The “got, got, need” craze of sticker collecting in the 1990s wasn’t just restricted to football.
In 1997, just the second season of Super League, a sticker album was released with 325 rugby league stickers to collect. The album cost 75p and stickers could be bought in packs of five.
We got our hands on an album recently, plus a raft of loose stickers and some unopened packs!
The Super League Sticker Album 1997
The late Kelvyn Gardner, who was a Warrington fan, was a key player in the boom of stickers and other licensed products in the 1980s and he became one of the founders of Merlin Publishing.
Merlin produced football’s Premier League sticker albums and by 1995, Merlin’s sales had reached £50m in just five years. A TV documentary in 2017, Stuck on You, detailed the transformation of Panini and Merlin which Kelvyn was at the forefront.
He is listed in the credits of the 1997 Super League sticker album as editorial consultant, and no doubt his love for rugby league would have been a factor in its production.
The album contains a foreword from Sky Sports commentator Eddie Hemmings. In it, he writes: “You hold in your hand another example of the power of Super League – the country’s first ever Rugby League sticker collection. The clubs, the players, the colours, the logos, the statistics are all here to present a collection worthy of the Greatest Game of All. Tackle if you can!”
For those familiar with the football sticker albums, the rugby league one followed a similar format. There were sections for each of the 12 teams, including stickers for logos, kits and key players, as well as the half and half team photo stickers.
The four pages per team included the squad pages, which had 16 players, including their career record, and basic bio details.
The team pages also included information such as club websites, phone numbers, honours and most interestingly, ticket prices. It was just £7 to watch Wigan at Central Park in 1997!
The middle pages of the album were dedicated to the World Club Championship, which of course featured all 12 Super League clubs and their 22 equivalents from Down Under.
The album was published mid-season, as it contains stats, a review and league table up to the middle of May in the season.
Perhaps the demise of the Super League in Australia impacted on the production of future sticker albums, who knows.
But it’s this sort of thing that rugby league nerds have been starved off. You only have to look at the impact of stickers, cards and more recently, things like FIFA Ultimate Team, to see how much impact off-field collectibles and crazes can develop interest in a sport.
One man who tries to keep up with rugby league memorabilia is Wigan fan Neil Davies, who runs the NRDCollectables Twitter page.
He said: “I remember it well. The year was 1997 and at last Rugby League fans had to chance to collect and exchange a sticker collection with their friends on the playgrounds across the North of England.
“After years of Panini football collections being available to purchase from ‘most good newsagents’ around the country, Merlin had finally given the Rugby League family the opportunity to gloat over having our own book of stickers.
“The joy of hearing and being involved in need, need, got, got on the playground and entering into negotiations into how many normal stickers you can get for a silver/shiny certainly brings back happy memories.
“Sadly, the collection only lasted one season and has never been seen of again. Lots of clubs have done their own ‘Trading Card’ collections, but the joy of peeling the backing off each sticker and almost surgical precision in getting it stuck perfectly straight in the book was a thing of pure joy.
“I always look back at these things with rose tinted glasses and can’t help but think, just after one season, it was a huge missed opportunity.
“I can still fondly remember names and pictures of Football players from back in the 1980’s so this would maybe be a great opportunity to raise the profile of the games stars.
“There has been a huge moment over the last few years in retro shirts and the ‘older’ collectors starting to revisit their collections, so this maybe a great opportunity to revisit the viability of a new, updated collection.”
There were murmurs many years ago that issues around licensing and player image rights were impacting on the salary cap.
That caused a default position to most things of ‘no’, and even when approached by Top Trumps many years ago about a collection, the required sales target scared clubs off.
We even made an approach a few years ago about launching a trading card series, which are proving increasingly popular in other sports.
It will be interesting to see whether the involvement of IMG could see Super League centric products be created again, such as the sticker album.
While they may not be huge money makers, they might just provide alternative ways for young people in particular to get interested in the sport.
Now, has anyone got a spare Adrian Vowles?