SAN FRANCISCO —
For years, the World Cup has inspired an international craze that’s easiest to compare to baseball card collecting. An Italian company sells stickers and a matching album that gets football fans of all ages trading like children in a schoolyard.
This year sticker trading in the United States has really taken off ... with a boost from the Internet.
Outside a downtown train station in San Francisco, Philippe Sion and Bolivar Assink - who goes by the nickname Bolo - are meeting for their second trade in less than a week. They found each other on the Internet through Craigslist, looking for trading partners.
The goal is to fill up a special album with 640 numbered stickers - one for every player on every team. A pack of seven costs about $1, and people end up with lots of duplicates. Sion needs a couple of cards for members of the Ivory Coast team, so he perks up when Bolo guides another Craigslist user their way from his cell phone.
Philippe Sion, born in Switzerland, is looking at the Swiss page in his Panini trading book for this year's World Cup. (Rachel Dornhelm)
When Jan Piotrowski, a finance executive, shows up, they discover that he's already made arrangements to meet Sion to trade stickers later that day.
But an earlier meeting is fine, and Piotrowski quickly opens his bag to pull out a stack of stickers the size of a deck of playing cards. He peels a few off for Sion.
International sticker sensation
The Italian-made sticker albums have been an international sensation for decades. Swiss-born Sion completed his first one in 1982. Bolo knows them from Ecuador.
"It makes me think of my young years," he said, "meeting good people, and that’s the great thing about it."
Both men say this is the first time they’ve seen any sign of the albums in the U.S.
Dan Kupsco discovered the albums while he was traveling around Mexico last month. When he returned home to San Francisco, he took to Craigslist.
"Yesterday was the first day I had a post," he said, "and in the last 24 hours I’ve gotten 150 stickers or something. It’s been insane."
Sion, who's met him at a local coffee shop for a bit of trading, agrees.
"Today, somebody traded two stickers with me literally in the driveway of a hotel," he said. "He didn’t even get out of his car. We just traded very quickly through the window. He said 'The only one I’m missing is 149. Can you help me please? Spread the word.'"
Making connections that stick
Outside the Powell Street train station, Bolo gives his new friends a quick hug and thump on the back before heading off to his restaurant job. Philippe Sion marvels at the connections he's making.
"You know we are entering for a very short period into peoples’ lives and peoples’ passion, and we just cross each other and in the middle there are a few stickers," he said.
There’s a chance they could connect again -- when the stickers come out for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.