Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flick To Kick

It's video games nowadays. It's all about large groups of geeks trying to find the Holy Grail of matching arcade-style excitement with "realism". Now, I'm not a luddite. I have a PS2 and a copy of "Pro-Evolution 5". I intend, at some point, to write a definitive history of the football computer game, from "NASL Soccer" on the Intellivision through to the current day. But when I was a lad... It was all about little plastic men, alarmingly geeky accessories and flicking to kick. It was all about Subbuteo.

My sister was a bit of a tomboy, and was also nine years older than me, so I did quite well for Subbuteo equipment (although I did end up with about three different Manchester United teams, which I found rather irksome). The fact that I acquired the pitch, a few teams, and various other nick-nacks meant that I was able to spend my hard-earned pocket money on what really made Subbuteo great: the paraphenalia that allowed you to build a complete stadium. The thing about Subbuteo was that you got the feeling that the makers really understood the nature of a certain type of man (and it is exclusively men) to hoard, accumulate and collect. For one thing, there were hundreds of teams. Hundreds. Literally. The player above is team number 378 - Coventry 1982. That was the tip of the iceberg. You could, for one thing, build an entire stadium with plastic terracing and grandstands. Never mind that it made the game more or less impossible to play. I ended up with a three-sided ground that was finished off when my dad (quite a decent amateur carpenter) made me a wooden covered terrace to go behind the final goal, with the result that my stadium looked three-quarters like the Bernebau, and one-quarter like Southbury Road, Enfield. The only piece of that set-up that I still own is the piece that my dad made for me, though.

It didn't stop there. You could get scoreboards, television gantries, fencing, floodlights, ballboys, mascots... I could go on and on, but instead I will just direct you here, and advise you to digest all of it, over a long period of time. It strikes me that Subbuteo is the football eqivalent of having a train set. Designed ostensibly for children, but with a theme behind it that appealed to (and catered for) middle-aged men, you don't need to play it to appreciate it. Just the mere fact that there was a workshop once, with people in it hand-painting Subbuteo TV Crews delights me in it's own right.

Subbuteo isn't, like most things in life, as good as it used to be. Hasbro make the official version now, but they use little slips of card with famous players now instead of anonymous plastic figurines. For shame! Fortunately, they're not stupid, though, and they recognise that there are still thousands of people that want the game as it was, and have licensed an Italian company (Subbuteo is and always was massive in Italy) called Astrobase to continue to make a more, well, "adult" version of the game. I can't begin to describe my admiration for this sort of dedication.

Right. I'm off now. More tomorrow, though - including a look back at this weekend's friendly and Intertoto "action". Toodles!


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