7 September 2012

Rich J's 5 Worst Subbuteo Items

At the recent Socrates meet up, an interesting discussion arose, inspired by our original five top Subbuteo articles (here and here). What were the worst five?

There was an almost unanimous verdict that the worst of the lot was number one on this list, but what would the other four be? Subbuteo produced a raft of accessories so it should be pretty easy to find five terrible ones surely? Well, not as easy as you'd think.

Using the wealth of info on the Peter Upton site, I trawled through them all and if I'm honest, I was hard pushed to complete a top five! While a lot of accessories were superfluous (the police set or 'players warming up' for example), at least they added to the atmosphere and they were only ever intended as diorama figures, so here I'm concentrating on things which seemed to either serve no purpose whatsoever or were just bad at what they were designed to do.

So...here are my five worst Subbuteo items.

1. Throw in takers (C132)

Ping... OUCH!
Anyone that ever used these will know just how crap they were. On the surface, they look quite good... nicely sprung base, outstretched hands; should work like a dream! Oh no, for unless you had at least three hands or perhaps some kind of Wallace & Grommit system of pullies and levers, you were screwed.

The fundamental problem was the entire design. Let's just run through how one had to use it and then detail why it was so bad.

Hold ball in front of throw in taker, press the springy bit back and release. Simple, yes? No. Holding the ball was the easy part, but getting it to spring was where you needed the extra limb. The base wasn't heavy enough to either hold the thing steady or to cope with Newton's 3rd Law of Motion. With one hand you had to hold the base to make sure he didn't ping into your eye while the ball hovered awkwardly in space like the shy kid at the school dance... in space. You then had to bend the thrower part back and release it, ideally as smoothly as possible. The issue here was the part you had to grip wasn't very big so obtaining any sort of purchase usually involved fingernails and I dread to think how many expletives were uttered when said fingernail was bent backwards (lots in my case).

Of course, all this may be purely down to my own inabilities, but even then, once you mastered it, the ball's direction was still subject to a great deal of chance, what with the ball being grossly out of scale to the hands doing the throwing.

Surely a few minor tweaks could have improved this? A larger flicking area and maybe a cup shape to hold the ball in place so one hand could hold him down while the other flicked to throw? But, no...that would have looked stupid and detracted from the realism... a bit like having a giant suddenly appear on the pitch to take a corner... oh wait.

2. Throwing / Kicking Goalkeepers (C202/3) & Pack of Assorted Goalkeepers (61211) 

WHY???
I never owned these and the simple reason for this is they are absolutely bloody pointless! I concede you could use them for taking goal kicks, rather than using an outfield player... and maybe the throwing figure for throwing the ball out, but there was already an accessory to do both of these jobs in the form of the corner kick taker! There had also previously been available 'spare' goalkeepers, which were just normal players painted to look like keepers for the aforementioned tasks. Added to this was the slight problem of the figures not actually being properly balanced so your goal kicks were being taken by the equivalent of Bruce Grobelaar in permanent 'wobbly leg' mode.
Hatred on a stick

Still, at least these were on proper player bases and not the usual goalie sticks... no, hang on - they existed as well. Someone please explain to me what the point of a goalie holding the ball is when he's trying to save it? Mind you, at least he's doing something unlike the dude with his arms down! What's he? 'Pre-kick off goalie'? Why not just go the whole hog and have 'Driving home after the match goalie on a stick' or 'Sit down protest Neville Southall goalie on a stick'? I loved you Subbuteo, but you really did test me at times!

3. Spring Goalies (61123)

BOING...GOAL!
While on the subject of goalie accessories, these fell squarely into the category of 'looks like a genuine improvement - utterly useless in reality'.

What should have delivered extra excitement as your keeper 'sprang' into action, making dramatic diving saves left, right and... well, not centre... in actuality delivered a keeper whose sole source of strength (his stiff rod... settle down at the back there!) was swapped for something rather floppy and useless (Right, detention you two!)

To actually get him to utilise the extra spring in his step, you'd have to almost slam him towards the post, which made for less than precise saving action. On the flipside, any decent shot would see him bend over backwards to let the ball in the net. If only there was some way of not having to see such dismal displays... ah, let's use the...

4. Floodlights (C101)

LIES!
Ah, the thrill of owning the floodlights! Our younger readers (do we have any?) may need to Google 'floodlights', robbed these days of the chance of seeing the four-shadowed figures ghost across the park in the winter gloom.

Us older people will remember them and the excitement of owning a set to host your own evening kick-offs in Subbuteo world. These were one of the most expensive accessories you could get and as there were only two in the box, most of us held our first match with just half of the pitch illuminated.

The tension builds as one removes them from the box, inserts the 4 D-size batteries and finally switches them on. How glorious they look! Now for that true touch of authenticity, one switches off the living room light... Hello? Where did everyone go?  Why is there something with less power than a candle creating a tiny pool of orange in the near distance?

'Floodlights' was an over optimistic description. 'Damp squib' would be more appropriate. You were then faced with two options. Play the match in darkness a mole would struggle with or flick the light back on and accept that Subbuteo hated you and your whole family.

5. Subbuteo World Cup (C157)

Whatever...
No, not the Jules Rimet Trophy or the C182 World Cup Trophy, but the "Subbuteo World Cup".

I own this and the only reason I can give you for why is that it's pretty rare. That's about it. It's ugly and utterly meaningless. I had assumed it was a replica of the trophy presented to the winners of the Subbuteo World Cup tournaments, but apparently not.

The best reason for its existence, as detailed on the Peter Upton site seems to be that:

"Charles Stadden had produced Subbuteo's version of the Jules Rimet, but I have been told that he did not like the design of the new trophy, and refused to copy it. Perhaps this was the result. Whatever the reasons, this trophy was replaced by an official copy of the new FIFA World Cup (C182) in 1981"

So they're mine... what are your worst five?

39 comments:

  1. Hard to argue with that list but I have a couple of additions: The Subbuteo rugby and Subbuteo cricket spin-offs were both pretty misguided and the green fencing was a pain in the arse.

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    1. I wasn't even going to mention the spin offs (shudder) ;-)

      While the green fencing was great to look at, you're right, it didn't half get in the way of actually playing the game...something else the floodlights were guilty of!

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    2. Ooh no, the fencing stopped the ball shooting off the table and, invariably, finding the underside of my dad's shoe as he wandered by.

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    3. A very good point there! Brings back painful memories seeing a luminous Adidas Tango meeting its end at the foot of a family member.

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    4. I had the green fencing and only tended to fix it up when my mate and I were playing the final of a competition that had last the previous nine weekends... :)

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  2. You mentioned the floodlights, but what about the stands? Great if you like to 'lean over a fence' to play a game of Subbuteo! :-)

    I think the standard pitch was also pretty bad. I used to play Subbuteo with an Astroturf pitch that was pinned onto a large piece of MDF. Some of my friends used to play in their homes using the standard cloth pitch (un-ironed) on the carpet floor - amateurs! ;-)

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    1. That's just reminded me what always made me laugh about the cover of Subbuteo catalogues...2 kids desperately trying to reach the pitch over the grandstand :)

      I also had the astropitch and it was a class above the standard cloth. Chose it in my 5 favourite items :)

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  3. This has brought back some brilliant memories, so thank you.

    I can remember my Dad buying me some of the throw in takers, second throw in and I had snapped one player clean off. Useless.

    I did love my floodlights though, for me the grandstands had to be up here, or those daft fences.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Kenny :)

      Glad it wasn't just me that ended up with the throw in takers torn asunder. Yet we all just seemed to accept it didn't we? Not sure how today's modern market would take to such shoddiness! ;)

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    2. Obviously the Joey Barton of Subbuteo

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  4. What about the supporters you had to paint? All of my matches were watched by naturists.

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    1. Ha yeah! The 5 painted figures I had used to look at the 'nudists' in disgust...then again, they were wearing 70s clothes so the moral highground was somewhat confused ;)

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  5. The half time scoreboard was pretty pointless too.

    Great article, I loved my Subbutt

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    1. Thanks Anon :)
      Think the half time scoreboard was discontinued before I got into Subbuteo, though I did see it on the Peter Upton site. Perfect for recreating...er...nothing! :)

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  6. For me, the worst Subbuteo item ever was the large piece of chipboard that one of my Dad's friends super-glued my pitch to in order to prevent it from moving around.

    Don't get me wrong, it was a great idea but he'd managed to glue it in such a way as to force the touch lines to depart from the standard "straight line" configuration, making the pitch look absolutely rubbish.

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    1. That's a great story Simon :) Maybe Subbuteo should have released a 'Drunk Groundsman' figure to go with the wonky lines? ;-)

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  7. Great article. I thought the 5 a side version was fabulous. The curved corners were genius!

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    1. Thanks Stuart. I'd forgotten all about the 5 a side version! You've just reminded me! :)

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  8. I had the five a side game too! Significantly reduced the risk if the ball under the foot disaster and also meant that teams with lost players could find a new home!

    I have two full size pitches. The newer one that I bought as an adult is a syntehitc fluoro green. Not a pitch I mean patch on the original snooker top version! I love the feel of it.

    Great article - brings back many happy memories.

    Terry, Australia

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    1. Thanks Terry :)

      So is your latest pitch the Astropitch or is it another version? Before I bought it, I'd assumed the Astropitch was going to be like the 'field' used in the cricket game Test Match. How wrong I was :)

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    2. No, not the astropitch cos there is no vinyl backing. I bought it in about '97 in selfridges. The other pitch is more original.

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  9. You mentioned the corner kick takers in passing. These were bloody awful giants who hoofed the ball way off the playing field more often than not.

    I thought the ref and linesman sets were pretty pointless too, though I guess at least that added to the authenticity of the occasion albeit getting in the way...

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    1. Agreed re the corner kick takers...another accessory I failed to master, though by the sound of it, it seems that was more the norm :)

      With the ref figures, I suppose you could always recreate moments involving Paulo Di Canio and Paul Alcock...though I don't think the ref would go to ground so easily ;)

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  10. I did though spend hours painting my team red circa Liverpool 1978 with my finest aircraft kit fine paintbrush, even down to the white trim & shirt numbers. Magnificent. Pity my brothers were never into playing it with me and mum just didn't get it.

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    1. How was your painting, Anonymous? I always struggled to paint neatly on my Subbuteo figures when the opportunities arose!

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  11. I scored 3/5 in the list of unnecessary items, but I actually liked the floodlights - once I'd trained myself see the ball. We had the old version - the full four pylons, smaller so nearer the pitch. Plenty of magical evening kick-offs to warm those pre-internet days.
    Grandstands, though. Pain to reach over, cost a fortune even to get some loose equivalent of Moss Rose, then all we could afford were two handfuls of unpainted figures to watch over us - bringing our teenage isolation into painful focus. Didn't even dare paint topless women in case my dad found it.

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  12. Anyone remember the ball-raising chute that used to launch corners into the stratosphere?

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    1. No, Raimondo... was that an early part of the Subbuteo range?

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    2. This thing Raimondo?
      http://peter-upton.co.uk/sub6a.htm

      Set JJ

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  13. This brings back lots of happy memories. The pitch glued to a slab of chipboard, the pitchside acccessories getting in the way of actually playing, the rubbish corner kickers. And a huge scoreboard complete with cutout team names - many a big European match played with exotic team names on that board without me or my brothers and friends having a clue who half the teams were in those pre-Sky, pre-Champions League, heck pre-multiple televised matches days.

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  14. My best friend and I both had the basic subbuteo sets with everton and man united teams around 1972. We were too impatient and clumsy to play the game properly, but we went through a phase of using the pitch and a big box of wooden building blocks to construct our own mega stadiums. It was a very creative activity usually taking over an hour to build. Once the stadium was completed, there would be a natural disaster (earthquake, flood, hurricane) and the pitch would be covered in the debris of the catastrophe, my friend and I providing the live commentary.

    We did this over and over again, it was great!!

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    1. Brilliant! :) My brother and I also had wooden building blocks (must have been a 70s thing) and the Star Wars universe also seemed to suffer from regular earthquakes ;-)

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  15. I had two floodlights (I think they came with the European set?). They used horrendously expensive 4.5V batteries producing a small puddle of yellow.

    Being an enterprising 12yo, I realized that the floodlights used electricity, and I had electricity sockets in my bedroom. That became a learning moment; I learned that plugging a 4.5V floodlight into a 240V wall socket makes things a lot brighter for only a second or so, until all the electricity in the house trips off!

    For extra-credit, I found that doing the above underneath a cast-iron framed bed makes your head hurt when you jump upwards at the shock...

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    1. That's a brilliant story Peter! :)

      Did your parents have any comments to make on your experiment? ;-)

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  16. Coming late to this but really enjoyed it. I actually quite liked the spring goalies and also owned the cricket and rugby. The latter in particular was let down by its quite ridiculous scrum machine while the necessity to pass backwards often meant my attacks would finish way back in the kitchen of my Mum's house and further from the try line from where I set off. Getting the West Indies cricket team for Christmas remains a lovely childhood memory though.

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    1. Tremendous stuff, Lantern Rouge! That Subbuteo rugby game sounds like one that only the most committed should try playing!

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  17. I had the Astropitch which was essential if you wished to avoid having a player get his arm caught in an unruly piece of green thread.

    I also had the green fence for which I put my graphic skills to use and adorned it with hand-illustrated advertising hoardings based on those used at the 1990 World Cup. I even studied matches to make sure they were positioned in the correct order. Let's see if I remember: Coca-Cola, Fujifilm, Mars/M&M's (Snickers at USA'94), Canon, Carlsberg/Budweiser, Grana Padano, Alfa Romeo, Coca-Cola, Fujifilm, Gillette, Canon, Philips, Adidas, Vini Italia. Yes!!!

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    1. That's excellent James...don't suppose you have any pics???

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