Betfred Sport

Subbuteo - The original fantasy football

In the days before the internet, mobile phones and video games, Subbuteo was the fantasy football of its time. The 'flick to kick' game was massively popular for football fans who would spend hours lovingly creating a super stadium for their very own team and competing in leagues with friends.

Subbuteo remains popular to this day with football fans who remember the 'good old days' of muddy pitches, goalkeepers being allowed to pick up back passes, no substitutes and only the numbers 1-11 appearing on the back of player's shirts.

Total Football sent Chris Smith to meet Subbuteo fantatic Jon Rosten and find out why he is still passionate about the game.  

An iconic image of youth

If you search through the cupboards and attics of most British homes, chances are you will come across a Subbuteo set or two.

For most football fans, the hours spent flicking a small, white ball between tiny, painted figures strategically positioned across the glorious green pitch is perhaps the most iconic image of youth.

Jon Rosten, a fanatic and collector from Maidenhead, offers Total Football an insight into the secret world of Subbuteo.

"My first memories of Subbuteo are from the mid-seventies - I was a kid and I remember playing against my brother", said Jon.

"I don't remember it becoming popular but I do remember the pitch being left on the bedroom carpet, and the plastic players you would break by standing on them".

Bird of prey

In 1946, Subbuteo was created and released by Peter Adolph whose passion for birds led to the name - after 'falco subbuteo', his favourite bird of prey.

Rumour has it that one of Adolph's mum's buttons was the inspiration for the base of the players, and from such a seemingly trivial occurrence, the game's trademark flicking motion was born.

But what is it about Subbuteo that is so unique?

Jon said: "I can only speak for myself but it's about the nostalgia of being a kid, drooling over the World Cup set and not being able to afford it - now I'm an adult with disposable income, I suppose I can relive my childhood in a way.

"Also, the ones I like - the hand-painted figures - well that's a low level form of art when you think about it".

Glory days

In the 90s, Hasbro bought the rights to Subbuteo from Waddington's and continued creating new pieces sporadically throughout the decade, though everyone knew the glory days were over.

Like most fans, when Jon got a bit older, he grew out of Subbuteo and confined his remaining pieces to a bag in the loft.

"Well those pieces followed me around in various lofts until I discovered eBay which just opened me up to a whole new world.

"I didn't have anything rare at the time - just Brazil and Arsenal and teams like that - but now I have over 400 items".

Ebay revolutionized the world of Subbuteo, as it has done for all sorts of collections.


For the first time, Subbuteo owners could learn of the value of their sets instantly, and be in touch with other enthusiasts.

From this position, Jon created - a website dedicated to both arranging buyers for potential goods, and bolstering his own extensive collection.

He said: "Everyone has some Subbuteo hidden away in the loft - what I recommend if anybody finds anything is that they visit the website.

"We are in touch with lots of collectors and will often purchase things for ourselves, so it's well worth a look if you have any old players or accessories lying around".

Jon also runs a Subbuteo fair where fans can buy and sell items from their collections and even compete in a tournament.

'Bigger and better'

"I started a fair in Maidenhead because there's one in Sheffield twice a year, but there was nothing in the South", he said.

"In March 2009, we met a local cricket club and it did quite well, and as with most things, the second year was bigger and better".

By 2010, the fair attracted collectors from across Europe, particularly Italy where there is also a large following for the game.

Jon said: "We quickly arranged a tournament which was equally split between Brits and Italians and everyone loved it.

"The Italians come here, they enjoy looking at the collectables, we all play a game, and everyone spends a bit of money, so we're all happy!"

World Championship

Indeed the Italians dominate the Subbuteo World Championships which are annually organized by the Federation of International Sports Table Football (FITSF).

Massimiliano Nastasi became the 10th Italian in 13 years to win the FITSF World Championship held this year, aptly enough, in Palermo, Italy - though England's Darren Clarke took the inaugural World Subbuteo Masters held in Bristol in 2010.

Though primarily a collector, Jon also has the odd game.

"I find it a bit odd really to just collect them - I used to but I always felt there was something missing.

"In January 2009, I spoke to someone from Hampshire on a forum and we arranged my first match since I was a boy - he walloped me because he'd been playing for years, but that's how I got back into it".

Old Subbuteo methods

After getting in touch with a few friends, Jon formed the South England Lionhearts - a club which adheres to old Subbuteo methods, such as using semi-circular bases as opposed to modern flat ones.

"Between six and 10 of us meet at Bracknell Town Football Club every six weeks or so; we have a few games and something to eat afterwards, and that's being going for three years", Jon said.

On March 11 2012, the fourth annual Maidenhead Subbuteo Fair and Tournament will be held at the Boyne Hill Cricket.

Free of charge, this year promises to be the best yet.

Jon said: "I have already filled the 24 tournament spaces, with six reserves - I need a bigger hall really!"

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