Friday, 12 June 2015

Jon Mills: The Subbuteo Years

Many of us have personal memories of playing Subbuteo and owning various teams and accessories, but Jon Mills has turned his into a guest post that captures the spirit of those innocent times. See how many chime with your own Subbuteo memories!

I’d set them all out carefully before I ran downstairs for breakfast. Mum had been calling me for ages and I knew we were running late but I needed to get the formations right. It was Brazil v Peru and I’d be spending most of the day at school looking forward to it. Looking over my shoulder one more time I took in the wonderful sight of 20 round discs on the green baize on my bedroom floor and the two keepers – their bodies arched back in full stretch, a long green handle protruding out the back of each.

I loved Subbuteo so much. I played it every single evening and being a bit too young to go out on school nights and only having older sisters, I would happily immerse myself in glorious battles between fierce local rivals or exotic sounding countries... It had never bothered me that I was technically playing against myself; in my head it was all about the two teams on the floor.

All through Maths I would be giving the game the appropriate media build-up in my head, all through history I would be pretending to be Zico discussing the game.

And so when the bell rang and I got home, I was straight upstairs for kick-off. It was still light so no need for the floodlights. And then I saw it.

The carnage and the horror. MUUUUMMMM!!

She’d said nothing as she’d driven me home from school. Like a cold-hearted killer, had she no remorse? Were their lives so cheap?

“Oops, sorry, I got a few with the hoover”

And so it was to be, Brazil’s already technical advantage was now physical as three of my Peru back line were now shorter than the rest of the team, huge balls of clear glue around their ankles. For those who had escaped the clean break there lay the cruel fate of disability. The left winger was leaning so far back he was looking more at the ceiling than the game and the playmaker seemed troubled by the horrors he’d witnessed earlier that day.

They lost 4-0.

There must be millions of us with stories like that. I didn't really have the awareness back then to know how popular the game was but I’d imagine that most of the kids in my road will have played it at some point.

By the time it entered my life it had come a long way from its origins in 1947. Those first lads would have enjoyed seeing paper nets being creased by thumping 30-yard shots from cardboard players weighed down by buttons. They wouldn't have stood a chance against me and my plastic army....

Its materials seemed crude until as late at the early-60s when the arrival of plastic moulded players finally sounded the death knell for its bitter rival Topfooty. Once it had moved to the top of the league it showed little sign of weakness, expanding its range towards accessories – all pointless to the game, all essential for the experience.

No, by the time of the early Eighties, you could have Real Madrid against Ajax on Astroturf, floodlights beaming down on the police horses that kept the cheering masses of the terraces at bay. All at a price of course. For most of us, the sight of stunningly painted crowd figures crammed into steep banks of well lit grandstands never got further than the TV adverts that taunted us so.

My memories would be spending long Saturday afternoons inhaling paint fumes as I carefully painted each individual naked crowd figure. The first few would have been detailed with delicate attention to detail – the later ones would be daubed in blues and browns as the novelty wore off and the fumes kicked in.

The stands were expensive so I made do with terracing, the crowd kept from the pitch by plastic fencing in case they took it upon themselves to misbehave. My dad lovingly made a wooden stand with built in floodlight which even after Father Christmas had delivered me two official stands still looked a million times better.

In the corner stood a floodlight which got very hot very quickly. They were expensive too so the opposite corner had a torch taped to a chair. The goals evolved from basic straight-lined to glorious World Cup design with green nets, no less, and the ball could now be purchased in bright orange should a blizzard unexpectedly strike my bedroom. Good grief, what more could a kid want?

And so, hour after hour I would play on my own a game designed for two. But I didn't care... and I twisted the rules... the ref didn't seem to care anyway - he could never keep up with play. I’d reach over stands to flick in crosses, knocking spectators down the steps in an avalanche then try to stab in a winner whilst simultaneously attempting to save it with the usually badly repaired goalie.

If you were lucky like me, your cloth pitch was nailed to hardboard and your goals held down with drawing pins. If you weren't that lucky, most goalmouth scrambles resulted in players facing tsunami sized bobbles in turf and the goal moving several yards backwards as the keeper got stuck in the net. The lack of goalmouth technology always threw the decision back your way – often resulting in a random throw-in to keep the momentum of the game.

When the eyelids got harder to lift and the scoreboard reached 9 and could turn no more, I would methodically place each of the players back in their polystyrene boxes. I don’t remember many toys being looked after so well by me – I think I was truly smitten.

And for all of us who would have given a smile at the news in 2012 that it was back in production, we must surely have also given a nostalgic sigh at the thought of it trying to challenge in a market saturated by video games.

We are more likely to hear our children shouting that the wi-fi is down than ever hear them complain their entire defence has been maimed by a hoover.

Their loss.

-- Jon Mills

Our enormous thanks to Jon for sending us such evocative memories of Subbuteo. If you've got any of your own, why not write your own blog post and send it to us? You'll find our contact details here, so do get in touch!