Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rich J's Favourite 5... Subbuteo Items

Following Chris' excellent trip down memory lane, I ventured into my garage today to drag out the box that contains most of my childhood Subbuteo stuff. As you can see below, it wasn't exactly being looked after.

 Thankfully, the contents seemed to have survived.

Memorabilia secured, it now passes to me to list my favourite subbuteo items. I have to say that these are not necessarily my top 5 - I've left a few things out in order to look at some of the minutiae that made my Subbuteo days all the better. This is why my favourtite goals (Mundial World Cup style - huge box type goals with bright yellow nets) do not get an outing here... they can wait.

1. Player Numbers (61206)

The smallest details can make or break an experience and for me, realism is very important. Naturally, with Subbuteo, there's already quite a large amount of 'suspension of disbelief' going on. Your team may well be resplendent in finely detailed kit, albeit more often than not without sponsor, but one simply can't ignore the fact that you are in effect fielding a team comprised of ten clones and one other who looks like the answer to the question 'What happens if you mix carbonite with a Mexican wave?' Added to this, your clone army are all flying around on something resembling flying saucers, so as I say, we're already having to use a lot of imagination. With that in mind, anything that adds that extra touch of realism is surely a good thing? That's where player numbers come in.

As these were a relatively cheap accessory (relative to other Subbuteo products that is, not to my pocket money alas), they were a no brainer. There were, however, two things you needed to get the most out of these... an almost infinite amount of patience and fingers the size of a baby vole. Separating the small numbers from the backing was the first challenge. Often, the machine which made the cuts in the plastic sheet had gone a bit too far and the backing came with it. Then there was the swear-inducing moment when you realised the near invisible circle was no longer attached to the tip of your finger, but instead nestling among the fibres of the carpet/stuck to your clothes/floating merrily away on an errant breeze. Eventually, player and number came together. Then began a game of cat and mouse as you chased the bloody thing round the clone's back, desperately trying to get it to place in the middle and not at some obscure angle. Finally it was done. Perfect alignment, perfect angle. Just need to press it home to fix it securely... which it your bloody thumb!!!

Did I say these were one of my favourite things? Well they are, for despite all the hassle of actually affixing them, once attached they did look the business. Just look at them. No longer ten clones, these players now had a role to play. No more would the centre forward of matches past be expected to play sweeper. Of course, the goalie already knew his place. He needed no number to affirm his role. He'd probably have killed for some muscle rub, though.

2. Scoreboard (61158)

One of the many joys of finding stuff from many years ago is the little things you'd fortgotten. Seemingly unimportant events you had no need to remember at the time, but years later providing an insight into a distant time. So it was as I prepared to open the box to my scoreboard, I couldn't wait to see which team names were in place. Who had taken part in the last ever Subbuteo match of my childhood? I slid the black plastic out of the box and there it was... nothing! I'd taken the team names out. Even the score was set at 0-0. Ah well.

Even in 1988, it was still all about Italy v West Germany

The scoreboard itself was a slab of black plastic with rotary dials to set the score (so long as no-one scored more than nine) and three slots in which to insert the competing team names as well as the event taking place. Several sheets of black card were supplied with reams of team names, written in a pseudo-light bulb font. The options available seemed to cover pretty much every European team going and almost all known competitions, as well as more specific ones such as 'Quarter Final' and 'Group Two'. While I may not have been able to see who I'd last played with, I could at least see who had taken part in previous outings by those team names I had cut out. Unsurprisingly these were just the teams I owned along with 'World Cup 86'.

Come on you Wels!
Oddly enough, despite being able to take part in such exotic competitions as the Subbuteo League, where you could witness the top of the table clash between 'Ards' and 'Simmering', there doesn't seem to have been an option to play a 'Friendly' as I'd taken one of the blank strips and pencilled it in myself. An odd exclusion I think you'll agree. Maybe in Subbuteo world it was all or nothing. No time for pleasantries and all that. Could explain why the 'Players Handshake' accessory pack (C1923) never sold all that well. It may also have been because it never existed, but that's not what's important.

Even the great Winterthur were there...

Overall, with its plethora of options and imposing nature, dominating the touchline as it did (also meaning it got in the way a lot), the scoreboard was a very special addition to the Subbuteo experience.

3. Coventry City 86/87 Home (Team No. 652)

An FA Cup Winner
I never actually owned that many Subbuteo teams - about ten in total. 20% of these were naturally my home team. The two versions I had of Coventry were the FA Cup winning kit of 86/87 and the following year's Hummel one, my favourite CCFC kit of all time. It would therefore be safe to assume that my favourite is the latter of the two then? Well, no. While I loved the kit itself, both in actual and Subbuteo form, my favourite is the 86/87 version... and not because it's the FA Cup winning one (did I mention we won the FA Cup? - Still the last Midlands club to do so).

In Pescara, the phrase 'Coventry who?' is often heard
Why? Because it meant that for the first time, my Subbuteo matches could feature my home side in the kit they actually played in, rather than the one from last season - Subbuteo were not exactly quick in updating their teams at that time so if I wanted Coventry to play, they'd have to wear the Umbro, Glazepta sponsored outfit from 85/86 and that was just not going to happen. So when the new version appeared, I snapped it up for the princely sum of £2.35 from Barnby's. That very afternoon, Coventry took to the field and ground out a 1-0 victory over Brazil. Due to Subbuteo's clever way of using similar looking kits for several different teams, both Colchester and Pescara (?) have also tried to claim this result as their own, but for me, it was a proud moment... just a shame the player who got that crucial winning goal ended up in defence for their next game.

4. Adidas Tango balls - Orange (61209)

The Adidas Tango... is there a more iconic football design in the history of the game? No, is the simple answer. Sure, others may claim the classic black and white 32-panel ball (Telstar) got there first and the orange ball from the 66 World Cup final might cause more dewey eyes (maybe not in Scotland perhaps), but it matters not. The Adidas Tango IS simply the best ball design ever conceived. It goes without saying then that the Subbuteo version is clearly the best in the table top world too. My personal favourite however, is the orange variant. While the classic white version may be more well known, the orange one in play usually meant only one thing... SNOW! You see, back in the pre-premiership days, before under soil heating that actually worked, the arrival of snow was not greeted by a cancellation and rearranged fixture. Lord no, all that was required was a few volunteers to clear the pitch markings and a bright orange ball. The match may have looked as though it was being shown in negative, but we just got on with it.

All very well for the real world, but snow never really fell on the hallowed green baize, unless your older brother decided to accessorise the pitch with some shaving foam. As we've already seen however, pretending is a big part of Subbuteo so if I say it's a snow covered pitch, then it's a snow covered pitch and we need an orange ball!

Later, a luminous yellow/green Tango was released and it also graced many a match, but deep down, it just seemed a gimic too far.

So there you have it. The Adidas Tango... iconic, versatile and a metaphor for the excess of the late 80s.

5. Astropitch (61178)

It is with a degree of smugness that I write that I owned the Astropitch as it was about three times the price of the standard pitch. Contrasting nicely with the view on 'artificial' pitches in real football, the Astropitch is rightly considered the king of surfaces on which to 'flick to kick'. Before I owned it, I had assumed it was a surface similar to that used in the cricket game Test Match, which flattened out well as it was made from polyester, but on purchase (in fact, on first picking it up, stored as it was, rolled up in in its poster tube) I realised this was not the case. It was a heavy thing and on unfurling, flattened out perfectly every single time. Not ony that, but the flock covering and heavy vinyl backing gave an almost damping effect which meant the ball didn't skim around as much, but instead, moved in a graceful, flowing and controlled manner.

When I first bought it, I wondered if it would prove to be an extravagance too far at £14.95, but after the first few flicks, it was obvious this was the future! From that point, my regular pitch, complete with its creases that just never fully went away, never saw action again.


  1. I used to have the basic pitch when I was a lad but always found the inevitable creases incredibly frustrating. In the end my dad nailed the pitch to a giant piece of thin wood (which is still in my parents garage to this day). I thought this would give me the perfect subbuteo experience but instead found that it was like playing on ice so the ball never stopped rolling. Ruined. Garage.
    But after reading the above I'm thinking of taking up the hobby again!

    1. The creases in the cloth pitch drove me up the wall. Fundamental design flaw! You NEED to get the Astropitch :)

    2. I agree, I would sometimes need 4 or 5 attempts to get the ball over a crease and into the opposing penalty area

  2. ben here, great article, i actually had the astroturf pitch for my birthday and two weeks later tried to iron it flat and melted the fuck out of it. idiot ?

  3. Martin here, ah, it brings back memories.
    Couple of things - we used to paint our teams by hand - that way you could keep the kit updated and add the numbers - also correct hair colours for your favourite team (very fiddly and yes maybe a bit sad but it looked good!) - it also had the advantage that you could keep re-using your old players - I'd contend that teams manufactured before around 1980 had better bases, much better balance. I had various pitches - ended up with one glued to a large piece of chipboard - but this was a VERY fast surface - although very accurate. Thanks for the article.

  4. Great article. Loved Subbuteo. I had most of that stuff and some of the grandstands too.