SUBBUTEO: SOCCER FOR THE ARMCHAIR MANAGER
We’ve all been there once or twice before. Ranting and raving on social media about how our favorite club’s manager doesn’t know what they are doing or saying they should have played someone else instead of the starters that day. We’ve even gone on our favorite game consoles and lived out a fantasy through the myriad of video games available globally. But, in this golden age of FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer, and Football Manager, there exists another version of the beautiful game. No, it’s not foosball, though that can get quite exciting. I’m talking Subbuteo, or tabletop football. For some, this may sound foreign or cause some confusion, but rest assured this game has a long history and has only grown in popularity.
A version of Subbuteo was first invented in 1929 and initially called Newfooty. However, it wasn’t until 1946 that Peter Adolph made significant improvements to the game, filled out a patent application, and gave it a new name. Initially he wanted to name it “Hobby” but couldn’t get the trademark rights to it. Fortunately, Mr. Adolph was headstrong and determined. He eventually came across the name Subbuteo in the Latin name for a Eurasian hobby falcon. While there were orders continuously coming in, it wasn’t until 1947 that the first set was produced and delivered to a customer. The game continued growing in popularity, which in turn led to improvements and new pieces being added to it. 1961 saw the first 3D figure introduced into the line, which eventually evolved in 1967 to what are described as “heavyweight” figures. 1961 also saw the ultimate end of Newfooty, which most people attribute to the success and popularity of Subbuteo at the time.
As you can see in the picture above, Motorik Alexandria FC has managed to not only establish a small footprint in the overall American soccer landscape, but also has made its way into local Subbuteo leagues.
The game continued to grow in popularity through the 70s and 80s, but production was halted out of the blue in the 90s. Also, during 1992, the governing body for Subbuteo- the FISTF -was founded. FISTF stands for the Federation of International Sports Table Football. Yes, it’s okay to laugh at the name and have some sophomoric humor attached to it, but this governing body is taken very serious by players around the world.
While the game production was halted in the 90s, Hasbro (who had bought the game some time previously) did eventually sell the rights to the game to Total Soccer, who re-launched the game in 2012. Since then, the game has grown again in popularity with new stands created for fans to make stadiums, ballboys, policeman, fans, etc. A Subbuteo World Cup has even spawned from the newfound popularity in the game. The 2018 Subbuteo World Cup was recently held in Gibraltar on September 1st and 2nd, with Spain winning the Open category of the Cup.
While the game of Subbuteo and the beautiful game of soccer share a lot of the same rules, some of these rules have been modified to fit within the confines of this amazing tabletop game. First, a player keeps possession of the ball so long as the figure they are flicking hits the ball and the result of that hit doesn’t hit an opposing figure. In addition to that, the initial figure used can only be used two more consecutive times in that sequence to total three flicks. Second, a player can only take a shot on goal if they have crossed what is known as the shooting line, which is equal distance from the goal and the midway line. During these shots, the opposing player can move their goalie around by using a rod attached to the bottom of the goalie. Lastly, there is an offside rule, but it isn’t like regular soccer’s offside rule. Subbuteo’s offside consists of attacking players being on the goal side of the opponent’s shooting line, whereas it’s the midfield line in soccer.
As previously mentioned, there is a shooting line in the attacking half of the field, which also functions as an offside marker within each game played. However, in the next two photos you can see that there is no shooting line. The exclusion of the line may be based on the skill of the players, but could also be based on the want for a more authentic look when the matches are played.
In addition to the more traditional outdoor look of the game, there is also an indoor style mat used within some groups. Most purists may squabble about that, but for some people, they enjoy indoor soccer just as much as they enjoy the traditional side. Either way, it seems like they are both pretty popular among fans and players.
In the end, each person has their own personal preference in games to play out their managerial fantasies, but I think most of us would find more enjoyment in Subbuteo, especially those who love strategic board games. I would like to thank Eric Major of Derby City Subbuteo Club for sharing his knowledge of the game and also for the pictures showcased in the article. I would recommend talking with him if you’d like to learn and understand more of the game.
All photos are courtesy Derby City Subbuteo Club, care of Eric Major.