Thursday, 4 December 2014

Chris O's Festive 5 - Subbuteo Christmas Presents

I was rather lucky, really. During my childhood, Christmas always delivered some wonderful presents to me every year, some of which were on the list I'd made, some of which weren't. I was never left dissatisfied and my parents, though never awash with money in the bank, always ensured I didn't go without.

I always wrote a list every year without fail, as many of us did as kids. In my mind, it was written to Santa because it was he, after all, that popped down the chimney and placed our presents in front of the tree on Christmas night. The fact that our chimney was blocked up and had an electric fire where a real one should have been might have told me it was actually my parents that were supplying the presents every year, but yet for some reason the penny never dropped.

Perhaps I didn't care. The sheer thought that you could write a list of items, hand it over to someone and expect to receive most of them a few days later pre-dated my Argos experience by several years, but it seemed to work brilliantly. If I do say so myself, I was always hugely grateful for the things that did arrive on December 25th, even if there were a few notable absences.

And yet for all that, I look back now and wonder what I could have received if only I'd put more thought into making my list. Take Subbuteo, for instance. I loved playing that iconic game of 'flick-to-kick' between the ages of 9 to 13, and yet I don't recall specifically asking for a Subbuteo-related present when the festive season arrived.

Granted, I had a nice collection of Subbuteo stuff anyway, but, well, you know... a bit more wouldn't have gone amiss. So what would I have asked for if I'd had the presence (or is that 'presents'?) of mind to write it on my Christmas list? I'm glad you asked, because here are the five Subbuteo items I'd loved to have unwrapped on Christmas Day many years ago...

1. Tango footballs (61205)

You can't play Subbuteo without a football, so it was lucky that the makers provided a wide variety for you to choose from. And boy, did I ever... I started off with the basic white and orange ones from my Club Edition set before moving on to the Tournament balls, the 'FIFA' balls, the Ariva balls and also a fine set of Mitre Deltas.

Yet the ones that I really needed - sorry, 'wanted' - were the Tango balls. Even now, I REALLY WANT a set of Subbuteo Tango balls... and I haven't played Subbuteo for 30 years or more.

They were available to buy in three colours - white, fluorescent yellow and orange - but the white ones would have been just fine by me. Just like the full-sized equivalent, a true example of perfection in design.

2. Football League Cup trophy (C172)

A bit of a weird choice, this, but it was one of those things that I was instinctively attracted to whenever I saw it on a Subbuteo poster or in a catalogue.

Again, I was lucky; down the years, I managed to attain a Subbuteo World Cup trophy and an FA Cup too, but there was something about the gleaming silver of that three-handled cup so often won by Liverpool in the early-80's that looked extra special to me.

Once you had a trophy, of course, you were obliged to play out a tournament with that as its ultimate prize. My mate Alan Young and I regularly did so, organising World Cup and FA Cup competitions that often took several weekends to complete. But here's the thing: if we'd had a League Cup trophy, we might have felt more obliged to incorporate lower-league teams into our tournaments.

Yes, I admit it - with the teams available in my collection, our FA Cup games did tend to focus on the bigger teams like Manchester United and Liverpool rather than the Darlingtons or the Chesterfields of this world. Maybe that would have been different if we'd have played a League Cup tournament instead. Maybe.

3. Astropitch (C178)

Even now it seems extraordinary to me that Subbuteo should have the ambition and the sheer boldness to create an 'artificial' playing surface, and that's without acknowledging the artificial nature of a green cloth pitch anyway.

Subbuteo's Astropitch arrived in 1980; not, as you may think, a reaction to QPR's Omniturf being installed at Loftus Road, but instead as an homage to NASL where plastic pitches had regularly been in use for several years.

Back in the day, I knew about the Astropitch but didn't care much for it... until I visited the house of my school friend, Trevor Scannell. Unbeknown to me, he was also a Subbuteo fan and was able to prove so by showing me the long green cardboard tube that housed his Astropitch.

I was awestruck. The tube was heavy, and on closer inspection I discovered why - it was because of the rubber backing that the green felt playing surface had. How amazing that you could unroll a pitch that was faultlessly smooth, thereby ensuring a perfect roll for your ball of choice (see above).

From that moment on, I wanted one and yet I never asked for one when Christmas came around. I wonder why? Certainly it seemed expensive to me at the time. It cost £8.50 on release in the shops - the equivalent of around £37.50 today - so it certainly fell into the category of 'special treat' as an ideal festive gift idea. If only I'd have been more strategic in my Christmas list making...

4. Teams (various)

As I mentioned on our fourth podcast, I had a decent core of teams in my collection, many of which were versatile enough to double up as various others. Because of this age-old tactic, there weren't many teams I couldn't include in my competitions, but there were a few that somehow eluded me which would have been a worthwhile acquisition.

Of the international teams that were big back in the early-80's, I'd have very much liked Argentina - partly because those pale blue and white stripes looked terrific, but also because I couldn't replicate the look with another team.

Then there was Peru - an outfit with an almost universally admired kit design - and one which I defiantly used in competitions despite not actually owning it. That was thanks to the almost similar Crystal Palace team that I did own (damn that blue diagonal sash), but let's face it, only the real Peru team would've done, and for that reason I'd have included it on my Christmas list.

Finally, if you're talking about team colours that were strangely missing from my collection, two stood out - green and orange. For the latter, it was only really Blackpool that might have tempted me to make a purchase, but as I admitted earlier, I was never much bothered about lower league teams (Blackpool were in Division Three or Four back then).

So that just leaves green-shirted teams and for that I'd have certainly liked Northern Ireland for my World Cup competitions. Billy Bingham's men had not just qualified for the 1982 World Cup but also gave a good account of themselves, so for topical reasons they'd have been a great team to own. And let's not forget, I could have pretended they were the Republic of Ireland team too, if necessary. Two for the price of one - beat that for cost-effectiveness.

5. World Cup Goals (C130/61130)

Something of a luxury item for me, but how I'd have loved to own them. These were goal frames with nets coloured red and blue - nothing more, nothing less - and yet the introduction of that splash of colour excited me more than most things in my life as a juvenile 10-year-old.

My original Club Edition set had given me goal frames with a plastic bar across the back of the net. This was restrictive beyond belief because you couldn't lift your goalkeeper to block those high shots heading for the top corner of the goal.

That's why I quickly invested in a set of Tournament Goals - pretty much the same as the World Cup Goals, but the nets were plain white. Very nice looking, but more importantly a joy to use as they lacked a plastic bar across the back. Suddenly the mobility of my goalkeepers was (almost) limitless.

All very good, but given the choice, would you rather have had goal frames with a white net, or a dazzling continental-style red/blue net? I thought so, and I agree completely. A World Cup Goal for a World Cup competition would have been the icing on the cake for me, but then again so would any of the above items I've mentioned. Therein lies the beauty of the unattainable in the captivating world of Subbuteo.

-- Chris Oakley


  1. Chris, my friend, we grow in different parts of Europe, but the dreams on Subbuteo unite us. :) Gigi"

  2. I hate to brag chaps but me and my brother had World cup goals, Tango balls, the Peru team, and the amazing League Cup trophy, sorry lads

    1. Gah... So you were the kid who always had better stuff than us... Damn you! ;-)