A combination of soccer card collectable and strategy game, Attax is great fun for smallies, writes Ruth O’Connor, and it also offers a head start in terms of numeracy and getting along with others
It’s really about that Golden Ticket moment. Like Charlie ripping off the wrapper on the bar of Wonka’s chocolate, there’s that tantalising instant when kids tear open a packet of football cards and feel a frisson of excitement. Will they get their favourite player? Will they get to finish their collection? Will it be one of the “totally awesome” 100 Club or Limited Edition cards?
It’s a ritual after swimming lessons on a Friday in our house, the trip to the corner shop for the weekly pocket money spend. One packet of Match Attax cards sells every 1.2 seconds, and Irish kids collect more Match Attax per person than their UK counterparts. Match Attax cards are the official Premier League collecting cards and they’ve just acquired the rights to the Champions League, but the idea isn’t a new one.
The first set of playing cards to focus on football was made by the Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco Company in the US in the early 1890s and original cards can fetch thousands at auction.
The Match Attax brand that kids are so familiar with now first appeared in 1994. They’re collected by a whopping 2.5 million kids worldwide. The recent Match Attax Swap and Play Tour in Dublin’s Trinity College Sports Centre saw around 3,000 visitors queue to play games, complete their card collections, and learn new strategies.
Miguel Ponce de Leon came from Kilkenny on the train with his two sons Daniel (6) and Sam (5): “The boys’ Peruvian grandfather collected football cards in the 1960s,” says Mr Ponce de Leon. “He bought my boys some Match Attax last year and they’ve been cracked on them even since.”
The family supports Tottenham Hotspur due largely to South American players Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa joining Spurs in 1978. Daniel says he loves to get cards featuring his favourite players, while his little brother says he likes the fact that “Match Attax cards make you rich” referring to the number of stars on the cards.
“They’re never going to fill up the whole book,” says their Dad. “It’s more about getting their favourite teams and players and swapping between themselves and their next-door-neighbour. I think the cards can help kids with their numbers too.”
Irene Donohoe from Drumcondra in Dublin agrees with the maths element of the trading cards, which her six-year-old son Michael, a Chelsea supporter, collects. “There’s a social element to Match Attax,” she says.
“Playing with them teaches young kids to interact with each other, to barter and to use their negotiation skills. I also think it teaches them organisational skills and numeracy.”
While many of Ireland’s teachers have banned Match Attax from their classrooms because of squabbles, taunting and kids “chasing each other around the playground” with the cards, the benefits of Match Attax have not gone unnoticed by Topps, the makers of the cards. Last year, UK Department of Education assessments among five-year-olds showed boys trailing behind girls in numeracy skills by around 7.8% and Topps are currently in the process of developing lesson planners that will utilise Match Attax strategy games in the classroom setting.
“The figures for numeracy in boys in the UK aren’t great,” says Rod Pearson, marketing director for Topps. “So if you can engage the kids in something they enjoy and recognise, they really respond to it. We’ve had teachers contact us to say that playing Match Attax has completely turned around kids who had absolutely no interest in maths.”
One keen strategist is Kelvin Gao from Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan, whose friends agree has probably the best knowledge of game play in their gang. For Gao, the real pleasure of Match Attax is the strategy involved in the tactical games.
“Take the £100 million rule,” he says. “You have to make sure that all your players add up your £100 million budget or less in value. Well, unless you have a £5 million Agent Card which can boost the spending power for your team,” he tells this baffled reporter. Gao has learned these skills through a combination of collecting, game play, reading and the occasional YouTube strategy video.
His friends John Linnane (11), Kyle Byrne (10) and Ryan Curwin (10) are all members of the Ballyjamesduff under-11s soccer team. They each spend around €3 a week on the cards and agree that playing Match Attax is a great way to make new friends and interact with each other: “We’ve been talking about this event for ages we’ve been so excited!”
At €1 a pack, the price of Match Attax are not seen as prohibitive, and the numbers stack up. Match Attax are the world’s biggest-selling sports collectables. They’re not just for boys either, and with more girls getting involved in soccer, it looks set to be a growing market. Zara White (7) from Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin, spends all her pocket money on Match Attax.
She’s a striker for her local Crumlin United and is dressed in her full football kit when we meet. For Zara it’s all about collecting and swapping with her friends and cousins. She says all her friends on the football team collect the cards while her big sister is more “into girls stuff”.
Zara’s Dad, Thomas Curley, says the whole phenomenon is “mad” but says he has no problem with Match Attax. “If she’s going to the shop with a fiver pocket money, I’d rather she spent it on football cards than sweets,” he says.
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