Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 24 May 2006

Collect the set

They say life is full of little surprises, and I got one the other day on a visit to my local petrol station. Having deluded myself briefly with the premise that I could fill up my tank with £30 of Unleaded, I trudged off to pay the bill.

The forecourt shop assistant took my credit card, I entered my PIN number and along with the receipt he handed me three small red square sachets. I gave him my thanks (although frankly I didn't know what for) and returned to my car.

What were these shiny packets all about? Did they contain some secret ancient symbol of mystery and wonderment? No. Dan Brown needn't have worried about me stumbling on his next plot line. It seems Texaco are running a promotion in the lead up to this year's World Cup whereby for every £10 of petrol you buy, you get a free 'coin.'

For those of a certain age, the Texaco campaign will spark off memories from days gone by. Back in 1970, Esso famously gave away England World Cup coins every time you filled up at one of their petrol stations. And make no mistake - these were proper metal coins. None of the plastic-coated cardboard rubbish I had in my sweaty palm. What's more, they featured portraits of all our lads heading off to Mexico that year. Bobby Moore, Jack Charlton... hell, even Emlyn Hughes was immortalised in metallic form, and they looked the business in the accompanying presentation set (available by post - ask at your petrol station for details).

So there I was looking down at my cheap modern-day equivalents feeling like my coins had left me short-changed. OK, so I'd got David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand. Fine. And these coins had a mini-description on one side telling me about the player on the reverse. Great. But these collectable souvenirs just smacked of cheapness. Whatever happened to the undeniable quality you'd get from World Cup souvenirs of the past?

Quite honestly, when it comes to collecting four-yearly football ephemera, you can't beat Panini football stickers. The sheer excitement of opening a packet and finding you'd got the shiny silver Brazil badge was complemented beautifully by the despair of getting your third swap of Francois Van Der Elst. An emotional roller-coaster guaranteed with every packet.

Petrol stations invariably get it wrong when it comes to football tie-ins. Back in the early 1970's, Esso offered us the chance to collect 'Squelchers'. These were booklets containing football facts that helped you discern the truth behind the bullshit your friend was spouting in the school playground. Yes, according to Esso they helped you "squelch arguments about football".

Moving swiftly on, there were a proliferation of schemes going on in the 1980's whereby your average petrol purchase would get you a scratchcard. Reveal the letters hidden away, tear them off and if you were able to make up the name of someone in the World Cup that year - say, Yugoslavia - you could win a set of 6 glass tumblers. Except there were never any letter 'Y's so even that was out of the question.

Yes, it's a fruitless business visiting your garage when there's a World Cup going on. Such high expectation at the free gift you might be able to get your hands on, but it always ends in tears. Perhaps they should just give us some cheap petrol instead.


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