Retro Recall: Subbuteo

February 19, 2019 by cassn

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Let me begin this article by stating I was a curious child, an annoying sister, and an unrelenting bother to my siblings growing up. If they had something interesting, chances were half an hour later I would be found hunched in a corner somewhere desperately trying to inspect exactly what made it so fascinating.

Retro Recall: Subbuteo

So, with that being said, and many apologies to my brother who tolerated my petty thefts with good humour, here follows a tale of strops, stealth, and Subbuteo.

The Beautiful Game

For those who don’t know, Subbuteo is a finger dexterity game based on the association football and is probably the most British board game currently in existence. Invented by Peter Adolph in 1946, the game was originally adopted by an earlier game called Newfooty by William Lane Keeling.


Subbuteo consisted of two teams of players with a distinctively curved base (rumoured to have been created by Peter weighting down his mothers coat buttons with lead washers). Players use their fingers to flick the figurines, directing a ball into their opponent's goal.

My brother’s Subbuteo set was an unashamed testament to 1980s plastic production and would make environmentalists today weep, however, it was not always so. When Subutteo was released in 1947, figurines were cardboard standees in simple kits, and no pitch was provided.

Instead, players were given instructions on how to mark out their pitch onto a blanket - an old army blanket was recommended. Goals were made of wire with paper netting, and the ball consisted of cellulose acetate.

Despite its thrifty beginnings, orders started to pour in as soon as the first adverts were released. Subutteo was, of course, hugely successful, and as the years progressed so did the components until, eventually, the match-ready 3D plastic models I remember positioned so proudly across our dining room table came into existence.

Sibling Rivalries

My brother and his friends would spend hours huddled around that table shouting and cheering in glory and defeat while I strained on tiptoes, through the noise and the waft of teen gamer funk, to try and understand the game. Strangely enough, it was through Subbuteo I learned football.

Subbuteo was also the reason I became a Manchester United fan (since they were always opposed to my brother’s Liverpool squad and I was a precocious kid). When my brother wouldn’t let me play, I stole his centre forward and hid him under my bed. He never got him back. Sorry, Robert.

But when I was allowed to play, I loved The Beautiful Game. I was a champion on the Subbuteo pitch, a talent which sadly never translated to actual football. Outside, I was forlornly stuck in goal, but at home Cantona, Giggs, and Beckham’s golden foot were at my disposal, and we were a glorious team, sliding past the defence to guarantee a football victory which would live in infamy in our home.

If Retro Recall is to be a series about the games which formed our pasts, Subbuteo has probably had more influence in my life than I would expect. It made me love football. It made me love gaming. Heck, it made me almost like my brother!

There are only a handful of games which could carry such a testimonial. I hope my brother and I get to clash on the astroturf again soon, but this time, if I find Michael Owen under my bed again, I’m keeping him.

Uppa Red Devils.

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"...if I find Michael Owen under my bed again, I’m keeping him"

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