Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 5 February 2008

Finger Flickin' Fun!

It's our absolute delight to bring you another article written by one of you, our wonderful audience. It comes from TheGreatDandini who recently left us a comment on our 'Obscure Kits From British Football History #5' post where he made reference to the great and much overlooked pastime of Subbuteo.

Well, we appear to have sparked off a train of thought within TheGreatDandini, the result of which is a wonderful look back at the more memorable aspects of that fabulous finger-flicking game of days gone by. Read and enjoy...

1 - Floodlights
If you where lucky enough like me to be able to afford the various stands, then the floodlights really made the whole thing real. With a big chunky black base for the 4 Lithium batteries you needed, the white plastic mast and the 4×4 bank of lights in their solid black plastic casing, they really looked the part. Unfortunately, the light they emitted wouldn’t have been enough to cover a stamp, let alone an entire pitch. Even with all four of them on you could just about make out the front three rows of the stand and the penalty spot. After that it was a no-mans land. The romance of the Wednesday evening European Cup ties between Waterschei and Lech Poznan where out, just like the floodlights after about 10 minutes of use.

2 - The Half Empty Stadiums
Together with the floodlights and the TV tower (complete with John Motson in sheepskin coat), the only other thing that really made the big match atmosphere come alive was a stadium crammed with supporters. You could buy these either pre-painted or blank but having already spunked all your money on the batteries to keep the floodlights going, you could only afford the unpainted figures and perhaps two tins of Umbrol paint. In my case, this was blue and green. Painting them was a right nightmare and with only the two colours, variation was somewhat thin on the ground. The other problem was that you needed so f*****g many of them to fill the stadium. I once worked out that a fully complete Subbuteo stadium would seat over 2,500 people! This always meant that your stadium resembled a Queens Park reserve game on a rainy Wednesday in November at Hampden rather than that big Old Firm derby you had in mind. Big Match atmosphere? Hardly.

3 - The Crocked Teams
There was always the one team you had that more resembled a First World War field hospital rather than a top flight football team. There was your headless goalkeeper, your fullback with one arm missing and 'Stubby', who was just a base with two feet and perhaps only his ankles. In my case this was always Glasgow Rangers, a team I despised so much that whenever life was getting me down or Rangers gubbed Aberdeen again, I’d get the box down from the loft and snap off Peter McCloys arm, or take the head off Derek Johnstone.

4 - The Sloping Pitch
We had a deep shag carpet up in our loft so this required a solid base on which to put the pitch. The pitch was generally a green cloth with the various lines drawn on it. This was the cheaper option than the astroturf which cost a fortune, and not really much use unless you always played as Luton. As well as that, after about two months, the pitch would resemble the Turin Shroud, with the lines all faded and broken. The good thing was that you could just get the Tipex out and do your groundsman Willy routine. My pitch was stuck onto a piece of plywood which had an uphill slope at the far left corner that made Easter Road look like a snooker table. It was further attached to the board by means of several strategically placed drawing pins that would warp the lines in such a way that your eighteen-yard area might be anywhere from twelve to twenty-five yards out, depending on the way the drawing pins where placed. Anyway, getting a corner or a throw-in on that side of the pitch was practically impossible. You’d flick the ball there, only for it to roll back towards the penalty spot. Or worse, into the…

5 - Bouncy Nets
Subbuteo had one two types of goal. One was more of a hockey goal than anything else, the other was your traditional goal-stanchion-net affair. The problem with this was that the net was generally so tight on the goal that it wasn’t so much an onion-sack as a trampoline. Any reasonably hard shot wouldn’t nestle in the far corner, but bounce out back towards the half-way line. Picture the scene. Man Utd v Man City in front of 40 green and blue spectators in your splendid Subbuteo stadium. With five minutes to go and the score at 7-6, you’re after flicking Stubby into a scoring position in front of the United goal. With a deft flick of the forefinger the ball screams towards the goal with only the one-armed keeper to beat. It flies past him into the back of the net and… springs straight back out again towards the half way line, freshly Tipex-ed before the game. 'Goal' you shout. 'Post' shouts your mate. An argument ensues at the end of which your ex-friend goes home in a huff and you go upstairs and another Rangers player loses a limb.

6 - What Team Is That?
Back in the old days, before the dismantling of the trade unions, the factory floor and militant socialism, Subbuteo had a factory somewhere in England where rows upon rows of women would sit and paint the teams. At least that’s what I imagined, because even today I don’t think you could invent a machine that could accurately and consistently do you a Celtic top on a Subbuteo figure. So if you’ve just got a bunch of Manchester United or Rangers or Leeds to do, you’re grand. Anything a little bit more intricate however and you’d soon see which ones where done towards the end of the shift. You know the ones. Teams with stripes or hoops. Celtic, Arsenal, West Ham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and the Aberdeen strip of the late 70’s where all pretty tricky to do and generally looked a right state. Buying a new team wasn’t so much a thrill as playing Russian Roulette. Ok, the one player you’d see through the little window always looked top notch, but when you got home and opened the rest of the box, the disappointment was crushing. Many of my Arsenal v Aston Villa (or was it West Ham, it was hard to tell) games where played under floodlights to avoid embarrassment.

7 - Subbuteo Crapperies
Subbuteo came with many little add-ons to make it all the more realistic. At one time, I had:

- a Dugout
- a TV tower (including camera team and John Motson figure)
- a police dog team (all green and blue, including the dog)
- a St Johns ambulance crew (again, green and…)
- a scoreboard

The best ones though, where the corner kick taker and the throw-in taker. The corner kick taker was basically a huge figure somewhat resembling Nat Lofthouse in 1930’s shorts, with a pin through his hips on which his right leg could swivel. The idea was that you’d place the ball in front of him, pull his right leg back and then launch the ball into the six-yard area. The idea was good, the reality somewhat different. Like the throw-in taker (another giant, this one on a spring), the ball would generally end up in the stands or under the bed. Completely useless, just like the other add-ons that just got in the way during the course of the game and which would eventually end up under the bed, or in the hoover.

Our thanks go to TheGreatDandini for that great article, and it you want to read more just like it, go check out You won't be disapointed! And before we go, an additional reminder that you too could have your articles published here. If you've got something you want to write about (on the subject of football, preferably), just drop us a line to write4us [at] spaotp [dot] com. We await your correspondence!

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