) and available for purchase on Bidding starts at €0.01.

For the 1961–62 season, Panini initiated Calciatori Panini, the signature line of calcio albums that would expand, over time, to incorporate European competitions, leagues abroad as well as Disney figures, Barbie and animal life. Stickers were sold in batches, with between four and seven per set, at a standard size of 4.9 x 6.5 cm. The self-adhesive sticker model proved more sustainable than the glued-on variety in the UK.

The Panini family sold the concern in 1988, but it remains in Italian hands, reporting €579 million in turnover in 2006. From almost anywhere worldwide, one can now commission, at MyPanini, a personalized sticker design and accompanying album of one’s dog, wedding or amateur XI.


Panini stickers in Germany historically have paid homage to the Bundesliga mullet, in accordance with the saying “business in the front, party in the back.” Trash mag Bild provides a Sept 08 retrospective.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. Rome Accom says:

    Soccer players are viewed in the same ilk as Hollywood actors, if not higher, in Italy. No wonder the stickers and cards have value to the people who worshipped the players. There is also a very retro artistic value to some of the items.

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