It was a sunny spring afternoon in April 2012. I was in the loft of my parents’ house – for some reason, I forget why – a small torch clamped uncomfortably between my teeth, rummaging through an assortment of random rubbish.
Dozens of frail, fraying cardboard boxes were littered around the dark and musty attic. Ancient golf bags, loose Christmas decorations and tall towers of de-boxed videos jostled for dusty position.
After 10 minutes of aimless rootling, I had managed to find little more than one box of old school books, one-and-a-half pairs of Gray-Nicolls batting pads and two Sega Mega Drive controllers, sadly divorced from the console itself.
But in the box of school stuff, a yellow folder was peeking coquettishly out from beneath the lid. I pulled it out and saw that in one corner, in tentative pencil, was my name. Inside were reams of ancient English essays, maths papers and school reports. I read a few of the essays, ‘What I Want To Be When I Grow Up’ (option one, airport run taxi driver, so I could ‘listen to the radio and take people on their holidays’) and a report on Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man which concluded, waspishly, that the book was ‘…only quite good, not very good’.
I read a few school reports too. In most, my timekeeping and organisational skills were called into question. It was reassuring to find out how little I had changed. I have long been notoriously disorganised and endlessly late for things. My sense of timing is usually closer to Emile Heskey than Pippo Inzaghi.
But at this particular moment, it was faultless. I was in the right place at the right time. A perfect storm of lateness and disarray had led me to this point. Because there, tucked behind so much crumbling juvenilia, was another book. A book with a shiny red cover. A book I hadn’t seen for 16 years. A book with ‘Premier League 96’ written in large gold letters on the front. My sticker album, basically. I hope I’m making that clear.
Somehow, the album had survived countless spring cleans and boot sales. The pages were still relatively crisp and neat, still alive with colour and detail. The staples still stubbornly held the whole package together. I stared at it for a few moments, shocked and delighted to have found it after so long. The faces on the front cover – Barmby, Ginola, Redknapp (J, obviously) – were as youthful as ever.
I flicked the book open somewhere near the centre pages and a peculiar reunion with dozens of long-lost childhood friends (acquaintances really) began. Names and faces I had half-forgotten — Jason Lee, Noel Whelan, David Burrows — came rushing back. I marvelled at the rows of relentlessly normal, pleasingly war-torn players on show. I felt my heart leap with joy at seeing Wimbledon as a fully-fledged top-flight team. I chuckled at Barry Venison’s still-hilarious hair metal mullet. I felt a pang of sadness to see a young Gary Speed.
But I was delighted to see my old album. It was everything I remembered, a perfect, amber-cast artefact from an era of such giddy excitement and simple promise. I flipped back to the opening page of the album and began working through it, cover-to-cover. It wasn’t so much the neat and completed rows of stickers I was looking forward to, as the total absence of any of the tempting and empty spaces which had first drawn me into the world of football stickers.
But by page five, there was a problem. By page 127, there were half-a-dozen. Six stickers were missing.
And now the title of the book makes sense. Phew
Read more about or buy Adam Carroll-Smith’s new book Six Stickers here