What started out as an impulsive nostalgia buy has swiftly turned into a got-got-need obsession for Noel Draper. Is he alone?

It has always been noted that when a man hits a certain age, usually around the 40 mark, he tries to recapture a bit of his youth. Some men try to achieve this by purchasing a flash and shiny car, some chat up, with varying degrees of success, younger ladies in clubs and some treat themselves to new hair. This is all mostly a pointless exercise and one that will lead to ridicule and scorn from your mates, especially if you go down the new hair route.

So what do you do if you have reached that milestone and feel like acting well below your actual age but don’t want to have a dead dog glued to your head?

May I suggest collecting the stickers for the Panini 2014 World Cup Album?

It was a few weeks ago that I noticed, in my local paper shop, a suspiciously familiar looking album, wrapped in clear plastic, with what looked like a few packets of stickers encased within, sitting on a shelf that appeared to be dedicated to the lives of the nearly rich and famous. My first thought was that it looked out of place and went to move it back into the right section. My second thought was one of minor astonishment – they still make these things? I had thought that with the advent of the internet that actually buying stickers and actually sticking them into an actual book had been superseded by all things virtual. I was wrong.

With a quick, furtive glance around the shop as though I was purchasing top shelf material – they still make these as well, I checked – I approached the counter. It was at this point that I also spied a small box containing what looked like a hundred packets of stickers. I dug my hand in and pulled out a large bundle and placed them on top of the album. I once again looked around the shop. No one seemed to be paying much attention so I accepted the offer of a bag and made my way home.

I can’t begin to share the slight excitement I felt when I started to actually stick the pictures of the footballers in. Small memories of my youth came flooding back, Mick Mills and the small rodent on his top lip, the lovely Admiral England kit and the actual smell of the stickers as Kevin Strootman was stuck in, neatly, within the lines, always within the lines, closely followed by Jason Davidson and his funny haircut.

Within the hour my purchases had all been stuck in, my swaps had been sorted and I was contemplating the short walk back to the shop to buy some more packets. I was as hooked as I had been all those years ago except this time I could actually afford to buy the packets. Whenever I wanted to. So I did, later that afternoon, and once again the following morning.

A couple of days later I had quite a few swaps but no one to swap with. My mates, the ones with actual kids, were not into football and the ones that were didn’t share my enthusiasm. A couple even openly laughed when I suggested that they sort themselves out and get collecting. What was I to do, apart from get new friends?

The internet, that was what I was to do. To be more precise, my team’s forum. Someone else had started a thread and he had swaps as well. We exchanged addresses and a few days later a bundle arrived in the post. Imagine my excitement. Also try and imagine the bemused expression on my wife’s face as I explained what was happening. More requests for swaps came in from other likeminded forum members, I had found my swapees.

Move forward a couple of weeks and I now need only 54 stickers to finish my first album since the early 1980’s. Sure I can send off for them, as I could have done all those years ago or I could use their phone application to swap with complete strangers but I won’t. It will feel like cheating. I need to keep buying and physically swapping my spares until I actually complete it. Which is something I never managed to do.

Quite what I will do after the last sticker has been stuck in I don’t know, but I do know one thing, It has be much more fun than stapling a small rodent to my head. And less embarrassing.