Finger Flickin’ Fun: The Brief History of Subbuteo

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

Written by By Kyle (AKA KyleAusGooner).

It was an awesome feeling, Waking up on Christmas Day and getting your brand-new Subbuteo set, Complete with a single-tier stand and one of those little corner pieces, then sitting in your room for the next 13 hours without any food and playing the Subbuteo set your parents got you with your mate(s) and getting flogged by him since he got one 6 months ago; But you had to wait because your parents said “You will just have to wait won’t you!” But, What was so fun and addictive about Subbuteo, Was it collecting the little plastic figures, Saving up for new stands so you had the better ‘stadium’ than the kid next door, or was it just simply a lot of fun flicking little plastic men on semi-sphere shaped bases?

The availability of Subbuteo was first ‘announced’ in the August 1946 edition of ‘The Boy’s Own Paper’, A publication at the time that included comics and sometimes football. The advert was fairly vague and didn’t have any detail about what the board-game was like, But none-the-less being typical bored kids in the late 40’s they still bought these football sets. That month the ad was in The Boy’s Own Paper; Orders started pouring in and then Adolph set about converting his proto-type idea into a deliverable product, that these kids would get instead of being ripped-off, as he was originally going to do since he never thought any one would buy them.

Then the first Subbuteo sets started to be produced, they consisted of goals made with wire and paper nets, a cellulose acetate ball, cardboard playing figures in two boring red and blue kits and bases made from buttons weighed down with buts of lead. No pitch was provided in the set instead, the purchaser was given instructions on how to make there very own playing area.
The got chalk provided and as the instructions said, they would mark out the specially made Subbuteo pitch onto a blanket (Most kiddies using Uncle Charlies old war blanket). Then those very first sets were eventually available about 6 months after the original advertisement appeared, thus creating a cult phenomenon, Subbuteo.

When Subbuteo first appeared it had a bit of a marketing rivalry with a game called ‘NewFooty’ that had been around since the 1920’s, made by by William Keeling of Liverpool; It followed similar rules to Subbuteo. As a means of differentiating his product, then Peter Adolph introduced a 3D plastic figure into the range (That was hand-painted). After a few little changes, these figure evolved by 1967 into the classic ‘heavyweight’ figure that would be used by kids world-wide (Actually, Probably only European-wide).

There were numerous other evolutions of the figure’s design, But then in 1978 the ‘Zombie’ figure was introduced to facilitate the machine painting of figures. After much negative feedback, Peter Adolph decided the zombie figure was to be replaced in 1980 by the ‘lightweight’ figure that continued until the 1990’s and present day.

But what made the game different from most other tabletop footy games (like NewFooty), Players can get hundreds of team kits and accessories. While most games feature only two teams (usually “red vs. blue” or “yellow vs. black or white”), Subbuteo has several team designs, all for real teams. While some of them could obviously be used by other teams than what they were made for, There are many unique kits, such as Sampdoria or Soviet Union, and even unpainted models. There are also many additional accessories, such as new balls and goals, special figures for free kicks and throw-ins, stands and crowds, floodlights, TV cameras, Those annoying Cops and even the crowd favourite, the beloved Football-Streaker!

But, Like all enjoyable things, some guys take it just a tad over the top and now has a ‘competitive’ world stage, where it is known by the term ‘Sports Table Football’…(Pfft they couldn’t just called it Subbuteo like the rest of us could they!) There is even a bloody world governing body, The Federation of International Sports Table Football, or as those ‘lazy’ or ‘not
really serious’ competitors call it the FISTF, and has World Championship every year that can even attract a crowd up to 200 people watching two guys with a little too much time on there hands battle it out for the coveted World Championship Title, apparently there were ‘kits’ for the guys playing and even proper advertising boards with paying businesses displaying there

But for all the guys out there who go the extra little bit for Subbuteo, At the end of the Day it is on of the most (not really) intriguing and fun games around, If Peter Adolph knew how many kids would have saved up for his ‘Hobby’ (The name he wanted to call it, Before settling for Subbeteo after some bird.. Get’s Me!) to get that new Camera-man, Throw-In piece or the funny little streaker I’m sure, He would think “There just wasting there Money!”…

But we didn’t think of it like that back then, we enjoyed playing Subbuteo and having a god old match with our friends, In fact most of us (But almost all hide it) still love to whip out the good-old Subbuteo table we got when we were 9, when no-one is looking.

If you interested check out the FISTF site.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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