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Darts star Bunting’s new love… retro football stickers

In Sports
June 04, 2024
Stephen Bunting holds Franz Beckenbauer sticker

Stephen Bunting holds his sticker of West Germany World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer that until recently had been hidden inside a pack for 46 years [BBC Sport]

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

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

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

“When I was a kid getting the packs, I was so excited,” Bunting told BBC Sport.

“I remember having the sticker books and I was always intrigued with putting the stickers in and trying to fill the books up.

“I’m a massive Liverpool fan, so any Liverpool cards I used to get as a kid – the stadium, the shiny cards and things like that – really got me intrigued and I think that is 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 buy unopened packs from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and watch them being opened live.

“I was just scrolling through the channels on TikTok, just 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 just got involved straight away. I remember putting a comment in the chat and he said ‘Is that the real Stephen Bunting?’ and he figured out it was. We’ve become really good friends ever since.”

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

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

“I think because [of] Stephen’s online personality as well, from his videos on his TikTok channel, he’s very personal and people can kind of relate to him.

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

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

That is a recognition of his knack for finding rare and valuable cards.

Explaining the thrill of the watch-along sessions, Bunting said: “If a big-name player comes out, you get a buzz and you feel it in Ollie’s voice, the chat room. It’s a special place to be when you hit the big cards and being known as the pack king, I’ve got to keep it up, haven’t I?

“It’s brilliant, to be honest. They’re all putting ‘let’s go Bunting mental’ in the chat and I think I’ve gained a lot of new followers as well from people who maybe didn’t know me as a darts player.

“My following at the moment is fantastic, I try to do as much on TikTok and social media as I can to show that I am a normal person.”

What started out with trading stickers as a child in Exeter’s Westpoint Arena during the late 1990s has turned into a full-time career for Torquay-based Jenks, whose channel now has 155,000 TikTok followers.

Ollie Jenks holding up an opening pack of 1987 Panini football stickers

Ollie Jenks holds up an unopened pack of football stickers from 1987 [BBC Sport]

The popularity of the channel – which stemmed from a podcast – has given Jenks the chance to attend this season’s Europa League final, work with clubs including West Ham United, and attend a Wigan Athletic legends charity match where he and Bunting opened classic packs together.

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

“I moved back [to England] just before Covid and started the podcast and that is what changed it all really.

“It has and hopefully will still open up opportunities through opening packs throughout football history. We are kind of the Antiques Roadshow of football which is what I like the stream to be and that’s where we want to take it to.

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

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

For Bunting, alongside the darts career that saw him win his first PDC major title earlier this year, he hopes to grow 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, that until recently had been stuck in a pack for 46 years. He also recently unearthed a signed card of Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott, the only one of its kind in the world.

Stephen Bunting holds a signed Harvey Elliott card

Stephen Bunting holds his signed card of Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott [BBC Sport]

“I think I’ve got a really good collection now and Ollie will be happy to know I will be adding to that collection,” said Bunting.

“The missus isn’t too happy because I’ve just got boxes upon boxes in the garage. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to it, but I really enjoy it. It’s a great hobby to be involved with and if you did want to make money out of it, there’s a lot of money out there.

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

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

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

“I literally get back to my hotel room and that is my chill-out time so I will be looking at the packs on the channel and I will try and get as many packs as I can to pick up the legends.”

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