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Subbuteo: The Iconic Tabletop Football Game

Updated: May 20, 2023

A Complete Subbuteo Football Stadium
Subbuteo Football Stadium

In a world dominated by digital gaming, where Playstation, xbox, and FIFA are household names, it's easy to forget about the humble tabletop games of old. But there is one game that has stood the test of time, enduring decades and still capturing the hearts of football enthusiasts young and old: Subbuteo, the iconic flick-to-kick football game has been going strong for 75 years and shows no signs of slowing down. With its rich history, impressive range of teams and accessories, and an unwavering fanbase, Subbuteo is a tabletop game that's here to stay.

Created by Royal Air Force veteran Peter Adolph, the game was initially trademarked as "hobby," which was rejected by officials as being too generic. Being a keen ornithologist, the inventor went with a neo-Latin scientific name, Falco Subbuteo, a bird of prey commonly known as the Eurasian hobby. The game's early versions were made from cut-out cardboard players fixed into the buttons from his mother's clothing and then weighted down with lead washers.

In the early days, Subbuteo was supplied without a pitch to play on. Players had to use dimensional instructions and an old blanket to mark out the playing area. But this didn't stop the game from becoming nothing short of a phenomenon over the years. With over 300 team strips created, Subbuteo has had a long and illustrious history, and even celebrities like legendary commentator John Motson and footballer Paolo Di Canio have been involved with the brand.

For Toy Expert Peter Jenkinson (aka The Toyologist), Subbuteo was one of the first classic action games where lads and dads could take on each other, and the playing field was pretty even. “You could flick as hard as you wanted, and generally did, to hit the back of the net. But over time you’d learn that a little strategy went a very very long way to win," he says. "My best memories of Subbuteo aren’t the game itself, but the banter with my grandad as we set it up. It’s most certainly one of my top five iconic playthings of all time.”

Subbuteo wasn't just limited to football either. The inventor created rugby, cricket, and speedway variants along a similar play pattern, but these didn't quite match retailers' expectations to make space for them on the shelves.

However, while the '70s and '80s saw sales soar, they began to fall, and from a peak of 300,000, they fell to just 500 sets in 2003, and production was halted. Hasbro relaunched it in 2005 with flat photorealistic card-style figures on bases. However, the relaunch was not a success and was once again discontinued.

It could have been a sad end to Subbuteo, but then the licence to produce the game was given to Eleven Force in 2012, and they introduced new-style three-dimensional rubber figures. In 2020, Hasbro switched the licence over to an outfit called Longshore based in Hong Kong, who have been instrumental in the revival and renewed interest in the game, with more new teams and a Subbuteo VAR set to bring the play right up to date.

A 75th anniversary game and English Premier League game are being released as part of the celebrations, with the former coming in a commemorative silver-grey box alongside a limited edition gold football and corner flags, all sporting the 75th emblem.

Subbuteo has been a nostalgic brand that has evoked childhood memories for many parents and grandparents for three-quarters of a century. What sets it apart from other tabletop sports games is the wide variety of team designs and accessories available, with hundreds of options representing real teams and unique sides.

The game rules aim to closely mirror association football, but certain necessary simplifications can also complicate gameplay. For instance, players must use different figures for consecutive flicks and cannot maintain possession if the ball hits an opposing figure. The goalkeeper figures are manoeuvred with a rod attached to the back of the goal, and offside is enforced only for figures that are forward of the opposing team's shooting line.

As you can see, Subbuteo is more than just a game - it's a piece of history that has been enjoyed by generations of football fans and toy enthusiasts. If you're looking to relive those childhood memories, or perhaps create some new ones with your own children or grandchildren, why not pick up a Subbuteo set or some accessories today?

We offer a wide range of Subbuteo products, including team sets, pitches, accessories, and more. Our inventory is constantly expanding with over 15,000 original spare parts sourced from a diverse collection of more than 1,000 board games.

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