Sports gaming. A bit of a nerdy anorak wearing hobby, I’m happy to admit. Sometimes compulsive, but I didn’t quite get to this bad.
The other day I happened to be wandering through one of Barnstaple’s great little shops – Youings. It’s sweet shop, tobacconist, model shop and toy shop all under one venerable roof on what I imagine was once a prestigious spot at the entrance to the High Street.
Youings often throws up an odd little treat whether it be itching powder, Lindt chocolate bunnies, bizarre nicotine based novelties or cheap train sets. It’s not that I’m there to buy, but it’s a nice antidote to the bland chain stores taking over the centre of town.
There, tucked away in the corner I saw them. It’s getting on for 50 years since my first set, but the bright green oblong boxes were a dead give away. Inside, eleven painted figures, ten of which in all red, one of contrast. Liverpool FC. Reduced to less than three inches per player.
I thought Subbuteo had disappeared several years ago under the combined weight of video games, other high tech gadgets and purchase by an unfeeling, uncaring, bottom-line driven multinational toy conglomerate. I also vaguely remember an awful attempt to recreate the game in digital format which wasted loads of money. No “flick to kick”? Then, no Subbuteo. And. Subbuteo was no toy. It was a hobby. It was life.
It seems, also, that it’s back.
For the uninitiated, Subbuteo was the premier table football game that dominated in the late 60s and through the 70s. Its origins involved a pitch drawn in chalk on surplus army blankets with cardboard men mounted on buttons. That was in immediate post war Britain. Its inventor, PA Adolph, brought out the familiar moulded plastic players with weighted bases in the early 60s. Revolutionising the game and bringing mass appeal for boys up and down the country and across Europe.
For my seventh birthday I was expecting something other than Subbuteo. In fact, I can’t even remember what I desired so much. Seeing the figures laid out on green baize with floodlights and plastic fencing that birthday morning had the opposite effect my poor dad thought it would. I was disappointed. I’m sure, however, after a few games that evening I was hooked.
Already a football nut, dad assumed I’d love to recreate the game on the living room carpet. I’m sure he was eventually pleased as he’d stumped up for the top of the range floodlit set. Over successive birthdays and Christmases, I acquired a dozen or so different teams, multi coloured balls, a chute for taking corners, new fangled goals, TV tower with miniature Kenneth Wolstenholme and all sorts of other wallet relieving accessories.
(Subbuteo balls came in different sizes, but almost always were the scale equivalent of 4 or 5 feet in diameter!)
Matches in my house were big events, especially under the lights driven by 9 volt batteries that had a nasty habit of leaking probably poisonous goo. Dad, my brother and I (only once my sister, who had the temerity to beat me 1-0) played regularly, formed a league and had cup matches.
Sometimes (a lot of times) my temper got the better of me and players were sent into the scaled down version of orbit. Players were inadvertently crushed or lost arms. Hospital treatment involved that lovely smelling model aeroplane glue. In later years, as I mellowed, I even painted players hair and faces to give them more character.
Of course, I grew out of Subbuteo probably for the lack of playing partners as my brother got older and spare time with dad disappeared. We did have a brief fling with Subbuteo cricket. Each ball was either 4, 6 or out. It passed a couple of months one summer only to be consigned to the loft along with West Brom, Wolves (in old gold) and the Spurs.
Subbuteo, of course, now has professional players, leagues and world championships.
I moved on to other sports games. From flick to kick to roll the dice; from the beautiful game to the nation’s pastime. That’s another story.
Photo by TempusVolat, used under a Creative Commons Licence.