designer=Peter Adolph
ages=8 and up
setup_time=2 minutes
image_caption=The Subbuteo Football Deluxe Set, circa 1990
playing_time= 20–90 minutes
random_chance=Very low

Subbuteo is a set of board games simulating team sports such as football (soccer), cricket, both codes of rugby and hockey. The name is most closely associated with the football game, which for many years was marketed as "the replica of Association Football".

The "Subbuteo" name is derived from the neo-Latin scientific name "Falco subbuteo" (a bird of prey commonly known as the Eurasian hobby), after a trademark was not granted to its creator Peter Adolph (1916–1994) to call the game "Hobby" [The Times: " [ Table-topping star of the big flick-off] ". Version of 2006-OCT-16. Retrieved 2007-AUG-12.] .


The availability of Subbuteo was first announced in the August 1946 edition of "The Boy's Own Paper". The advert offered to send details of the new game but no sets were available until March 1947. Also in August 1946 Peter Adolph lodged an outline patent application for the game which was not finalised until May 1947. After the early adverts it is rumoured orders started to pour in as Adolph set about converting his patent idea into a deliverable product.

The first Subbuteo sets, known as the Assembly Outfits, consisted of goals made of wire with paper nets, a cellulose acetate ball, cardboard playing figures in two basic kits (red shirts with white shorts, and blue shirts with white shorts) and bases made from buttons weighed down with lead washers. The story is that Peter Adolph found one of his mother's coat buttons and used Woolworth buttons for the early set bases. No pitch was provided: instead, the purchaser was given instructions on how to mark out (with chalk, provided) a playing area on to a blanket (an old army blanket was recommended). The first sets were eventually available in March 1947, several months after the original advertisement appeared. The first figures were made of flat cardboard cut out of a long strip. Later these card players came in press-out strips before being replaced with the two-dimensional celluloid figures, known to collectors as "flats".

Early production of Subbuteo was centered in Langton Green near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent.

In its early years, Subbuteo had a fierce rivalry with Newfooty, a similar game that had been invented in 1929 by William Keeling of Liverpool. In the run up to Christmas 1961 Adolph introduced a three-dimensional handpainted plastic figure into the range. After several design modifications, this figure evolved by 1967 into the classic "heavyweight" figure pictured below. Newfooty ceased trading in 1961 after a failed television advertising campaign but its demise is not thought to be linked to the launch of the moulded Subbutoe players. There were several further evolutions of figure design. In 1978 the "zombie" figure was introduced to facilitate the machine painting of figures. After much negative feedback, the zombie figure was replaced in 1980 by the "lightweight" figure, pictured above, that continued until the 1990s. After England's World Cup victory in 1966, Subbuteo designed a special pack containing all the teams that got further than the group stage, namely quarter-finals and above. This particular set is now difficult to come by and is very expensive. The company was very popular until it suddenly stopped production. The idea was bought by Hasbro and is now making teams again, in the form of flat 'photorealistic' cards on bases, rather than the old-style figures. Subbuteo also made other things for the collector, such as stands to create a stadium, cups, crowds, police figures and much more.

The game

Playing Subbuteo is a physical simulation of the sport, involving dexterity and skill in flicking the playing pieces, which stand on weighted bases, across the tabletop mat towards the ball, which is oversized and stands nearly as high as the players.

What makes the game different from most other tabletop sports games are the hundreds of team kits and accessories. While most games feature only two teams (usually "red vs blue" or "white vs black"), Subbuteo has several team designs, all for real teams. While some team colours could naturally be used to represent different teams, such as reference 001, which could be used as many teams, including Arsenal, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest, there are many unique kits, such as Sampdoria or Soviet Union, and even unpainted models. There are also many additional accessories, such as new balls and goals, special figures for free kicks and throw-ins, stands and crowd, streakers and policemen, floodlights, and TV cameras.

Subbuteo also has a long-established competitive circuit, where it is known by the term sports table football. There is a world governing body, FISTF, and a World Championship every year.

Rules of Subbuteo

The rules of Subbuteo table football are an attempt to correspond closely with the game itself. However the simplifications involved in some ways complicate things further. Players maintain possession as long as the figure they flick makes contact with the ball and the ball does not subsequently hit an opposing figure, although the same figure cannot be used for more than three consecutive flicks. Shots at goal can be taken once the ball is over the 'shooting line', a line parallel to and equidistant between the goal line and half-way line. Goalkeeper figures are attached to a rod that fits underneath the back of the goal. The offside law is in effect, but only pertaining to figures that are forward of the opposing team's shooting line (as opposed to the half-way line, as in actual football).

Pop culture

Subbuteo's prominence as a significant part of the game-playing youth of Britain - particularly in the 1970s and '80s - is demonstrated by various references to it in the pop culture of the last couple of decades.

*Two pop songs, in particular, have featured significant reference to it - the most famed being The Undertones' 1980 hit single 'My Perfect Cousin', which mentioned being beaten at Subbuteo by the titular cousin (referencing the game's popular slogan, 'Flick to Kick!'). The cover of the single also featured a Subbuteo figure in the colours of the band's hometown team, Derry City FC.
*In addition, the game was the main subject of Half Man Half Biscuit's B-side 'All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit', the lyrics recalling a petulant game of Subbuteo. Although hundreds of teams were replicated in the Subbuteo range in the 70s and 80s, a Dukla Prague away kit was never produced.
*Subbuteo is also mentioned in the song 'Five Man Army' from the 1991 album "Blue Lines" by Bristol's well known trip hop artists Massive Attack.
*The 12" version of 'World In Motion' by EnglandNewOrder (consisting of New Order, the England World Cup Squad of 1990 and Keith Allen) included a Subbuteo Mix.
*The British comedian Eddie Izzard mentions a hat that turns into a Subbuteo table when making a joke about impractical James Bond gadgets.
*The Spice Girls' movie, "Spice World," features a fantasy sequence where Mel C. ("Sporty Spice") is lowered on wires from the ceiling to a Subbuteo table where she flicks a figure and scores.
*Subbeteo is mentioned in the novel "I'm Not Scared" by Niccolo Ammaniti when Michele trades a secret to his friend Salvatore for the Subbuteo team Lanerossi Vicenza.
*Two famed British sitcoms also make reference to the game. In an Series II, episode 5 of "Red Dwarf", 'Queeg', it is mentioned as a possible game for a challenge match between two computers (eventually losing out to the somewhat more cerebral chess), while in an episode of "Black Books" entitled 'The Big Lock-Out', a Subbuteo playing piece became the unintentional cause of a night of misery for book-shop owner Bernard Black and his assistant Manny.
*The game also featured centrally in the BBC1 television series "Playing for Real", in which Patricia Kerrigan played Chrissie, [cite web
title = Patricia Kerrigan
work = Markham and Froggatt
publisher =
url =
accessdate = 2008-08-28
] a woman who takes over the management of her deceased father's Subbuteo team, "Real Falkirk". [cite web
title = "Perfect Scoundrels" to "Play of the Week"
work = Memorable TV's Guide to British Television
publisher = Memorable TV/Little Acorns Publishing
url =
accessdate = 2008-08-28
*Author Irvine Welsh also included a brief mention of Subbuteo in the novel "Trainspotting", when the character Mark Renton reminisces at his brother's wake about how his brother brought girls home and " 'banished me, whoever was with me, and my Subbuteo into the lobby. Ah particularly recall the needless crunching of one Liverpool and two Sheffield Wednesday players under your heel.' " Additionally, the protagonist, Jason King, of Welsh's novella "The Kingdom of Fife" (from his 2008 anthology If You Liked School You'll Love Work), is a competitive player on the Subbuteo circuit, and the game itself serves as an important plot point throughout the piece.
*2D of Gorillaz said that he was a fan of the game of Subbuteo. In an attempt to make money for a set, he got a job at Uncle Norm's Organ Emporium. When Uncle Norm's was ramraided by Murdoc, this caused 2D's first eye to become dented.
*In 2004, Orion published an illustrated history of Subbuteo entitled "Flick to Kick", by Daniel Tatarsky. The book covers the game from the moment it was invented up to present day. [ Flick to Kick]
*The 1997 original of the movie "Fever Pitch" featured the lead character playing Subbuteo on a regular basis. The teams in use were the 1971 Arsenal team that won the double, and a contemporary Arsenal team.
*The city of Preston in England is planning a 22ft (6.7m) high Subbuteo statue which would point the way to the National Football Museum at Deepdale. [ [ Giant Subbuteo statue planned for city] , Lancashire Evening Press website. Retrieved on January 9, 2007.]
*Subbuteo is also mentioned in the song 'Subbuteo' by Grime artist JME on his Mix Album 'Boy Better Know - Shh Hut Yuh Muh Edition 1'.
*A modified Subbuteo figure (made to look like a World War I soldier brandishing a Bren machine gun) appears on the cover of The Farm's hit single All Together Now.
*In the David Mitchell novel, "Black Swan Green", protagonist Jason Taylor mentions playing Subbuteo with his father during a rainy summer holiday. Jason plays as Liverpool FC, his father as Nottingham Forest.

See also

* Sports table football
* Table Cricket
* Foosball

External links

* [ Official Subbuteo website]
* [ Euro 2004 goals in Subbuteo]
* [ Subbuteo Tribute Website]
* [ Subbuteo Nostalgia and Reference]
* [ The Subbuteo technical page] , illustrated rules, tactics, practice drills, etc for the beginner Subbuteo/table soccer player.
* [ The subbuteo links directory] , Directory of Subbuteo and table football websites
* [ Patent Documents & Drawings] , Directly from the European Patent Office
* [ Lightweight Catalogue]
* [ International Grand-Prix of Beausoleil (Monaco Monte-Carlo)]
* [ American Subbuteo Association official website]
* [ Southern California Subbuteo Club official website located in the greater Los Angeles metropolis]
* [ Italian Old Subbuteo Amateurs Association official website]
* [ Handpainted football teams]
* [ Bedford Premier League official website]


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