Home Sports Darts star Bunting’s new love… retro football stickers

Darts star Bunting’s new love… retro football stickers

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Stephen Bunting holds a Franz Beckenbauer sticker

Stephen Bunting holds up his sticker of West German World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer, which until recently had been hidden inside a parcel for 46 years (BBC Sport)

Stephen Bunting is best known by many for being one of the best darts players on the planet.

Currently ranked 16th in the Professional Darts Championship order of merit, the 39-year-old has gained a large following thanks to his social media presence.

Many of his combined 290,000 followers on TikTok and X come from darts and his personality, but some come from a lesser-known community who, like Bunting, love collecting retro football stickers and cards.

“When I was a kid and I got the backpacks, I was really excited,” Bunting told BBC Sport.

“I remember I had the sticker books and I was always intrigued to put them on and try to fill the books.

“I’m a big Liverpool fan so any Liverpool cards I got as a kid – the stadium, the shiny cards and things like that – really intrigued me and I think that’s what gets you hooked.”

Bunting’s love of football stickers and cards was recently rekindled after discovering the ‘Paolo Panini’ TikTok channel run by Ollie Jenks.

Jenks’ channel regularly has live streams where viewers can purchase unopened packs from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and watch them be opened live.

“I was browsing through TikTok channels, looking for content to be honest when you’re bored, and I came across Paolo’s channel,” Bunting explained.

“It took me back to my childhood and I got into it straight away. I remember putting a comment in the chat and saying, ‘Is that the real Stephen Bunting?’ and he realized that it was so. Since then we have become very good friends.”

“It’s pretty crazy, it’s crazy,” Jenks said of Bunting, who has become a regular follower of his live streams.

“We have the odd ex-footballer or whatever who sometimes comments on videos, but having someone on the live stream is ‘mental bunting’, so to speak.

“I think also because of Stephen’s online personality, from his videos on his TikTok channel, it’s very personal and people can relate to him.

“He’s an ordinary man, so to have him as one of the regular punters and to see him along with everyone else, people find it quite idyllic, which is really nice and also a warm feeling.”

Bunting, who has spent thousands of pounds on his rediscovered love of football stickers and cards, has been affectionately dubbed “the king of the pack” by Jenks and his viewers.

This is a recognition of your ability to find rare and valuable cards.

Explaining the excitement of the watching sessions, Bunting said: “If a big-name player comes out, you get a buzz and you feel it in Ollie’s voice, in the chat room. “It’s a special place to be when you get to the big moment. “. cards and being known as the king of the deck, I have to keep it up, right?

“It’s brilliant, to be honest. Everyone is putting ‘let’s Bunting mentally’ in the chat and I think I’ve gained a lot of new fans too from people who maybe didn’t know me as a darts player.

“My followers right now are fantastic, I try to do as much as I can on TikTok and social media to show that I’m a normal person.”

What started by exchanging stickers as a child at Exeter’s Westpoint Arena in the late 1990s has become a full-time career for Torquay-based Jenks, whose channel now has 155,000 followers on TikTok.

Ollie Jenks holding a starter pack of 1987 Panini football stickers

Ollie Jenks holds a pack of unopened football stickers from 1987 (BBC Sport)

The popularity of the channel, which arose from a podcast, has given Jenks the opportunity to attend this season’s Europa League final, work with clubs such as West Ham United and attend a charity match for the Wigan legends Athletic where he and Bunting opened classic packages together.

“I always wanted to work in football, but I never thought it would be like this,” said Jenks, whose career before football stickers included being a fast food store manager and living in Asia.

“I came back (to England) just before Covid and started the podcast and that’s what really changed everything.

“It has opened and will hopefully continue to open opportunities through the opening of packages throughout the history of football. We are kind of the Antiques Roadshow of football, which is what I like broadcasting to be and there It’s where we want to take it.

“It’s completely changed the trajectory of what I do. I never thought it would end up like this.”

Jenks’ ambitions include having more live shows in person and traveling the country, uncovering more football stories.

Bunting, in addition to the darts career that saw him win his first PDC major title earlier this year, is hoping to add to his sticker collection to pass on to his son, Toby.

Bunting’s collection includes a sticker of West Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer from the 1978 Panini World Cup album, which until recently had been stored in a package for 46 years. He also recently unearthed a card signed by Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott, the only one of its kind in the world.

Stephen Bunting holds a card signed by Harvey Elliott

Stephen Bunting holds up his signed card of Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott (BBC Sport)

“I think I have a really good collection now and Ollie will be happy to know that I will be expanding that collection,” Bunting said.

“My wife is not very happy because I have boxes after boxes in the garage. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to it, but I really enjoy it. It’s a great hobby to participate in and, if I wanted to make money from it, there is a lot of money to be had. there.

“For me, it’s not about that; it’s about passing it on to my son and future generations.”

But has the thought of having extra funds to purchase more packs after a successful tournament ever crossed Bunting’s mind?

“I wouldn’t say a little, I would say I think about it a lot,” Bunting said.

“I literally go back to my hotel room and that’s my down time, so I’ll look at the packs on the channel and try to get as many packs as I can to collect the legends.”

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