Don’t panic, I’m not going to go all Oprah on you all, but I’ve got a confession to make that a man of my age can’t hide. Every 4 years, the World Cup comes around and over here in Europe we’ve a company called Panini who make sticker books for most major tournaments and leagues. Since the 1980’s I used to collect them until about 1988 until the surly teenager in me decided I was far too mature to muck about with such childish entertainment. No more swapping  Ian Rush for Gary Lineker in the school yard, oh no. I’d got beer, music and girls to keep me interested instead.

I know in the States that the big thing for junior sports fans is trading cards, which have only recently taken off here in the UK, so I’m unsure as to what anyone based in North America will make of them or even know what they are, but in Europe they’re big business. Yet, since the 1998 World Cup, I’ve always bought a Panini World Cup sticker book. I can’t help myself and I got the latest one last week. No really, I did.

Of course these days, the Internet is here and I can trawl through cyberspace laughing away at some of the ridiculous haircuts, mustaches and kits of yesteryear. There is such a wave of nostalgia for these sticker books that I’ve even seen articles from Germany discussing the way players used to look, which you can read at Bild’s website here and see if you recognise any of the names mentioned!!

It’s just weird that here I am with all the modern entertainment I have at my disposal, from my X-Box, to Digital TV, DVD’s and my I-pod that something so basic, so simple should still have such an emotional attachment to me. On the Guardian website the other week, someone sent in a link to this fantastic site which has scanned the entire Italia 90 sticker book online! A virtual reality treasure trove of memories, both good and bad of such an amazing tournament.Have a scroll through it, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

That was probably the catalyst for me to delve back in to trying, once again to complete the album, which I know now I won’t do, even though I tell myself I shall. It’s amazing that something so trivial can transport you back to a more innocent time and looking back you can see so many names that have drifted away in to the depths of time.

Grown men all over the UK have started to secretly pretend they’ve got kids now to try and cover up their sticker based addictions, as this current thread on a Crystal Palace message board proves. I am not alone in my addiction, though I doubt I can seek counseling over such vices but it’s nice to know I’m not the saddest man out there. After purchasing my latest sticker book, I was disappointed to only get 2 England players out of 70 stickers which means of course that’ll keep buying them! The seminal British magazine When Saturday Comes has also seen some of its contributors weigh in with some memories of those days too. An amusing discussion is still trundling along here.

For me, it’s a fundamental part of the World Cup experience for fans over here young and old and even now, nearly 30 years on from my first sticker book, Espana 1982, it’s heartwarming to see the Panini World Cup sticker book on the shelves in stores. It’s one of those things that sets the clock ticking down towards the kick off to the tournament and with it, a little bit of me thinks back to those faraway days of swapping stickers with school friends.