26 August 2011
Phillip Moors traces the history of Subbuteo and offers some advice on current values. ...
Most boys who were born after March 1947 will have at some time either owned or known someone who owned a Subbuteo Table Football set. Its inventor, Peter Adolph, wanted to call his newly invented football game ‘The Hobby’ but was prevented by the patenting office, so opted for the next best thing ‘Subbuteo’, derived from ‘Falco Subbuteo’, the Latin name for the bird of prey, the Hobby.
The ingenious principle of propulsion and the balance of the figures soon made most other football simulations obsolete. Prior to its invention there were numerous attempts at bringing the beautiful game into the home. Among them was ‘Newfooty’, a football game based on the same principles as Subbuteo that was invented in 1925. However, its inventor, William Lane Keeling of Liverpool, did not apply for a patent until 1948 and a failed advertising campaign left him with all his money tied up in stock. Adolph’s game came along and swallowed up the market. He later bought out Newfooty which allowed development and expansion of his product.
The first sets produced by Adolph were made by him with the help of his mother and had goals of wire and cardboard with cardboard figures attached to button bases with lead washer weights. In the early sets, indeed until the early 1960s, the game did not include a pitch, the pitch being drawn on an old army blanket with piece of chalk to dimensions supplied.
Later the figures were made from celluloid, the bases became plastic and eventually the OO scale ‘Continental’ 3D figures became the norm after their introduction in 1961. The term ‘Continental’ did not actually refer to anything in particular, but in the days of its introduction very few people travelled abroad and it intimated at an exoticness that excited the imagination of small boys whose hands were burning with recently acquired pocket money!
One of the big money spinners for Subbuteo came in the production of many different teams in correct strips. Early sets had a team in blue shirts with white shorts and one in red with white shorts, but when additional teams began to be added, the market really began to open up as people wanted to acquire their team..