Search for ‘holy grail’ in Google Images and the results invariably depict some glorious, shimmering, golden cup. There’s also a fair few Monty Python images too, but we’ll skip those. Search in the Football Attic, however, and the results are...well, pretty much the same. As for me, my personal holy grail (actually one of many, but we’ll cover some others later) was also an object of golden beauty, but rather than having once been cradled by the Messiah, this was more likely to have been manhandled by a Saturday worker at the local toy shop. My holiest of grails was the Subbuteo World Cup Trophy (officially known as C182) and it was a quest that was to last many, many years... until eBay popped up and made the whole ‘quest’ aspect of it somewhat redundant.
Let me take you back to 1986 and a football ambivalent 11-year-old is watching the news. “And now the sport”... Images flash up of USSR knocking six past Hungary and the Danes (what a kit!) doing likewise to Uruguay. An 11-year-old’s world is turned upside down and he is instantly hooked.
So some weeks go by, some more matches are played and eventually the object of my desire is held aloft in the Azteca. Only, it wasn’t yet an object of desire: the obsession had not yet taken hold. Yes, I had fallen in love with the trophy, a love affair that continues undiminished til this day, but the seed for my infatuation had only just been planted. The obsession began as that trophy, the one that had sat in the display case of Barnby’s window for years, the one I had dismissed as ugly and ‘not a proper cup’ while admiring the European Cup for its undeniable cupliness, the one I would now cherish after purchasing it from said shop the first Saturday after the tournament had finished, became that trophy that was NO LONGER AVAILABLE!!! Apparently, in their wisdom, the makers of Subbuteo had decided - in a World Cup year - that they would no longer produce the World Cup Trophy. Let me just repeat that: no longer produce a World Cup trophy in a World Cup Year. I know!
And so began the obsession: the decline into insanity that saw me, every Saturday, trudging up to that same toy shop, past the toy guns, past the Airfix models and straight to the back where all the flick-to-kick paraphernalia was kept, but no - it was not to be.
I’m not sure if you remember, but there used to be a world with no internet. No Google, no eBay... no blogs about football tat. Hard to recall isn’t it? Well, now imagine trying to track down a discontinued toy that was only ever produced for a few years and that no-one really seemed to care about. Not even the Yellow Pages could help Oh yeah, help the narcissistic fly fishing author, but not an 11-year-old with a perfectly healthy fixation on a small piece of shiny plastic! 'Not just there for the bad things in life'? LIES!
Time passed and as with all unrequited loves, the feelings only grew stronger, but then... a lifeline! Woolworths were on the verge of moving shops and as such had a lot of old stock they were getting rid of. One such item was a Subbuteo set complete with World Cup Trophy. (I’ve just researched this and I could have sworn the set I saw was called The International Edition, but that never seems to have been boxed with C182 - rather the Jules Rimet Trophy. This one definitely had the WCT in it though (no it wasn’t the World Cup Edition as I remember it being an edition I’d never heard of and I had the '86 Subbuteo catalogue poster)).
So, obviously this story ends here right? I bought it, stared at it for ages and my life was complete (albeit missing an Argentina home kit from 1986, but as complete as possible. Of course a Denmark '86 kit would have been nice too...Where was I?!?)
This was 1987, I was getting about 50p a week pocket money and my parents didn’t believe in the DFS model of purchasing, at least not for their spendalot son. I’d therefore have to save for 16 weeks. I’m sure you can all see what’s coming here... yes, by the time I had enough cash (or rather a few weeks before as my parents weren’t that cruel), I marched into Woolworths to be greeted with the inevitable empty shelf and once again my life fell apart.
And that’s when I resigned myself to never owning one. My first taste of true defeat. Years of therapy would have to take the place of that warm glow I’d have received from its shiny, plastic embrace.
Except someone went and invented the internet and someone else thought an online car boot sale would also be a good idea. In turn, I thought both of these were great ideas! I was now in my late-20s, I had a job, a house, a car, a family... but there was still something missing. Some might suggest it was the ability to grow up, but they are but soulless fools. "Subbuteo World Cup”...*click*
“Holy something or other! How much?”
After several near misses and a few ‘out of my price range’s, I finally snared one... £27 for a ‘paint slightly faded’ example. By slightly faded, they meant ‘virtually non-existent’, but I finally had one.
So did I feel complete? Was my search finally over? No, obviously not - as I said I was in my late-20s, I had a job, a house, a car and a family. Besides, the finish was poor and the base a bit wonky. I needed a better one!
I now have three. One was less than a tenner and was immaculate - until the postman squashed it through the letterbox and cracked the base! My last was more costly, but came in the original box, so, between the three of them, I now have an immaculate boxed trophy with a perfectly intact base and a wife who just doesn’t even bother trying to understand certain aspects of me anymore.