When I was a kid, I lived in a place called Harrow, in north-west London. Actually, my family moved around a lot, but we were always in or around there. Saturdays were spent in the town, wandering around, poking into Calamity – a truly excellent little comic shop that’s moved a couple of times but is apparently still around – watching movies down at the Granada or Odeon cinemas and, best of all, checking out what was in stock at The Hobby Shop.
It was a nerd’s paradise. Model RC cars, countless RPG source books, minis… If it was still there, I’m sure I’d still be visiting it regularly, and you just know that they’d have plenty of games in there now. Back then though, there was only one… and it was called Subbuteo. It was originally dreamt up way back in the late 1940s by Peter Adolph, and it’s invariably the best representation of football that you’ll ever play. They had everything there, from teams and basic sets through to trophies, stands, supporters, scoreboards… if you had the money you could create a field of dreams, but you’d still have a great game even with an entry level package.
The set up is very simple. Two players control a team of eleven players each and have a set amount of time (ten minutes each way in this case) to score more goals than the other. Players are moved by flicking them about – hence the old advertising tagline “flick to kick” – to get an oversized ball into the goal… and that’s really about it. There’s a few other little rules to consider; you’re only allowed to shoot within a certain area, movement of players is limited, but in general Subbuteo is a gloriously simple game to play.
The game seeped its way into the British public’s conciousness in so many ways. Songs have even been written about it’s majesty (including The Undertones’ wonderful “My Perfect Cousin”), but the game faded into near-obscurity in the late nineties. The licence was picked up by Hasbro and seemed to be pretty much a dead horse which was gloriously flogged. No more little plastic guys; we had to put up with ‘photorealistic’ images instead, playing in tiny Urban Arenas. The game as we knew it was gone.
But now? Oh, my friends, Subbuteo has returned, and that tiny part of my mind that will be forever ten years old is screaming for joy. While at the London Toy Fair this year, I saw that the game was being rereleased in all its old school glory, albeit with a few improvements. While previously it was quite easy to break an arm or head off your players, they’re now made of a more flexible plastic so can withstand a hefty flick. The goals in the new set are nice and sturdy, but the best thing about the new version is the pitch.
Where before you had to devote a fair bit of time ironing out creases on the pitch – not an easy job for a kid – the new pitches are printed up on non-creasing fabric, meaning that getting a game together is the work of moments. This simple change is great; where before it could be a pain to get ready to play, now it’s so much easier. All you need is the space to play, which is admittedly sizable, but I can see plenty of kitchen tables in the future getting repurposed as cup final stadiums.
The new set comes with two full teams, a generic reds versus blues set up, but there’s also a limited range of teams available. They’re the teams you’d expect to see: Manchester United, Liverpool and the like as well as other sets in various colours, but there’s also a small selection of international sides too. If you fancy enhancing your experience, you can pick up referees, fences (very useful for stopping the ball falling off the table), even different coloured balls. While it’s a limited range of accessories, if the relaunch is successful you can bet that there’ll be more stuff released in future.
Of course, everything is compatible with the older gear – there’s plenty of sites out there that sell old teams for relatively reasonable prices such as the splendid subbuteoworld.co.uk. However, you’ll get everything you need in the Club Edition with no need for any extra outlay – I guarantee you though, after a few plays you’ll be thinking how nice it’d be to have your favourite teams lining up.
It’s a great little game and I’m delighted to see it come back in a proper fashion. It’s such a big part of so many people’s childhoods; even if they’re not the biggest gamers now they’ll have fond memories of playing Subbuteo as a child. Here’s hoping the reissue brings in a whole new generation of players who’ll be able to pull off stuff like this…
Subbuteo Club Edition is available now for around £40. Produced by Paul Lamond Games in the UK, plans are also in action to ensure it’ll be available in the US too. Now, let’s see if I can find a Watford set…