Subbuteo: Les Hunt and his enduring glory on that baize ‘theatre of dreams’…
To most of us in our age group, Subbuteo was that iconic game – that we nagged our parents for – that fired the imagination and brought untold glory for us, as kids, in our own heads and living spaces. These fond memories are re-ignited for me every time I climb the stairs at my local county FA HQ (they have a set laid out on the mezzanine landing in their building – and of course, you have to change the formation of the players when passing by, right? Shhhh!). So I asked our contributor and keen walking footballer, Les Hunt about his own Subbuteo experience and about his glory on that baize ‘theatre of dreams’…
Having been bought up as a football fan, from my early days of kicking a ball around in the garden and park, to playing for the school, then district and local clubs to now playing walking football in my 60s, I loved everything associated with football and that included games. There were a number of card games, which came and went, but I remember I played blow football (explains my puffy cheeks), shove half penny football on the school desk at registration and breaks and also later in life on the office desks (manager on holiday only), and then other games like Waddington’s Table Football, which I adored, anyone remember that game? I played for hours with that. The nearest I had gotten to a realistic footy game.
Then I saw my first box of Subbuteo in a shop in Norwich to be exact. Loads of boxes, in a row on the shelf. From that moment I wanted one, and made sure everyone in the house knew that.
Then come Christmas it happened I got my first set, Club Edition I believe it was, one team in red shirts and white shorts, probably white socks and black boots, the other surprisingly in blue shirt and white shorts, and maybe the same colour socks and boots.
But why didn’t I have my team in there? I hated that Subbuteo thought the world only consisted of Man United and Everton fans.
I opened the box and couldn’t believe my eyes, the teams, the goalkeepers and the goals, then the pitch. Oh yes the pitch. The pitch was amazing it was huge, a perfect colour green, it was soft not made of cardboard and therefore easy to break and the lines, my goodness it was a real pitch, and with the goals, it was like the real thing, only better because it was mine.
I laid the pitch out on top of my bed in the bedroom, no crawling around the floor for me, I wasn’t going to kneel on or squash my players with hand or foot. No way, my players would last for years, but I did find the headboard got in the way if trying to use the goalkeeper at one end, and I had to pull the bed away from the wall to get to the other side of the pitch and the bloody ball kept either rolling into the middle, as the mattress wasn’t the best, or rolling off the bed onto the floor and then always under my brothers bed. And that’s a place no living thing would want to put their hand. Yuk!!!!!!!!!!
But that seemed preferable at the time to playing it on the floor. Weird or what? But seeing as how bad my knees are now, maybe I did myself a favour in those early days.
I remember I didn’t get the diving keeper in the set, no I only inherited the crouching one. He had a sort of painful grimace on his face, I never really liked him, as he looked like he need half time really quick to get to the loo. So once the diving one came out I needed one urgently, he looked so realistic, you could dive to save shots heading for the corner of the net, top or bottom, he had extra height at corners and for punching the ball from free kicks and crosses. With those first teams I remember trying to stick the numbers on the backs of players, without much success.
Then I was getting frustrated at being Everton all the time so I didn’t wait to long before I got the Humbro paints out, I never did finish that RAF spitfire I also got for Christmas, luckily the engineers who developed and made them for our pilots during the war were quicker than me or we be speaking German now. Anyway, the Humbro paint came out and now I had MY real team and MY real heroes. I attempted to put the numbers back on again with more success this time, or was that more love. And now MY team was now ready to take on all the other teams in red and white. (no prizes for guessing my team, I painted the shorts blue as well).
I was hooked on this amazing game, where I had a full 22 players on the pitch, and a ball bigger than all of them, but this was the real thing. Just like today’s youngsters with their smartphones and tablets, I played alone in the bedroom for hours, wash your minds out with soap and water, I meant with my new Subbuteo set as I didn’t know anyone else who had one to play against. And I wanted to play my team against the world!!!
I won so many FA Cups, First Division Championships, and European Cups, and I was the greatest manager in the world (nothing changed today either as I am positive I can do a better job than most of the overpaid managers in Premiership).
Then I thought I should read the rules and maybe play a real game against a real life opponent.
Really? Do people do that I thought, but what if I lose, how do you get from one side of the pitch to the other in game, how can I save a shot if I am trying to reposition defenders on the other side of the pitch, OMG this is too much, so then I thought, should we be playing this in pairs, one to move the outfielders (players to you and me) and one to be the specialist goalkeeper. It was too much so I closed the door to my bedroom and played alone, (really your mind), for a few weeks more. Pondering as it is sometimes called.