Subbuteo is a table game in which it is represented a miniature football game.
Subbuteo was invented in 1947 by the British ornithologist Peter Adolph and it should have been simply called “The Hobby” not only because it was an "hobby" but also because this name was a tribute to the “Hobby hawk”. The name, however, was considered too general by the Patent Office, so Adolf had to resort to the scientific name of the same bird that was, in fact, “Subbuteo”.
Subbuteo is one of the several table games that reproduce a football game. Compared to other games, Subbuteo is unique because the “small players” can move freely over the entire playing surface with the ability to simulate all the situations of a real football game: throw-ins, corner kicks, free kicks, penalties, cautions, expulsions, volleys, and so on. The miniatures must be struck on their basis by a fingertip touch and the possession of the ball is not determined by the game rounds or casualties; In fact, the offensive team can keep on playing until the ball is not missed or hits an rival miniature. The only limitation is that, with the same miniature, you cannot make more than three consecutive touches.
The rules of the game have changed a lot over time but it is possible to identify two main typologies of rules. The first one is for the beginners and it states that the defending team has to await the development of the action without being able to counteract in any way. The rules for experts, instead, allow those who do not have the ball to make defensive touches alternating with the attacker to hinder the action or intercept the ball. Doing so, the ability to hit the ball, and direct it precisely, is not the only thing that counts, but also the speed of execution, the tactical choices and the ability to concentrate can make the difference.
Initially the game included teams, doors, and the ball. There wasn’t the playing field, but only a piece of chalk to trace the lines on a cloth (Company’s advise was to use an army blanket). It was sold by correspondence on a magazine for teens and immediately it met with public approval. The figures that reproduced the players were two-dimensional, initially made of cardboard and then celluloid, and were mounted on a semi-spherical basis similar to buttons. There were 24 different colours representing the main football teams but often customers were sending requests for uniforms in the colours of local teams. Others, instead, asked if there was an official organization to subscribe because many schools and groups of friends had given birth to championships. Both suggestions were welcomed: everybody was able to play with the team he supported and received, along with catalogues and rules, instructions on how to organize a championship whose results were collected by a special association.
All this promoted the spread of the game and led, in the early 60s, to a turning point: the birth of the three-dimensional miniature example of those used in model railways. Renowned model maker Charlie Stadden probably created the first miniatures; they wore uniforms with a V-neck and short sleeves. The feet were attached to a bar that was inserted in a small disc, in turn mounted on a hemispherical basis (inside this basis there was a small metal washer to balance the miniature). The new production required a lot of manual work; unlike the two-dimensional production, printed by a machine, the new figures had to be painted and assembled by hand. An impressive manpower was therefore necessary and so it resorted to homework. Subbuteo sales increased, and soon almost all the housewives living in the region Kent started working for the Subbuteo Company!
Meanwhile, the figure that, even today, is the most appreciated by fans appeared: finely carved, it is characterized by long sleeves and round neck and it is known as HW (acronym for heavyweight). The game started becoming a serious matter; with a million figures produced each month, and an increasingly wide range of accessories, it was also sold in the shops of games and sporting goods. This enormous expansion coincided with the 1966 English World Cup : the world's largest sporting event caused mass hysteria and Subbuteo didn’t loose the occasion of taking advantage.
The time was ripe to export the game, not only by mail, but also through local agents. It was marketed in more than 50 countries, including South Africa, United States, and Australia, where the popularity of football was limited. Italy was the country where the sales were better; the distribution here was entrusted to Edilio Parodi Company, whose name would be remained tied to the game for a long time. In 1970, during the World Cup in Mexico, the first international tournament of Subbuteo was played in London and the English champions Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks rewarded the winners. In 1974 the tournament was held in Monaco, strengthening this way the link with the real football game. On the same occasion, a special package, which included many accessories, was produced in limited numbers. In 1978 the tournament returned to London - Argentina, that was hosting the World Cup was too far away - and Andrea Piccaluga, whose index finger seems to have been insured for a large sum, won the competition for the youth section.
The early eighties were marked by a new material revolution; there were, in fact, a new football ground, the Astropich, that was smoother and adjust comparing to the older cloths, and new figures, simpler, that allowed to print the uniforms and to get rid of the expensive hand-painting activities. In this way, by reducing costs, and increasing the pieces products, Subbuteo Company wanted to address the fact that the number of practitioners in 1974 was estimated at about a million and a half, and it was constantly and rapidly growing. However, the new miniatures were met with scepticism because they were less aesthetically beautiful and lighter, and for this reason they were named LW (light weight) in contrast to the aforementioned (HW). Some struggled with adapting their own style of play and so lost enthusiasm, but many others began to play so much that, in 1982, there were 7 million fans.
In the early nineties, the prospects seemed good, but the video games “cyclone” was about to fall onto the green cloth. In addition, the US Hasbro acquired the brand and, after having completely distorted the game, decided the end of production. In 2003, Edilio Parodi, who had brought the Subbuteo in Italy in 1970, and since 1990 had produced a similar game called "Zuego" (it means “game” in Genoese dialect), acquired from Hasbro the rights for sale on the Italian market.
Miniatures, entirely produced in China, were of very low aesthetic quality, but they were trying to meet the needs of two different types of fans. On the one hand, there were those who, having never stopped playing at a competitive level, and having assimilated all the changes, wanted completely flat and stable basis for a more streamlined and effective play (mostly tactical and aimed exclusively to the result). Now, instead of naming this game Subbuteo, we should talk about CDT, which stands for Table Football. On the other hand, there were the nostalgic, who rediscovered the game after two decades of neglect and, like when they were boys, sought for all the technical virtuosity, the impossible shot often end into itself, to enjoy a moment of sincere admiration of the opponent (and did not care if he won at the end). In order to relive the carefree atmosphere of the room, the classic swinging basis were needed, those that originally were the essence of this game and that had made it so popular.
In 2006, the same technology, that had decreed the end of the old Subbuteo, favoured the revival; the Old Subbuteo forum gathered together all the 'romantic' that used to love, in addition to the game itself, collecting materials, designing and building their own stadium and, above all, painting their own teams. Nowadays, there are over 70 Old Subbuteo Clubs throughout Italy; they organized events where the Subbuteo is also the pretext for a trip with the whole family. In fact, these events often take place in historical and cultural locations where you can also appreciate the local cuisine.
A long time ago, when I was a boy, football was the best game in the world and Subbuteo was the most beautiful table football game in the universe. Subbuteo, like the football game, required technique, tactic, and concentration and allowed to re-create, to a fingertip touch, all situations and typical sport actions: passes, dribbles, fouls, shots, saves, offside... and protests! Moreover, in an age when television rarely showed international matches and just the periodical Guerin Sportivo talked about them through bare photo shoots, the beautiful Subbuteo catalog, with more than three hundred teams from around the world, allowed to discover colours and to live real new challenges and situations, sometimes even innovative or impossible to happen in reality. We would have wanted all those teams, but the costs were high and the financial resources of the parents weren’t enough. Nevertheless, imagination and initiative were not lacking, and, like many others, I started to redecorate the miniatures I had. My unbridled passion for kit of team of any kind, and a good dose of manual skill, allowed me reaching more than satisfying results. Then we all grow, and adult passions take precedence over the boy ones...
But then, in an "advanced age", I find out that a group of enthusiasts are used to organize Subbuteo competitions all around Italy and that some of them paint the teams as I used to do when I was a young boy: more than a spark it was a strong flashback! What I found particularly interesting was the use of needles or pins to implement the smallest details ... so, with patience and application, I have refined this technique that has become the hallmark of my creations. In the '60s and' 70s, The Subbuteo teams were hand-painted by the English housewives, with simple and, above all, fast technique: just one opaque enamel layer and no use of protective. Over time, with the increased demand, the quality of the painting deteriorated dramatically until the early 80s when new species of miniatures that allow industrial personalization were introduced. Considering the poor quality available on the market, the scope for improving were wide and I focused them almost exclusively to reproduce in the best way possible all the details of the real uniforms that, meanwhile, had been enriched with graphics (sponsors and emblems).However, the technique essentially produced a flat, two-dimensional painting, because, in contrast to what happened in the classical model building, none resorts to shade variations to create areas of light and shadow.
What has brought a real turning point in my understanding of painting was the meeting with Luciano Rossetto, appreciated painter of miniatures, who curiously, even if he was a Subbuteo player as well, had never thought of applying his art to small plastic players. The mutual respect, the willingness to question their certainties, and the desire to experience new things has fostered a partnership that continues to give us satisfaction and to fuel our common passion, day after day.
The immense admiration for a player, who has become a legend, who made me love football thanks to his magic and undisputable genius, inspired me these two versions: the first one shows him wearing the Naples shirt, the rival football team of my favourite team Milan, the second one wearing the Argentina Nation uniform. The latter, moreover, has always been one of my favourite uniforms: in fact, this miniature is wearing the uniform that Maradona wore when he won a World Cup, getting the whole team involved as only he could do.
These two versions were created by modifying a Subbuteo miniature, to whom I shortened limbs, trunk, and neck, changing its posture, its face and the hair. I added a few characteristics, such as the bracelet and earring.
The painting on such a small scale is based primarily on line accuracy and attention in the choice of colours that have to reproduce accurately the worn uniform. Subbuteo, historical game of indescribable beauty as a source of inspiration and fun...