Sunday, 10 August 2014

Panini / The Guardian - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brasil


2014 FIFA World Cup Brasil
Panini / The Guardian

I missed this story when it appeared first. I thought it was funny and worthy or repeating here...

How I became a World Cup expert – by collecting stickers

I haven't played football, or rather soccer, since summer camp, but I have a ticket for Brazil and a partially completed Panini sticker album…
The Guardian, Monday 2 June 2014 12.59 BST

"Hey, do you want to go to Brazil in June?" the sports editor asked on the office stairway.

Did I want to go to Brazil? This seemed a slightly random question for a rainy March afternoon. But then, I often get asked pretty random questions in the office: "What should I buy my wife for her birthday?" "Why do you work on the fashion desk when you dress so badly?" "Why are you reading Grazia when your article is two hours late?" Questions, questions.

But sure! I'd love to go to Brazil, in the same way I'd love to go paragliding, or learn how to make decent pastry: it's another entry on the list of things I've never done that I'd quite like to do one day.

"For the World Cup," the sports editor elucidated, seeing my somewhat blank face.

"Oh wow! Yes, great!" I squealed.

"Great, I'll email you later," he said. I made a thumbs-up sign, waited until he was around the corner and then hurried back to my desk to Google what kind of sport the World Cup in Brazil involved.

I am not a sports person. I don't like playing sport and, as far as I know, I don't like watching it (I've never actually tried because watching sport on TV makes about as much sense to me as riding a stationary bike. I make an exception for Wimbledon, of course, because that, as my friend Marina explained to me, is sport for people who don't like sport, and she's right.) I pretended to have my period for five years at school to get out of PE. So, predictably, news that I am going to Brazil for the World Cup sparked much amusement among my friends:

"You're going to the World Cup?"

"You're going to the World Cup?"

"You're going to the World Cup?"

The emphasis is always different, but the implication is the same: me going to the World Cup is about as funny as sending a vegan to a country that only eats meat. I know nothing about football. Nothing. I have a disability, you see, that means all discussions about football turn into vague white noise in the space between my ears and my brain. It was only relatively recently that I realised the football stadium that is walking distance from my flat is not actually called "Arsenal Stadium" (I did wonder why so many fans of Emirates Airlines congregate in my neighbourhood on Saturdays). I'm also, I should add at this point, American, and in America, soccer is something you're forced to play once when you're 10 and get sent to summer camp. And then you never, ever think about it again.

But I'm a professional journalist. I can totally get with this World Cup thing, disability and nationality hurdles notwithstanding. Also, even I am aware that going to the World Cup in Brazil is a massive privilege and I should probably learn to appreciate it instead of making wisecracks. So I do what I always do when I need to improve myself: I turn to my friends.

My friend Tim gives me a Panini album, which at first is something of an anticlimax as I assumed he was getting me some kind of sandwich. But when I realise it involves sticker collecting (my kinda sport) I perk up. My friend Esther recommends a book called Futebol: the Brazilian way of life by our former colleague Alex Bellos. Other people make recommendations that range from the sarcastic ("Maybe start reading the sports pages?" – A Guardian Sports Writer) to the vaguely useful ("Seriously, start reading the sports pages" – A Guardian Sports Editor).

Then, something weird happens. I start enjoying my research, and when I say "research" I mean buying stickers. While I may not be a sports fan, one thing I do share with sports fans is a nerdy love of amassing pointless collections. As a kid, I collected stamps, because that's all I was allowed to collect. As an adult, unhindered by my parents' moderating hands, I collect everything from children's book illustrations to ticket stubs to books about John Belushi. I join the Guardian sticker-swap group and, within a week, exhaust my local newsagent's sticker supply. Within two weeks I am driving the Guardian sticker-swap group wild with my constant demands for more swaps. But I don't care, because I am only one sticker away from completing France and some things are more important than workplace relationships.

Last week I ran into the sports editor in the office and he asked how my preparation was going.

"Great!" I reply, waggling my sticker book in his face. "I've pretty much memorised which teams are in which group and who the main players are and..."

"You know you won't actually be writing about football, Hadley," he says. My sticker album slips a little in my hand.

Tchuh. What does he know? I bet he hasn't even completed a single Panini sticker team yet. Meanwhile, I've done France, Ghana and Ecuador and I'm just one off from completing Spain. I think we know who's the World Cup expert now.


© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Photo:  Hadley Freeman with her World Cup sticker album. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

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