Unfortunately, there’s an exception to every rule and in the case of Subbuteo’s 1988 catalogue, it’s the Tottenham team shown on the front cover. Ignore for a moment the not-so-subtle use of Umbro product placement worn by the six boys and instead focus your attention on the white-shirted players on the Subbuteo pitch. According to the kit listing inside the catalogue, this is Tottenham Hotspur but I ask you, kit aficionados of the world - when have you ever seen Tottenham wear a kit like that?
The answer is ‘you haven’t’ but we won’t dwell on such things because this turns out to be merely a momentary distraction in an otherwise fabulous document. Each double-page spread shows off the full range of teams and accessories in a way that allows the young enthusiast to dream that one day they too could own such an amazing array of stuff.
Pages 1 and 2 provide a pleasing introduction with a lovely picture showing an evening kick-off in the ‘Subbuteo League’ between Coventry City and Liverpool under floodlights. As we've mentioned all too often before, this is an entirely impossible scenario due to the weakness of the Subbuteo floodlights. Eagle-eyed Attic fanatics will notice the players’ shadows pointing the wrong way, but we wouldn't have spotted that in our mid-teens and just as well, really.
We may, however, have marvelled at the new grey grandstand sections or the vibrant crowd scenes. Failing that, we might have been distracted by ‘The Subbuteo Story’ - two short paragraphs explaining how Subbuteo came into being back in 1947, translated into various languages along the top of both pages. Oh look - Umbro adverts on the grandstand sections...
Pages 3 and 4 introduced us to the trusty kit graphics that adorned every Subbuteo wallchart and catalogue, and here they appear on each double-page spread along the bottom. Along the top edge, more reading matter was provided with some bog standard text explaining how realistic Subbuteo was - all standard fare to the 'flick-to-kick' enthusiast.
The pictures, however, showed more exciting shots of a Subbuteo match in action (nice Umbro Everton away shirt, by the way) and on the right, examples of how throw-ins, corner kicks, passes and shots were executed for those people that had never clapped eyes on the game before.
Upon opening page 5 and 6, one is greeted with a multitude of national flags. That’s because “many countries have their own Subbuteo clubs and associations”, according to the translated text in the top-left corner. Extra photos show people playing football, people playing Subbuteo and various unnamed trophies that, we can only assume, include the Subbuteo World Cup. I think it's the one in the middle, but I could be wrong...
Page 7 and page 8 feature the three main boxed sets one could buy back in 1988. The basic Club Edition looked barely changed from the one I owned ten years previously, while the World Cup Edition looked altogether more appealing with its scoreboard, fence surround and the two teams from the 1986 World Cup Final - Argentina and West Germany. It would have been a nice touch to include the West German team in their green and white away strip for accuracy’s sake, but the traditional black and white kit did little to take away from a fine boxed set.
Last but not least was the Grandstand Edition - essentially a bumper collection of items for the junior player with world domination in mind. This had a section of grandstand included for instant atmosphere, plus three teams, a TV crew, throw-in takers, corner kickers and plenty more besides. The very stuff that juvenile dreams are made of.
Over the page were many of the accessories previously mentioned, plus five different sets of footballs, four different goal nets and the famous Subbuteo Astropitch. One personal regret of mine is the fact that I gave up playing Subbuteo around 1986, and that’s because I missed out on playing with the beautifully made Adidas Tango footballs. They look utterly amazing in white and yellow, but I'm struggling to figure out when you’d play with the orange ones. Given that in real life they were only used in snowy conditions, how would you replicate that in Subbuteo? Would your Dad’s shaving foam be secretly removed from the bathroom cabinet on such occasions?
On pages 11 and 12 were the final selection of accessories including trophies, trainers, adhesive shirt number stickers and crowd figures. Below those were the tail end of the Subbuteo kit range and here we got the chance to see some of the newer designs on sale. These included the Leeds United kit with the ‘V’ motif on the shirt (hello Umbro!), and that pesky Tottenham kit (654) we mentioned earlier. Really - how early did the designer knock off for lunch on the day he created that?
The final double-page was reserved for the essential indexed lists of all the teams displayed. Here we’re told that the range now included over 650 teams after some 40 years of development.
An impressive note on which to end, and a reminder of what truly made Subbuteo the great game that it was.