The one that When Saturday Comes actually published.

7 07 2017

So I entered the When Saturday Comes Writers’ competition again, but this time I’ve somehow ended up within the pages of the august publication as a runner up. To say this was unexpected is one of the largest understatements I have ever expressed.

Here is the article in its original form.

Sticking Together

At first glance the phrase “Sticker spotting” could transmit the vibes of an anti-social niche activity but it’s amazing just how much fun you can have when you’re spotting football stickers as you walk the streets.

If I were to say “I’m fascinated by football stickers” I’m sure that most people would assume that I was talking about Panini stickers. The enticing possibility of finally seeing Welsh internationals in Panini packets may have proved too difficult to resist last summer but that was only a passing infatuation. My fascination lies with the kind of football stickers that fans apply to street furniture.

If you can’t quite picture “football stickers on street furniture” you’ve walked past them without noticing. If you had looked more closely you would have seen the unmistakable signs; a splodge of colour on a lamppost, a forlorn piece of faded paper on a drainpipe, the remnants of adhesive on the back of a road sign. The stickers are definitely there because I’ve lost count of the clubs I’ve seen represented.

I saw my first on a bus timetable at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet in 2006. It involved a Polish “Band of Brothers”, I forget which sides were involved. Within a decade stickers appeared to be everywhere. A hobby with artistic pretensions came to mind so I started to photograph them.

I started a Tumblr site and briefly considered an aspirational biography; “Stickers on Street Furniture. Mixed Media. This continuous work takes the juxtaposition created when the radical self exists within commodified public space and projects it onto the mind of the viewer. The viewer is then forced to question 21st Century assumptions”. I opted for “The exciting world of stickers on street furniture!” instead.

I scan as I walk so I can spot the right sort of small coloured shape at thirty paces. It doesn’t matter whether I see an exquisitely designed creation or a weather-faded expression of club loyalty they all count. New discoveries can cause sudden halts so audible tutting is often my companion.

It’s funny what you see when you have the inclination to look around. I’ve seen a Preston sticker on a Munich airport sign, a Doncaster Rovers sticker on a Ljubljana drainpipe, an IFK Gothenburg sticker on a Bangor postbox and a Honved sticker outside the Colosseum. From an anthropological angle the stickers are obviously territorial markings, from a social geography angle it’s interesting to see which fans have visited a place.

The environs of football grounds obviously feature stickers and cities are generally well laden, with London, Manchester and Glasgow offering good selections. Perhaps unsurprisingly London offers the best opportunities of the three. There are so many monuments and iconic destinations, and indeed streets, that each trip offers a cornucopia of new stickers. The weeks after European matches are a boon as city centres have usually been decorated by a host of new stickers. I once assumed that transport hubs would offer rich pickings but stickers seem to be removed swiftly, although you may see some.

The most common stickers seem to be British, German and Polish. There must be websites that provide supplies because certain generic designs are popular at given times, at the moment it’s the coupling of the adidas stripes with “(Insert club name) On Tour”. The most fertile location has been Werder Bremen’s solar panel encrusted stadium and the location with the most cosmopolitan collection was Boudicca’s corner near Big Ben.

After a few months of sticker hunting I thought I’d noticed a profound contrast between European artistry and mundane British bombast but then I realised that my predilection for exotic mystery had guided me. In reality mythical glamour often obscures mundane reality. For example I assumed that there was absolutely no connection between European football aristocracy and fitted kitchens until I noticed that our kitchen sink had been manufactured by Teka, an erstwhile sponsor of Real Madrid. I suspect that all stickers express common sentiments like “Come On Boys!!!!” or “We’re The Best!!”.

My interest is sustained by the thoughtful representations of fan culture. Notable examples I’ve encountered include a Clapton’s Warhol pastiche in York, the stylised head of a Sampdoria ultra outside Dagenham & Redbridge’s ground, Millwall’s Only Fool and Horses inspired logo in Manchester and Preston’s reworking of the Public Image Limited logo near Euston.

My heart swells when I see irony like Manchester United’s “Ralph Milne Ultras” or progressive politics from the likes of St. Pauli, Rayo Vallecano or Livorno. I’ve seen rivalries graphically represented by the application of one sticker over another and felt intrigued by surprising connections like Tranmere and Eindhoven FC.

The most bewildering example was a CSKA Moscow sticker that I saw in Manchester. It featured goose-stepping legions and other fascist iconography. When you consider two points, CSKA were once part of a Red Army that fought a bitter war against the Nazis and ultras generally have a fierce attachment to their club’s history, the sticker was an extremely odd juxtaposition. I wasn’t quite so bewildered after I had googled “Russian fan culture”.

There are several upsides to this hobby. Another layer has been added to my interest in football. By discovering the nuances of fan culture I have discovered more about a sport I thought I already knew. Take the CSKA example or the occasion I saw a “Westphalia On Tour” sticker. I assumed that German fans had left it but the internet informed me that it belonged to Olympiacos fans.

Stickers are often removed so I often feel that I’m capturing the brief moment of social history that occurred when fans visited somewhere, like the time Borussia Monchengladbach fans covered a Manchester bus stop with stickers or the time AIK Stockholm fans visited the pubs of Rhyl. Admittedly it’s not documenting the Russian Revolution but there are times when I prefer a wistful reverie to cold hard reality.

On a simpler level my fug of cynicism has slightly dissipated. I have taken almost as much pleasure from seeing stickers in a city centre as I ever did from the anticipation of opening fresh Panini packets. I now have another reason to enjoy travelling, whether to matches or in general, as every destination is now an opportunity. I can look forward to wandering around Glasgow, Bremen or Macclesfield with a zesty gait and a greater appreciation of our urban environment.

The hobby has also shown that you can always take something from life, no matter how inconsequential the activity. I feel that I can revel in the simple moment of standing in a different place. It doesn’t matter whether I’m surrounded by the majesty of the Cinque Terre or the lampposts of London I’m equally content.

If you’re ever walking down the street and you encounter a seemingly strange person that appears transfixed by a road sign please don’t judge them too harshly, they may be indulging in the slightly arty hobby of photographing football stickers.

The article is in the latest edition of the magazine (Number 366).

The  Tumblr site is called “Stickers & Street Furniture”

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