,An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Newport County on 16 December 2017.
What a save by Slack! Batson now, and it’s on to Mannion … Mannion, can he find Dublin? Lovely flick! Dublin must score! That makes it 14-2 to United, and Barcelona have until teatime to avoid humiliation.
In an era dominated by FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer and Football Manager, it’s good to know that some people still use their fingers – but not their thumbs – to play football.
Back in the days before Nintendo and Sega took their first stumbling steps on to a digital pitch, Subbuteo was the only game in town.
Actually, it wasn’t – there were imitators. One such was 4-2-4, whose players stood on clunky wedge-shaped plinths. It was described by notoriously racist Football League secretary Alan Hardaker as ‘the nearest thing to live football I have ever seen.’ Not for the first or the last time in his life, Hardaker was spouting hogwash.
Subbuteo ruled among the tabletop games, and – after a seven-year absence from the shops between 2005 and 2012 – it still does. If you needed a reason to love the game, wouldn’t it be enough to know that it was so named because its inventor, Peter Adolph, was keen on falconry and one of his favourite raptors was the hobby (Latin name: Falco subbuteo)? Hobby: geddit?
Subbuteo virgins among you, if they want to know how to play, should consult the brilliant football magazine The Blizzard. In the latest issue, Andrew McKirdy harks back to the golden age of the Kelso Subbuteo League. 'Flicking a player so that he made contact with the ball rewarded a player with another flick,’ he recalls.
‘A series of attacking plays continued until either a goal was scored, the ball went out of play, the player who had been flicked failed to touch the ball or the flicked player clattered straight into an opponent, thus conceding a foul. The defending team could match the attacking team flick for flick, as long as his players didn’t touch the ball.’
The striking finger had to be pulled back and swung forward without making contact with the other digits – ‘pinging’, or propelling the finger forward with extra purchase from the thumb was not only banned, it was considered the depths of crude, unsophisticated Subbuteo, says McKirdy.
There’s more to the game than flicking, though. You can dictate your team’s formation and style of play, or deck out your pitch with floodlights, stands populated by tiny hand-painted spectators and, naturally enough in this dosh-oriented age, advertising boards.
And, of course, you can be your favourite team.
Coconuts is proud to have in its collection a set of Cambridge United Subbuteo players, generously donated by Roger Watson. Lilliputian U’s peep out from behind trophies and photographs in The Story of the U’s, our mini-museum in the Supporters’ Club.
This set would have set you back the considerable sum of £2.99 in the 1980s and, as the packaging makes clear, it would have been helpful if you also supported Borussia Dortmund, the Antwerp club K Berchem Sport and Biera-Mar of Aveiro in Portugal. These clubs apparently share – or at least shared at the time – United’s suspiciously yellow-looking amber livery.
We’ve had our share of diminutive players in our time: John ‘Scobie’ Saunders springs to mind. I’m struggling to remember one who stood on a semi-spherical plastic base, however.