A Finger flicking fun game with a nearly 90 year history. Flick your soccer players into the ball and drive it down the field! Hundreds of painted national and club teams, accessories, stadiums (with spectators), even lights are available. There are many stories about how the world's most popular flick-football game got its name. Originally it was to be called 'The Hobby', but for legal reasons this name could not be registered. It was found however, that the Latin name for the 'Hobby' bird is Falco Subbuteo… and from there onwards, 'Subbuteo' was born.
In the 1920s William Keeling invented a game aimed at young boys called 'New Footy'. This consisted of flat, cut out cardboard figures which were mounted in hemispherical bases. The aim of the game was to use these players to flick a plastic ball into a goal. The game rolled along for many years, without any serious competitors - until shortly after World War 2.
Subbuteo Table Soccer game was launched in 1947 by Peter Adolph in Tunbridge Wells, England to compete with New Footy - it was an instant success. In 1947 materials of all kinds were in short supply and the original ‘Assembly’ set consisted of two cardboard teams, one celluloid ball and metal framed goals with paper netting. You will, no doubt, have realised that a playing pitch was not included. The instructions, however, advised the recipient of this early subbuteo game to “.....mark your pitch (chalk provided) on an ex-army blanket”..... and thousands did just that.
Back in 1949, teams such as Accrington Stanley, Bradford Park Avenue and Gateshaed were just three of the 24 Subbuteo teams available. Up until the early 1960s Subbuteo and New Footy coexisted quite happily. However, Subbuteo then released a range of new 3D plastic moulded figures, as well as a range of accessories, including 3D plastic moulded figures, floodlights, TV towers etc. New Footy tried to counter this, with what turned out to be a disastrous TV advertising campaign - the result was the end of the road for New Footy.
Following the euphoria of the National team’s success in the 1966 world cup, and with factories producing the plastic figures in Tunbridge Wells, Barcelona and Gibraltar, demand for Subbuteo could not be met. In 1968 the toy company Waddingtons bought out Peter Adolph for £250 000.
At its peak of popularity in the 1970s over 300 teams were available. Alongside this was also a huge range of new accessories, including throw-in figures, corner kickers and stadiums. In a recent survey (2002) it was estimated that over 90% of fathers aged 30plus owned and played Subbuteo - this illustrates the scale of the game’s popularity at this time. As a result of this, production of Subbuteo left Tunbridge Wells and moved to Waddington’s central office in Leeds.
During the 1980s, with the advent of computer games, sales in Subbuteo declined. The range of products was slimmed down to football sets, with cricket and rugby disappearing in 1982. One significant development of the 80s though, was the production of the Astropitch. This was a superb rubber backed playing surface, which had a huge impact on the game - no more creased cotton/nylon cloth pitches. Although fewer teams were available, the quality and accuracy of the strips printed on the figures was very high during the 80s. Multi coloured bases also became a feature of the 80s playing figure.
In 1998, American toy giants Hasbro took over production of Subbuteo. This resulted in the production of a new type of one piece moulded plastic base, still with the same figures inserted into them. Again the range of products became even smaller as sales suffered at the hands of Nintendo and Playstations. In fact towards the end of 1999, Hasbro announced that production of the game was to be halted. This was due to an apparent lack of interest amongst a computer dazzled younger generation. This evoked outrage amongst fans of the game, and the decision was reversed. Nonetheless, sets and teams are still very hard to come by. It is, to our knowledge, stocked by Toys r Us, however, stocks of individual teams are very limited.
In 2002 the Italian toy company Parodi bought the licence from Hasbro to produce Subbuteo. This resulted in a completely new base being developed and a completely new and extensive range of teams. Furthermore, for the first time, bald and ponytailed figures were included in the sets. Alongside this was a whole new range of accessories, including goals, Astropitches, balls, fencing etc. New Boxed sets were also available. This was great news for fans of Subbuteo. Although sold widely in Italy, these new products were not being stocked by any UK retailers. Nonetheless, by this time many UK based trade internet sites were now established and were soon shipping these new products to the UK. However, their is now some concern that Hasbro will not renew this licence and once again, the production of Subbuteo will be halted.
Despite this, there are now many other table football figures and accessories available to buy, which are produced by companies other than Hasbro. 1992 saw the production of SSTV Sports figures, followed by Toccers in 1994. This was closely followed by Lunulas - Sureshot and Advantage. Most recently, 2004 saw the Stefan Corda Company launching two completely new types of base - the ultima range, which includes Raptors and Veloche. The Raptor base, in particular has taken the Table football world by storm. It’s flat base, chipping edge and substantial weight makes it a real base for the 21st century. Furthermore, the Woodentop shop in Lichfield now produces their own pitches, balls and goals.
Flick to Kick: An Illustrated History of Subbuteo: by Daniel Tatarsky